"Die Another Day" (MGM), 123 minutes, PG-13
Directed by Lee Tamahori; Written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade
James Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Gustav Graves: Toby Stephens
M: Dame Judi Dench
"Die Another Day" is the 20th chapter in the cinematic life of James Bond. Bond has lived in interesting international times, in which belief in the sovereign equality of all nations has ruled. Occasionally, that equality has been tested: a renegade, tyrannical nation appears on the scene and threatens the others. Then the question arises: can the democracies — founded on freedom, but which have been changing into bureaucracies — still rise to the challenge?
In the new film, Bond runs up against a North Korean tyrant who would destroy or dominate the West, as well as his own country. This tyrant was educated in the West, at Harvard and Oxford, educated in what he calls "Western hypocrisy." Accordingly, one might expect him to respect his own paternity. He doesn't: he kills his father, a general in the North Korean military. Attracted by the show and money he sees in the West, he adopts a Western look and name, Gustav Graves (which is in keeping with his morbid nihilism).
In his first encounter with Graves, Bond gets thrown into a North Korean prison camp where he is tortured. More than a year later, Bond is released in a prisoner exchange. He walks to his Western comrades, only to have them inject him with a knock-out drug and put him in a hospital room. M, the head of MI6, confronts him there. In years gone by, she called him a "misogynous dinosaur." Now she believes that under torture, Bond told the Koreans secrets and maybe was brainwashed. She says, "You are no use to anyone," and, incidentally, "While you were away, the world changed." She strips Bond of his double-O license and leaves him captive in the therapy center.
Undaunted, Bond escapes from the bureau's therapeutic prison, not just because it's what he's trained to do (that's M's explanation) but also because he loves freedom and has always defied tyranny, brutal or benign. Full of quips and derring-do, he goes on to reclaim his honor and to thwart the murderous Graves.
James Bond is a bit like the American hero, Homer Simpson. Each has got an attractive, amusing good nature that in the end he never betrays or even compromises (in that regard, some see both as cartoon-like). Bond is as good as — no, he's better than — the professionals he works with but he always goes about his job with the joy of an amateur (a true amateur knows he cannot control everything). Ronald Reagan liked James Bond, and I imagine Bond would have liked Reagan.
There is no denying that Bond has a few vices. Yet, as Mark Steyn points out, James Bond is not Bill Clinton, who would spend "so much time in meaningless sexual encounters he [would fail] to get the bad guy." When Bond engages a woman, his doing so never threatens the marital or just order. Rather, his amorous engagements usually upset a tyrant's order and plan, and therefore have a rough justice to them.
Justice (based not on the imagined equality of all nations or cultures but on the self-evident truth "that all men are created equal" and therefore free) makes sense of Bond's treating tyrannies badly and democracies well — even when the democracies treat him shabbily and seem to have changed. It's justice, the political virtue, that entitles Bond to carry a license to kill, for there are things fair to kill and right to die for. Bond sees justice up at the peak of democracy and as its true paternity; it's what Bond serves to protect; it's what — in much more than a monetary sense — he's bonded to. It is good for us, therefore, to feature and to celebrate Bond, James Bond.