There's a moment in the latest Bond outing when Pierce Brosnan's redoubtable spy enjoys a trip down memory lane with the crotchety gadgetmaster Q, played by John Cleese. Hidden away in an underground bunker, they play with mementos of previous Bond adventures – a jetpack from Thunderball, the poison-tipped shoe with which Lotte Lenya tried so devilishly to dispense with Sean Connery in From Russia with Love, all the toys from 40 years of spy-yarning.
It's a telling scene, that suggests that with a number of contemporary action heroes snapping at 007's heels – notably Vin Diesel's anarchic spy xXx – the Bond producers are fighting back with nostalgia. The 20th in the series is not only surprisingly retro, it is a patchwork quilt of plots, set pieces and set designs from the series back catalogue. This might please Bond fans, but it does not make for a good movie.
The opening 20 minutes are the most satisfying, as Bond is betrayed by his own side and spends several months imprisoned and tortured by North Koreans. The only visible effect of such onerous incarceration being a shaggy beard and a little flab around the midriff, once he is released he is in tip-top nick to find the culprit.
At this stage there is a malice in the events and bitterness in Brosnan's performance that bode for a harder, tougher Bond adventure. It also promises to be quite intriguing. But once Bond pops over to Cuba, the nubile Halle Berry emerges from the sea in a homage to Ursula Andress and the pair swap sexual double entendres of the "you look a lot to handle" variety, it's all downhill.
The preposterous plot that follows involves evil villains using DNA technology to change their appearance, space weapons trained on Earth, an impossible ice palace in Finland and the usual plethora of gadgets and toys, including an invisible car that has no deliverable benefit whatsoever.
Lee Tamahori directs some scenes with hi-tech gusto. There is a fabulous opening sequence as one by one a trio of surfers emerge beneath enormous waves, while Brosnan and villain Toby Stephens indulge in a fencing match that has some of the sheer spite of the Connery-era films.
But from midpoint the pace drops to walking, Stephens continues the run (after Sean Bean and Jonathan Pryce) of weak British villains, and the supposedly modern feistiness and sexiness of the bond girls Berry and Rosamund Pike has been, it is sad to report, exaggerated.
The big success is Brosnan himself. He's taken a while to really get into the role, but is now close to the finished article: and that isn't Connery, but Ian Fleming's Bond: sardonic, cruel and fearful in equal measure. It's good news that the Irishman is up for another outing: next time hopefully he'll get the script he deserves.