Die Another Day

As ever in a Bond film, the Americans get it wrong, and it’s left to the Queen’s

loyal subjects to make things right. And in Die

Another Day, the latest installment in the greatest moviemaking franchise

of all time, the New Zealand director Lee Tamahori shows Francis Ford Coppola

a thing or two about the waves off the coast of south-east Asian peninsulas.

If Robert Duvall’s Bill Kilgore thought he was being wild and crazy surfing

off the coast of Vietnam, he’d have been put right in his place by the opening

sequence of the new 007 flick: James Bond and two sidekicks surfing their way

in to North Korea – at night, no less – on some of the

biggest waves you’ve ever seen in your life.

The film never lets up from there. Tamahori seems a little over-reliant on

the rush-cuts of John Woo: no need to explain how we got from A to B if you

can simply make a whooshing sound, speed the film up a little, and jump straight

into the action elsewhere. But it doesn’t matter: he’s got the gadgets, the

punchlines, the cocktails, the banter, the girls, the exotic baddies down pat.

He also has the attention span of a gnat. Die Another Day is 132 minutes

long, but it never even thinks about getting boring: it passes in a rush of

adrenaline, and you’re shaking when you leave the theatre.

I have quibbles: although I love Judi Dench as M, I’m tired of her leaving

her office the whole time and putting herself in harm’s way. The virtual-reality

jokes set in MI6′s Vauxhall HQ are obvious, and the second one risks jeopardising

the timeless relationship between Moneypenny and Bond. And although no Bond

film would be complete without a gadget-filled car, I really don’t see the point

of having two gadget-filled cars face off against each other on some

frozen lake in Iceland. Oh, and while I’m at it, the convention of having the

baddies scream for a second as they realise their impending doom is getting

very tired (although, conversely, the convention of having the baddies always

choose the slow-and-spectacular death over the quick-and-easy is here gloriously

revived).

Part of the problem, I think, is that although Bond films have always sent

up a certain genre, they’ve now become that genre, and they’ve become

reduced to sending up themselves. Bond plays with his old gadgets in Q’s lair,

and old Bond films are referenced more than once: a car chase in an ice palace

which is a facsimile of one in a car park in Tomorrow Never Dies (I

think); Halle Berry emerging from the Caribbean in a two-piece in an unmistakeable

homage to Ursula Andress in Dr. No. I’d also like to think that that

the horribly bad back-projection in the Icelanding surfing scene is some kind

of a nod to Roger Moore’s skiing sequences: I can’t think of why else they did

it.

But for all that it’s becoming harder and harder to come up with something

original, this remains one of the best Bond films in memory; indeed, it could

well be the best since Sean Connery hung up his license to kill and disappeared

off to start selling whisky to the Japanese instead. Bond shows his normal flair

not only at surfing but also at fencing, in a fantastic scene which almost (but

not quite) matches the swordfight in The Princess Bride; and Halle

Berry makes a superb Bond girl, with attitude to match her high-diving skills.

The credit, I think, is to be shared equally between Tamahori and Pierce Brosnan.

The keepers of the Bond flame have done extremely well by taking critically-acclaimed

filmmakers (Tamahori directed the Maori film Once Were Warriors; Michael

Apted, of The World Is Not Enough, is an acclaimed documentarist),

giving them silly budgets, and telling them to go have fun. Tamahori has never

directed an action film before, but he did do an excellent job with the underrated

thriller Along Came A Spider, and he obviously loves Bond. This, for

all its knowing references, is classic Bond, complete with ’61 Bollinger and

sleeper agents for Her Majesty running cigar factories in Cuba.

Brosnan, for his part, is at this point a master of the Less Is More school

of acting. When he finds a Chinese secret agent in his hotel room, he merely

hints at what he would do if he could be bothered to act: he knows that what

we’re doing is remembering Connery do the same thing, so he more or less fades

into the background and lets our nostalgia take over. And when he’s chatting

up Berry on the terrace of a Cuban hotel, he basically lets his cigar do the

talking, as though he’s almost too sophisticated to actually deliver the lines.

As for the baddies, it’s interesting that they’re North Korean this time. It’s

also interesting that they’re renegade North Korean: even the old general thinks

it’s all a bit much. For all that the Americans exist in this film mainly to

perpetrate an all-too-plausible intelligence cock-up, they’re still setting

the geopolitical stage within which Bond operates. "The world has changed,"

M tells Bond at one point, "I don’t have the luxury of seeing things in

black and white like you do." Replies Bond: "Well, I haven’t

changed." For which we should all be grateful.

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2 Responses to Die Another Day

  1. Michelle says:

    Some films are just good old entertainment – and this is one of them. A roller coaster ride that left me with vertigo after we left the theater. Whew! And excuse me, Remington Steele can act his part just fine. Bond is a character that needs simple facial expressions than real theatrical drama… an eye brow raise, a long cold stare through a martini glass and a serious look of anger when Great Britain is in jeopardy. Works every time.

  2. Anna says:

    Ah, you can’t beat a good old LieBackandThinkofEngland Bond flick and this, complete with it’s unashamed puns and humour plus great waves, is the best there’s been for a while. Scarey thing is I reckon the Aussies take this stuff seriously.

    According to the final credits, the characters are all fictional and any similarity to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. I can’t believe it myself.

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