Of all the noteworthy things in Die Another Day (and there are many) perhaps the most remarkable is Pierce Brosnan’s fourth and final performance. Even as the film around him flies entirely off the rails, or more accurately, over the icy cliff into a CGI tidal wave, in its second half, Brosnan takes it all in confident, collected stride. For the long-running franchise’s 40th birthday director Lee Tamahori concocts a ball of cinematic energy, relentlessly throwing overt references to entries past at a canvas in hopes that a few stick. One reference, in which a bikini-clad Halle Berry emerges dramatically in slow motion from the ocean, is emblematic of the film as a whole: energetic, flashy, and dialed up to eleven.
Die Another Day, from the script to the plot to the direction, is unequivocally a movie of two halves. The first hour’s plot follows a determined Bond seeking revenge against whoever betrayed him to the North Koreans, which led to a yearlong stint at a torturous prison camp. Brosnan plays the post-imprisoned 007 with undeniable drive, world-weariness, and recklessness. The script plays it mostly straight, resulting legitimately in one of the finer first hours in the entire series, and Tamahori follows suit, injecting the proceedings with a real liveliness and color that the film’s predecessor, The World Is Not Enough, sorely lacked. Before the movie takes a turn into pure science-fiction/fantasy territory we are treated to a thrilling sword fight between Bond and the main antagonist, Gustav Graves (an insufferably smug Toby Stephens). The practical action sequences in Die Another Day are inventive, and a refreshing divergence from the machine-gun battles that had become a staple during the “Brosnan era.”
The second half, featuring ice palace hotels, invisible Aston Martins, RoboCop armored suits, and innuendo your 13-year old nephew would find witty, seemingly answers the question, “What happens when Lee Tamahori loses all restraint?” As the script weakens into a Diamonds are Forever-esque apocalypse affair he follows it completely over the top. He maintains the energy and the pace but dials the flashy ridiculousness inherent in most Bond films up way past eleven. Halle Berry, in a terrible performance as leading lady “Jinx” Johnson, is given no favors by the script, having to utter appalling dialogue amidst scenes involving frenzied lasers and henchmen donning Sith Lord attire (ironic that Director of Photography David Tattersall also shot the Star Wars prequels).
Luckily, the undeniably inferior last half is rendered watchable by Brosnan’s consistency, Peter Lamont’s outlandish yet exciting production design, and Rosamund Pike’s splendid early performance as the icy Miranda Frost. Even Tamahori, guilty of orchestrating the CGI surfing superhero moments, keeps it moving briskly. Moments of abysmal quality flash by, replaced by upside down ejector seat stunts that are impossible to dislike. Ultimately, however, despite a truly excellent first half and superb final performance from Pierce Brosnan, Die Another Day’s second half is too full of nonsense to fully exonerate it of blame.