Bondathon #20: Die Another Day (2002)

Posted: April 11, 2016 in Movie Review
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Die Another Day (2002)

Director: Lee Tamahori

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, John Cleese, Judi Dench

Diamonds have never been a friend to James Bond. Generally a valuable commodity, the highly sought-after mineral has only been a symbol of mediocrity for the 007 film series and of time wasted to many of its fans. Like the disappointing “Diamonds Are Forever” before it, “Die Another Day” frustrates more than it entertains. Both films also signaled the end of an era. “Diamonds Are Forever” ended Sean Connery’s run as Bond not with a bang, but with a whimper. Thanks to “Die Another Day,” the Pierce Brosnan era closes out with an exasperated sigh.

The movie begins excitingly enough, with James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) on a dangerous mission where he’s investigating the rogue Colonel Moon in the North Korean army. Inside the belly of the beast, Bond poses as an illegal arms customer paying in African conlict diamonds (which Bond has booby trapped with C4). The deal goes south when Moon’s aide, Zao (Rick Yune) figures out Bond’s true identity and passes along the information. An attempt to kill Bond is thwarted and he sets off the C4, leaving several soldiers dead and Zao with a face full of diamonds. The North Koreans give chase to Bond, who leads Moon to a long drop and apparent demise. Oh yeah? No body, no death. The adrenaline-filled prologue ends with Bond captured! Whoa! 007 is a North Korean POW?! How’s he gonna get out of this one? Well, first the audience has to survive the opening credits. Madonna’s technopop song “Die Another Day” is far and away the worst piece of music in any James Bond film, ever. If you haven’t decided to just hit fast forward during this part, the visuals of the North Koreans using their harsh interrogation techniques on Bond perfectly match the torture that your poor ears are going through.

The momentum of the prologue sufficiently killed, we reconvene to discover that Bond has been a prisoner in North Korea for 14 months. He’s finally bailed out when M (Judi Dench) trades for him with the recently captured Zao. M’s displeasure with the trade and her reluctance to welcome Bond back into the fold at MI6 is not at first clear. It comes out that Bond is suspected of having leaked information under duress… something he vehemently denies… which has led to the deaths of a few agents. Bond suspects that he’s been set up by a mole working within MI6, breaks custody and heads first for Hong Kong for information, and then to Havana, Cuba to find Zao. Up to this point, nothing particularly offensive other than the main theme song has been inflicted upon us. Then SHE happens. Emerging from the water Ursula Andress-style is NSA agent Glacinta ‘Jinx’ Johnson, whose nickname couldn’t possibly be more appropriate. Jinx is played by Halle Berry, she of “X-Men” and “Catwoman” fame. From here on out, both the actress and her character will be referred to as Franchise Killer.

Bond and Franchise Killer both locate Zao inside a gene therapy clinic, but neither is able to capture or kill the wanted terrorist. Zao was at the clinic trying to acquire a new face and identity. But the procedure was halted, leaving him with blue eyes but the same diamond-scarred Korean face he started with.  Zao inadvertently leaves behind a pendant with African conflict diamonds inside it bearing the brand of British entrepreneur Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), a man who has mysteriously built himself up from nothing in no time flat.  Bond goes to introduce himself to Graves in London, where he also meets Graves’ lovely assistant, Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike). M restores Bond to full 00 Agent status and allows him to investigate the matter further, also revealing that Frost is an undercover MI6 agent tasked with digging up dirt on Graves. But I’ll go ahead save you the trouble and tell you that she’s the turncoat who sold Bond and MI6 out, since the eventual reveal offers no shock value whatsoever.

Bond gains admittance to Graves’ ice palace in Iceland, where he becomes the second Bond villain after Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga to demonstrate a solar-powered energy weapon, an orbital satellite which Graves calls ‘Icarus.’ Franchise Killer shows up and starts snooping around. She’s captured by Zao, who elects to strap her down and have his inept guard kill her with a slow-moving laser… “Goldfinger”-style… rather than kill her himself with the gun in his hand. Zao’s presence at the base means that Graves is really *GASP* Colonel Moon in disguise! After rescuing Franchise Killer from Zao, Bond waits in Graves’ office and has his gun trained on him when he arrives. At this point, I’m once again screaming at my TV, “Just shoot him!” Of course, if Bond does that, then Frost can’t have her big entrance where she outs herself as the traitor, and the fact that she emptied Bond’s gun shortly after their tryst the night before. The villains turn the Icarus toward the facility, leaving Bond and Franchise Killer to die. But, of course, they don’t. Bond still has his handy invisible Aston Martin, a gadget so over-the-top that it belongs in a Roger Moore movie. Franchise Killer almost drowns, though.

Bond and Franchise Killer stow away on board the plane carrying Graves and Frost. After Graves kills General Moon, his father, Bond confronts Graves while Franchise Killer and Frost duke it out. You know things have gotten bad when I’m rooting for the henchwoman against the Bond girl. Thanks entirely to turbulence caused by the Icarus, Franchise Killer gets the upper hand and stabs Frost through her cold heart. Bullshit! Bond doesn’t need that kind of unfair advantage, electing instead to open a departing Graves’ parachute prematurely and watch Graves get eaten up by one of the plane’s engines, his death also disabling the Icarus satellite.

For all that is wrong with “Die Another Day” (bad acting, bad writing, goofy gadgets, awkward editing, and the overabundance of unconvincing CGI among them), if I am to adhere to my own rules, I cannot label this as the worst James Bond film. I never once look at my watch during the movie, something which the later Roger Moore films are guilty of causing. Likewise, I can’t call Franchise Killer the worst Bond girl even though she’s the only one that’s ever legitimately annoyed me. She still serves her purpose and even holds her own in a fight. What I can’t understand is how she almost got her own spin-off movie. Thank goodness MGM saw reason.

The film itself, released during the series’ 40th anniversary, offers too many references to the films of old to be considered truly unique, and insults the memory of some of the earliest ones just by trying to emulate them. If they really wanted to pay tribute to the classic era of Bond, they should have cast Rosamund Pike as the lead Bond girl. So traditional a Bond girl is Pike that she wouldn’t seem out of place if paired with Sean Connery. With almost every James Bond film comes the proclamation that he “will return.” For the second time in the series history, that was no longer a certainty. But the worst of the Roger Moore era couldn’t kill off James Bond, and neither would the wretched “Die Another Day.”

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    As promised, this review did make me laugh! But really, an invisible Aston Martin? Say it isn’t so.
    I hope that Bond was really steamed after being held for 14 months. If it happened to me and M doubted my worth and my word… then look out everyone in my path. The death lasers again? Nooooooo! Little wonder Austin Powers made fun of that sort of thing.

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