Betrayed by an MI6 mole, James Bond is captured by the North Koreans, tortured and exchanged for an enemy agent. Out for revenge, 007 heads first to Havana, where he meets American agent Jinx, then to London and Iceland to investigate flamboyant entrepreneur Gustav Graves, who has created a satellite with deadly purposes.
While everyone has been busy getting all misty-eyed about 40 splendid years of indentured service, Kiwi bright spark Tamahori had the onerous task of shifting Bond into the new cinema order while not tampering with still very capable circuitry. Mission: unresolved, for this is a strange and unfulfilling beast, neither a reinvention nor a celebration of the dutiful gadgets/girls/cars/fruitcake-billionaire-imperils-the-world formula, but an intermittently entertaining patchwork of both.
The plot-line undoubtedly sounded hip and risky at brain-storming meetings: adding a detective element, being daring enough to lock Bond up over the opening credits, making Halle Berry a partner for the leading man rather than a simpering bed-fellow. However, there are just too many twists and extraneous strands for the running time to cope with. It's not a lack of effort but a lack of restraint that makes it such a muddle; Tamahori flooding the screen with good intentions, idea upon idea piling up like a car crash.
Ironically, that's exactly what is missing - the clarity and expertise to pull off a simple car chase, or exploding military hovercraft, or kung fu fight on a ditching cargo plane. The blunted, hectic editing leaves the film agitated and graceless. The execution is so complex, so riddled with afterthought, it makes a mess of the clean linear lines that made the formula so successful. And CGI this poor is embarrassing.
But before you lose faith and head for your Dr. No special edition, amid the desperation to fend off such brash, leadless newcomers as xXx, the grand traditions and great scenes emerge. Bond duels with Graves in a posturing fencing match, crashing through a starchy gentlemen's club with magnificent gusto. Leering henchman Rick Yune has diamonds embedded in his scarred mug, and multiple Goldfinger-style laserbeams turn a punch-up into a freaky dance number. They make you want to cheer with relief.
Die Another Day is also very sexy. Berry, restricted by a one-dimensional character, makes no bones about which gadgets she has at her disposal. All told, the camera spends more time perusing her chest than it does the sleek bonnet of the new Aston Martin, while Pike makes for an enticing contrast, an ice-cold MI6 agent throwing frosty barbs in the direction of Bond's libido. In fact, all the cast more than pass muster.
Toby Stephens proves the most buoyant and happily hammy of all Brosnan's foes, recast by a madcap gene therapy into a dapper splice of Richard Branson and Hugh Grant's evil twin. Although, when you boil down his motive, he is a tad conflicted as to whether capitalism or communism is the raw material for his devilry. Let's forget Madonna's cameo, it's as half-witted as her dreadful theme song.
And throughout it all, Brosnan is the glue that keeps the film from descending into parody. He is now so confident flipping from gritty determination to louche chauvinism, you can feel him slip nuances beneath his director's nose. As his films get more chaotic, he gets subtler. 007 even gets his first orgasm for 40 years; no wonder he's got a spring in his step.
Not quite the birthday party we were expecting, but it's a diverting enough spectacle. The character and his careful owner are just too good to let the evident wobbles founder this universal export. You just wish the producers would learn to stop worrying