2 of 5 stars
Die Another Day brought 49-year-old Pierce Brosnan back for one final Bond film. Die Another Day takes great efforts in reminding viewers it’s the 20th (official) Bond film, shoehorning references to almost every previous film at every opportunity.
Like Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker before it, Die Another Day descends to such depths of ridiculousness even the filmmakers realized there was something seriously wrong with the series, hence the need for a reboot with the next film.
Things go wrong in the first few seconds of the film during the “gun barrel sequence,” the iconic opening shot of each Bond film in which 007 is tracked with a gun barrel, stops and spins toward the audience, and fires his gun. This time a CGI bullet rushes toward the audience, which looks silly.
The story starts with Bond and two companions (who we never see again) surfing into North Korea, where they infiltrate Colonel Tan-Sun Moon’s base on the premise of trading African conflict diamonds for weapons. COL Moon (Will Yun Lee, Spy) is tipped off Bond is a British assassin, and attempts to execute him. This leads to a hovercraft chase over a minefield and ends with Moon’s supposed death. Bond is then captured and thrown into a North Korean prison where he’ll spend the next 14 months. Queue opening music…
When Madonna’s theme song begins, your first thought will be there’s something wrong with the speakers. The halting techno music and auto-tuned vocals clash with images of Bond being tortured by North Korean guards. It’s easily the worst song in the series and only works in the context of the film if the filmmakers were suggesting being subjected to nearly four minutes of Madonna’s music is symbolic of being tortured in a North Korean prison for 14 months.
Cut to Bond with long hair and a scraggly beard wearing tattered clothing.
This image is meant to clash with the suave, debonair image of Bond we’re used to.
Despite his scraggly look, Bond is still in excellent shape. I wonder how he obtained enough calories or was able to exercise while handcuffed in order to maintain his physique. It doesn’t make sense, unless you guess he was made all scruffy so he could clean up nice later.
Bond is finally rescued when he’s exchanged for Zao, one of Moon’s henchmen, only when M, Bond’s boss, believes Bond was leaking information and therefore needed to be pulled out. She’s none too happy and strips Bond of his double-oh status. Bond knows he’s been set up, and immediately shrugs off being tortured for more than a year to go investigate.
The trail first leads him to Havana where Zao is getting a DNA transplant in a creepy clinic to make him into a white person. Bond uses the cover of an ornithologist to observe the clinic from afar.
Here he encounters Jinx, an NSA agent also investigating Zao. She emerges from the water like Honey Rider in Dr. No.
To say Jinx (Halle Berry) is the poor man’s Honey Rider is a wee bit generous. I’d say she’s the homeless man’s Honey Rider. We’re then subjected to a painful scene where Bond, using his ornithologist cover, awkwardly uses bird watching references as double entendres. There couldn’t be less chemistry between Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry if they were in separate films. I know from personal experience most writers are virgins, and the writing of this scene perfectly illustrates why.
While trashing the clinic where Zao is getting his genetic makeover, Bond finds he’s paying for his DNA transplant using African conflict diamonds with the marking on them of one Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens, who would go on to play James Bond in several BBC radio versions of Ian Fleming’s novels). This puts Bond on Graves’s trail, and ruffles the feathers of another MI6 agent, Miranda Frost (the lovely and talented Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl), who has already been assigned to keep tabs on Graves.
Bond catches up with Graves at Blades Club—a location used in several of Fleming’s novels—where British pop star Madonna makes a pointless cameo before Bond and Graves engage in a sword fight, which is the highlight of the movie and one of the best fight scenes in the series. It would make sense to stop watching at this point, because the film quickly goes downhill from here.
I actually quite enjoyed the first half of this movie, despite a few missteps. I was engaged in the plot of Bond losing his double-oh status and tracking Graves, who has a mysterious North Korean connection. It’s about the midpoint when the invisible car makes its first appearance and I quickly got fed up.
From this point on, the movie becomes so overblown it’s actually boring. As the huge action sequences—such as Bond racing from a giant freakin’ laser beam from outer space and then surfing away on cartoon waves—were impractical to film, the filmmakers relied on CGI. People typically don’t watch Bond films for the amazing plots—they watch them for the incredible stunt-filled set pieces. When the audience can clearly tell the stunts aren’t real, and they’re not terribly invested in the story, the movie is set up for failure.
That is the main criticism of Die Another Day: It breaks the franchise’s contract with its audience by presenting inferior CGI instead of real stunts.
Then there are visual cues to previous films in a desperate attempt to rely on nostalgia, such as Jinx strapped to a table and in danger of being flayed with a laser beam like in Goldfinger.
This is preceded by her insulting the bad guy, Mr. Kil, by saying, “Yo mama!”… While I don’t have any black friends, I’m pretty sure that’s not how black people really talk. Bond then comes to the rescue, and suddenly there are a dozen lasers spinning wildly around the room. This is supposed to be a bigger and betterer version of the Goldfinger scene, but it gets the suspense all wrong. Bond and Mr. Kil easily dodge or luckily miss all the lasers. It reminds me of the boring robot assembly line sequence in Star Wars: Episode II. The audience quickly loses interest as we realize it’s fake and nothing is at stake.
Another scene evokes the image of Bond’s dead wife (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) by showing Jinx presumably dead in the passenger seat of his car.
There are a few other cringe-worthy missteps. One Bond girl’s name is, I shit you not, Peaceful Fountains of Desire. Suddenly Pussy Galore seems subtle by comparison. Bond also awkwardly seduces 23-year-old Rosamund Pike, which brings back uncomfortable memories of Grandpa Moore also bedding much younger women.
Die Another Day goes a little too far in its references to previous movies, which take viewers out of the movie rather than drum up fond memories of better films. Here’s a limited list of the references, in chronological order of the original film:
From Russia with Love: Along with many other items, including the briefcase with hidden gadgets, Bond handles (and sniffs) Rosa Klebb’s poison tipped shoe.
Goldfinger: Almost too many references to count. John Cleese as Q says, ‘I never joke about my work,’ Bond’s new car has a detachable roof and ejector seat, the villain sucked out of an airplane at the end.
Thunderball: Bond discovers the jet pack he used is still in working order. He also still has the pen-sized underwater breather handy.
You Only Live Twice: The music during the epilogue in North Korea somewhat resembles the YOLT theme.
Diamonds Are Forever (for some reason): The return of Blofeld’s space laser.
Octopussy: Several props make a cameo.
The Living Daylights: Similar escape from a crashing airplane.
GoldenEye: Bond receives a new watch from Q, who tells him, ‘Your twentieth, I believe,’ to which Brosnan replies, ‘Funny, it only seems like my fourth.’ This watch still has the laser feature.
The World Is Not Enough: I’m pretty sure this Uruk-hai was also Gabor…
I remember reading once Kim Jong-Il was a huge fan of the Bond films and thought they were documentaries. Whether that’s true, I don’t know, but it does make me wonder what he thought of this movie.
While Die Another Day was a box office success and had some interesting visuals, it threatened to alienate the franchise’s fan base. Thankfully, instead of escalating with even larger stakes in the next film, the producers went back to the basics with their adaptation of Fleming’s first novel in the great Casino Royale.