The final outing for Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, Die Another Day doesn't seem totally execrable -- but that might be mostly due to the severely lowered expectations fostered by the previous three Brosnan entries. All right, GoldenEye is OK, but I doubt it would be remembered nearly as fondly (or much at all) if it weren't for its accompanying video game, which was unquestionably a lot more fun.
Brosnan certainly looked the part, infusing the character with equal parts aloof coolness and suave charm, but there's something intangible missing from the character in all of his entries. That said, I'm not sure Connery, Moore or Craig could've done much to save Die Another Day, which epitomizes the franchise's move toward brain-dead, overblown, CGI-dependent action fests. It's no wonder the series needed a reboot after this -- who knows how bad it could have got if 007 continued in this same vein?
Die Another Day actually doesn't start too badly, with an engaging hovercraft chase scene that ends with Bond captured and tortured in a North Korean prison. 14 months later, he's freed in a prisoner exchange, but the experience has left him demoralized and disheveled and soon to be stripped of his agent status -- a brief anticipation of the grittier tone the series would achieve in the Craig years, but not really realized here at all. No, Die Another Day is more interested in ridiculous and self-parodying plot points -- illegally traded conflict diamonds, appearance-altering DNA therapy, a solar energy-diverting satellite, invisibility shields -- punctuated by frenetic blow-'em-up action sequences given minimal visual clarity by journeyman director Lee Tamahori.
The film does have the ingredients for a decent setpiece here and there, but it doesn't deliver. A rapidly melting ice castle sequence is somehow unbelievably turgid, and a climactic burning-airplane-hurtling-toward-earth scene tries to gin up some genuine suspense far too late in the game. As for Halle Berry's performance as National Security Agency representative Jinx, the less said the better.
While some have derided the Daniel Craig years for veering into territory that's too serious and doesn't reflect the true character of James Bond, it's clear watching Die Another Day that the ship of faithfulness to the original idea had sailed long ago. Brosnan's Bond years were a turn for the worse for the franchise, and while I might not be as enthusiastic about Craig's entries as many, I'll take them any day over this junk.
Operation: BOND will return with Casino Royale (2006).