Die Another Day (2002)

At the time I am writing this there is some concern for the upcoming Bond film, No Time to Die, and whether some of the story decisions may end up killing off the series.  Truth is, if that was the case, the James Bond series should have been dead years ago, during the Roger Moore era.  Both Moonraker and Octopussy did their best to turn Bond either into a comic book superhero or (literally) a clown.  Then, of course, there was the last film during Pierce Brosnan's tenure in the lead role: Die Another Day.

While Brosnan gets some derision as one of the worst Bonds, truth is he played the role well.  The problem was the movies themselves.  GoldenEye was fine, but Tomorrow Never Dies suffered from a convoluted story while The World Is Not Enough suffered from Denise Richards.  For me, I find a lot to enjoy in all three of those films, as they all have some grand stunt sequences and good performances from most of the main cast, and with a few exceptions I enjoy them more than most of the Roger Moore films.  Die Another Day, however, was supposed to a 40th anniversary film for the series, and should have been something for the fans to remember.

Remember it we do.  Not, however, for the reasons intended. 

We start off with James Bond (Brosnan) and a couple of other agents surfing onto a North Korean beach.  Bond takes over the role of an international arms dealer, but the mission soon goes south when an unknown mole identifies him to Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) and his henchman Zao (Rick Yune).  Bond escapes the Colonel, but not his father General Moon (Kenneth Tsang).  We are then treated to an opening sequence of Bond being tortured in a dank cell somewhere in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea - to nude gyrating women representing fire and ice and Madonna singing the worst Bond theme ever.  

Just when Bond thinks it's over, it turns out that he's to be traded for Zao - who survived a C4 explosion only to have diamonds embedded in his face.  Bond finds on his return to the West that he's no longer wanted, and M (Judi Dench) intends on having him sidelined.  Bond has no intention of his own to be such, and escapes, pursuing Zao to a DNA replacement clinic in Cuba, where he also runs into someone else who is after Zao - Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry).  Some diamonds Zao has on him connects him to Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), an inventor and sports enthusiast who has made a name for himself while Bond was out of the picture.  Bond has his suspicions about Graves, and it turns out that M does as well, as she has an undercover MI6 agent named Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) keeping an eye on him.  As for graves, he has a new project called Icarus, which appears to be a grand philanthropic scientific breakthrough for the world, but in fact hides a more sinister purpose.

If from the very words "DNA replacement" there is a mental double-take, then just understand that this is not just some throwaway pseudoscience but a major plot point in the movie.  It involves removing the patient's bone marrow and replacing it with that of runaways and homeless people kidnapped off the street, and Zao is using it to get turned into a white guy.  Moreover, as things go on, the whole point of the complicated enterprise boils down to something that, at least in the movie's world, is solved in the pre-credit sequence with hovercrafts.

The ridiculous plot is not the only problem here.  There are films from around the same time with the same budget that managed better special effects; in fact, all three Brosnan films before it, all of which were made in the 1990s, had more convincing practical and digital effects.  Even worse, I'm sure I can find direct-to-video movies from the same time period that don't have sequences that look as horrible as the kite-surfing sequence.  I have no idea how Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson viewed this and didn't immediately fire director Lee Tamahori on the spot.  Also, as if the digital effects weren't horrible enough, we get practical effects like a rocket-powered snow craft shooting out a grappling hook, followed by what looks like a toy airplane on a string dangling off of a plastic iceberg.  At various points the actual line between the soundstage and the mirror reflecting the matte paintings can be seen. 

There are good parts to the movie - the car chase on a frozen lake, a good part of the opening hovercraft chase and John Cleese's appearance as the new Q - but it is overshadowed by invisible cars, fistfights among laser beams as well as some of the worst sexual innuendo written.  Yes, Bond likes the ladies, and the ladies like Bond, but I'm sure they have more to discuss than little Jimmy, especially since both Jinx and Miranda are supposed to be professionals. 

That said, Rosamund Pike, in her first acting job, is decent, but Miranda Frost is given little to do than to act icy until it's time to inevitably hop in bed with Bond.  Halle Berry is given more of a real role, and there was even talk of bringing her back for her own movie, but it was probably a good idea that they didn't.  While Die Another Day didn't bomb at the box office, the producers realized that it was largely on momentum of being a Bond film than on anything else, and that another follow-up in the same vein would truly be a disaster.  Lucky for them, both the rights to the original book and to use S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (and, along with it, Blofeld) became available, allowing for them to reboot the series with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale four years later. 

I really wish there was an exciting story behind how this all went wrong, but I could not find it if there is.  Lee Tamahori started his career with a great movie called Once Were Warriors, which focused on how the Maori are still treated as second-class citizens in New Zealand.  Since then his output has been questionable at best, and there was already a spotty track record before Die Another Day.  There are tons of references to the previous movies in the series, and it appears that at this point the producers were indifferent to what else was in it as long as Tamahori included the material they wanted.  Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have been responsible for the scripts for many of the Daniel Craig Bond films, but from what I understand didn't have someone go over and polish things this time around.  It may be sad to say, but largely it just appears that everyone involved was just concerned about making sure there was a new Bond film in 2002 regardless of quality. 

Regardless of how this turned out it was obvious it was time for a new Bond again, if anything than to avoid hanging onto the star of the show too long again.  It is just disappointing that, except for GoldenEye, it seems that one of the better Bonds was sabotaged at every turn by convoluted plots and mediocre writing.  It is to Brosnan's credit that the movies prior to Die Another Day turned out to be as fun and watchable as they now are.  Still, not even he can save this mess, and he deserved much better to end his time in the role. 

Die Another Day (2002)
Time: 133 minutes
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Toby Stephens
Director: Lee Tamahori


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