As the world entered the 21st century, Bond films were in danger of becoming irrelevant again; as new, somewhat more sophisticated spy dramas were starting to emerge with more elaborate action sequences than the typical Bond film such as Tom Cruises’s Mission Impossible series, and Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne series and non-spy action movies such as the Matrix had set a new standard for kinetic action sequences. In addition, the James Bond tropes were parodied in the Austin Powers films.
With “The World Is Not Enough” a box office success but a critical dud, people were wondering if Bond was still relevant. Eventually, he would be-in 2006’s Casino Royale-but before that happened, there was one more Brosnan Bond to go-and a film that pretty much is the end of the series’s 40-year, if somewhat loose-continuity.
“Die Another Day” attempts to be kind of high-tech and hip, with then relative newcomer Halle Berry (Fresh off her oscar for “Monster’s Ball”) but it doesn’t quite work, especially with Pierce Brosnan now nearly into his 50s and other missteps. I’ll get into those a bit later.
Die Another Day pretty much tries to change things up pretty much right away. Although the music is perhaps the most traditional of Brosnan’s gunbarrels (Which mostly started mid-Bond theme) and of course uses the same stock footage of Brosnan posing from Goldeneye, there’s one very noticeable change. Bond actually shoots a CGI bullet directly into the chamber of the other gun!
We then open with Bond sneaking into North Korea via stealthy surfing with some Asian agents to capture and impersonate a guy trying to use diamonds to buy weapons from a corrupt North Korean, Col.Moon. Bond booby-traps the Diamonds with C4, hoping to take out the Colonel.
Unfortunately, Bond’s cover is blown by a mole who sends Moon’s henchman Zao his real identify before he successfully completes his mission, and leads to a pretty decent hovercraft fight between himself and Moon, which apparently ends with Moon’s death-but Bond in the hands of North Korean forces, including Moon’s father.
This leads to Bond spending a year and two months(!) in prison, continuously being tortured. Then the controversial Madonna song kicks in with several images of ice, fire, and electricity themed women, similar in some ways to the opening of “View to a Kill” (but with the imagery far more relevant here).
The music-like a lot of Madonna’s work around this time, has sort of a more electronic/dance/techno feel than a real Bond theme. It doesn’t really seem to reference Bond himself here, just the title. It’s got some strange lyrics too (“Sigmund Frued….Analyze this!Analyze this! Analyze this, this this etc.”) It’s worth noting though that the visuals continue to show Bond’s imprisonment and torture through it all, the first time in a Bond film where the story unfolds during the opening credits.
Bond is finally released-initially it’s believed for his execution, but instead it turns out to be a prisoner exchange-for Zao. It’s here we’re also introduced to American NSA agent Falco (Michael Madsen) who doesn’t exactly have a high opinion of Bond (If the Jinx spin-off materialized, or if Brosnan did more Bond films, he reportedly would’ve been in more films)
However, he’s not exactly welcomed back with open arms by MI6-as M believes he’s been leaking secrets, which Bond insists is the work of a mole. Stripped of his licence to kill by M, Bond once again goes rogue (by faking cardiac arrest, and using the defibrillators as weapons!).
In one of the film’s more hilarious scenes, he walks into a Hong Kong hotel and demands his ‘usual suite’ despite not exactly in the best clothes and sporting 14 months worth of beard.
Getting cleaned up and back to his usual standards, he starts to hunt for Zao, following a lead to Cuba. Here Bond meets with sleeper agent Raoul (A bond ally who in appearance and his role, is somewhat similar to Kerim Bey and Columbo from the earlier films, but with considerably less screen time), who gives him some clues as to Zao’s whereabouts-An offshore clinic where questionable plastic surgeries are performed.
At a hotel nearby, he meets Jinx, who debuts in a similar fashion to Honey Ryder’s debut in Dr.No-one of the film’s many callbacks to Bond’s past (This was not only the 20th Bond film, but also the 40th anniversary film as well). After some somewhat embarrassing innuendo, even by Bond standards, and a night spent together, they both separately head to the clinic-but it appears they both the same goal in mind-the capture of Zao.
It seems Zao is undergoing surgery to change his appearance into a British man, as Jinx discovers, while Bond himself confronts Zao. Unfortunately, Zao-only halfway through his surgery-escapes, and Jinx pretty much destroys the clinic, leaving Bond a bit perplexed as to her intentions-but Bond is able to gain a valuable clue-diamonds in Zao’s possession, which belong to the Graves corporation in Iceland-although Bond is quick to notice that the diamonds are very similar to African conflict diamonds.
Bond returns to London to investigate Graves, which leads to the intro of both Graves (Toby Stephens) and his publicist, Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike, in an early role for her). Here we go to the Blades club, where we also meet instructor Verity-Madonna, in a cameo role. She isn’t there long, but of course there’s some goofy innuendo. Strangely, Madonna doesn’t use the British accent she sometimes uses in interviews, although she’s in a scene that’s set in London, England.
As for Graves, I think he’s actually a fairly decent bad guy, and plays off of Brosnan well. He comes across as a bit petulant and whiny, but I think that’s part of what was intended for the character to be (and a bit of a facade as we find out later). Toby Stephens by the way, is the son of British actress Maggie Smith, of Harry Potter, Downton Abbey and Clash of the Titans fame.
The sword fight scene that follows is actually a pretty decent action scene, and pretty intense and easy to follow, unlike the action scenes in it’s predecessor film, The World Is Not Enough.
Bond being back in London naturally grabs M’s attention, who is also investigating Graves; and finally lets Bond back on his job since he’s “become useful again”.
We then get a sequence with Bond readying his weapon inside MI6, but it turns out that it’s been infiltrated by armed men, Moneypenny is dead, and M is being held hostage! However, it all turns to be a ruse, a VR simulation being used to set up the Q scene. Unfortunately, it’s not the only piece of unbelievable technology we see here.
While the glass-breaking ring and the callbacks to older gadgets (The Thunderball Jetpack, Rosa Klebb’s poison knife shoes and the Octopussy crocodile sub) are pretty cool, we’re then introduced to the Aston Martin Vanquish/”Vanish” which has a nearly flawless cloaking device, making it effectively invisible! Also in this-Cleese’s only full Q scene-we get not one, but two references to Cleese’s Monty Python days-first by Bond mentioning a “flesh wound” (a reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail), and second, Cleese’s legs visibly distort when walking behind the Vanquish, a visual nod to his “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch.
Bond then heads to Grave’s ice palace and diamond mine in Iceland, at a party to demonstrate a new device called “Icarus”, and also catches up with Jinx again.Here we learn a few things about Graves, that he’s a thrill seeker, an insomniac, and is actually Col.Moon (Although Bond doesn’t fully realize it until later). His diamond mine is in fact, fake-the diamonds he is ‘mining’, as Bond suspected, are in fact just branded African conflict diamonds. He unveils Icarus, a satellite that can focus sunlight-he states for agricultural purposes, but actually his real intent is to use it to destroy the mines among Korea’s demilitarized zones so North Korea can invade South Korea. It’s yet another callback, this time to the Diamond Satellite in Diamonds Are Forever (although unlike that particular satellite and the presence of diamonds in the plot, Icarus doesn’t actually seem to use Diamonds as it’s focus; although the conflict diamonds are probably used to fund it)
After a botched attempt at infiltration, Bond spends a night with Frost, who is actually an MI6 agent. However, he makes a bit of an error here, by letting her have his Walther gun for a few seconds….
Jinx’s attempt is a bit more successful, but she ends up being captured, and now we have a Goldfinger reference (although the laser is headed toward her head rather than…umm…lower as was the case with Goldfinger and Bond). There’s also some pretty poor dialogue here, in particular a “Yo momma” joke from Jinx….
Bond sucessfully infiltrates a second time (using two previous gadgets-Goldeneye’s laser watch and the Thunderball rebreather) and finds Jinx, but gets interrupted by the henchman Mr. Kil, and then one laser becomes several. After defeating Mr. Kil thanks to a timely laser from Jinx and freeing her, Bond then confronts Moon/Graves, and of course say the title line.
“So you live to die another day…Colonel.”
Unfortunately for Bond, Graves reveals the mole who botched his earlier mission in the first place-it was Frost all along-and now he’s got no ammo. But he does have the ring, and makes an escape attempt using one of Graves’s extreme sports vehicle, a sort of rocket-sled thing-while also trying to evade Icarus’s concentrated sun beam melting the glacier he’s on.
Unfortunately this also leads to one of the goofiest, fakest looking Bond scenes of all time, with Bond improvising a surfboard from the remains of the sled….yep. While the surfing that opened the film was kind of cool, this is just awful, right up there with Roger Moore in the opening of View To A kill. At least that was done with more practical effects and stuntmen, while this just looks fake, with a clearly CG Bond on CG water and ice.
Thankfully, it’s quickly followed by a pretty awesome car chase between the Aston Martin and Zao’s Jaquar. The car is in fact not invisible for most of the chase, and what’s also interesting is that both cars are armed with gadgets. While villains such as Scaramanga have had gadgets before, this is really the first time Bond and the bad guy have been kind of evenly matched-although Bond finally getting the invisibility back at the end of the chase is a bit of a cheat.
Rescuing Jinx again, Bond and Jinx go to Korea where they sneak aboard Grave’s plane in an attempt to disable Icarus and take out Graves and Frost. Meanwhile, we’re also treated to some Tomorrow Never Dies stock footage, as a missile launch identical to the one from that beginning of the film tries to take out Icarus another way to no avail. It’s one of the rare instances where they use stock footage apart from the gunbarrel and title sequences, but it’s still a bit glaring especially since it was only used two films ago.
There’s an attempt at pathos as Graves is reunited with his father, who is disgusted by what has happened to his son and what he intends to do. However, it’s a bit hard to take the scene seriously, especially with Graves’s goofy exosuit.
While Jinx has a pretty good decent fight with Miranda, Bond takes on Graves, who dies pretty much Goldfinger-style by being sucked out a plane (although then he dies Incredibles style by being sucked into a jet engine)-which in turns shuts down Icarus (although as was the case with the Diamond Satellite in DAF, it’s still stuck up there in space, just turned off).
The film then kind of ends with Moneypenny using the VR glasses in kind of a goofy joke scene, and then more bad innuendo as Bond and Jinx relax with the Diamonds….
Die Another Day has some strengths. It’s got some fantastic action sequences and the first half of the film before Bond goes to Iceland isn’t too bad, and even plays with the Bond formula a bit. However, it’s kind of then overwhelmed by too many obvious references to past Bond films, really cringe-worthy dialogue, and an overload of CG where past Bond films relied on more practical effects and stunts, even for their more outrageous sequences.
It brings an end to the original Bond movie continuity pretty much, as the Craig films-while still paying homage to the past (Most notably with the Aston Martin cars and of course the theme) would pretty much reinvent the mythology with new takes on Bond’s backstory, how he became who he was, and his supporting cast, whereas up to this point although the actors changed, such changes were not really aknowledged in the films (Apart from “This Never happened to the other fella” in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but that’s debatable).
Brosnan I felt was a good Bond, but unfortunately at times was let down by the material. I think perhaps the producers got a bit overconfident and went too far once “Goldeneye” was a success, and sort of went back to the excesses of the Roger Moore era, and this kind of hurt Brosnan. Even though “Die Another Day” was a financial success, the critical reviews were savage, and many agreed it was time for a change to the series.