Die Another Day
Since at least the first decade of the James Bond series, the scene in which Bond visits the gadgetmaster Q pretty much sums up the film. If, for instance, Q grudgingly grants him a pair of bullet-spewing tap shoes, it's a pretty good bet that later, Bond will find a way to tap himself out of danger. But the films' adherence to a predictable formula is less important than individual installments' efforts to live up to that formula. These days, no one comes to James Bond for surprises, and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson are understandably reluctant to provide them. The last time they got adventurous, making Bond into a rogue agent in 1989's License To Kill, it sent the franchise into a six-year hiatus. A little formula-bending might do the series some good, however, as evidenced by the first hour of Die Another Day. The pre-credits action sequence ends not with a daring escape, but with the hero's capture. As the usual naked shadows dance over the credits, current Bond Pierce Brosnan is beaten by North Koreans to the tune of Madonna's eerie title song, then emerges bearded and bedraggled above a subtitle that reveals the passage of 14 months. Discredited and disgraced in the eyes of boss M (Judi Dench), Brosnan subsequently struggles against a surgically altered assassin (Rick Yune) and a malevolent billionaire (Toby Stephens) in a conflict that takes on the tone of a personal vendetta. It's just new enough to keep the film fresh, like the skittish beats composer David Arnold brings to the familiar music. That makes it more of a letdown than usual when the formula finally kicks in with ritualistic predictability, but at least it still promises elaborate lairs, high-speed chases, women in impractical evening wear, and explosions aplenty. Halle Berry's much-touted role as a secret agent proves only slightly meaty, but at least she makes a more convincing female Bond than Barbara Bach in The Spy Who Loved Me. Brosnan still fills the role nicely, but initial grit aside, Die does little to rescue his reputation as a caretaker Bond. Sean Connery gave James Bond a steely cool, Roger Moore a goofy wit, and Timothy Dalton a suppressed torment, but Brosnan's contribution, other than a quiet assurance and an iconic appearance, remains unclear. Like Michael Apted's The World Is Not Enough (the best of the Brosnan Bonds so far), Die enlisted a real director, in this case Lee Tamahori. But that seems to make little difference, particularly once the action takes over. Most worrisome of all, that action needs to be more commanding: The many shots of characters operating devices with remote controls will do little to quiet the complaints that the films have started to resemble video games, and the same can be said of the proliferating digital effects. Where everything is possible, little can be startling, and Bond remains most appealing when he's not that much larger than life. By the end of Die Another Day, the character's potential to wind up beaten and broken has vanished amid the pixels and laser beams.