The longer the Bond franchise runs, the more tired the adventures seem, especially to those who’ve been keeping track since the beginning. “Die Another Day” nobly attempts to refresh the formula by having 007 captured behind North Korean enemy lines. (He spends the entire opening credits sequence being tortured for information while ladies made of fire and ice seductively dance to Madonna’s clubby theme song.) But the novelty of temporarily seeing Bond beaten wears off fast as soon as the spy — once suave, now sporting a full Robinson Crusoe castaway beard — is returned to British soil, at which point the writers immediately begin borrowing from earlier installments. “Diamonds Are Forever” seems to be particularly inspiring, providing the villainous scheme of launching a satellite super-weapon which uses illegal diamonds to reflect and amplify the sun’s rays which “Die Another Day” recycles. That late-Connery classic also features the idea of a villain transforming himself through elaborate plastic surgery. (In “Diamonds,” Blofeld makes doubles of himself to confuse Bond, while in “Die,” a Korean warlord gives himself an Aryan makeover.)
My frustration with “Die Another Day” owes not to its lack of originality but to the frustrating contradiction in director Lee Tamahori’s style. The Kiwi helmer is perhaps the best director of action the franchise has had, and yet he seems torn between the psychological realism starting to creep into the series and the temptation to push sequences and set pieces to cartoonish extremes. As Bond bases go, Gustav Graves’ ice palace makes even the hollowed-our volcano of “You Only Live Twice” seem reasonable — and of course it’s only a matter of time before the place starts to melt.
Then there’s the CG-intensive climax itself, which features Bond trying to out-race the conflict-diamond-encrusted death ray with world’s fastest car, a stunt that sends him flying over a cliff and ultimately para-sailing on digital icebergs while a virtual tidal wave crashes toward the screen. It looked fake in 2002 when the film came out, and it’s even less convincing a decade later, now that the industry has realized that audiences prefer old-fashioned practical (or at least somewhat plausible) stunts.
The odd thing about the Brosnan entries is that they benefited from the series’ ideal star, and yet they seem to be so conflicted about what a Bond movie needed to be in order for the franchise to survive. Each one feels different, not only from one another, but from the rest of the Bond oeuvre, as if the Eon producers had decided simply to compete with the other quickie action pics being pumped into theaters, only to be promptly forgotten, at the time. To keep things fresh, this incarnation of the character would effectively have to die, so a new 007 could live another day.