THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The James Bond movies constitute the longest-running franchise in the history of film. However, in recent years, other movies have been beating Bond at his own game. This summer, xXx used all the familiar Bond elements in a fresher and more exaggerated way, and the Austin Powers series has satirized those same elements so mercilessly that 007 can never really be as effectively tongue-in-cheek again. Since Pierce Brosnan took over the role from Timothy Dalton, the series has improved but, although I liked recent Bond outings such as Goldeneye and The World is Not Enough, I couldn't help feeling that the whole thing had...well, run its course. The latest Bond effort - Die Another Day - aspires to be a hipper, more contemporary entry of the series. Like its immediate predecessors, it entertains, but also like them, it doesn't quite put Bond back at the top of the action heap.

One of the problems is that the Bond movies - for as long as I've been reviewing them - have failed to provide a single comprehensible plot. Sure, it looks like there's a plot (there's always plenty of chit-chat about global conspiracies and such) but try explaining one of these movies. It's near impossible. Die Another Day is no different, so here's the general idea: Bond is held as a P.O.W. by some nasty Koreans for 16 months. They torture him mercilessly. Upon his release, he goes in search of Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), a playboy tycoon who has developed a satellite called Icarus that could serve as a backup energy source for the world. Of course, he plans to use Icarus for total domination. Bond eventually comes to realize that there is a link between Graves and his Korean captors.

I have condensed that plot considerably. Then again (as I have said before), nobody really goes to a James Bond movie for plot. They go for other reasons. Like the coolness factor. Die Another Day finds 007 using such gadgets as an invisible car and a glass-shattering sonar ring. Who in the audience wouldn't like to have such wonderful toys?

Action is important, too, and it is here that the film delivers. The traditional pre-credit sequence involves a Hovercraft chase. (Who cares if Jackie Chan already did it in Rumble in the Bronx? It's still a blast.) Later on, there is a car chase through a palace made entirely of ice. Bond drives through it, attempting to save his colleague Jinx, while Graves uses his satellite to melt it from space. The scene is absolutely awesome.

Jinx (Halle Berry) makes an impression on James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) in Die Another Day, the 20th entry in the series
And did I mention Jinx in there? That's another reason people see Bond movies: the women. Jinx is another secret agent, played by Halle Berry. She has what is certain to be the most talked-about movie entrance of the year. You know what I'm talking about. In an homage to Ursula Andress in Dr. No, Jinx is first seen emerging from the ocean in an orange bikini, a hunting belt containing a large knife strapped to her side. Thankfully, Jinx is not your typical Bond girl. After twenty features, the filmmakers have finally caught up to women's lib. Sure, Jinx is sexy and playful; she is also every bit Bond's equal - a sassy, capable agent who kicks ass with the best of them. Berry, fresh off her Oscar win for Monster's Ball, has now officially shot herself into the ranks of A-list movie stars. No surprise, then, that the producers are already planning a Jinx spin-off movie.

I wish they could figure out how to create a villain as interesting as Bond or Jinx. There hasn't been a memorable Bond bad guy since I don't know when. That would help kick the series up a notch. So would a little less reliance on the time-honored formula. The best recent 007 movie, in my opinion, was Tomorrow Never Dies, which took our well-known hero and plunked him down into a Hong Kong-style action movie. That was a bold move - one that suggested an intriguing future for the character. Personally, I would love to see the whole thing get edgier. Turn the reins over to Quentin Tarantino, or Robert Rodriguez, or the Wachowski brothers. Let's create a James Bond for the new millennium.

Until that time comes, we are left with a more traditional Bond. Die Another Day tries to tweak some of the conventions, but it doesn't tweak enough. That said, I liked the movie, as I have liked most of them. I have become accustomed to the fact that these pictures excel in certain areas, lack in others. I go for the parts that I enjoy, and I am rarely let down. Die Another Day gives us the coolness, the action, and the sex appeal in satisfying doses, which is enough to make it a solid Bond entry, if not a spectacular one.

( out of four)

Note: I nearly forgot to mention the theme song, which is another Bond trademark. I was not impressed with Madonna's title tune when I heard it on the radio. It seemed more like a dance groove than an actual song. However, the composition does work marginally better within the context of the film itself.

Die Another Day is rated PG-13 for action violence and sexuality. The running time is 2 hours and 9 minutes.

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