Forty years and 20 films later, James Bond is more alive than ever. In 1962 Brit Terence Young directed Sean Connery and Ursula Andress in Dr No, the first Ian Fleming adventure to hit the big screen. Then, the action took place in Jamaica. Young also directed the second Bond instalment From Russia with Love but is perhaps best remembered for directing Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark. This time round we have Kiwi Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors) at the helm, Pierce Brosnan in his fourth Bond episode and Halle Berry as the spy with tits. For a more exotic feel, the action takes place in North Korea, Cuba, Hong Kong, the UK and Iceland.

Tamahori says he is a fan of Bond and so he continues the best of the tradition of in-jokes, preposterous plot, totally improbable action, corny innuendo and classic one- liners. Tamahori is a gritty director though, so the latest film is much more edgy, sexy and spectacular than some of the Bond pics have been in recent years. Die Another Day abounds with tributes to all the Bond films from Dr No onwards. Some are obvious, like Halle Berry emerging from the ocean wearing an Ursula Andress tribute bikini replete with white belt and knife; others are more subtle. Bond aficionados will have plenty of fun picking and comparing the tributes and references.

Die Another Day also establishes some firsts. Madonna is the first person to both sing the theme song and make a cameo appearance. The film also set a new record for product placement, US$120 million for everything from Jaguars to Revlon. But then again the diamonds are real and Halle Berry gets to wear a dress especially made for her by Donatella Versace.

This is the first Bond film in years to be a classic of the genre. Brosnan brings together the best of Connery and Moore, and Halle Berry -¦ well, she looks cool even if she’s a little too uptight in her military fatigues. There are great performances from John Cleese as Q, who steps in for Desmond Llewellyn, tragically killed after 18 Bond adventures, and Judi Dench who returns as M. Rosamund Pike handles her feature debut well as Miss Frost and Toby Stephens is an adequately slimy villain.

There are flaws though. The film is too long, the implication that North Korea is an axis of evil is simplistic and disturbing and there are way too many explosions, even for a Bond film. Nevertheless, the action is spectacular and, once more, we get a Bond that is all style. One of cinema’s oldest franchises survives another outing.

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