The 007 Files: Die Another Day

Die Another Day marks the 40th year in the Bond film franchise and it brings the series to a level it hasn’t reached since 1979’s Moonraker. And that, my friends, is anything but a compliment.

Pierce Brosnan’s fourth and final 007 adventure opens in North Korea with Bond being captured and held prisoner for 14 months, after a hovercraft chase and some business about conflict diamonds and weapons trade. During his captivity, we do get the strange sight of seeing Mr. Bond with long hair and a beard which is rather disconcerting.

We also have a title song by Madonna that is a bad techno concoction and totally out of place for a Bond theme. It ranks among the very worst Bond songs, which is appropriate considering the movie. The material girl also has a lame cameo as a fencing instructor.

After spending those 14 months being tortured, Bond is released after being traded for Zao (Rick Yune), the henchman of the son of the North Korean colonel that Bond kills in the opening sequence. Got that? I really don’t see a point explaining the plot because it’s utterly ridiculous even by Bond standards. It involves the North Korean colonel 007 thought he killed actually being alive because he did a face transplant and has actually taken the form of Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), a billionaire entrepreneur. The face transplant stuff looks like something out of a really crappy sci-fi B-movie. Ugh.

For our Bond gals, we have Halle Berry as NSA agent Jinx. The casting of Berry was highly touted because the actress was fresh off winning an Oscar for Monster’s Ball. She is probably the most high-profile actress to be cast in a 007 adventure. And… she pretty much sucks in it and the character is poorly written. A particular low: Jinx yelling “Yo mama!” while a villain is torturing her. Ugh.

She looks good getting out of the water, though, in a scene meant to remind us of a good Bond film, Dr. No:

For a secondary Bond gal, we have Rosamund Pike playing Miranda Frost, an MI6 agent who is actually working with the bad guys. Her performance is just OK and there’s nothing particularly interesting about her character either.

Weak performances are the norm in Die Another Day. Without strong material to work with, Brosnan goes through the motions. Toby Stephens is one of the least interesting Bond villains and his acting is atrocious in some scenes. For the finale, he battles Bond in something resembling a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers outfit. Ugh.

Michael Madsen shows up for some reason, but has very little to do as a U.S. agent. The character of Zao, with his disfigured face, is just a strange character and Rick Yune does little to make him interesting.

I want to find something good to say, so there’s a sword fight between Bond and Graves that’s well-choreographed and pretty entertaining.

The scene with our new Q (John Cleese) is decent as well. We see a lot of the old gadgets from earlier pictures which is a nice touch, but it does remind of better Bond entries… which is just about all of them. Bond gets an invisible car here, which sounds cool but really isn’t.

I’ll try to be mercifully brief with the rest of this entry. Other than those couple of compliments, Die Another Day fails on every level. It even fails on unexpected levels. Most notable is the completely horrible and I mean horrible special effects and CG shots that we witness. It’s embarrassing. CG technology was developing in 2002, but that’s no excuse. Some of the action scenes, particularly in the final half hour, look terrible and that’s something you could never say about 007 movies before this one. I actually found myself laughing unintentionally at the shoddy effects shots. Ugh.

The last portion of the movie takes place at the Ice Palace, a garish example of production design that serves as Gustav’s lair. Even in lesser Bond entries, I usually compliment the production design. Not this time.

New director Lee Tamahori, who made the critically acclaimed 1994 indie darling Once Were Warriors, fills the movie with weird slo-mo shots mixed with jump cuts and quick zooms. It’s a bad directing job; the worst I’ve witnessed in the franchise.

The script, by Brosnan pic vets Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, gives us a dumb plot and lame dialogue. Because its Bond’s 40th anniversary, they put in a lot of references to earlier pictures. Like I’ve stated, that succeeds in reminding us of better days and greater viewing experiences.

Inexplicably, Die Another Day went on to become the highest grossing Bond picture yet. I saw in the theater so I’m guilty of contributing to its big gross. I’m sorry.

I could go on and on complaining. You get the idea. Pierce Brosnan had three decent 007 entries before this. It’s a shame he went out on this note. I saw someone on a website once describe James Bond films as like pizza… even when it’s bad, it’s good. For the vast majority of 007 pictures, that holds very true.

However, I have had bad pizza on rare occasions. And there is such thing as a bad Bond film. It’s called Die Another Day.

Here are the facts:

Film: Die Another Day

U.S. Release Date: November 22, 2002

Director: Lee Tamahori

Screenplay: Neal Purvis and Robert Wade

Bond: Pierce Brosnan

Main Bond Villain: Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens)

Main Bond Girl: Giacinta ‘Jinx’ Johnson (Halle Berry)

Theme Song: “Die Another Day” – performed by Madonna

Budget: $142 million

Worldwide Box Office: $431.9 million

My James Bond blog series will return in “The 007 Files: Casino Royale”

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