As we continue the countdown of the James Bond films from worst to best, we reach number 19, and the first Pearce Brosnan entry on the list. It was also his last outing as James Bond, at least in films, as he would have one more outing in the computer games world. But his last film, was also his worst. Die Another Day.
That was the teaser trailer, and next, the full theatrical trailer.
Now, it's no secret that most Bond fans don't like this film, and it does contain the worst moment in James Bond history, but why do I rate it above Moonraker, Live & Let Die and A View To A Kill? Well, time to reveal why, as I review what was the 20th official Bond film, Die Another Day.
Before I get to the pre-title sequence, I must mention this film's gun barrel sequence, which infamously features a bullet coming down the barrel towards the audience. Some of called this cheap and tacky, and I can see where they're coming from, but actually, I don't mind it in the slightest, and have never minded it. Okay, I can already hear the boos, pipe down...
THE PRE-TITLE SEQUENCE
The plot of the pre-title sequence can be summed up pretty easily. James Bond infiltrates North Korea, kills a Colonel, Colonel Tan Sun Moon and gets captured. You don't really need to know any more than that.
Some points out of it though. The first is the fact that Bond surfs into North Korea. Surfing? Really??? This is not a criticism of the actual surfing itself, the guys performing the stunt are excellent, but I really don't think surfing into North Korea is either very realistic, or indeed, necessary. I don't think we need to see him actually surf, I think we can cut all that surfing footage out, and just have him arrive on the beach, a scene that was shot around Newquay in Cornwall. In fact, Cornwall features a fair bit in this movie in a couple of different ways. In the early going, it partially substitutes for North Korea, before switching back to Pinewood. However, there is more of Cornwall to come.
Secondly, I love the detail that they go into with the infiltration and how they pull a helicopter carrying a Mr Van Bierk off-course, so that Bond can take his place.
Thirdly, and this will crop up throughout the movie, I love the little references that get thrown in all over the place. When Bond opens the briefcase to reveal the diamonds, we get a very Roger Moore-style raised eyebrow, which I think is great.
There's also a lovely humorous moment, when Colonel Moon is beating up this bag, only for it to be revealed that there's a man inside, and Moon directs his subordinates to find him a new anger therapist. Honestly, if that's the way you treat your therapists, I think you'll have a hard time finding anybody who'll want to treat you.
Having been introduced to Colonel Moon, we are now introduced to Zao, who takes a photograph of Bond as he exits the helicopter that flew him into the compound. They do go into a lot of detail here, which does slow up this part of the sequence, but that's not totally bad thing, it just ends up evening out. The detail is good, but if it could have been done a bit quicker, a bit better, maybe the slowness of the sequence wouldn't feel quite so grating, but it's not bad.
During the Pierce Brosnan era, mostly from Tomorrow Ever Dies onwards, the pre-title sequences would feature a really big action sequence, and this film is no exception. It's a great sequence, and there's an added time pressure in that General Moon, the father of Colonel Moon, is on his way to the compound. It's a fun, exhilarating sequence, and actually gets the film off to a good start. At the end of the sequence, I love the fact that Bond is hanging onto a log that is ringing a bell, and the quip is perfect, but then Bond is captured by General Moon and taken to a facility where he is tortured, and at that point, it transitions into the title sequence, using footage of Bond in captivity, being tortured as the canvas for the titles.
THE TITLE SEQUENCE
I have to be honest her and say this, along with On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Quantum Of Solace, is a candidate for the worst title sequence in Bond history. Not everything can be brilliant, and most of the title sequences in themselves I don't have a problem with. But here, the visuals of Bond being tortured actually compromise the quality of the work that Daniel Kleinman does.
The music here is another issue, and Madonna's song, whilst not being a bad song in and of itself, just doesn't feel very suited to a James Bond film.
Bond spends 14 months in captivity, before being traded for Zao. Bond is drugged and taken to a facility where he is in essence a captive again, and is visited by M. It's here we get a lot of exposition about things that have gone on that we haven't been privy to, such as Zao blowing up a summit meeting between South Korea and China. We also get the information that Bond is to be held in an evaluation facility in the Falklands until M decides his fate. This is more like the M we first see in Goldeneye, not like the one we see in Quantum Of Solace. That film really didn't do Judi Dench any justice at all with that character. Here, she's much better and much more like the "Evil Queen Of Numbers" that we came to know.
Bond manages to escape the facility, which is based on a ship, anchored off Hong Kong. Okay, what happened to the wreck of the Queen Elizabeth? Also, this is post 1997, which is referenced later in the film, but really? Just feels strange to be honest.
Bond literally just walks into The Yacht Club in his dishevelled condition, and whilst he is given some suspicious looks by the staff, the person who we think is the hotel's manager, Mr Chang, recognises Bond and orders The Presidential Suite be opened for him. It feels a little weird, but Bond is probably well known at a lot of places, so I can go with that.
Bond cleans himself up and makes himself more presentable, when a masseuse arrives at the door, compliments of the manager. We get a classic "I'm sure you do." line from Bond, which is always good. Bond tries to seduce the masseuse and she shows some resistance. "I'm not that kind of masseuse." but Bond reaches inside the bottom of her dress to where a gun is holstered on her thigh and he takes the gun, and holds it to her head. "I'm not that kind of customer." He then grabs a nearby ashtray and throws it through a mirrored door, revealing Mr Chang and some Chinese agents, and a video camera.
This little sequence is quite good, revealing Mr Chang to be part of Chinese intelligence. Bond negotiating to help them get Zao is also good. I guess he is currently "independent" so he can ply his trade where he wants.
Mr Chang discovers that Zao is currently in Cuba, and provides Bond with some travel documents to get there.
It's a pretty good start to the film, and I don't mind it in the slightest. A slight in-congruency or two aside, I can't overly complain.
Bond in Cuba is interesting. He uses Universal Exports as a cover, but of course, he is not part of the British Secret Service. We are introduced to Raoul, who is a contact in Havana, who provides Bond with some information about a clinic being run by a Dr Alvarez. We also get some interesting references here, such as the book that gave James Bond his name, The Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies, written of course by James Bond. It's good to see this stuff, and don't get me wrong, the series very rarely references itself, despite it having plenty of good reference material, so I am quite happy to see this film reference the past of James Bond.
We see Bond driving a car, I'm not quite sure what the car is, but it's a nice looking car, and fits in with the available cars in Cuba at the time, so I don't mind this.
As Bond arrives at some beach place, we get a little bit of Bond theme played on a spanish Guitar. It's quite good actually, a little less harsh than the usual electric guitar, but just enough edge in it to build some anticipation. It's here that one of the elements that I most dislike crops up again. I mentioned it in Live & Let Die and I have to mention it again here. Bond smokes a cigar. Not a cigarette, a cigar. Yes it's a smaller cigar than the ones Roger Moore smoked in Live & Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun, but still, that feels wrong for the character. It's the only time we see it in this film, but still, I'd prefer if it wasn't here at all.
We're also introduced here to Giacinta Johnson, better known as Jinx, played by Halle Berry. The sequence is acknowledged by the film makers to try and channel the moment where Honey Ryder came out of the water, but it's trying to hard, and the slow motion just doesn't help it. I'd actually have preferred it if the filmmakers before hand hadn't said that's what they were trying to do, and had allowed us to make that connection. There's also in this sequence a reference to From Russia With Love, referencing the lines that Daniela Bianchi and Sean Connery spoke when Tatiana Romanova first met James Bond.
Bond and Jinx get talking before we get a scene where we see them getting it on. This scene had to be trimmed in the US to get a PG-13 certificate, but in all honesty, I don't see what the problem is. It looks fine, it's not over the top. Don't be prissy about this.
Bond wakes up alone and discovers that Jinx is getting on a boat to the island where the clinic is. Bond uses a thug who is going there to get to the clinic, then dumps him rather unceremoniously. Bond finds his way into a secret part of the clinic, and whilst this is happening, Jinx is meeting with Dr Alvarez, who is rather stereotypically written. Jinx kills him. Meanwhile Bond finds Zao, and gets his attention. Not sure grabbing a bag of drip-feed is going to hurt him or get his attention, but oh well. Turns out, Jinx is also after Zao as well. There's a fight and some action, but Zao gets away. Jinx also get away from some local soldiers, and Bond managed to pick up some diamonds that were hanging in a capsule around Zao's neck. Upon closer examination they are discovered to be conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone, but they bear a laser signature from Gustav Graves, who has a diamond mine in Iceland.
We get a brief scene of M being given short shrift by her opposite number at the NSA, Damian Falco, played by Michael Madsen. This is some poor casting really here. Michael Madsen is an okay actor, project dependent, but just doesn't fit into the world of James Bond.
Bond arrives in London, drinking his usual vodka martini on route, served to him, in a cameo role, by Deborah Moore, who's father was a previous James Bond. Yes, Roger Moore. The music here is a little out of place. It's London Calling by The Clash. It's a great song, but it just doesn't belong here.
We get introduced to Gustav Graves here by him parachuting out of a plane with a Union Jack parachute. It's obviously meant to be a reference to The Spy Who Loved Me. Gustav Graves is played here by Toby Stephens, who would later go on to play James Bond in some BBC Radio productions of the Ian Fleming books. We are also introduced here to his publicist, Miranda Frost, played by Rosamund Pike. Bond witnessed Graves arrival and impromptu press conference, and we next see him at a local fencing club, where it turns out Miranda Frost is regarded by Verity, played by Madonna, but surprisingly uncredited in the film, as her protege.
Gustav Graves is also at the fencing club, and we get a sword fighting sequence between Bond and Graves. I'm usually a fan of sword fighting sequences, the ones in Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars are excellent, and the sequence is choreographed by the same person, legendary sword master Bob Anderson. Bob also has previous connections to James Bond as he was a stunt performer in From Russia With Love, and in the 1967 spoof, Casino Royale. I don't quite know what it is about this sequence that I don't like, perhaps it's the gratuitous amount of damage that Bond and Graves cause, but I think it's more than just that. I think the length of the fight has something to do with it too, it does feel too long. But even adding that in, that's not entirely the issue either.
Sometimes, no matter how hard you work on something it just doesn't come up to standard. I felt that was the case with the cable car fight in Moonraker, and I think it might be the case here. I am left to wonder though if they weren't deliberately trying to compete with the Star Wars prequel trilogy here, by having a sword fighting sequence.
Graves is impressed with Bond's sword fighting ability and invites him up to Iceland for a party he's giving to announce a science project. Miranda Frost seems somewhat less impressed. Frost by name, frosty by nature...
After Graves and Frost leave, a man comes up to Bond and refers to him as Commander Bond. He gives him an envelope that contains an old key. I like the reference to his rank here. His rank is not mentioned too much in the films, and it's good to remind people of that.
Bond goes to an old door just off Westminster Bridge, and goes down to an old abandoned underground station, where he meets M. M decides that Bond has become useful again, and we then get a scene that really is out of sorts with the rest of the film, where we see Bond, in his office, cleaning his gun, when suddenly he hears gunshots, slightly muffled gunshots. This sequence is shot in a slightly different way to the rest of the film. The camera follows Bond around, always keeping about the same distance from him, just like they do in video games. There's a reason for that, and that's because this is a virtual simulation in Q Branch, and we are introduced here to our Q for this film, played by John Cleese, who was R in the last film. Q demonstrating the gadgets is good, and I love the line when he gives Bond his new watch, "This will be your 20th I believe". Good way of referencing that this is the 20th official Bond film.
We're also introduced here to what remains the most controversial car in all of Bondom. "Aston Martin call it the Vanquish, we call it, the Vanish." Yep, the invisible car. This is something that I know a lot of Bond fans hate, and yet I'm not entirely sure why. A lot of fans that was the point when the Brosnan Bond era jumped the shark, but I have to say I think they're being unkind. The technology they were talking about in the film, definitely existed in 2002, and was used for a promotion unrelated to James Bond in 2012. The execution might not be exactly as was shown in the film, but I don't mind that in the slightest. So, why do most Bond fans hate the invisible car? I really don't know. Now, maybe because I'm a Star Trek fan as well, and used to the idea of a cloaking device from that series, the whole idea of the invisible car doesn't bug me. But I'd be interested to know.
I don't have a problem with the invisible car, and to those who do, I suggest you check out the fact that the technology to do this, in a real world sense, was actually available at the time, although as Q himself would have put it, it wasn't quite perfected yet.
Okay, back to the plot, and we get an interesting scene in M's office where she's briefing an agent. But it's not Bond, it's Miranda Frost. Ah, so Miranda Frost is also an MI6 agent. She's either not very good, or she's a double agent. We'll find out which later.
So Bond arrives in Iceland, and it's here that we get one of my main bugbears with the film rearing its ugly head for the first time. The editing. Up until this point, the editing had been fairly conventional, even in the virtual simulation sequence. But here we get sped up film for no reason, and over extravagant shots that actually add nothing to the storyline. If you're going to use a shot, it has to have a story purpose. We also see Jinx arrive, wearing a tight leather outfit that, even though it doesn't show a lot of skin, somehow seems way too inadequate for the cold conditions.
Bond is shown to his room by Miranda Frost, and she continues to be as cold as ice. I guess she's right at home in an ice palace then. Something tells me I know where this is going...
At the party, Bond meets up with Jinx and they exchange some words on a slightly cold level. "I'm a girl that just doesn't like to get tied down." Something tells me you'll be tied down later...
We then cut to a weird sequence with Zao arriving, and we get a strangely homoerotic moment between Graves and Zao. It turns out that Graves is actually Colonel Moon, not in disguise, but as a completely new person. He had gene therapy to completely change his identity. It's not perfect as he has permanent insomnia. I have odd nights of insomnia and those drive me crazy. I can't imagine what permanent insomnia would do to a person.
We get a catty moment between Jinx and Miranda, right in front of Bond. "I take it Mr Bond has been explaining his big bang theory." "Oh, yeah, I think I got the... thrust of it." Those lines make me laugh, and I notice here that Bond is looking a little uncomfortable. I like that moment, it just adds a little extra punchline to the scene.
Graves demonstrates Icarus, a satellite that can project sunlight anywhere in the world. Yeah, I'm having Batman & Robin flashbacks here, and that's not a good thing. Another thing, how are we seeing the footage from space? That's not quite explained. If the editing hasn't made this film jump the shark, then this moment certainly has. How did we go from a diamond mine to a satellite that can project sunlight?
Bond watches them take the satellite control device back into the compound, and sneaks in using his invisible car. Admittedly, it takes computer technology to make this work, but it does work. Bond is discovered and an alarm sounds. There is an in-congruenty in this sequence. We see Graves at one point with his tech geek, trying on a piece of equipment, yet no more than a minute later, in real time, he's suddenly with Zao? This is a mistake, and quite a blatant one, and I'm surprised more people haven't mentioned it.
Just before Bond is going to be caught, Miranda Frost reels him in, and starts making out with him. The guards are quite confused by this, and leave them to it. The banter between Bond and Miranda in this whole sequence is excellent. Miranda is definitely in the Fiona Volpe mould of women who won't fall for Bond, but will play him at his game.
Meanwhile, Jinx, back in her leather outfit, is investigating the compound too. A compound that looks suspiciously like The Eden Project near St Austell in Cornwall. That might be because parts of this film were actually shot at The Eden Project, and they used the biodomes idea for Graves' compound in Iceland. I don't mind that, quite happy for that idea to be used.
Miranda agrees to sleep in Bond's room for the night, and we get a nice reference to Tomorrow Never Dies, where Bond actually puts his gun, under his pillow, referencing the question Paris Carver asked Bond at the launch party for Carver's news network.
We cut back and forth a lot between James Bond and Jinx in this sequence, as Jinx is captured, tied down, oh yeah we know you don't like to be tied down, but you're a female in a Bond film, you're going to end up tied down at some point, and is about to be subjected to decapitation by laser, but through Bond's assistance, and some fun timing, Jinx manages to survive, and they manage to escape.
It's here that Bond realises that Zao isn't alone and Colonel Moon must also have survived. Bond confronts Graves/Moon. Uh-oh, here we go with the multiple identities thing again. This can get troublesome in a hurry, because you're not really sure what to call him. When the different identities have different faces, like Bruce Banner and the Hulk, or Bruce Wayne and Batman, it's easy. Here, it's not so easy. Is he Graves? Is he Moon? He is both, so which name do you use? He can't change his face back to the Korean one, so I guess he has to stay being called Graves at this point.
It's also here we get the reveal that Miranda Frost is in fact, a double agent, working for Graves primarily, rather than MI6. It's here we get a chase sequence, which starts off in Moon's compound on foot, as Bond tries to escape "death for breakfast", and continues in Graves' rocket sled, or whatever you want to call it, and ends with Bond in the rocket sled hanging precariously over an ice cliff, with an intense beam of sunlight headed straight towards him. How is he getting out of this situation???
Yep, you guessed it, the infamous para-surfing sequence. The music is about the only good thing here. David Arnold's score here is brilliant and plays the emotion of the scene well, but the scene itself is appalling. It's all done on computers, except for the close-ups of Pierce Brosnan, which were shot on green-screen. It's so bad, that it beats the Bondola from Moonraker, as the worst scene ever in James Bond history.
Meanwhile, Jinx has gotten herself trapped in Miranda Frost's room, and there's a catty little conversation between the two, before we see Bond returning to the Ice Palace, and remote controlling his invisible car. Hmm, I liked the remote control car from Tomorrow Never Dies, as that made sense, but the remote control here doesn't make sense at all. As a Mythbusters fan, I know you need a remote control to handle steering, throttle, brake, and changing gears on a car. There's no way in hell that Bond could do all that from the tiny little keyring style remote that he has.
Bond and his car are accidentally discovered by a snowmobile driver who runs his snowmobile into the back of the car, and flies right over it. He wasn't going fast enough to do that. And so begins the chase sequence between Bond's car and Zao's car.
There's no doubt that the action is great, and the driving here is amazing, it's all done on ice, and is incredibly dangerous, no two ways about it. However, just like for some people, the car flip from The Man With The Golden Gun is ruined by the slide whistle sound effect, so for me, this car chase sequence is ruined by the damn editing. Randomly sped up and slowed down shots do nothing for me. The slow motion shot that was used earlier in the fight at the clinic with Zao was useful in order to highlight Bond grabbing the diamonds that Zao had in that capsule hanging around his neck. But in this sequence the use of sped up and slow motion makes no sense and is horrible, not to mention the snowmobiles getting blown away from each other and Bond's car towards the end. I do like though how the bullets bouncing off the car cause the adaptive camouflage system to fail. The sequence ends Zao trying to ram Bond's car, but by using the adaptive camouflage, and some spikes in the tyres, Bond reverse out of the way, and Zao's car crashes into the water in the melting Ice Palace, with Bond killing him by shooting a chandelier, and having it fall on top of him. Bond then rescues Jinx, and she survives, barely.
We then cut to the US Command Post on the South Korean side of the Demilitarised Zone, where Charles Robinson, M and Falco are. Does anyone else think that having the leaders of MI6 and the NSA at the edge of a potential warzone is a bad idea?
Turns out Graves is in North Korea in the middle of an airbase, and Falco thinks they can't touch him. Bond disagrees, and volunteers to go after Graves. M agrees to send him in. Turns out the idea of the British getting all the credit doesn't sit too well with Falco and he orders Jinx to go with Bond. Typical bloody American...
Bond and Jinx go in on switchblades, which seem to be single person flying machines. They separate from the crafts and parachute in. Meanwhile the missile that was fired to shoot down Icarus gets torched by the satellite.
The final sequence of the film, begins with Bond and Jinx trying to sniper kill Graves and co, but circumstances prevent that, and they have to get on the plane, which they manage to do somehow unseen by anyone.
We get a scene which is totally weird. Graves is wearing some kind of robosuit, and totally not cool, and General Moon is brought to him. They talk in what is supposed to be a tender father son moment, but it ends up flat. I can't put this down to the actors, not entirely, and I can't put it down to the writing, not entirely, there's some other element that just isn't working right, and I'm not too sure what it is. Graves uses Icarus to explode all the mines in the demilitariesd zone. General Moon doesn't like what he sees, or maybe what he fears he will see, and turns on his son/Graves. Graves kills General Moon in a scene that is meant to be poignant, but the intolerable editing again completely undos the actors' work there, the editors and director of this project have a lot to answer for when it comes it to the editing.
We also get a Goldfinger reference in reverse, where it is Bond that fires the gun that pierces a window, that causes explosive decompression, and people are sucked out of the plane. Honestly, this whole sequence is poor here. Too much intercuting between the Bond/Graves fight, and what Jinx is doing, and too many bad edits. Also, the slow motion disintegration of the plane after going through the Icarus beam is stupid. The whole ending sequence, where Jinx stabs Miranda, and Bond electrocutes Graves before he falls into one of the plane's engines, and somehow doesn't cause it to explode, just beggars my belief. After doing so much right in the early going, they screw up the ending so badly that it leaves me cold.
Everything from the Icarus announcement onwards is so bad, that it completely not only undermines all the good work that was done earlier in the film, but also holes it below the waterline. As a movie, it sinks rather quickly. I can't blame it on the actors, I have to put the blame here on the writers and director.
And just to top off the badness, we get Miss Moneypenny having virtual sex with a virtual version of James Bond, whilst Jinx has the real one to herself.
The villains ensemble here is really a mixed bag. Colonel Moon/Gustav Graves is really over the top, and doesn't come off well in this film.
Zao is more understated, but just like Hugo Drax, not in a good way. He comes across as quite boring and not really engaging as a character.
The only one who manages to do well, is Miranda Frost, and she is still quite two dimensional and not as well written as she could be. She does have some depth, but because she doesn't come into the movie early on, we're not really given enough time to see her character play out more. Her coldness is her main characteristic, and that's played brilliantly but other than that, there's not much more depth to play with.
THE BOND GIRL/WOMAN
I like Halle Berry here as Jinx, she is actually probably the best written character here. She has nuances and depths, she has some great lines, and some really good moments, and I think she gets a bit of a raw deal from some fans just because she is part of this movie, which is undeniably a bad movie, mostly though in the final act.
Halle Berry may have done some bad films, but I have to be fair to her and say that I haven't seen her do a bad performance, even in Catwoman, where she did well even with a bad script. Here, she is given more to work with, and does very well with it, but most of the worst things about this film just undermined her work.
When you have ensembles like this, henchmen don't usually add anything to a film, and that's the case here. Mr Kil looks interesting but we don't really get to see enough of him to have him be much more than that, and Vladimir Popov, the geeky guy who is meant to be Graves' personal scientist, really doesn't come across as much more than a geek who's been given lots of money and expensive toys to play with.
THE SUPPORTING CAST
I've already mentioned Michael Madsen earlier on, but to repeat, he just is not right for a James Bond film. His style just clashes so much with the Bond style that it is a total mess.
Kenneth Tsang is a highlight of this film as General Moon. His acting is superb and even though he isn't in much of the film, his whole presence just adds so much to the whole film, that I actually wish he'd been in the film more than he was.
Madonna's quick cameo as Verity is over quickly, but she plays her basic role well and doesn't detract from the film.
I should also mention Mr Chang and Raoul, who make short appearances in the film, but they are pretty memorable and help give the early part of the film some nice colour and texture. Their characters are fairly basic, but they both have a good screen presence that really helps the film.
STUNTS AND ACTION SEQUENCES.
In the first part of the film, the action sequences were quite good, and really helped move the film and the plot along.
The sword fight between Bond and Graves was the moment for me when the action sequences stopped being good in this film.
And it wasn't helped by the editing of some of these sequences which really didn't help the film at all...
I really have to turn on Lee Tamahori here as well as Editors Andrew MacRitchie and Christian Wagner. Whilst Andrew had been an Assistant Editor on Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough, Christian had no connection to the Bond films at all. Neither would have any future connection to the Bond films, as this would be their last project for the James Bond filmmakers.
And to be honest, it's easy to see why. Too many sped up or slowed down shots that had nothing to do with emphasising key moments. The editing in places really undermined the work of other people in the film, and if you notice the editing, it's not well edited. A good edit should be pretty much unnoticeable, because you're thinking more about the story, than the editing.
I've already mentioned the Madonna song, but I should mention the score by David Arnold. It's very good and does the job it should do, which is lead the audience through the action on an emotional level. It's just a shame some of it was stuck with some really horrible scenes.
This film starts off as quite enjoyable and then goes south rather quickly. Even the bad bits in the early going don't compare to just how bad the worst of the worst in this film is, which is testament to how bad the last act of the film is.
It's kind of a shame that it falls apart that badly. If it had held it's early form, it could have easily been top 10, but the bad writing at the end let it down.
Next time on the list, number 18, and a film that had so much potential, but in the end didn't deliver well enough on that potential.