Friday, November 6, 2015

In Which The Author Rambles On About James Bond

If you came here looking for my thoughts on Spectre, psycheth!  I’ll most likely be watching the latest Daniel Craig Bond entry this Saturday with some friends, and may or may not offer my critique depending on how mediocre it is and how much time I have.  If it turns out merely meh, I can probably still give it a Not Worth The Effort analysis.  In the meantime, here’s a flashback review of a much more antiquated and cheesy Bond film that I wrote roughly two years ago, minimally edited since then, and opportunistically released today.  Part 4 of the 100-something movie countdown will be out tomorrow once I watch a potential title and make up my mind on its merits.

“Intercontinental ballistic missiles and various other missiles, which have already set their striking targets, are now armed with lighter, smaller and diversified nuclear warheads and are placed on a standby status. When we shell (the missiles), Washington, which is the stronghold of evils, .... will be engulfed in a sea of fire.”

So said a rather cheery North Korean General Kang Pyo Yang earlier this year in a series of brazen death threats aimed by Kim Jong Un’s tyrannical regime against its neighbor South Korea and the United States. Whether or not the North’s ruling elites ever act on those threats by launching nuclear weapons into Japan or the South, so igniting World War III and immediately ending the lives of hundreds of thousands, and whether a handful of Aegis-equipped destroyers and measly Predator drones carrying NCRAP seekers have the capability to knock these missiles out of the air by shooting smaller missiles of their own, all without advance warning, remains to be seen.

Regardless, the North’s long history of gleefully violent rhetoric does provide an interesting angle from which to examine James Bond’s 40th or so adventure, Die Another Day.  Given the harshly strained relations and undeclared state of war between the North and South, it’s a supreme paradox that this movie is simultaneously one of the most and one of the least believable entrants of the Bond series, entirely plausible in its supposition that the North is eventually going to try to torch the South in its expansive quest for power, and entirely implausible in its imaginative conspiracy that the North will do so with a giant, Death Star-like magnifying glass orbiting the earth.  Die Another Day is the kind of summer action flick that’s so ridiculous and monumental in its staging that it will divide viewers into two overarching sets: those who will scoff and groan throughout the picture, ultimately dismissing it for its total absurdity, and those who will voluntarily suspend their disbelief for two hours to experience a pure cinematic roller-coaster ride which rarely surfaces in the Bond franchise.  I myself fall more into the latter group, but perhaps that’s because snoozers like Never Say Never Again, The Living Daylights, and License to Kill had formerly whetted my appetite for a Bond movie with action.

Played competently this time around by Pierce Brosnan, Britain’s iconic secret agent Bond has infiltrated the North Korean ranks at the movie’s start, though his ruse is exposed soon enough.  Hijacking a futuristic hovercraft designed by the North’s brilliant military technicians (which is only the first instance where the movie sheds all real-world credibility), he almost manages to make an impressive get-away across the DMZ, but the commies succeed in capturing him and subject him to a grueling 14 months of torture and sleep deprivation via an excruciating theme song by Madonna.  Whoever’s currently running the fun house at Club Gitmo should forget Sesame Street and start blasting “Die Another Day” instead, but hey, I’m sure 007 would take Madonna over Sam Smith any day.  The English finally trade Bond for a prisoner of their own named _____, who is destined to be one of three terrorists set on world domination that Bond will face off against in this episode.  That’s all you really need to know about the plot, which is paper-thin per the series’ norm but entertaining and well-paced nonetheless.

Halle Berry’s stupid, goofy-looking, grossly overrated bathing suit

I should briefly note that Halle Berry portrays the token love interest – or sex interest, as Bond himself admits that his relationships never last that long and that he has no time for anything beyond an obligatory one- or two-nighter –, but that’s supposing what she does in the film can honestly be described as a “portrayal”.  Completely inadequate for any role that requires her to convincingly read lines or simulate feelings of pain and passion, she makes her bore of an NSA agent (yeah, that’s the big twist – no wonder she screws up her mission and needs Bond to come rescue her) even more boring than the script otherwise allows and also lacks the hot factor necessary for the female sidekick’s part, which is really the only thing it demands.  Considering the notoriety this movie has attained among studious professors of swimsuitology in pop-culture, “Jinx” just isn’t all that sexy, in part because the truly sexy woman has more dignity and moral resolve than to allow a creepy stranger staring down her bikini bod through binoculars to bed her literally the first night after their meeting.  Halle here is a cat burglar with nothing worth burgling, joining the legions of other forgettable actresses who have shamelessly degraded themselves to get attention from a horde of willing accomplices in the celebrity-obsessed media.

Fortunately, she’s just a secondary attraction in a movie that’s chock-full of awesome and mostly impossible fight scenes.  Prior to watching Die Another Day, I would probably point to Mission Impossible 2 as the most ludicrous action movie I’ve seen outside The Matrix trilogy (which took place in a computer and thus had an excuse to be physically impossible), but James Bond makes blowing up the gas tank of a truck while doing a wheelie on a motorcycle look relatively believable with all the stunts he executes here, including but not limited to:
* faking a cardiac arrest in order to escape custody
* pulling a 180-degree spin on ice with his camouflage-enabled car to shoot missiles at a pursuer, then spinning right around again.
* outrunning a giant space laser in some kind of snow buggy, leaping from a collapsing cliff face, and paragliding right over a towering wall of waves

Does Bond kick a handgun out of the sand, grab it at chest level, and expertly shoot his armed rival down with a single bullet?  Swing around backwards to grab a handhold while rock-climbing without a harness at several thousand feet?  No.  On second thought, I guess Ethan Hunt still takes the cake for having the most incredible movie feat, and the second and the third too.  Regardless, Die Another Day is bloody amusing to watch and arguably compresses more memorable action sequences into a single story than the rest of the Bond franchise can claim altogether.  The special effects are pretty impressive overall for a 10-year-old picture of medium budget, despite the intermittent presence of some atrocious green-screen and CGI, most noticeable during the paragliding scene, and the bad guys all meet particularly gruesome and satisfying ends that may have inspired key plot points in The Incredibles and Captain America.  Die Another Day is fraught with camp but seems to be fully aware of that fact, as its writers pack a number of unnecessary speeches and terrible one-liners into the screenplay.

“Saved by the bell.” ~ Bond, upon saving himself from a precarious fall by jumping and clinging to a bell 
“I see you handle your weapon well.”
“I have been known to keep my tip up.” ~ Oh, Bond. 
“If you don’t hurry up, I won’t be half the woman I used to be.” ~ Berry, while strapped to a board and terrified of deadly lasers whirring close enough to cut her in half 
“That’s a nice fit.  I hope it doesn’t shrink in water.” ~ Unexpected villain, broadcasting her plot to murder the unexpected heroine with – you got it – water
“I can read your every move!”
“Read this…” Executes cool knife move.
(long pause as the gravity of what happened sinks in)

“… bitch!” ~ Because “read this” wasn’t a good enough punch line.

Undeniably silly, unapologetically over-the-top, and unusually entertaining, Die Another Day is easily the best James Bond movie I’ve ever seen thus far.  While that might be like contrasting The Wrath of Kahn with any of the other Star Trek movies or comparing the merits of Not-Dante’s Inferno to that of another Dan Brown novel, it’s a rare compliment that I extend to an entrant of this series, which, if Skyfall’s billion-something dollar gross means anything, will surely live to die another day.  Check it out if you get the chance, or click on all the video links above and save yourself a lot of time. Or don’t click on the links and save yourself even more time.

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