00 Saturdays Week #39 – Die Another Day Movie Review

“Well, the fun is about to come to a dead end.” – James Bond

Welcome back to 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure.  This is our weekly walk through the Bond saga.  This week, we take a look at the fourth and final Pierce Brosnan Bond film, Die Another Day.

Right out of the gates, you already know there’s something off.  First, the opening gun barrel sequence is changed for the first time.  Instead of Bond simply turning and firing, now, a bullet flies through at you.  Is this all that bad?  No.  This is the 40th anniversary of the Bond film series, no reason not to do something neat and interesting.  Next, you see Bond, and two associates come surfing into North Korea.  Upon making landfall, the next thing that seems off way more than the new gun barrel effect – obvious green screen background to simulate a beach.  Also, the place is drab and terrible.  This film came out in November of 2002 just before Thanksgiving.  I don’t want to see my Bond location look as drab and dreary as my every day life in the American Midwest.

Those early concerns do begin to melt as the action of the scene takes over.  Bond is impersonating a diamond smuggler meeting with Colonel Tan-Sun Moon, the son of a big shot North Korean General.  Moon’s goon Zao figures out that Bond is MI-6 and not the guy he’s pretending to be.  So he makes off with a hovercraft into the demilitarized zone before he can be assassinated.  This leads tot he apparent death of Moon, and the Colonel’s father captures Bond and tortures him for over one year.

And we’re off and running with the 20th Bond film.  There’s a little bit of mixed emotions here.  First, the action sequence was pretty solid.  The idea of Bond being captured and tortured for months is something brand new.  The North Koreans being the villains is also new.  However, this film has already relied very, very heavily on digital and composited effects that don’t look very good.

It’s an uneasy feeling that carries through the entire movie.

Bond is eventually released, traded for a western-captured Zao.  General Moon hoped his son, educated at Oxford and Harvard, would be a bridge between the North Koreans and the west.  However, he had someone in the west that made him want to betray North Korea and try to sell weapons for diamonds.  Bond hopes to find this person because it was very likely the same person who sold him out.

M was not happy with trading Zao for Bond as Zao recently had a huge operation that killed Chinese agents.  Additionally, M says an American spy within North Korea’s government was assassinated.  The info about this person’s identity came from the prison Bond was kept and Bond was the only person there.  M wants Bond at the Falklands where he’ll be kept for as long as she deems fit.  Oh, and he’s no longer a 00.  So Bond decides that if she’s not going to believe him that he didn’t crack and that he’s been set up, to hell with them, he’ll just leave.

Bond goes to a high class hotel in Hong Kong where he gets back into his normal threads and back to his normal self.

How does Bond get away from his own government, to Hong Kong, and officially back on the trail of Zao?  Super convenience, that’s how.  First, he fakes death by slowing down his pulse to cause him to go into cardiac arrest.  Second, he just swims to Hong Kong.  Third, knowing that Chang, the manager at the hotel he stays at is a Chinese special agent, Bond just says he is after a terrorist and he gets money, plane tickets and whatever he needs from the Chinese.

Doesn’t that seem pretty damn easy?

I’m not going to pretend Bond films don’t have a great deal of convenience that often happens or that villains don’t make mistakes in these films, but let’s think about what these first 30 minutes of the brand new, 40th anniversary James Bond extravaganza gave us.  In the first few scenes, Bond is captured after being ratted out.  He’s tortured.  He’s disavowed.  He knows something is wrong, but doesn’t have help.  He requires help from the Chinese.  None of this is given any time to let the audience sink in.  Just one movie ago, M was captured and could have given up information, but nothing comes of this.  In this film, M instantly believes Bond was drugged enough to give up an American agent.

None of that matters nearly as long as the horrific scene that introduces Bond to one of the most gorgeous Bond Girls ever, Halle Berry (playing Jinx – an American NSA agent).  They exchange dreadful dialog about bird watching.  Then they have sex.  Really, really athletic sex in a scene that lasts longer than any singular scene that came before it.  Far be it for me to cock block James Bond, but all of those scenes before this was far more important than bedding Halle Berry.  That will happen.  It is a foregone conclusion, but everything happening before this is sooooo much more important.

Bond discovers that a doctor in Cuba performs DNA replacement therapy.  That seems really, really important, doesn’t it?  Like, that’s some super sci-fi business.  You can get your genes totally replaced by first having all your bone marrow killed, then it is completely regrown.  This will then make you into whatever you want.  It can make Zao change from a Korean man into a German man.  He will learn his new backstory and the language subliminally.  Right.  Okay, gotcha.  I can’t wait for that to be explained in detail to m….  Jinx kills the doctor almost instantly.

Yes, that’s really what he have here in this movie.  Soon-to-be introduced diamond magnate Gustav Graves is the still very much alive Colonel Moon who has undergone complete and total gene replacement by going from a pampered super turd North Korean military man into Toby Stephens, a pampered super turd of a rich boy.  M brings Bond back into the fold to find out what’s going on with this Graves character.  She says he’s politically connected.

Uh…  Assuming, at best, this is 15 months since we saw Moon go over a cliff to his seeming death, Graves has come along, established himself as a super diamond man, and became politically connected.  That’s really, really fast, isn’t it?  Far be it for me to question Bond villains, but… Oh whatever.

This movie has a really bad script.  Almost every line is spoken with the intent for a pun or a quip.  At one point, one of Graves’ goons, Mr. Kil introduces himself, menacingly, of course, for Bond to quip, “That’s a name to die for.”  Almost everything Jinx says to Bond is meant to be a cutting joke as well.  I think this movie was intended for there to be a backdoor spin off series for Berry, but her character is terribly underwritten and over hyped.

You know what else is laughably underwritten as well?  Graves’ plan.  He’s got this thing called Icarus.  It’s a satellite that I guess is made of diamonds (I’ve heard about this one before in another lower tier Bond film).  It is sold as this thing that can make a second sun in the sky to bring light, warmth, and… other things(?) to places in the world where sun is not as much of… a… thing…?  Now, let’s think about global warming for a second.  That’s a very real thing in 2002.  I mean, it’s still a thing, but we knew about it back then.  A second sun sounds like a terrible idea.  How could this not be a possible weapon?  Guess what…  It’s a weapon.  It’s a way for Graves/Moon to blow up the demilitarized zone and allow for North Korea to take over South Korea and force reunification.  I don’t hate the plan, but it’s underwritten.

The real problem with this movie is that it wants so desperately to be Moonraker.  It wants to go way over the top and turn everything up to 11.  This is an anniversary and a special entry all in one.  It celebrates both the 40th year and the 20th movie by having lots of Easter eggs.  There are watches with a laser cutter so Bond can sneak into a part of Graves’ lair like in GoldenEye.  You see the tiny jetplane from Octopussy, the shoe with a knife in it from From Russia with Love, the jetpack from Thunderball, and an entire action scene is built around lasers that was meant to kill Jinx like Goldfinger tried to kill Bond.  Then it has all this sci-fi stuff like Moonraker and Diamonds Are Forever mixed with some subliminal stuff like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

I don’t even want to say that it doesn’t fit this era.  I don’t mind these big idea movies.  I will defend Moonraker to my dying breath.  Die Another Day has those silly ideas like Moonraker, but with none of the charm.  This movie is is too in love with Bond’s swagger and puns.  Holy shit does this movie love puns.  Instead of it being focused on telling a great Bond film with a visual style that pushes the envelope for how action movies can be made, while still being a Bond film through and through, it decides to copy flashy, cliched editing tricks and special effects that don’t look natural or real.  It almost tries to be a music video instead of a fully realized movie.

The best way to describe this is to say it is the Batman and Robin of the Bond series.

As bad (and somehow also impressive) as that might sound, it’s not entirely bad.  Okay, yes, Jinx is badly written, but Halle Berry is gorgeous.  You can’t deny that.  I like the character of Miranda Frost… with a caveat.  I should say I like Rosamund Pike in the role as Miranda Frost.  She’s playing this like one of the bad girls in Thunderball or You Only Live Twice.  She was only 23 when this film came out and it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that she’d be nominated for an Oscar in just about a dozen years after this film (Gone Girl).  She’s drips this kind of sexy villainy.  She’s the person within MI-6 that gave Bond up.  She is Graves/Moon’s girlfriend and volunteered to be sent by M to pose as Graves’ publicist.  Her disdain for Bond is both an act and a real thing that works quite well.  I would say, though, that revealing her villainous truth is done too quickly.

I like that Madonna made it into a Bond film.  I have more to say about her main contribution next week when I get to that damn theme song, but if there is one pop superstar that seemed destined to be hanging out with James Bond, it is Madonna.  In this, she plays a fencing instructor who taught Frost how to duel which led to her winning the Gold medal in the Sydney Olympics.  It’s only a very brief moment in this movie that she’s in, but she looks good in this.  It suits her to be laced into her fencing get up by 007.

I positively love everything done with Bond’s new Aston Martin Vanquish.  Our new Q, John Cleese (who was first seen in The World Is Not Enough), reveals that it uses tiny cameras and projectors to make the car completely invisible to the naked eye.  Bond has a practical use for it to sneak around.  He also has a wonderful chase sequence inside an ice building in Iceland with the car that he’s able to use the invisibility gadget in the car to do in Zao.

Speaking of Zao, I like his look.  Bond’s villains are one thing, but the henchmen should have something more to them.  Whether it is a deformity or a unique attribute (height, strength, etc.).  Zao has been going through that whole gene replacement thing, right?  Well, early on in the pre-titles sequence, Bond exploded a suitcase full of diamonds near him and a bunch of diamonds got lodged in his face.  Then, he did the whole gene thing to become a German dude, but only got halfway.  So now, he looks like one of the mutants from the old school Planet of the Apes series.  Zao is played by Rick Yune, a pretty good action star in his own right.  He definitely has a presence as Zao that I fully get behind.

In all, Die Another Day is a very unfortunate entry in the series.  It wants to be all the things, but manages to be none of anything.  It’s got everything that just doesn’t work in one of these movies, bad dialog, poor artistic expression in the editing and camera work, under-worked plot and characters, lots of eye rolling moments, and all the terrible slow motion moments that I hated in Tomorrow Never Dies done even more horribly.  I will say it is not poorly paced as it flies by through its 133 minute run time.  I did find a few things I don’t hate in the movie, but it’s bad.  It’s a very, very bad movie.

Good times are just around the corner, though.

Join me next week for a look at the music of Die Another Day.  In two weeks, we take a look at the extremely successful series reboot and first entry with Daniel Craig – Casino Royale.

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