Die Another Day is, by no means, flawless. It probably wouldn’t end up on my top ten lists of Best Bond Movies. However, sometimes I see this referred to as the worst Bond movie of all time.
To that I say, “How dare you, good sir!”
Die Another Day is by no means From Russia With Love or Goldfinger, but what is? It is also, by no means, A view To A Kill or For Your Eyes Only. There’s plenty to love about the final Pierce Brosnan Bond film!
Let’s get this out of the way first: that Madonna song? It’s atrocious. Almost every other song, including that terrible Man With the Golden Gun song, can be recognizably identified as a James Bond jam. There is absolutely nothing in “Die Another Day” that tells me that we’ll be watching a spy thriller. And it doesn’t really go with the scenes of torture, either. What the what, Madonna?
But, outside of that, the intro is pretty great. For the first time, Bond loses. He doesn’t get away from the North Koreans, but instead is captured in the middle a mine field somewhere in No Man’s Land. The intro is built around a plot-specific element, and a somber one at that: Bond is being brutally tortured by the North Koreans. Other intros are sexy or fun music videos. This one is intense, and lets you peek into Bond’s hazy state of mind.
But the entire movie takes a turn toward the campy midway through the movie … and to me, it’s a welcome change. James Bond always needs camp.
Now, not everyone loves James Bond. This Esquire blog, for example, posits that James Bond is “a boring, tasteless rapist.” Everyone, including writer Stephen Marche, is entitled to their own opinion, of course. I, personally, cannot figure out who people like Twilight, for example. Shoot, maybe I’d use the same language.
However, I think that Bond movies sometimes fall into is that they’re taken too seriously. Take Marche’s complaint about the gadgets, for example: “I have only one word to say about the gadgets: Skymall. So, to sum up, the action is lame; the women are aimed at the fourteen-year-old boy demographic; the stuff is aimed at people with more money than judgment; and the gadgets are silly.”
The arguments make sense if you ignore one of the most beloved aspects of the series: the campiness. When you come down to it, that’s a huge reason about what we love about James Bond, isn’t it? The silly possibility that a very mundane thing can transform into a deadly weapon. Sure, a switchblade stiletto heel is probably less effective than a knife … but is it as fun?
Even people who liked the more realistic Casino Royale probably want a little camp. Here’s what Roger Ebert had to say in his review of Quantum of Solace:
Dominic Greene lacks a headquarters on the moon, or on the floor of the sea. He operates out of an ordinary shipping warehouse with loading docks. His evil transport is provided by fork lifts and pickup trucks. Bond doesn’t have to creep out on the ledge of an underground volcano to spy on him. He just walks up to the chain-link fence and peers through. Greene could get useful security tips from Wal-Mart.
There is no Q in “Quantum of Solace,” except in the title. No Miss Moneypenny at all. M now has a male secretary. That Judi Dench, what a fox. Bond doesn’t even size her up. He learned his lesson with Plenty. This Bond, he doesn’t bring much to the party. Daniel Craig can play suave and he can be funny and Brits are born doing double entendre. Craig is a fine actor. Here they lock him down. I repeat: James Bond is not an action hero! Leave the action to your Jason Bournes. This is a swampy old world. The deeper we sink in, the more we need James Bond to stand above it.
See? Even the great Roger Ebert agrees with the detractor that Bond is no action hero… and he’s a Bond fan!
Serious stories about foiling terrorist plots is fine. In the end, it probably makes for a more satisfying and less predictable plot. But, I ask you, when you think about James Bond, which appeals to you more: high stakes poker games, or GIANT FRIGGIN’ SPACE LASERS!
One of these is in Die Another Day. SPOILER ALERT! It ain’t the cards.
And, oh, yes, there’s also an icy villain lair. You know. Because it’s Bond.
One of the most fun parts in the movie is when Bond meets the new Q (John Cleese), and he’s whisked away to a basement containing fun little gadgets from Bond movies past. You get to experience the jetpack and Rosa Klebb’s switchblade shoe all over again. It’s great fun.
And then there’s the invisible car.
People might think the invisible car is silly, but c’mon people: in one of the earliest entries, the biggest villain of them all (Blofeld) makes his base in a hollowed out volcano. And we love the series for it! This is a franchise where one of the most popular entries (The Spy Who Loved Me) had a submarine car. The engineer in me actually thinks the invisible car is a little more plausible. How are you making all the joints watertight while maintaining a suitable weight-to-power ratio for a performance car that can supposedly outrun the bad guys?
Here’s the greatest thing about the car. No, not the missile launchers. Not the adaptable camouflage technology.
That car is an Aston Martin.
After tooling around in the far less glamorous BMW for the previous three movies, Bond finally gets back behind the wheel of the one car he made famous. Seriously, the Aston Martin is perhaps the biggest reason why this should never, ever be on the bottom of anyone’s Bond movie list.
Rosamund Pike is absolutely stunning in this movie. She fantastic whether she’s in fab evening wear…
…or that absurd fencing garb at the climax.
I was a little upset when Halle Berry, who, sorry, has no business being in a Bond movie, offed her with a dumb action liner: “I think I broke her heart.” Ugh. Seriously, Jinx, this is a Bond movie. Class it up a bit. Maybe… “Wow, I didn’t think anything could get through War And Peace.”
No wait. That’s dumb.
But yeah, I don’t know why Jinx is there. She’s always spouting some dumb one-liner. Lines like: “Yo’ mama. And she told me to tell you she’s really disappointed in you.” Oh, snap! A Yo’ mama joke in James Bond! Oh, no she didn’t!
In my prefect dream world, Rosamund Pike would’ve been the good Bond girl, and Halle Berry would’ve been the surprise villain … or maybe I would’ve replace Ms. Berry with Angela Bassett, who is alread 10x the Bond girl that she is!
But I digress.
So, in the middle of the movie, Bond gets into a swordfight with the supervillain, Gustav Graves. It is, in my opinion, one of the better executed swordfights in the modern day. It’s rare to see stunts that don’t look like they haven’t been coordinated by Hong Kong filmmakers determined to make the scenes look as wushu as possible. They’re balletic, true … but they’re rarely brutal.
The same can’t be said here, as Bond and Graves get as nasty as possible. It’s less about how flashy you can make the moves, and more about the raw emotion behind the characters. Not since The Prisoner of Zenda has there been a sword fight of this intensity. It’s pound, pound, pound… and when it’s called to abruptly stop, it’s actually a huge surprise. You got a fantastic sense that one guy was on the verge of killing the other.
Trust me, when Zao showed up with the diamonds embedded in his face, I was absolutely ecstatic. Maybe I didn’t scream it, but I remember the very phrase echoing in my mind, “Yes. YES! A proper Bond henchman!” The last proper one we got was Xenia Onatopp, back in Goldeneye. But then we got some boring guy who couldn’t feel pain, followed by … another boring guy who couldn’t feel pain.
But a guy with diamonds on his face. Yes. YES! I wish one of the diamonds would’ve penetrated his vocal chords, too, so he could also be the classic mute henchman type. He also gets to do something that the other henchmen never got to do: go one on one with 007 on a car chase staged on a frozen lake!
Bond has always been associated with cars. Bond also has big henchman throwdowns. So why did it take this long for Bond for duel a henchman on ice? It seemed long overdue.
Less mentioned is the sub-henchman, Mr. Kil (who has a sub-henchman of his own). And when he mentioned HIS name, I was going, “Yes. YES! A proper Bond henchman NAME!” Seriously, if you were a Bond baddie, why wouldn’t you hire a guy named Mr. Kil? He could be a weaselly accountant and you’d still hire him, because you’d be wondering, “Well, he probably had a garrote or a Derringer hidden somewhere. For some reason, I think this guy loves to murder people.”
Lawrence Makoare, by the way, went on to have a healthy career in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, where he played an Uruk-hai, a Witch King of Angmar, and the Orc captain, Gothmog.
Director Lee Tamahori strikes me as a huge, HUGE Bond nut. He loves everything James Bond, and it shows in this movie. There are plenty of references to previous movies. I mentioned the stuff down in Q’s secret labs (where Q, incidentally, mentions that this is Bond’s 20th gadget watch… in time for the 20th Bond movie). Yet, there are more! Halle Berry emerging from the water like Honey Ryder in Dr. No. The Hall of Mirrors from Man With the Golden Gun. Icarus’ resemblance to a similar satellite from Diamonds Are Forever. There’s even super subtle stuff like Bond posing as an ornithologist… which was the occupation of the man whose name Ian Fleming used. It’s like a scavenger hunt for references.
It was Bond’s 40th anniversary, and the movie was more or less a big love letter to all the Bond fans out there.
The Brosnan era was developed at a time when the prevailing sentiment was that Bond was old fashioned, and had to change. M is a woman now! Ms. Moneypenny doesn’t want to jump Bond’s bones, and she’s the one making the sexist quips! There’s no Felix Leiter, but there is a redneck US military type! Shoot, there was a ton of press about how the women in this iteration were kick ass and not the damsels in distresses from previous iterations. (You know, which included Fiona Volpe, Anya Amasova, Melina Havelock, and Pam Bouvier. The Brosnan era gave us … Christmas Jones.)
But in this movie, everything comes back to the fun stuff we loved about Bond. Ms. Moneypenny, who quipped in Goldeneye that “this sort of behaviour could qualify as sexual harassment”, actually gets to get a nice, passionate kiss with 007 … even if it turns out that it’s what amounts to be a dream sequence in 007 world. Hey, in real life Samantha Bond was locking lips with Pierce Brosnan, and that’s way more action than Lois Maxwell was gettin’.
In the end, that’s why I can’t hate this movie. Brosnan seemed to have a blast… more so than in the humorless drag that was The World Is Not Enough. (If people tell you Brosnan was getting tired of his role, know this: he really wanted to another movie after this, and he was a little disappointed that he couldn’t do Casino Royale.) Halle Berry, while not that great of a Bond girl, seems like she’s enjoying herself, too. Samantha Bond’s Ms. Moneypenny looks happy for once. And Toby Stephens, while not being a memorable Bond villain, is chewing scenery like a mofo.
And when they’re having fun, I’m having fun. Which is why I stopped worrying and learned to love the enjoyable mess that is Die Another Day.