Die Another Day (2002)

James Bond film #20 (Pierce Brosnan Bond)

Die Another Day (2002)

After GoldenEye (17) rebooted the James Bond series in 1995, its two successors more or less spent their time adding explosions and computers to old Bond plotlines. This isn’t quite the case with Die Another Day (20), the 20th Bond film (!!), which tries to reframe in the series in the new cinematic landscape of 2002. It deserves some recognition for thinking outside the box, but most of what it tries ends up failing, and the film ultimately collapses under the weight of all its gadgets and one-liners.

X-Men was a huge hit in the year 2000 and, two years later, the Bond filmmakers tried to ride the impending train of box-office success (Spider-Man came out the same year as Die Another Day (20), and after that point there were superheroes in theaters every year).  For all intents and purposes, Die Another Day (20) is James Bond as a superhero. The pre-credit sequence sees him captured in North Korea and his 14 months in prison provide a sort of origin story. He has newfound control over his body, giving himself a heart attack to escape MI6’s medical restraints, and the gadgets he gets – a ring that destroys glass and an invisible car – effectively round out his super powers. Of course, Bond has always had gadgets (as we’re reminded when he’s with the new Q, looking at the shoe spike of From Russia With Love (2) and the jetpack from Thunderball (4)), but watch Bond punch the ground with his ring and tell me it’s not reminiscent of Iron Man.

Unfortunately, Iron Man’s not the only superhero movie that Die Another Day (20) evokes, since the villain’s cheap-looking ice palace reeks of the infamously bad Batman & Robin. Worse off, just like that film, the 20th Bond takes the usual puns and one-liners past the tipping point, providing us with the worst dialogue of any Bond film ever written. The endless back-and-forth innuendos between Bond and Jinx (Halle Berry) is like watching semi-clever high school students flirt, and they just never stop coming (for the love of God, no pun intended).

The other Bond girl in this movie is Miranda Frost, played by Rosamund Pike. She’s first the publicist for villain Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), then a secret agent for MI6, and finally, no wait, she IS a bad guy, helping Graves for.. uh, whatever reason, really. Probably for the sultry single-glove outfit she wears fighting Jinx in the end (which, like many Bond finales, takes place aboard a plane). Frost is yet another woman who initially swears off sex with Bond then immediately has sex with Bond (think Mary Goodnight or, in a less immediate sense, Holly Goodhead). At least the other villains are having a good time – Toby Stephens can snarl with the best of them and Rick Yune plays a Sith-looking henchman, diamonds embedded in his face and icy blue eyes as the result of a partial gene transfer.

The gene transfer provides a way for the main villain to completely alter his appearance – Graves was originally Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) before ostensibly being killed by Bond in the opening (which therefore provides an origin story for the antagonist, as well). Although the plastic face mask with colored lights isn’t the most sophisticated-looking technology, it’s endlessly more believable than the goop that Blofeld was trying to use to change his appearance in Diamonds Are Forever (7). The Brosnan films have so far done a great job introducing CGI and virtual technology to the series, but Die Another Day (20) abuses it, giving us shoddy green screens and an awful scene with Bond surfing on digitally generated waves. Having stunts rendered on a computer takes away their entire appeal, the fact that you get to see actual people performing breathtaking physical feats (the ski jump free fall from The Spy Who Loved Me (10) still topping all others). It’s just another aspect of Bond that Die Another Day (20) takes too far and ruins in the process.

This isn’t a movie completely devoid of any goodness. Bond gets to go medieval in a swordfight with Graves that puts to shame the glass-breaking snoozefest in Moonraker (11). Hovercrafts are pretty cool. And the graphics to the opening credits, with scorpions and other torturous imagery dancing over Bond as he blinks in and out of a flaming silhouette, is probably Daniel Kleinman’s greatest work. But even that gets bogged down by the crappy theme song by Madonna, who sings in autotune as though she were being choked to death in the recording studio. Die Another Day (20) is basically an exercise in ruining good ideas. It’s so interesting during the first half, as you realize what the filmmakers are trying to do, but it flies off the rails during the second and finishes far from a good movie.

After Die Another Day (20), the Bond series would experience a four year hiatus followed by a serious, forget-everything-from-before reboot. We’ve watched Bond evolve from an able spy to an astronaut clown, slide back into being a ruthless vigilante, and finally emerge with a satirical awareness and a permanent smirk. Throughout it all, he’s mostly remained above the confines of reality as he jetpacked, oil slicked, and laser watched his way into the lairs of evil villains and the beds of beautiful women. All together, these things make a pretty weak premise to build a 20-film series atop, and Die Another Day (20) is the final straw that breaks Bond’s back. It gets points for trying something slightly different, but with all of its shlock and stupidity, Die Another Day (20) is one of the worst Bond films in the series.

Final rating: 5/10

–James A. Janisse

Stray Observations:

  • “London Calling” is only the second actual song I can recall being used in a Bond film, the first being “California Girls” from the snowboarding sequence in A View to a Kill (14).
  • Another case of CGI gone wrong: Halle Berry’s backward dive off that cliff. It looked SO BAD. Magna’s descent from Bond’s balcony in Octopussy (13) was wayyy cooler.
  • So Cleese officially replaces Llewelyn as Q, toning down the slapstick and bringing back the sarcasm. Unfortunately, he’d only be around for this film, as the first two Craig Bonds eschew an MI6 quartermaster.
  • Madonna pops up as a fencing instructor, only the second time the artist who sings the theme song appears on screen in a Bond film (after Sheena Easton in For Your Eyes Only (12)), and what do you know, it’s full of shitty innuendo.
  • Aw, yeah, I knew that was Michael Madsen being a douchey CIA agent!
  • Moneypenny shows up almost exclusively in the needless virtual reality room – first, in a fake-out that she’s been shot in the head; later, in the even more unbelievable fake-out that Bond finally cashes in those chips.
  • Bond talks about the rules of the agency, how he’s never supposed to talk while captive. Casino Royale is going to delve deeper into MI6’s program, but they planted the idea here. Also cool: The fact that Bond spent 14 months in a North Korean prison and grew a gnarly beard.
  • The time-mapping fast motion is done awfully and it just adds to the sense that this movie was a rushed attempt to stay modern in the 21st century.
  • Hey, let’s mention global warming! That’s topical!
  • Apparently there are references to all of the previous 19 Bond films, but I’ve checked out the list of these allusions, and a lot of them are stretching it.
Bond Girl Fate

Giacinta ‘Jinx’ Johnson

(Halle Berry)

Main Bond Girl: An NSA agent who helps Bond out and loves plunging necklines. Bangs him in the first onscreen lovemaking Bond’s ever done (it’s usually implied banging). Later bangs him on top of diamonds, which HAS to be painful.

Miranda Frost

(Rosamund Pike)

Double Agent Bond Girl: Double agent who tricks M and Bond, since she’s secretly working for Graves (but not secretly? Since she’s his publicist? I don’t know). Bangs Bond (despite promising not to) and ends up getting stabbed by Jinx aboard the plane in the end.

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