As Die Another Day went on and on, I was worried about two things: 1) It would never end; and 2) There would be a pop quiz about the plot.
With 20 films in 40 years, each trying to outdo those that have gone before, the James Bond series has reached a point where every new one is made with a view to overkill. Die Another Day seems to go along nicely for three hours or so before deteriorating into an endless succession of mindless action scenes.
Actually it's only a little over an hour until the movie "jumps the shark," as they say in television. It happens when the action moves to Iceland, where the sets look cheesy and what story there is starts losing our interest.
By then we've already made it from North Korea to Hong Kong to Havana, with a stop or two in London along the way. We've seen whatever new ideas lay in store, plus a lot of old ones as this film pays homage to its ancestors. The high and low points of the latter are Halle Berry coming out of the surf like Ursula Andress and John Cleese as Q smelling Rosa Klebb's pointed-toe shoe.
Pierce Brosnan is still James Bond and still seems like he can act more than is required of him. The opening finds him surfing off North Korea (the one spot Bruce Brown missed in Endless Summer). There's no dialogue so no quips about him "hanging ten inches" or anything, but there's enough of that to come.
Bond intercepts a shipment of diamonds but is captured by evil Col. Moon and his assistant Zao (Rick Yune of The Fast and the Furious). They blow up his helicopter, then trade quips with him until he has a chance to escape, cueing an overland hovercraft chase in what look like oversized bumper cars.
Well, 007 disposes of the bad guys, turning one into Diamondcheek, perhaps an homage to Goldfinger, but winds up in a North Korean prison for 14 months.
And that's just the pre-credit sequence! Then Madonna sings the title song over clever visuals suggesting how Bond is tortured in prison, with fire, ice, and scorpions.
Since she's come up, let's get Madonna's much-ballyhooed cameo out of the way. She appears (uncredited) as Verity, who is supposed to be Bond's fencing instructor; but he doesn't need instruction, as he's about to show, and she never touches a foil, only provides exposition about other characters and makes a few mildly flirtatious quips. It was rumored that her character would be a lesbian because she doesn't go to bed with Bond, but the fact is she's not young or attractive enough for that. You could as soon imagine him screwing M (Judi Dench).
The younger, prettier women who bag Bond are Jinx (Halle Berry), a capable assassin who may be spun off into her own series; and Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), who works as publicist for the main villain, "self-publicizing adrenaline junkie" Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). Graves is an ostensible philanthropist who came out of nowhere and made a fortune in diamonds. Now he's developed some kind of satellite that will provide a second sun for places that need it (although it has more nefarious uses as well).
Graves and Bond have a rousing swordfight, a throwback to swashbucklers of old, at their first meeting, but soon run out of interesting things to say and do to each other. Director Lee Tamahori is determined that no action fan will go away unsatisfied, but as the fights and chases go on monotonously, the operative word seems to be saturated rather than satisfied.
John Cleese has a couple of good moments as Q, who issues Bond a stealth Aston-Martin that's used more effectively than the stealth aircraft in I Spy (a movie that can make you appreciate Die Another Day).
With all the cold scenes, Die Another Day might have played better during the summer. Or maybe it should have been a miniseries. Or maybe someone could have showed some simple restraint. If Mike Myers is in the audience getting ideas for Austin Powers' next adventure, he'll have the appropriate comment: "Oh, stop!"