Nov 26, 2014

Review: Die Another Day (2002)

I still remember all the fun I was having when I began a marathon to see every James Bond movie ever made. I had never seen a single one excluding a bit of a pirated copy of Casino Royale at a party  and I thought it was about time I fixed that. After all, I had always been a big action movie aficionado and how could I call myself that if I had never seen any of what is the largest action movie series in cinema history?

I even remember being pretty excited to see the Pierce Brosnan Bond films which were the beginning of what I consider to be the modern Bond era. GoldenEye was maybe not as good as I was expecting, but it was still quite good. From there things took a steady nosedive from soullessness to pure unintended satire with a pinch of tone deafness. Die Another Day is the entry that finishes the job that The World is Not Enough unfortunately started, the straw that broke the camel's back if you will.   

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Genre: action, adventure, crime
Directed by: Lee Tamahori
Produced by: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson, Anthony Waye, etc.
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Music by: David Arnold
Running time: 133 minutes
Production company: Eon Productions, Danjaq, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, etc.
Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 20th Century Fox, UGC-Fox Distribution, etc.
Country: United Kingdom, United States
Language: English
Budget: $142,000,000
Box office: $431,971,116 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, Will Yun Lee, John Cleese, Michael Madsen, Kenneth Tsang, Emilio Echevarría, Mikhail Gorevoy, Lawrence Makoare, Colin Salmon, Samantha Bond

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Synopsis


James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is investigating North Korean Colonel Tan-Sun Moon (Will Yun Lee) who's involved in some shady dealings involving weapons trading. Bond takes the place of a diamond trader who was on his way to see Moon, but his identity is betrayed by someone most likely on the inside of MI6. Bond manages to kill Colonel Moon but ends up captured and put to the question by Moon's father (Kenneth Tsang).

Review


What I would like to do for this review is begin with what I liked about Die Another Day, the first thing being the very different ending to the usual Bond pre-title sequence. These sequences are usually an opportunity to show off some pretty fancy stunts, have some fun and sometimes introduce important story elements. DAD decides to finish on a pretty depressing note and continues right into the titles. The titles are actually part of the movie, showing James being tortured by the North Koreans with Madonna's Die Another Day overlaid. I appreciate the very smooth transition from pre-titles to titles but we'll come back to this.

(Spoilers) I'm also a fan of us finally seeing a dirty and unshaven Bond after his release, which reflects the cruel care he was the beneficiary of from the North Koreans. We always get a very clean Bond so it's a nice change of pace. He's also under suspicion of having giving information to the North Koreans which puts him in a tight spot with M (Judi Dench) who is wonderful as always. What we then get is Bond going rogue for a while which is similar to License to Kill. I like the idea and it's all pretty well set up. (End Spoilers)

In terms of Halle Berry's Jinx Johnson, I like how she can be considered a tough Bond girl who's able to take care of herself. That's clearly what Neal Purvis and Robert Wade had in mind which definitely works with me. There's not much place for damsels in distress anymore anyway. We'll come back to that though. I also like John Cleese who takes up Desmond Llewelyn prized role of Q for real this time and not just as an assistant like in The World is Not Enough. There's are a few homages to Bond movies of old during the customary Q gadget tour that I also liked.

Now that we've covered the good things about Die Another Day, let's dig in for real. Starting with the usual Bond gun barrel sequence, it's been shockingly over-tinkered with on the behest of director Lee Tamahori. He wanted a computer generated bullet to be put in and the effect is just jarring. The sequence has always been changed over the years, but Tamahori decided that bigger is better and that's why we needed a big, fat and fake-looking bullet to kill the assumed assassin trying to kill James Bond. This CG bullet is a big sign of things to come.

The pre-title sequence itself does seem to have quite a few interesting ingredients like a hovercraft chase for example. Unfortunately, the chase hits a wall for one big reason: CGI. There's some pretty obvious green-screening going on during action sequences that throws realism completely out the window. It looks fake and destroys any attempt at tension or fun out the window. It's sad because a hovercraft chase sounds pretty cool in theory.

The title sequence itself like I said is interesting for the reason that it ends on a downer and shows James Bond being tortured until the film resumes. It's different and pretty slick. What doesn't work about these titles is the song. Funnily enough I remember actually liking the song the first time I heard it. That's the problem with it though, it's an unbearable song when you listen to it again. It's definitely a memorable song, but compared to the older title songs which I could listen to non-stop, I don't want to hear even one note of it. Add in the completely unnecessary and badly acted appearance from Madonna herself and we have successfully thrown any goodwill out the window.

I may have sounded positive about Halle Berry and her character before, but in truth there's very little to be positive about. Halle Berry is an awful actress and she can't seem to deliver a line for her life. I know I sound harsh but she does this with stunning regularity. It doesn't help that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade insist on giving her the dumbest and most embarrassing double entendres a Bond movie has ever had to bear. Pierce Brosnan is also forced to deliver these awful lines but he's far at not making a fool of himself.

Halle Berry shares a ridiculous and overblown sex scene with Pierce Brosnan and she also shares without a doubt the the most embarrassing conclusion to a James Bond movie ever. (Spoilers) Jinx Johnson frustratingly becomes a damsel in distress in the end and it's not like you ever really care whether she lives or not. The conclusion where James teases Jinx with diamonds is just the rotten cherry on the moldy cake. (End Spoilers)

Action sequences in Die Another Day are slightly hectic at their best. At their worst, their overly loud, gadgety, slow motion-filled and over choreographed CGI fests. The highlight is probably a sword fight between Bond and Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) that gets pretty wild. The problem is that the swords are cartoonishly clangy and the fight seems to be a little too well put together when it devolves into chaos. It comes close in being pretty cool though.

The you have a ridiculous Bond vs. henchman fight that features a whole bunch of dangerous lasers going haywire all around them. The effect is like being in a club instead of a room full of dangerous lasers. There's a massive car chase across a frozen lake in Iceland that can be summed up as a gadget-filled Aston Martin Vanquish vs. a gadget-filled Jaguar XKR that makes its way into a frozen ice palace This could be a pretty amusing Bond satire but that's not what it's supposed to be. Die Another Day is a real Bond entry and it makes a fool of itself with scenes like this.

CGI is an omnipresent problem, rearing its fake and badly aged face many times. I don't think it looked good in 2002 either. The worst of this is a parachute/surfboarding sequence that sees James ride a wave created by some fallen ice to safety. It makes you wonder just how any of this was deemed to be OK for what is a marquee series. Wasn't anyone ashamed that the Queen of England was at the premier for Die Another Day and forced to sit through this?

Die Another Day doesn't even look like a James Bond film. Lee Tamahori has filled DAD with slow motion and aggressive "whooshing" over landscapes instead of intimately capturing its beauty. There's even a flashback scene that has no place there. It's also astounding how Neal Purvis and Robert Wade would stoop as low as putting in a girl on girl fight. (Spoilers) It's thankfully short-lived but it's there and made me want to vomit for how much it doesn't belong. (End Spoilers)

I could probably go on about what I don't like about Die Another Day, but I think I've already given enough of an idea of why I don't like it and how much. James Bond isn't supposed to be a disposable 2000's action series, but Lee Tamahori as well as Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are responsible for making DAD into one. This is a movie loaded with product placement, loud noises, explosions but short on humour and tension. If I had to choose a weapon to represent the James Bond series, it would be a lightsaber. As Obi-Wan Kenobi said: "An elegant weapon... for a more civilized age." If I had to choose a weapon for Die Another Day, it would be an old club, not even fit for a caveman in training.

Rating

 

4/10