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newstatesman 45 • film the back half • arts, etc • 25 November 2002 •

Never say die another day

the new Bond movie takes pastiche and self-parody to new heights

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 rule.
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 spades.
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 about reflexivity?
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

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