Reviewed by Frank Lovece

The 21st James Bond film (yes, 1983's NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN counts) is also the first of the 21st century, so a glance backward isn't entirely out of order. Thus a beautiful compatriot emerges from the sea Venus-like in a sport bikini a la Ursula Andress in DR. NO (1962), and a British Secret Service storeroom houses a dusty jet pack from GOLDFINGER (1964) and Rosa Klebb's stiletto-tipped shoe, last seen in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963). Even subtler allusions to other Bond films past will no doubt keep fans occupied, and what a good thing that is: Sandwiched between some spectacular set-pieces and one very funny exchange between superspy Bond (Pierce Brosnan at his best) and gadget-master Q (John Cleese) is a formula grown tedious and self-conscious. When the action stops, so does the movie. After a typically bombastic opening that positions Bond inside a North Korean military encampment, things go awry. Bond is captured, and after 14 months of torture, a spy exchange returns him to his boss, M (Judi Dench), who rather densely believes Bond cracked and whose utter callousness after the events of the previous few films seems incongruous. Bond's 007 agent-designation is revoked (for the second time, following 1989's LICENCE TO KILL). Going rogue, Bond globetrots across Cuba, London and Iceland looking for Zao (Rick Yune), the spy for whom he was traded and whom Bond knows set him up for capture. Bond teams up with American spy Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry) and fellow MI6 agent Miranda Frost (promising newcomer Rosamund Pike), and faces billionaire Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), who's developed (yawn) a killer satellite. Berry shows surprisingly athletic grace when running 'n' gunning — and heaven knows you can't take your eyes off her — but irrespective of the MONSTER'S BALL Academy Award she won during production, she's utterly unconvincing the second she opens her mouth and her thin, petulant voice comes out. That might explain why this film has some of the most strained Bond double-entendres yet. Fortunately, it also features some amazing pyrotechnics and big-gear battles, and the breathtaking, escalating sword fight/grudge match between Bond and Graves is among the best ever filmed — Errol Flynn be damned. In contrast, the non-action scenes are so pedestrian that one suspects the good stuff is due less to workmanlike director Lee Tamahori than to one of the best second-unit crews in the biz. Pop-singer Madonna, who co-wrote and performs the title song, has an uncredited cameo as a fencing coach.