Die Another Day
starring Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry and the guy who played Lurtz
3 stars

Ah, Bond... what are we to do with you?

Most of us recall when reality took a huge step Bondward a little over a year ago, thrusting us into a world of mass-murdering supervillains. Given that we now live in Bond's world, he could come in, join us, meet reality halfway, but that's a little too gutsy a re-invention.  Better to go in the other direction and take another half-step away from reality into the Bondiverse of pastiche and formula.

As a protagonist, the center of a movie, Bond is pretty problematic, since the essence of James Bond is that he can't grow or develop. Beat him up, torture him, lock him in a North Korean prison, all you can do is damage his body. You can't make him doubt himself, or change his mind, or rethink his politics. The closest he gets to emotional engagement in his own adventures is a mild pique that he's been betrayed.

Since Bond himself is like a narrative vacuum forbidding an actual dramatic story, the only thing you can do in a Bond movie is reshuffle the basic free elements: Chases, Chicks, Gadgets and Villains. Barring gutsy reinvention in which you allow Bond to show human emotions, once you've reshuffled 20 times or so, you're going to start seeing the same things over again. 

And so it is with DAD, so let's do a quickish scorecard:

Chases. Die Another Day delivers the spectacular yet generic action set pieces that have become the halmark of Bond movies. There's only so many times we can see Bond driving something (surfboard, car, skis) while being pursued by four or five guys driving the same something. Here it's hovercraft, and in true Bond style they explode and flip through the air and zoom over cliffs. The action is fast and zippy and propulsive and totally forgettable once it's over.

Chicks. Well, Halle Berry is the new Bond girl, a flirty NSA agent named Jinx. She's certainly hot enough, jouncing bikini-clad out of the water in a totally unironic aping of exactly the same image from Dr. No, Austin Powers and Charlie's Angels. She's sassy and sexy and often leather-clad and she gets to dump some pretty cold bullets into some losers. We can see Berry's trying, rattling around in the little cage the formula has set up for her. But you can only do so much in the formula, and it's a bit weird to see Bond seduce her, not so much a conversation as a mechanical 90-second exchange of double entendres before cut to shagging.

Gadgets. Bond barely has anything cool this around around, an invisible car and a ring that breaks glass. The bad guys have a space laser (sort-of), which is a more fanciful touch than usual, since we haven't seen a space laser in a Bond movie since.... well, Goldeneye, I guess, though that wasn't really a laser. Gadgets... eh.

Villains. North Koreans this time, a timely touch that was almost certainly accidental. No-name actors for the two big bad guys. There's Zhou, a genetically balded Korean soldier with diamonds embedded in his face who gets maybe a 7 on the coolness index. And then there's Graves, a snotty English poser type who's (if I may wreck it for you) actually the North Korean colonel Bond fights in the first ten minutes, plus a face-redoing. Neither of these guys really light up the house as far as personality goes, but they're okay. There is one hench guy of note, Mr. Kil, who's played by Lawrence Makoare, a guy film fans remember as Lurtz, the Orc Aragorn beheads at the end of Fellowship of the Ring. 

So DAD is not fantastic, not taking the Bond franchise in exciting new places. But, it functions. It works. If you like Bond, it's got the Bond stuff.  It's going to be a while before we see a Bond movie try to thread its way back through its own geneology, from Bond movie to spy movie to political thriller to actually being about something. But in the meantime, the machine clunks away, prodding at your brain stem with explosions and boobies, and it's a perfectly fine and trivial way to go to a movie.