Die Another Day review

:. Director: Lee Tamahori
:. Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry
:. Running Time: 2:00
:. Year: 2002
:. Country: USA

Celebrating the 20th installment of the franchise with great pomp, Die Another Day combines fun over-the-top action with an amusing look at Bond and his imitators, in an omnipresent mise-en-abime.

Despite a cohort of big budget vultures that fed on him while announcing his near death, James Bond has never felt so alive since Roger Moore's glory days in The Spy Who Loved Me & Moonraker. While each decade provided its share of spoofs and copycats (Our Man Flynt, OSS, SAS, etc.), some new franchises have come very close to the original in terms of production scale, content recycling and satire. Tom Cruise betrayed the spirit of a cult TV show to offer a masked Bond with Mission Impossible, Austin Powers made a clown out of the world's most famous spy and the Vin Diesel/Rob Cohen duo tried to kill him in order to then "reinvent" him as a street hoodlum. Not only did the Bond franchise need to reestablish itself for the new generations as the original spy but it also had to outperform its competitors, which explains its biggest budget to date and over-the-top action sequences.

Bond's ingredients have thus been "doped" up, sometimes going too far in terms of lack of credibility, as with the invisibility of the Aston Martin and the final wind surfing sequence. Fortunately, other times this excess seems to pay off: the fencing game here surpasses Bond's best confrontation with a villain—the electric video game in the unofficial Never Say Never Again—while the car chase on ice and the race against a laser will be memorable.

But what differentiates Die Another Day from another excessive mindless exercise such as Moonraker is the irony of the film filtered through a multi-sided mise-en-abime.

In the most obvious one Die Another Day, a cross between Diamonds Are Forever and Tomorrow Never Dies, uses different means-dialogues, scenes and memorabilia-to refer to other episodes such as Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, The Man with a Golden Gun (a self-reflexive game of mirrors), A View to a Kill and Never Say Never Again. There is also an allusion to the book and author who inspired Ian Fleming for the name of his hero.

At another level, the film thumbs its nose at ersatz and films that owe Bond. The change of visage points at a Mission Impossible gimmick while the fighting sequences featuring Jinx (Halle Berry) are reminiscent of Charlie's Angels, The Mummy Returns and The Matrix. While Die Another Day didn't have time to assimilate the recent XXX, it would be enjoyable if the next Bond gets back at it by showing the stylish secret agent thrashing some uncooperative bold club bouncer.

Finally the subtlest mention is about Brosnan. The beginning of the film and the Bond character seem to have been tailored on the actor's latest incarnations. Both The Taylor of Panama and The Thomas Crown Affairs did offer a more human, vulnerable and flawed version of Bond. As a result, Bond's myth is here for the first time shattered. He is caught, tortured and traded while his credibility and invincibility are questioned. Even the sequence in Cuba is actually reminiscent of the literary, exotic and decadent atmosphere of The Taylor of Panama. As when a bearded and longhaired vagabond shows up in a hotel, we can't help thinking about Brosnan's unconvincing stunt as Robinson Crusoe. The actor's sense of self-derision allows making further fun of the arrogance of the Bond character. For the first time, his nemesis (based on British media mogul Richard Branson) is his equal in charm, dangerousness and self-sufficiency, thus providing a reflection of Bond. The fencing instructor (Madonna) is here to point at the similarities between these 2 superegos. While Bond can't stand an equal opponent in the movie, as the furious sword fight shows, neither can Die Another Day stand series imitators.

Lee Tamahori's direction is edgier but the sharp editing and colorful cinematography undoubtedly borrow from Tony Scott's visual style. Brosnan perfectly embodies his character, combining the sadism of Sean Connery with the smoothness of Roger Moore while bringing self-derision. The producers have learned from their mistakes (Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist) and brought an actress who, in addition to bringing sex appeal, can act. David Arnold is faithful to the Bond themes and Madonna's slick song emphasizes the modernism of the ensemble.

One might regret that after an original first half, the film goes into more familiar action-oriented territories. A Bond film being formulaic, sticking to the initial treatment would have resulted in a different film. Just as the title suggests, Die Another Day marks a turning point in the Bond franchise by adapting itself to new trends in movies to survive in a new century. Now that the series has shown the character could be remodeled (License to Kill and Die Another Day) and technology advances could be assimilated, the efforts of modernization should be put into creating more complex plots and imaginative action sequences.

  Fred Thom

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