Welcome to your briefing 007. Your mission: Die Another Day. I hate to say it 007, but I did not want to exchange your freedom from the North Koreans for the terrorist Zao, but one of our agents was assassinated and we believed you could have been broken, feeding them information. I know you think you were set up, but don’t go looking for trouble, we can bring Zao to justice. So as of now your 00 has been rescinded. You are no good to us right now.
The film opens with a ridiculous scene: Bond surfing. It is actually a really cool sequence, but I don’t know that I buy Bond as a surfer. He surfs onto the shores of North Korea to impersonate a diamond man who is dealing with a rogue North Korean colonel who is dealing arms, but Bond is soon found out. Hovercrafts and explosion then ensue, ending with the colonel and Bond facing off in the DMZ, and just as they arrive at the Korean border, the bell tolls for the Colonel (and I was personally confused why they went for the Saved by the Bell line instead of going for a For Whom the Bell Tolls reference, which would have been a lot more foreshadowing). However, Bond is captured and held.
The credit sequence is unique because it goes where no other credit sequence has gone by showing a progression of the story. Bond is shown being tortured over a period of time by the Koreans who are holding him captive. These “scenes” are accompanied by the theme song, sung by none other than Britain’s very own adopted Madonna. It is a strange fit, especially with the electronic approach she takes with this song, “Die Another Day”. It is a good song and I like it, but I really must say, the song does not fit into the Bond world. It doesn’t belong.
North Korea; Hong Kong; Havana, Cuba; London; Iceland
Bond is sort of on the outs without any allies that help him really closely, although you could argue Jinx becomes that, but she mostly works separately from Bond for most of the film. But there are two minor allies which provide some fun. The first is Mr. Chang, who appears to be a hotel manager in Hong Kong, but is really just a Chinese agents who, after trying to trap Bond, helps him to find Zao, by sending him to Cuba where the wild DNA therapy thing is.
And once Bind arrives in Cuba, he calls upon a long time, but unused ally to the famous Universal Exports. Raoul owns a cigar company and basically seems like the guy from the “Most Interesting Man in the World” ads. He is a bearded Latino who likes to smoke cigars and has the most awesome physical reactions to the things Bond is asking of him. My favorite is when Bond asks if he can borrow the man’s pistol and set of binoculars. A loveable small role.
The main villain in this installment is a little bit strange to describe because he kind of pops up out of nowhere. Graves is an English entrepreneur who found a diamond mine in Iceland, well, supposedly. Bond learns that the diamonds are actually conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone and the Iceland mine is just a front, which means Graves is one conniving SOB who is using the diamonds to fund his Icarus Space project, which involves essentially a giant laser beam in the sky which he plans to use to let North Korea take over South Korea, and then perhaps even more than that. He has a personal connection to the cause let’s say.
Graves’ right hand man, his henchman, is Zao, who is a renown terrorist from N. Korea. His trademark is the diamonds that were blown into his face by none other than our man Bond, creating a permanent glitter effect for his face. He is of the stone faced, hard ass variety without much personality other than evil. He is interesting if for no other reason than the multiple physical appearances he has throughout the film.
John Cleese has taken over for the late Desmond Llewelyn for good and does make a decent Q, or Quartermaster. I am of the belief that Lweleyn will go unmatched in the series, and actually Cleese was quite forgettable, albeit decent here, but the outfitting scene is a nice nostalgia run as we are treated to an underground station full of all the old toys from previous missions, like the jetpack from Thunderball.
The gadgets are nice too, including a nifty loaded surfboard which Bond uses in the opening sequence, complete with a GPS nav beacon. He also supplies Bond with a nice high frequency ring which is able to shatter even the most unshatterable glass. There is also the comment about Bond getting his 20th watch, this being the 20th film in the series. But the real gem here has to be the car, but more on that later.
Halle Berry appears as the second actor in the series to have won an Academy Award before appearing in a Bond film, albeit probably after she had already been cast in the role. Jinx is a somewhat mysterious American who appears to be after the same thing Bond is, Zao. They meet in Cuba and it is soon learned that she works for the NSA. She handles a gun quite nicely and I believe her as a spy, but I will expound upon my complete thoughts on the character a bit later.
Miranda Frost, oh what a character this woman is. She is the publicist of the famous Gustav Graves, and played by a young and beautiful Rosamund Pike before I feel in love with her in such films as An Education and Barney’s Version. Frost is a gold medalist fencer, as well as a MI6 agent, working behind the scenes on Graves, but she is a much more complex cat than her job title suggests, with motives and backgrounds coming out of the woodworks. Again, more on her later.
The Car & the Chase
Yes! So on to that car. First of all I am happy to report that Bond is back in an Aston Martin, but not any Aston Martin. No, it is my favorite car in the world: the Aston Martin Vanquish, or as Q calls it, the Vanish. Why? Well because it has adaptive camouflage, a.k.a. it is invisible, which is super cool. And of course, as always, it is decked out with all the necessary accessories, including the famous ejector seat, which saves Bond once again as it did in Goldfinger.
The chase scene which unfolds is unique in its style as well as its setting. Taking place on the slippery ice just outside of the ice palace which Graves had constructed specifically for his unveiling of Icarus, the chase is a cat and mouse game between Bond’s Aston Martin and Zao’s equally decked out Jaguar, which makes for an interesting dilemma when they are sliding all over the place on the ice. This is the first instance of the enemy having the same technology as Bond in such a showdown, which creates more of an aura about the character in my opinion because otherwise you could argue Q is the man instead of Bond, but not when his skills are the only difference.
Die Another Day is a popular movie to trash in the Bond series, and I can certainly see why. There is a lot happening here which is either poorly done or poorly thought out. For one, and I usually never lead with something like this, the special effects were not very good. There were too may shots of Brosnan in the thick of action when it was all too obvious, and much more so than even past installments, that he was in the studio in front a screen performing the closer shots of the action. Even some of the bigger effects were let downs. The technology maybe just wasn’t there yet to do what they envisioned, but I found it hokey. And to go along with that, the visuals were generally drab and lacking any real punch of color. The use of slow motion was always pretty annoying.
Halle Berry was also an interesting case. I am really on the fence with her performance and character. On the one hand I want to say she was terrible because she was really hokey and silly sometimes, which made her stick out like a sore thumb, but another part of me wants to welcome her seemingly lax and cool delivery of some of her lines. I also hated how easy she was for Bond. Brosnan is charming and women fall for him all the time, but this relationship was way too fast and founded on what? Bond lying about being a birdwatcher? I mean if I am to believe that this thing was real, than I am also to believe that Jinx is super easy, which doesn’t exactly say much about her character. At the end of the day, I really feel like the film could have done without her as a character, and the same could be said for her boss, played by Michael Madsen. He was annoying and I really hated seeing his character whenever he was in a scene. He just came across as that controlling and stupid American. And there was Brosnan, who delivers what I feel is his worst performance out of the four Bond films he was in. I just felt he was lazy and phoning it in most of the time. There are still some great moments here where I see the Brosnan Bond I’ve fallen in love with, but there are also times when it seemed like he was sleepwalking.
And also, I could see someone complaining about the ridiculousness of the film in general. It opens with a surfing scene for Bond for goodness sake. I already said I liked the idea, but Bond is not supposed to be surfing. But you know what? They have him do it again in some crazy tsunami iceberg melting scene. Just stupid big if you ask me, kind of like the whole Icarus idea, which never felt practical to me, if for no other reason than I can’t believe no one before Bond and Raoul noticed that Graves’ diamonds were compositionally identical to that of conflict diamonds. And a final complaint to lay upon the film: “London Calling”? Really? Why is there a need for a soundtrack at all past the theme song, which also didn’t fit with the Bond universe, even if it was catchy.
That is quite a bit I have to complain about the film, but honestly, I didn’t find it to be all that bad. Sure, I have problems with everything I just stated, but there is actually a lot I did like about the film, and it all starts with some of the performances. Look, disclaimer, I love Rosamund Pike, but non-disclaimer, it is because she is brilliant. She is not overly great here, but she is good as Miranda Frost, who is a much deeper character than I remembered. Frost the is the type of Bond girl I feel has been missing, someone who works within the same agency, and yet, is torn from the same type of cloth as someone like Elektra King from The World Is Not Enough. She is the betrayer, which doesn’t make much sense until we learn the tid bit that she was on the Harvard fencing team with Colonel Moon. It is little plot points like this which make the script pretty good. At first I was confused as to how someone billed and promoted as prudish as Frost could fall so easily and so fast for Bond, but then it is revealed that Bond’s trick has been played on him, she was sleeping with him for the sake of her “mission”.
I also greatly enjoyed Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves. Again, he was not a revelation, but he had a certain swagger and bravado that almost reminded me a little bit of Sean Bean in GoldenEye. And that is another thing, as the 20th film, I couldn’t help but notice all the many references thrown into the film for all the fans of the series. The jetpack from Thunderball, the ejector seat from Goldfinger, the pseudo-sex tape set up from From Russia With Love, the famous Ursula Andress introduction mimicked here by Halle Berry. Even the concept that Bond had his 007 rescinded and is on his own we have seen in Licence to Kill. Jinx being an agent working on the same case like Wai Lin from Tomorrow Never Dies or Agent XXX even in The Spy Who Loved Me. I loved all of the references.
There is even a fair bit of great action here. The chase scene on ice is a well executed idea. Some of the concepts in the film were great, like the torturing of Bond in North Korea, and having him held for 14 months, over a year! That is unprecedented for something like a Bond film, and director Lee Tamahori does make it feel like something other than a Bond film, and I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing, but I did feel like there was some of the aura absent in this production. But I did pick up on one Bond character point, which may just be me reading too much into the film, but I realized something when Bond went back into the Ice Palace to save Jinx: he really does have a certain human sense about him. Sure, most people wouldn’t want an ally to die, but in this case I felt like he could have let her die. He has done a lot in the past to catch the bad guy, and since I didn’t buy the relationship between the two, I didn’t find it that much of a stretch. But when I think about what kind of work he is in, it becomes more apparent, along with this instance of bravery, that while he may not be the romantic type to get married ever again, he does has a sensibility when it comes to fellow humans, even as he can come across as a cold hearted assassin sometimes.
This has been an interesting review filled with all kinds of thoughts which I hope are at least somewhat decipherable. Die Another Day is a unique experience, and I would struggle to place it in the catalogue of Bond films in terms of how good it was. I think I am ultimately mixed on it. There is plenty I really liked about the film, which almost surprised me since I had heard a lot of bad things about the film since I had not seen it in some time. But while there was plenty I liked about the film, there was also plenty I did not care for, which puts me somewhere in the middle on the film. It is an elemental affair which pieces together a mediocre Bond outing with its fair share of ups and downs. But I do want to leave on a positive note and mention the fact that the sword fight between Graves and Bond is way up there in scenes in Brosnan Bond’s, and maybe even just in shear terms of action scenes in the entire series. Brilliant scene.
James Bond will return in…