REVIEW: Die Another Day
Produced by: Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Edited by: Christian Wagner
Cinematography by: David Tattersall
Music by: David Arnold, Madonna (theme)
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, John Cleese, Judi Dench, Will Yun Lee, Kenneth Tsang, Colin Salmon, Samantha Bond, Michael Madsen
Based on characters created by Ian Fleming
Originally, my first post-break review was going to be of the most recent film in the Bond franchise, Spectre, however, a medical emergency (not mine) led to an unexpected disruption midway through. (Seriously, how dare my friend?) Everything’s good now, but I’ve now decided to instead go back to my original post-Halloween plans of reviewing one of Pierce Brosnan’s films as a sort of retrospective. Yeah, I originally also decided on not doing that, too, because I needed a bit of a review break, but now that I’m back, and the review for Spectre has been delayed, I figured, “Why not?”
Die Another Day was a milestone film in the franchise in more ways than one. It was the 20th official Bond film in the franchise and was also released on the 40th anniversary of the film franchise. As a result, it was basically mandated that the film be packed with iconography from previous Bond films – jetpacks, iconic swimsuits, diamonds, laser torture devices, etc. What nobody knew at the time, however, was that it would also end up being the final film appearance of Pierce Brosnan as 007. The decision to drop Brosnan was largely to the fact that Die Another Day, though financially successful, would also end up being remembered as the series’ answer to Batman & Robin – a film burdened with a ridiculous premise, awful script, terrible performances, and gaudy effects. The studio pretty much had no other choice but to reboot the whole franchise, recast, and start with something completely different in order to save the franchise from becoming an irrelevant, unintentional parody of itself. It’s been thirteen years since its release, however, and with the current run of gritty, realistic Bond films seemingly swaying back, more or less, to the more iconic supervillain shenanigans most associate with the franchise, is it possible that Die Another Day deserves some kind of reevaluation?
With the previous Brosnan films centering mostly on maniacal individuals threatening the world peace that settled upon the 1990s rather than any one nation to blame all the world’s ills on, as during the Cold War, and with 9/11 still way too fresh in people’s minds to make any sort of reference to in a lighthearted action flick, Die Another Day managed to return the series to its heyday by singling out the North Koreans for the first 21st Century Bond flick. Always good for a thrashing, the totalitarian government’s animosity to practically the whole world made it an ideal and topical source of villainy without offending too many people (at least, so they must’ve thought, as South Koreans still found plenty to protest regarding the film’s portrayal of the conflict with their cranky neighbors).
Bond, ever the hip, cool cat, is first seen entering the heavily guarded and notoriously isolated country via surfboard, a stunt almost assuredly decided upon in order to reassure to the younger audiences of this new millennium that the filmmakers knew that England’s best secret agent is down with it and knows that the most obvious and best tool for the job for this is totally a rad surfboard, brah. He then intercepts a conflict diamond trade with one of the country’s top military leaders, but his cover is unexpectedly blown, leading to the expected opening action sequence. Bond, for the first time, doesn’t end up getting the upper hand, however, despite sending Colonel Tan-Sun Moon to his death with a snappy one-liner. Captured and tortured for his actions, this unprecedented turn of events is made all the more excruciating for Bond, as the techno warbling of Madonna performing one of the series’ worst Bond theme songs since Lulu’s exploitation film-inspired cheesefest, “The Man With the Golden Gun,” kicks in. Luckily, we’re all spared further torment when a deal is struck 14 months later between MI6 and the North Korean government to trade Bond for a dangerous North Korean terrorist named Zao, whose face was apparently permanently embedded with diamonds in the opening scene. Bond, however, isn’t so much too valuable for MI6 to lose as much as he is being seen as a potential liability who possibly leaked secrets while under extreme duress. Bond, however, is too badass to be that much of a wuss, and so he charms and beats his way out of the high-tech facility holding him and sets out to find both Zao and whoever it was that sold him out.
Snark aside, this whole setup is admittedly a really solid premise for a Bond film, and the decision to have the opening gambit be a loss for Bond is a great jumping off point for a series that was in grave danger of going stale. Putting Bond in such a precarious situation so early on hints at exciting and dangerous new scenarios lying ahead. Sadly, the film quickly reverts to being far more indulgent in cashing in on lazy familiarity rather than taking the opportunity to subvert more expectations. I guess it might count as a change-up that the film’s primary Bond Girl is an American secret agent who is ostensibly Bond’s equal in pretty much every way you can imagine, from sharing the common goal of capturing Zao and whoever it is that’s employing him as well as for their penchant for dropping embarrassingly obvious sexual innuendos in everyday conversation, something that Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies was far too serious and competent to stoop down to. Jinx, as she calls herself, isn’t so much a refreshing breath of fresh air, however, as much as she is a means of reinforcing Bond’s spectrum of sexual appetites. Halle Berry lacks charisma in the role of the sassy spy, and her line delivery never seems to convey the right emotions for her scenes, though I can’t exactly hold it against her, since the character is written like a windup doll that can only speak in clumsy puns. It’s no wonder her spin-off movie was cancelled. It also really doesn’t help that she and Pierce Brosnan (seemingly bored of playing the role, despite stating the opposite at the time) go together like toothpaste and orange juice: mixing them catches you off guard with how unbelievably terrible the combination is, leaving your face contorted in disgust.
Not even the North Korean villains really get to have their dues, however, as the film employs a ridiculous gene therapy program gimmick that has the film’s real main villain being “hidden” right under Bond’s nose as a character (and actor) of a different race. The only remaining major character who retains his Asian looks, as a result, is the now bald, blue-eyed assassin/henchman with diamonds in his face, Zao, whose transformation was cut short halfway through. The secret of who this new villain’s true identity is painfully obvious, as is the identity of the MI6 mole who sold Bond out. The film attempts to add some kind of tragic spin on the main villain after his true identity is revealed, but it falls on deaf ears since the person he’s hurt in the process still works for a freaking despotic government that sends its own citizens to prison camps at the drop of a hat. Were they trying to make some kind of statement about nationalism, ethnicity, and/or identity and the pitfalls of clinging too closely to those concepts or something? I’m not really certain, and it’s hard to really concentrate on it anyway since there’s a massive plane that’s falling to pieces around the characters while still somehow maintaining altitude as a satellite is meanwhile concentrating sunrays down onto the surface of the earth in one big mine-destroying death ray.
Gosh, I’ve already said a lot and still haven’t even gotten to remind you about just how bad some of the CGI and matting effects are in this movie, or tell you about how the movie also features a snobbish diamond mogul played by an actor who is clearly relishing the opportunity to mug at the camera all day and be the only one content to endure it. Nor have I gotten to reiterate just how terrible the script is, particularly with its sense of humor. I’ll take the opportunity to just point that one out right here and now with this exchange between Zao and Jinx as she lies strapped to a torture device:
Zao: “Who sent you?”
Jinx: “Yo mama, and she told me to tell you she’s really disappointed in you!”
… Really, guys? You only wrote that line because she’s a sassy black woman, didn’t you?
Many critics took issue with the scenes that take place inside a giant ice hotel, or how there’s now an Aston Martin V12 “Vanish” that is capable of cloaking itself – a function utilized just as often for its comedic potential as for its sci-fi usefulness – but, really, these are the least of the film’s issues, if you even consider them issues, and they are at least reasonably plausible, since ice hotels do exist, and the technology to create a cloaking car in such a manner as presented in the film is also actually being worked on, as well. Had the acting, effects, plotting, and script been better than what we got, I hardly think these would be much of an issue, given the climate back in the day. However, these really are the only elements that have aged better than expected. Everything else is just as bad as before, if not actually worse now that we’ve had several years and four movies to show us the Bond films’ potential if taken in the more serious direction. If anything, much like Batman & Robin, there is some dumb camp value in Die Another Day that can be entertaining if you’re in the right mood or interested in reminding yourself of just how far we went in order to get to where we’ve come with this series. So, no, it’s hardly the worst Bond film they could have possibly ever made.
That being said, I don’t think there’s really any better way to sum up this movie than with the film’s closing dialogue and some of the last lines Brosnan would ever deliver on film in this iconic role:
Jinx: “Wait, don’t pull it out. I’m not finished with it yet.”
Bond: “See? It’s a perfect fit.”
Jinx: “Uh-huh! Leave it in.”
Bond: “Well, it’s gotta come out sooner or later.”
Jinx: “No. Leave it in. Please? A few more minutes.”
Bond: [removing a stolen diamond from Jinx’s playfully exposed bellybutton] “We really have to put these back.”
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2 / 5