Surfers, hovercrafts, creative antagonists and clever quips (“How’s that for a punchline?”) with the standard beautiful women and innuendo-filled opening credits-this Bond movie has it all. The only deviation in this successful formula becomes a variation of how Bond converts women to the “suave” side.
Director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors, Along Came a Spider) takes the filmmaking helm as the plot shakes Bond’s very existence after the beginning sequence. Pierce Brosnan returns to play Bond for a fourth time, most likely enjoying the ground shaking changes to his character. Brosnan’s entrance into a hotel in Asia is priceless along with the mention of his Universal Exports cover which has been sorely missed in recent installments, though his contact does go beyond a functional role. It’s also good to see other agents’ prospective on Bond which had been missing since Goldeneye.
The plot tries to balance Bond into scenes when he’s not conforming (machine guns an instruction manual of Q’s equipment) and when he’s performing his British duty in stunt-filled action scenes or debriefing information to his superiors. Enough to keep an audience pleasantly shaken without being stirred with anger from manipulation and boredom. Filmmakers do give the audience what they want especially when it comes to Bond’s special car and relationship that has been under the radar for years covered in innuendo.
The magnetic Halle Berry follows up her Oscar® winning role in Monster’s Ball as Jinx, a U.S. agent who holds her own with Bond. Berry’s performance work well, but it’s definitely not extraordinary as talk of a spin-off movie might warrant. If this movie materializes, it would need much more background and development to sustain itself as a separate picture.
Toby Stephens (Possession, TVs The Great Gatsby) plays the main antagonist, Gustav Graves and Rosamund Pike plays the now standard secondary female interest, Miranda Frost. Rick Yune (The Fast and the Furious) has presence as Zao, but his antagonistic role never really takes him beyond the norm for action movies. Judi Dench returns as M, in an important but diminished role compared to the last installment, The World is Not Enough, but still gets to explain some important background for the audience. John Cleese returns as Q and his sequence with Brosnan helps filmmakers expedite the large task of referencing every previous James Bond film (19 in all). See if you can find them all. Cleese establishes himself well in the role, originally held by the late Desmond Llewelyn. “One thing I learned from my predecessor is to never joke about work,” he quips to Bond.
Michael Madsen rounds out the cast as the standard U.S. counterpart to Britian’s MI6 brigand of agents and spies while Madonna has a better role in a solid cameo as a fencing instructor and a solid quip about male fighting. The antagonistic roles were surprisingly weak – Mr. Kill didn’t even have an interesting characteristic, just that name that gets a forced snicker from the audience at best!
Don’t expect any plot surprises except for possibly the beginning events, but do expect to be a bit tripped up by confusing logistics and short explanations (mainly from M near the end) of internal espionage. Other errors such as a wig wearing double in an airport runaway sequence, a Cuban saxophonist playing with one hand and some helicopter and satellite logistics might spoil the amazing stunt performed throughout the two hour running time. The mention of Japan during the climax also doesn’t fit because there’s no connection in the plot just another weak justification delivered by the antagonist character.
Previews and advertising may spoil audience guessing which side the female characters are on and some of the quips fall flat, some are even repeated (“I don’t like being tied down”) as if the audience wasn’t paying attention. A few sequences involving virtual reality manage some character surprises and clever entertainment benefits as Britain’s finest once again patrol the world. Increased use of background scenes, like the sight of servants bringing replacements of items just destroyed in an action sequence, would boost the appeal of this exciting, but clichéd series. Filmmakers seem to be making to many compromises to please fans instead of building stronger characters and plots.
Recommended with reservations (**1/2 out of four stars) and rated PG-13 action violence, sexual references, adult innuendos and sexual content. Bond fans won’t be disappointed, but expect all general audiences to be satisfied with their entertainment expenditures.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler