newstatesman 45 • film the back half • arts,
etc • 25 November 2002 •
Never say die another day
PHILIP KERR on how
the new Bond movie takes pastiche and self-parody to
I told my son how the film would start: a chase
wherein James Bond escapes from a villain and which is the opportunity
for an outrageous stunt, followed by a title sequence involving lots of
scantily clad girls in silhouette, after which we find ourselves in M's
office, where Bond is given his mission and his toys.
Only it didn't turn out that way. Bond doesn't escape in the pre-credit
sequence; instead, he is captured, tortured during the credits and only
months afterwards is he finally exchanged for another spy, a Korean named
Zao. Which is one reason why I found myself actually engaged by a Bond
movie - for the first time in more than two decades. I had expected to
be writing a bad review (along the lines of "Die Another Day?
No, see another movie") of this, the 20th Bond movie; instead, I
feel obliged to advise you on no account to miss it.
Which is not to say that Die Another Day is a good film. It is
merely a good Bond movie that is, more or less, a category of entertainment
unto itself, and, as always, requires a suspension of wobbling disbelief
as would span the River Thames. Even in the early days, when the films
were still based on the books, it was never a good idea to tug the plot
lines too rigorously. Die Another Day is no exception to the
Indeed, it could even be argued that this, the first Bond movie of the
21st century, does away with one coherent grand narrative so completely
that the script, which is merely a series of mini-narratives leading up
to the next action sequence, might have been written by Jean Baudrillard.
For here there are surfaces without depth, and signifiers with nothing
signified; everything is so situational, contingent and temporary that
Die Another Day seems more like the simulacrum of a movie; and
if ever Oscars were handed out for postmodernism, this film would surely
sweep the board. Pastiche, parody, bricolage, irony, ambiguity, reflexivity
and self-consciousness: Die AnotherDay has these in computer-generated
Agent 007 (Pierce Brosnan, perhaps the luckiest man in the movies) travels
to Cuba in pursuit of a diamond smuggler, Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens),
whose "powerful weapon" - mimicking the giant laser beam used
many times before in Diamonds are Forever, The Man With the Golden
Gun, and, more recently, by Doctor Evil in Austin Powers: Goldmember
- threatens world peace. Arriving in Cuba, Bond adopts the cover of an
ornithologist. After all, Fleming nicked the name from the James Bond
who was the author of Birds of the West Indies. There is even
a copy of the book in the film. Naturally, Bond has his binoculars trained
on birds of a very different kind; and the first one he sees is Jinx,
played by Halle Berry, in a parody of the scene from Dr No where
Ursula Andress steps out of the Caribbean wearing a bikini and a knife.
(Andress managed to sell this same bikini at Christie's last year for
more than £40,000; Berry might make a similar killing in another
40 years' time, but only if she doesn't wash the pants.) See what I mean
Several loud explosions later (not to mention a quick shag with Jinx,
baby), Bond is flying back to London - British Airways, of course; this
movie has more plugs than Curry's - and who should he meet, but an air
hostess played by Deborah Moore. The name might mean nothing to you but
it means a lot to her father, Roger Moore, who played Bond some time during
the 20th century.
Under the disapproving eyes of Madonna, whose mind is clearly on the soundtrack,
which she wrote and performs, Bond then has a sword fight with Gustav
Graves at the Reform Club in Pall Mall, London. It's good to see Bond's
highly developed sense of taste has not lost its edge. After all, fighting
at the Reform Club is one of London's last real luxuries. It settles a
score and usually results in one's being thrown out of the club. What
more could one want ?
A trip to Iceland and a spectacular ice palace follows. None of this makes
any sense at all and is merely an excuse for lots of car chases on ice
which involve a Jaguar and Bond's Aston Martin (the one I owned
nearly always drove like it was on ice) and another shag, of course -
this time with Miranda Frost (played by Rosamund Pike), who, when she's
not being lusted after by Madonna, is PR to Gustav Graves. Did I mention
that the very English Gustav Graves is supposed to be a Korean who has
changed not just his face but also his DNA and his voice? It doesn't matter.
Let's just say that Toby Stephens doesn't make a very convincing bad guy,
and belongs more properly in a Harry Potter film. Or so my son thought.
For me, the nocturne was much simpler: my God, you know you're getting
old when the Bond villains start to look wet behind the ears.
Die Another Day (12A) is on general release