Saturday, August 2, 2008

Die Another Day Reviewed

I had recently told someone that I was so far behind in movies that I had yet to watch Pierce Brosnan’s last James Bond movie, so I thought I should break down and finally watch Die Another Day last night (which I happened to have handy on videotape). Boy, do I wish I’d spent my evening more productively.

And the movie starts out so promising too! North Korea has been so topical in recent years. Having Bond deep under cover in such an evil empire was very suspenseful. The hovercraft chase was okay, but at least it’s a vehicle Bond hasn’t raced so far, and there are few of those left! But then to take out the main bad guy in the first scene in the movie! And then Bond captured and tortured? Whoa, this is heavy stuff for a Bond film! This must be good!

Well, any hopes I had that the whole movie would be so good were dispelled with Madonna’s techno theme song – surely the worst Bond theme song ever. THIS is the descendant of Goldfinger and Live and Let Die? And even this early, there are other signs of trouble. Why is Bond so sure he was betrayed just because he was identified? Bond is ALWAYS identified! Christopher Walken just had to scroll through a database of MI6 operatives and turned up Bond in a minute in A View to a Kill (surely not the best Bond film ever, but still…).

The movie continues to be promising in Hong Kong, with Bond escaping from his own liberators in order to hunt down his betrayer, and even the Cuba scenes are mostly good. We get to see Bond driving around in a cool 1950’s-era car with big fins. The movie’s saying, “Sit back, relax. Just enjoy watching Brosnan play Bond.” Okay, I can deal with that. Halle Barry shows up, trying to evoke the spirit of Ursula Andress. Good choice. Halle turns out to be one of those love interests, ala Goldfinger and For Your Eyes Only, who is on a parallel path after the villains. Okay, I’ve seen that coincidence before. We’re treading on dangerous ground here of losing what originality the early scenes had and descending back into formula. But at least the movie knows what worked in the past up to this point.

And then comes the wacky science. DNA transplants? Invisible cars? Powered battle armor? Okay, movie, get back to basics. Bond is a spy. The farther you take him away from spying and into superheroics, the less he works. What happened to just enjoying Brosnan as Bond? We’re even treated to a computer-animated sequence of Bond surfing with a car hood and a parachute that looks so cheesy you’d think it was made for a Bond film seven years earlier. C’mon, people. Pixar could have made Bond look better! But no, this is all part of an effort in the second half of the movie to make it look more like a video game. There are cheesy moments of fast forwarding and slowing down that add nothing to the movie and take away huge amounts of remaining believability.

Even our main villain has descended irrevocably into camp. He has a laser satellite (and haven’t we seen this twice before? Three times, counting Austin Powers?) aimed right behind Bond’s car, chasing him down to the edge of a cliff. But then he stops the laser at the edge of the cliff? Why not shoot it over the cliff, in case Bond is dangling there? No, better just to assume he’s dead, right? And while I’m ranting, why are we given a scene with the main villain trying to bond with his father during the climax of the movie? It’s a good scene, but shouldn’t it have come earlier, before we were expecting lots of action?

The movie has its moments, particularly in the strong first half hour. The sword fight is pretty cool. And Halle gets more good one-liners than Bond does for a change. But there is too much lame stuff in this movie. I have to give it a C+. Made me miss Tomorrow Never Dies, and look forward to trying the new Casino Royale to see if they really did figure out how to do Bond right again.

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