Die Another Day
dir. Lee Tamahori
Opens Fri Nov 22 at various theaters.

Now that the 20th Bond debacle is set to unwrap itself worldwide, a shuddering yawn should be rippling through the collective moviegoing army. There is just no need for another 007 adventure--indeed, there hasn't been a need in about 25 years--and yet, like the herpes Bond himself should've contracted years ago, the franchise keeps flaring up. The Brit superagent just won't die, no matter how many tight spots, close shaves, and/or "white-knuckle escapes" he encounters. He is invincible.

Why? The simple answer, of course, is the sheer power of capitalism. The Bond franchise is not just a cash cow, but its own ranch. As the most successful film franchise in cinematic history (a title it will undoubtedly hold for all of eternity--that spoiled little shit Harry Potter be damned!), Ian Fleming's creation is a guaranteed paycheck for everyone involved. From its rather modest beginnings with Sean Connery in Dr. No, to Pierce Brosnan's third crack at the character in The World Is Not Enough, nearly every Bond flick has made stupid amounts of money, thereby guaranteeing a continuation of the exhausted series.

And now comes Die Another Day, the aforementioned number 20, this time with Oscar- winner Halle Berry in the credits (presumably for a dash of cred, along with bountiful boobies), which creates the obvious question: Will Bond's new adventure be any good? Will they get it right this time? The answers are of course not and, again, of course not.

Which is to say, Die Another Day is going to suck just as hard as every other Bond movie.

There are sure to be fans who disagree with this statement, but I stand by my position. The James Bond series--from the early "glory" years to the flick opening this week--has never been any good. Entertaining, maybe (on occasion), but never good (and, yes, I've seen Dr. No and From Russia with Love and Goldfinger--many times). Predictable, void of suspense, and often blatantly cartoonish, Fleming's spy stud has always been flaccid on screen.

Again, there will be those who disagree (my father included), but here's the thing: Like many people, I have always had a certain tender spot in my heart for 007 flicks. I routinely see them upon their release, unable to control myself. They are Thanksgiving candy, usually available every other year-- mindless entertainment, worthy of the 110 minutes they usually take to unfold. Then, last spring, I saw a little movie called The Bourne Identity.

In the overtaxed arena of the spy genre, Doug Liman's film was a startling rejuvenation. Smart, sparse, and more than a little dirty, it boasted not only a more interesting protagonist than James Bond, but a car chase rivaling any found in the entire 007 franchise--in a Mini, no less. There were no real gadgets, no cringe-inducing innuendo, and, perhaps most importantly, no outlandish (and outlandishly stupid) villains. Was it great? No, not entirely. Was it better than any James Bond flick? Yes, I believe it was.

Now, you could argue that Bond pictures have always been about style more than substance (the simple equation appears to be this: suave spy + super stunts + hot chicks = billions of dollars), which may make a comparison been 007 and Jason Bourne unfair. But style does not a good movie make (see Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale--or any of his films, for that matter). Nor should it, which is why all those who wax nostalgic for the days of Sean Connery should adjust their quality barometer. From Dr. No on, Bond films have been exercises in style, populated by inane villains and sexually adventurous women, all wrapped up in what may be the greatest theme song ever scribbled. Is it any wonder that when Sir Connery is recognized as the best Bond ever, the quality that people usually cite is his nastiness? Could it be that his mean streak, at its peak in From Russia with Love and forever lost upon the release of Diamonds Are Forever, brought a certain level of humanity to an otherwise simplistic enterprise?

But this is all bluster, really, for Die Another Day is sure to be another brilliant example of commerce. Which means Bond #30 is not an unfathomable notion. And, who knows, perhaps Bond's producers may themselves grow tired of the formula next time and attempt to shake up the franchise? I'm not holding my breath, but here's a suggestion anyway: Kill off 007 in the first reel and replace him with 008--this time a woman. Say, Franka Potente?

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