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Review: 'Die Another Day' (2002) Dir. Lee Tamahori

Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Will Yun Lee, Michael Madsen, Judi Dench, Colin Salmon, Samantha Bond and John Cleese


Marking the 40th anniversary of the franchise, Pierce Brosnan would bow-out of the role after his time as 007 came to a disastrous end...

After a failed operation in North Korea to investigate illegal arms and African conflict diamond dealing by Colonel Tan-Sun Moon (Will Yun Lee), James Bond (Brosnan) is held prisoner for 14 months. Traded in a prisoner exchange with North Korean terrorist Zao (Yune), Bond is returned to M (Dench) and immediately suspended.

Escaping custody, Bond flees to Hong Kong and traces Zao to a gene therapy clinic in Cuba. There, he meets NSA agent Giacinta Johnson (Berry) who is also investigating the Korean. Bond and Zao clash, but Zao leaves a small handful of diamonds bearing a crest of GG, signalling they belong to British billionaire Gustav Graves (Stephens).

M restores Bond’s 00-status on the basis that Graves could be linked to the double-cross in North Korea. 007 travels to Iceland to witness the unveiling of “Icarus”, a solar energy satellite developed for sustainable energy. Meeting Jinx again, Bond soon discovers the truth about Graves intentions for Icarus and find themselves working together to stop his deadly plot...

I think it’s important that every franchise has a film like ‘Die Another Day’. It proves for an entertaining study on what can happen when a seemingly unstoppable machine suddenly breaks down and implodes on itself, demanding an evaluation on everything gone before and to come after. It may brilliant on first watch, but you soon learn how awful the sugar-coated tripe really is, and you appreciate the little things more and find the glaring pitfalls far easier. In this case, a lazy, bloated and embarrassing outing for the then “super indestructible action hero” James Bond that nearly killed the, at that time, 40 year franchise, BUT did pave the way for new blood in the guise of Daniel Craig and re-discovery of why the world loves 007. But ‘Die Another Day’ proves a tough obstacle to pass in order to get there, but knowing what comes after makes it a LITTLE more bearable knowing this wasn’t the end.

It’s easier to pick out the few pros in this that make it watchable over the negatives, so I’ll start there and, as all my reviews, try and avoid simply listing and observing the obvious, but it’s not easy with this one when you have the 007 template to go on, and it’s even harder when the James Bond films are my all-time favourite films/series. And each time I watch this I really want to enjoy it more, but I find more faults in it each time sadly.

When the action hits you, it does hard. The effective use of miniatures, models and well-staged stunt-work keep the thrills present, especially in the pre-title sequence with the hovercraft chase.

Plenty of the usual explosions, bone crunching crashes and shoot-outs. It carries on through the film when the team focus on making the action real as we see with the Aston Martin and Jaguar car chase on the frozen plains of Iceland – expert stunt driving, dangerous pyrotechnics and ingenious gadgetry and action make these moments the stand-out sequences among the lazy action that the actors are involved with.

While those moments are fun and again, well-staged, they start to feel OVERLY choreographed and very by-the-book of Bond fights as in punches and kicks are landed with no resulting damage, and all cuts and wounds are gone in the next scene; empty action is fun to watch but with no point to it apart from a loud fight, it becomes, well, pointless.

It’s hard that this is all I can think of; actually, no, the locations never disappoint and the set-design is on par as they should be. From the dirty, dangerous Korean DMZ to the exotic beaches of Cuba to the icy plains of Iceland, all sets are wonderfully designed and serve a purpose, especially the impressive ice-palace, full of wonderful Connery-esque glamour and extravagant detail for a Bond villain that Ken Adam would be proud of.

But that really is about it for the moments that appeal to a majority of Bond fans – everything just falls short. The acting calibre is very standard, but is that due to the script or just a lazy story with no real depth? Tony Stephens as Gust Graves smirks and sneers his way as a Bond villain pastiche, Rosamund Pike as Miranda Frost lip-smacks and pouts her way through as a rich-kid you never believe is an actually MI6 agent. And then we have Rick Yune who watched the “How To Play A Henchman Clichéd” book by talking like a Star Wars villain, growling and shouting and wearing dark hooded clothes as Zao who starts as a great and potentially memorable villain with his diamond encrusted skin but quickly loses his memorability when he gets to Iceland. 

Even MI6 staff Judi Dench and John Cleese can’t save the film with their faithful appearances as M and Q, given a little screen time to keep things grounded as ever. And it’s an insult to fans, Lois Maxwell, Caroline Bliss and pre-‘The World Is Not Enough’ Samantha Bond as Miss Moneypenny who, in this film, just becomes, basically, an MI6 slut who only appears to have a sexual fantasy about Bond. Even in ‘The World Is Not Enough’ she insinuated using a cigar as a dildo and reference handjobs – I mean, really? Is this catering for juvenile Bond fans or those who understand you don’t have to be full of innuendo to make all female Bond characters memorable? It’s embarrassing to watch.

Then we get to our leads – Halle Berry as Jinx isn’t memorable or defining as a female action lead, and the fact MGM were going to give her a spin-off film adds insult to injury. What qualities did they really think would appeal to others to give her a solo film? I mean, Halle Berry isn’t the WORST actress, but with the wrong material, she can’t convey anything she tries. Jinx just falls into the un-memorable female action types of the Bond series who manages to shoot guns, kick villains in the head and get captured for Bond to save her. Basically she is a recycled Wai Lin, but for American audiences to click with more than the Eastern actress Michelle Yeoh.

Wai Lin was more entertaining and appealing as an action star, and I bet she would had succeeded in the Eastern Market. Berry is an obvious American substitute, but comes across as flat and boring – everything she and Bond do here, Wai Lin and Bond did it 5 years earlier in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’. Think about anything they do here, and you can find it in the 1997 film.

And Pierce Brosnan, this is a tough one, because I like Brosnan as an actor and know he is respected by the Bond community as one who helped revive the series in 1995 and bring in a new look and style to the franchise. Sadly, he also helped kill the series 7 years later. How ironic is that. The material does let him down greatly, and basically every other line of dialogue is either sexual innuendo or a god-awful pun or an obvious narration of events to set up the next scene. He even looks old; greying hair and a leathery look when he screws his face up. Granted, Roger Moore was older in 85s ‘A View To A Kill’ but he actually didn’t look as obviously old in places like Brosnan does here. He really tries, but doesn’t come across as James Bond for most of the film, just some slimy action hero with really bad dialogue. This is the biggest shame of all, that we lost a fine 007 to conditions not in his control.

Couple all the above with the god-awful CGI that peppers scenes with obvious green-screen even when actors are meant to be driving in Iceland or walking around Hong Kong, it makes the film feel cheap by doing things easily with CG enhanced backdrops, and not to mention the action that is dominated by CGI planes, explosions, body doubles, locations, vehicles, lasers, water and windsurfing. The less said about the 70% cartoonish effects here the better. James Bond is not about CGI, it’s about subtle CG enhancement of a scene or two while rooted with real action, real danger, real stunts and real thought and effort put into making a dangerous, exciting and tense adventure. With the amount of CGI here, all danger and interest is lost because you may have a by-the-book fist fight going on, but it’s surrounded by fake locations and what-not, so loses and impact it may have. And you don’t have an invisible car in a James Bond film. Just, no.

Mix THIS and the above with a very generic soundtrack by David Arnold who blends orchestral and electronica in a very irritating way, and plays a dramatic evil villain fanfare whenever Gustav Graves appear on screen (and a brassy Bond riff whenever 007 appears), it’s like a fan-boy made a soundtrack to spoof the series by striking the obvious with music when less is by far more. It comes over like a big pantomime rather than a spy film.

I should have known from the CGI bullet in the gunbarrel sequence and the fact James Bond was identified through his disguise by a Korean Nokia phone camera that snapped his picture that this film wasn’t exactly going to be the 40th anniversary film we may have wanted. Take away the glaringly obvious nods to many of the previous 19 films, and it’s a very empty and generic action film, not a James Bond film.

The GOOD thing about this all is that it forced EON and MGM to take their ego out of the equation and strip back the nonsense that was suffocating James Bond to make him more of the man Ian Fleming intended, living in a dangerous world that had real threats, real villains and real excitement. Without ‘Die Another Day’ we wouldn’t have ‘Casino Royale’ or Daniel Craig now. 

Q sums up this entry perfectly: “I wish I could make you vanish!”

'Die Another Day' is an EON Productions production

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