Die Another Day
April 1, 2012 Leave a comment
Title: Die Another Day
Year: 2002. At one point in Die Another Day Bond and M are standing in an abandon subway station under London. “While you were away the world has changed,” M informs Bond to which he responds “not for me.” With these three words 007 is not speaking as Bond the character created by Ian Fleming but as “Bond” the one billion dollar film franchises created by Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli. Four decades previous, Dr. No (1962) redefined what a popcorn action film could be in many ways, one of which was the “ripped from the headlines” plot based on The Cuban Missile Crises. While never references the incident itself, the film tapped into the ever-present fear of nuclear annihilation. In subsequent films, Bond would tackle everything from the cold war to radical environmentalism, the space race to petrol-politics, the war on drugs to the tensile strength of speeding fire trucks; always in it’s very own Bond world way. But in the first film following perhaps the largest worldwide political event of Bond’s forty years save the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bond had no idea how to respond. To be fair, in the immediate aftermath of September 11th 2001 no one in the entertainment industry knew how to wrap his or her head around the events of that day and some pretty crazy stuff was said. Some felt we would see a “new responsible way of making films,” were “violence would no longer be glamorized.” Others wondered aloud and in print if “anything would ever be funny again?” and predicted the death of irony. Ironically, it would be comedy that delivered the first, and incredibly appropriate, response. TV was showing nothing but up to the second news reports, that was if you could still get TV. I had rabbit ears on a small Sony at the time and since broadcasts in the city all came from the top of One World Trade, all I had was fuzz. This meant many trips to local bar to absorb the news while numb myself to it. With all conventional programing preempted, it fell to print, in the form of The Onion, to make one of the first jokes, and not a moment to soon. That now famous front page made it just that much easier for those of us who worked in tall Manhattan office buildings to step onto the elevator. On TV, the holder of the second highest elected office in America, New York Mayor Giuliani, famously appeared on SNL and gave people permission to laugh again, but he was in fact a little late to the party. New York’s twin towers of late night comedy, Letterman and Stewart, had already returned to the air and nakedly, awkwardly and beautifully fumbled with what was funny and appropriate after America’s greatest city, to paraphrase John Updike, got both its front teeth punched out. While New York was carrying on in the proud tradition of Broadway and declaring the show must go on, Jay Leno was still hiding in his bunker of a garage in Burbank, along with the rest of La-La Land. Another irony, the town that makes billions off distorting buildings and mindless killing thousands in action packed fantasies had no idea how to react to the real thing that so many described as “looking just like a movie.” Producers of Zoolander (2001), a comedy about New York’s fashion industry that was released on September 28th, rushed to digitally erase the twin towers from shots of the skyline, an act of vandalism Paramount still needs to square. A trailer featuring a baddies helicopter caught in Spiderman’s web strung between the towers was yanked from TV and theaters. Most hysterically, there was a loud cry urging Peter Jackson and Co. to rename his second Lord of the Rings film, even thought the book on which it was based, “The Two Towers,” was published in 1954. While New Yorkers ran toward the burning buildings to do what we could, Hollywood ran away as fast as they could. It took a New York filmmaker who was never warmly embraced by Hollywood to make the first, and to date best, film dealing directly with September 11th. Spike Lee’s near masterpiece The 25th Hour (2002) is the one of the only non-documentary movies to sift though the aftermath of that day with emotional honesty and in doing so becomes the exception proving the rule; big budget Hollywood style films almost always fail when attempting to tackle large scale horror head on. While Hollywood’s initial response of whitewashing the towers out of existence is inexcusable, that fact that the entertainment industry had the wisdom to tread lightly when taking on such large and at the same time nuanced subject was wise if not commendable. The truth is, most films shouldn’t even try, lest we have another Pearl Harbor (2001) on our hands. For projects like Remember Me (2010) or the Oscar bait Extremely Tasteless and Incredibly Exploitative (2011) it will always be “too soon.” (Ed Note: Full disclosure, I never saw Remember Me or Extremely Tasteless and Incredibly Exploitative and I never will.) Think about how many truly great films deal directly with the holocaust or Hiroshima. For every Schindler’s List (1993) there are 100 cynical train wrecks. You know someday some black hearted executive will release a tear jerker centered around the Japanese tsunami of 3/11/11, no doubt staring Ryan Gosling and Reese Witherspoon, but we can all rest assured it will be a bigger bust at the box-office then John Carter (2012). Indeed films work better in dealing with the incomprehensible through the prism of metaphor, parable, satire or allegory. Think about the Japanese film industry responding to the nuclear bomb attacks on their nation with Godzilla (1954) or Hollywood responding to the AIDS crises with Fatal Attraction (1987). A few years after the fact, with the benefit of perspective, Hollywood did in fact make powerful “post 9/11 films.” Movies like The Departed (2006), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), There Will Be Blood (2007) and No Country for Old Men (2007), not to mention the countless post-apostolic moves that have come out in the past few years, are movies filled with dread. They all convey a feeling that something evil is out there, it’s coming to get us, and we don’t know who/what it is or when it will strike. In these movies the good guys are compromised, violence can breakout at anytime, and in some cases (No Country, There Will Be Blood) the baddies gets away. Kind of sounds like the 21st Bond film that came out in 2006, don’t yah think? (By the by, with all these 2006/07 releases it would appear five years was the prescribed time to properly digest 9/11.) But for now, we are dealing with Bond 20, released 14 months after the attacks, thirteen months after a “coalition of the willing” hit the ground in Afghanistan and four months before Tony Blair would sully his legacy by jumping in bed with George Bush’s war on Iraq. In the three years James Bond was away, the world did indeed change, but not for Bond. Current events were going way to fast for 007 to catch up, so producers ignored the present and used this, the 40th anniversary and 20th film of the James Bond franchise, to celebrate 007’s rich past.
Film Length: 2 hours 7 minutes
Bond Actor: Pierce Brosnan. By Pierce’s forth film, it became clear that James Bond was trying to kill the actor. Bond had been working since 1995 to weaken Brosnan mentally, and the strain was manifesting itself in the physical. According to IMDb the official James Bond tailor in London reported that while Pierce started as the lightest Bond to date (164 pounds for GoldenEye (1995)) by the time he was getting fittings for Die Another Day he was the heaviest at 211 pounds. Once shooting began, 007 really got nasty. One of the first sequences to be shot featured a hovercraft chase over a minefield. During one of the stunts Pierce injured his knee so badly he was rushed to a California hospital for an operation. While he was recovering production was totally shut down for a few weeks, the first time a Bond film had ever done so. “I feel guilt, I’ve blown it,” the actor said at time and I don’t doubt his sincerity. Perhaps as a result of the knee injury, Brosnan is much less physical in this film. In fact, the best scene in the movie, a sword fight, was the last thing shot in order to give Brosnan the maximum time to recover. Add the fact the shooting schedule was thrown into further disarray thanks to rainstorms in Spain and thin ice in Iceland and EON was looking at a chaotic production. Perhaps it was the difficulty surrounding the shoot that left a bad taste in Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson’s mouth or maybe other factors played a role but for whatever reason, Pierce was not invited back for the next Bond picture. Reasons as to why and how this happened are sketchy at best and I found only scant credible reporting. In an October 15, 2004 piece in the Toronto Sun, Brosnan implies he was fired. He told the paper that he was willing and eager to do a fifth and final Bond, adding that Broccoli and Wilson had asked him to return. “And then one day the phone rang–I was here (in Nassau shooting After The Sunset)–and my agents told me that the goalposts had moved and that they had changed their minds.” He added, “It was disappointing. It was surprising. And I accepted the knowledge (that his run as 007 was over for good) after 24 hours of being in shock.” He went on to say he harbored no resentment and handled the entire thing like the true gentlemen he is but the question of why he was the only Bond actor to date to be made redundant lingers. His performance is top notch, while the film itself not so much. In watching the past three movies I’ve come to think of Brosnan’s take on 007 as a prefect mix of Moore’s world wear humor and Connery’s steely toughness and here he has scene where the marriage of the two works wonderfully. Indeed, the film is incredible flawed and one of the weaker Bond entries but none of that rests with Brosana who at most points is better then the material. It’s a mystery indeed but I get the feeling, with no facts what so ever to back me up, that Brosnan fell on his sword and took a brunt of the blame for Die Another Day’s shortcoming for the good of the franchise; a franchise that let him go in a rather, if we are to believe Brosnan’s account, underhanded way. Whatever went down, the end result remains. Bond succeeded in his mission to eliminate Pierce Brosnan. Maybe he wanted to be a blonde?
Director: Lee Tamahori, hack for heir….mostly. Tamahori’s claim to fame is his widely love feature directorial debut Once We Were Warriors (1994). Unseen by me, the film takes place in Tamahori’s native New Zealand and deals with alcoholism and domestic abuse. When looking upon the rest of Tamahori’s filmography, it can safely be said that films like The Edge (1997), xXx: State of the Union (2005) and Next (2007) don’t quite reach the heights or depths of his first outing. This is fine, most directors don’t even have a good scene in them. Anyone with a great movie under his belt is to be applauded. Tamahori made his bones in the biz as an award winning commercial artist and while I cannot speak to Once We Were Warriors, I can say his films that I have seen sprang from that sensibility. Making TV ads is no easy thing. It takes a tremendous amount of skill and talent to hook someone and get a message across, even if the message is as simple as buy this, in a very short amount of time. One of the more common ways to do that is to produce a flashy self contained single concept piece that can be instantly understood. However, while 30 seconds of good looking people doing sexy activities is great for selling Budweiser, it tends to loose some punch when strung out for a 2 hour narrative. As a result, the Tamahori films that I have seen feel like a bunch of different “ad moments” added together. You get slammed into a set piece quickly, and while this works as a “hook” for ads it means sacrificing set-up in a film. Then it’s all wiz-bang with no context until we hit a big climatic finish, but we still have more then 9/10th of the film to go. Strangely, Broccoli and Wilson found this quality in Tamahori to be an asset. For the 40th Anniversary the keepers of the Bond flame felt the need to, as the DVD literature puts it, “Pull out all the stops.” The DVD extras have interviews where the two producers speak proudly about how any given action set piece in this movie would “be the center piece to any other film and we’ve got five.” This bigger is better thinking lead to some of Bond’s biggest disasters and this production has a Moonraker era “Look what we can do!” feel written all over it. It’s the worst impulses of the franchise and yet EON continues to fall into the trap. If you need further evidence that this film was a bloated boondoggle look no further then the “stripped down reboot” follow up Casino Royale (2006). Things are not helped by Wilson and Broccoli’s decision to embraces the worst film making trends of the day, mainly the frantic hack and slash editing style as seen in so many open big/gone next week action films of the time. Christian Wagner, the man who cut Bad Boys (1995) for Michael Bay, one of the worst offenders of the chop it to shit style, was brought on as the editor. Add Wagner’s pacing, or more appropriately lack thereof, to Tamahori’s “Cram it into 30 seconds” storytelling and shooting style and what you have is a big, loud, ugly film with three acts that exist nearly independent of each other. The icing on the cake is Tamahori’s fetishism for Matrix (1999) style camera moves and film speed manipulation. We gets shots of one of the baddies, wearing a wind blown trench coat natch, whirling around with guns blazing in a low angle slow mo that then speed-ramps into double time as the soundtrack assaults the viewer with Whoooossshhh and zipppppsss and lands with a clang! Add the Fast and the Furious (2001) neon car chase, the Richard Branson modeled villain and a Madonna cameo and the film feels more dated then any of the Moore of Connery movies. Die Another Day is just like 95% of action films we see today, the two-minute trailer plays as a better movie then the feature.
Reported Budget: $142,000,000 estimated.
Reported Box-office: $160,854,135 USA and $431,971,116 worldwide. These numbers tell two very different stories. On one hand, the $432 million worldwide is by far the largest take for any Bond to date. On the other, with the $142 budget taken into account this is the least profitable Bond to date, which probably played no small part in Brosnan being shown to the door. I also remember the publicity blitz at time and I’m sure marketing ate up millions if not tens of millions. Up to this point, James Bond was the highest grossing movie franchise ever, pulling in just north of one billion dollars. But the number 4 film at the box office in 2002, the $262 million grossing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, would be the beginning of the end of Bond’s reign. Today, eight movies and ten years later, JK Rowling’s boy wizard is top dog. But no worries, considering Potter has now graduated and Bond is about to release his 23rd film, it’s only a matter of time before Jimmy B is once again sitting on top the largest pile of money.
Theme Song: “Die Another Day” by Madonna. The wife and I had a few folks over to watch the MMXII Superbowl. They weren’t really huge football people but they got into the spirit of the game because who doesn’t just absolutely relish every moment of Tom Brady get his ass kick while Boston fans scream they were once again robbed. Note to New England boosters, once (the Tyree helmet catch) maybe luck but twice (the Manningham sideline catch) and you’ve just plain got beat… twice. Anyway, throughout the first and second quarters our company was complaining about the up coming halftime show featuring Madonna. Now, I’ve never owned one of her records but I have always respected what Madonna has done for women in music. I also know that if nothing else, she is a consummate professional, who like a great athlete (and unlike Brady in his past two Superbowl appearances) ups her game for the biggest stage. So I found myself in a strange position of defending, at times strongly, Madonna to the point where I was very nervous that I might have oversold someone I’m not the biggest fan of. From the moment Madge entered the field seated on a golden throne being carried by 100 gladiators I knew I backed the right horse. Regardless of how one feels about the woman, nobody can deny her halftime show killed it on every level. She not only performed an A-plus set but in the year when Tim Tebow became a NFL folk hero and Rick Santorum is still somehow though of as a serious contender for the White House, Madonna brought gay culture into every living room in America. The best part, I’d bet you 99% of football fans didn’t even notice. They just keep on downing Coors Lite as they swayed along with Cee Lo. God bless you sister, after that balls-out move I respect you even more. All that said; this is easily the worst Bond tune to date. Madonna sounds like a malfunctioning robot performing at some kind of Blade Runner (1982) S&M club. It’s like a track from a 2002 club scene that never existed. Take a listen yourself as samples of Madonna asking “Sigmund Freud” to “analyze this” can barely be made out over the faux industrial clamor.
And the punch line; the theme song is far from the worst music decision in the film. Popular music cues in movies are no easy thing. The song choices must fit into the sealed universe created by the film and at the same time say something larger about the character, the story, the mood or the events that are relevant in the movie at that moment. And if I may paraphrase Carly Simon’s wonderful Bond tune, nobody does it better then Martin Scorsese. In movie after movie Scorsese picks the perfect piece of pop music to evoke the mood of a specific time and place. Take Mean Streets (1973). Think of the slow motion tracking shot of De Niro’s Johnny Boy walking into the bar, a chick on each arm, as “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” plays on the juke. Johnny Boy is a neighborhood punk and the bar is a Little Italy dive but at that moment, Johnny Boy feels like Henry Hill walking into the Copa. Using the language of cinema, Scorsese shows us Johnny Boy feels like the king of the world, no need to have him raise his arms and shout it. Later, there is a completely different feeling when Harvey Keitel’s Charlie is off his face drunk, staggering around the bar to The Chips “Rubber Biscuit.” The hits keep coming; Harry Nilsson’s “Jump into the Fire” during Henry’s coke freak-out in Goodfellas (1990), “Give Me Shelter” in several films (ironically not Shine a Light (2008)) and The Clash’s “Jenny Jones” as Tom Sizemore and Nic Cage speed around Hells Kitchen in Bring Out the Dead (1999). (Side note to Tamahori; also watch some Scorsese for an advanced class in how to use film speed manipulation to create mood and not as a gimmick. See also Pootie Tang (2001)) And hey, speaking of The Clash, exactly why the hell is “London Calling” in Die Another Day? First, some context; Bond has been exiled and is operating as a rouge agent. He is returning to London for the first time since being imprisoned in North Korea for 14 months. One shot Bond is in Cuba and the next we see an airborne 747. The plane whips onto the screen with a speed ramp and the opening cords of “London Calling” are heard. Cut to the plane interior, Bond orders a drink, (Note for geeks, the stewardess is played by Roger Moore’s daughter) takes a sip and the plane lands at Heathrow. Let’s get into why this idea fails on so many levels. First, the lyric “London calling” is too on the nose. The worse offender of this would be Zack Snyder’s miserable Watchman (2009). While we see two of the heroes flying across a windblown Martian landscape the line “two riders were approaching and the wind began to howl” from Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower” is heard. In addition, can we all agree right here, right now, that “Hallelujah,” both the Leonard Cohen original and Jeff Buckley cover, while a wonderful song, be forever ban from film due to gross misuse and overuse? OK, moving on. See, when Alex kicks the shit out of a woman in A Clockwork Orange (1971) he doesn’t sing “Smack My Bitch Up.” (I know the Prodigy song wasn’t out when the film was released. Just roll with me, hey?) Why? Because he’s beating up a woman! We see that, we don’t need to be told in song. What Alex does tell us by belting out a few bars of “Sing in the Rain” is much more significant and offers a clear window into his dark, twisted soul. So yah, Bond’s flying back to London, no need for Joe Strummer and crew to spell it out for us, it cheapens the moment and the song. As we said before, the song must also expand our understanding of the character and here the use of The Clash is even further off the mark. James Bond feels that the only way to appreciate the Beatles is while wearing earplugs. 007 wouldn’t know The Clash if he was cracked upside the head with Paul Simonon’s bass. I know he’s English and The Clash are a seminal English band but so what? Annie Hall (1977) is one of the quintessential 1970’s New York City films but when Annie start messing around on Alvy we don’t cut to “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” one of the quintessential 1970’s New York City songs. The only place where Joey Ramone would ever cross paths with Woody Allen would be at a kosher deli. The point is, I love The Clash and London Calling is on my top 25 records of all time list, but so is Blonde on Blonde and “Visions of Johanna” has no place in Bond film. A song should at the very least do no harm, but “London Calling” punches a hole in the Bond universe and leaves a vacuum much in the same way Gidea Park’s “California Girls” did in A View To A Kill (1985). I guess we should at least thank the gods we got the genuine article and not Rebel Truce.
Opening Titles: Well, I will say this, EON fires a shot across the audience’s bow from the get go. We are greeted by the familiar Bond stroll to center screen where he turns to face the audience and shoots. However, this time a digital bullet comes out of the gun and flies right at us. Progress marches on. Also for the first time, the opening action sequence bleeds over into the credits and pushes the plot forward. Large scorpions dance among several credit chicks that look like fire and ice demons from Mordor. All the while, shots of James Bond being tortured in a North Korean prison are inter-cut. Take a moment to digest that one because it’s a biggie. We’ve seen stuff like Bond strapped to a table while a laser close in on his mojo or James being punched in the gut and threatened with further violence if he didn’t talk. However, he is never truly hurt and it only lasts a few minutes. Before you know it, 007 has returned to his “cell,” typically a perfectly appointed five star room with a balcony overlooking a pool where Bond sips at a martini while planning his escape. Here, Bond is being water boarded and stung with scorpions in a gulag for what we learn is 14 months of pure hell. This is big, yet it registers zero impact. The connection to the violence is completely undercut by the fact that it’s presented as stylized flashes that are surrounded by an otherwise traditional Bond credit sequence. Indeed, it’s hard to feel what Bond is going thorough while watching naked dancing girls and listening to a pumping, headache inducing theme song. Actually, scratch everything I just said. This is brilliant tactic employed by the North Koreans. If I was tied down and forced to listen to Madonna’s “Die Another Day” stuck on repeat, I’d be spilling state secretes before dinner.
Opening Action Sequence: Can’t go wrong photographing the ocean at dawn. As the sea roars a barley visible black figure appear from behind a wall of wave, riding on a Hawaiian table. The shot is haunting, beautiful, and majestic. Then, a second surfer appears and then a third. The three ride the same tower of a wave (three riders were approaching and the wind began to howl) onto a heavily guarded beach. Much later in the film, as if deliberately trying to ruin a good thing, there is a scene where Bond is in an ice jet boat that’s dangling off the side of an iceberg which is being melted by a space laser. (Don’t worry about it, it just is.) Bond grabs a parachute and the engine cover off the ice boat. The engine cover becomes surfboard that he uses to ride down the sliding iceberg and then kite-surf the ensuing wave. The water looks faker then Mitt Romney talking about “cheesy grits” but never mind. It’s just such a clumsy and ugly execution all around that you cannot believe it exists in the same film as these true to life (shot in Hawaii) opening moments. This is just one small example of how this movie is a bunch of parts moving in every direction that never come together as one functioning whole. But back to the here and now as James Bond and his two bros are making like Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore and hanging ten into a hostile beach.
Bond’s Hobie comes with some high-tech beacons which he uses to alert a helicopter to his location. The chopper lands and man dressed in the same beige field jacket as Bond emerges carrying a brief case. 007 knocks him out, steals his sunglasses, grabs his briefcase, and rides the helicopter to a North Korean base situated right on the DMZ. The briefcase, which Bond has rigged with some hidden C4 explosive, is full of conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone. The diamonds are being delivered to the corrupt Colonel Moon who uses a fleet of hovercraft to smuggle the contraband out of the country to God only knows where. His profits in turn are used to buy sports cars, which he proudly displays on the base. While not the sharpest trafficker in history the Colonel still manages to unmask Bond when a photo of the spy, secretly taken by one of Moon’s men, is electronically sent off to some intelligence folks who report back that 007 is MI6. Yes, Bond was busted by an iPhone. “You will not live to see the day when the world is ruled by the north Mr. Bond.” “Neither will you” and were off. The Colonel blows up Bond’s chopper and Bond blows up the diamonds and Moon’s cars and both end-up behind the wheel of two hovercrafts. (Is behind the wheel proper for hovercraft?) As even more hovercrafts give chase Bond and the baddie slide out onto the minefield, which conveniently has dirt roads running parallel to each other. This is good for when you want to hover side-by-side with someone while shooting at them. Mines blow up and so do the other hovercraft in a chase that is keep interesting because of the way the hovercraft slide and … hover. However we only get to see this in quick, short bursts as the editing will not allow us to focus on any one thing. Eventually Bond and the baddie end up on the same craft, which goes flying off a cliff into a river. Bond jumped off just in time to save himself from the fall but not half the North Korean Army who shows up under the command of General Moon, indeed the father of the dead Colonel Moon at the bottom of the river. The poor General is a little conflicted at the moment. Firstly his pissed at his kid for betraying his country and using the Army for his own personal gain, but he’s none to pleased with Bond for killing his boy. Above all, the guy is just perplexed. “Fifty years after the superpowers carved Korea in two and then you arrive. A British spy, an assassin …” In order to find out why Bond was in country, the General spends the 3 minute 30 second credit roll dunking 007’s head in water and stinging him with scorpions.
Bond’s Mission: So it turns out Bond was tortured for a little longer then the opening credits, more like 14 months if we are to believe the on screen text and length of Bond’s unkempt facial hair. Indeed seeing the always dapper gentleman spy looking like Robinson Crusoe (a role Brosnan played in a 1997 movie) should be more shocking then it is, but credit to Brosnan for trying to pull as much gravity from the situation as he can. When Bond is yanked from his cell and stands before a firing squad, Brosnan plays the scene with a perfect mix of defiance and fear in facing his death. However, the firing squad retreats at the last second and a disembodied voice tells 007 to cross a bridge that extends into a foggy void. Turns out, Bond is being exchanged for another prisoner named Zao who also happens to be the cat who opened the diamond briefcase with the explosives in it. As a result, Zao’s face is now bedazzled with a dozen or so diamonds. Why he didn’t adopt Diamond Head, no one’s favorite 80’s metal band, for his moniker is a mystery. Bond is being exchanged, against his wishes, because the United States had one of their deep cover men in Korea exposed, and they think Bond spilled the beans. The U.S. is willing to give up Zao, who killed four Chinese agents, to get Bond out so he will stop talking. We all know Bond would never talk and so should M but she has her doubts. Bond has his 00 revoked and although it’s never stated, I assume he was going to be handed over to the U.S. This is all very dense on exposition yet thinner then the 2012 NY Mets line up. Forget that Bond’s stunt in the DMZ would have caused a war, forget that the prison exchange makes zero sense and forget that Bond escapes the cell M is holding him in by stopping his heart. What, I didn’t mention that last past? Whelp, yah, that’s what he does. What makes this whole Bond being tortured for 14 months and disavowed by MI6 thing so silly is it has absolutely no lasting repercussions. Bond suffers no metal scars from his ordeal. Besides the stopping his heart trick, he learns nothing from his 14 months of hell and loss of the only livelihood he has ever known. Look I get that this is Bond, but after all he’s been through can he really so cavalierly go back to one-liners and banging babes? The answer according to Die Another Day is hell and yes. It is only through the flimsiest of plot devices that the first 20 minutes of the film have any bearing on the rest. So Bond escapes and goes rogue, hoping to learn who set him up to look like an informant. Bond going rouge seems like a no brainer but just like in Licence To Kill (1987) the great premise is fumbled, bungled and all together botched. The plot quickly becomes a quagmire that bends over backwards in attempts to string together a tale of revenge and betrayal, themes that are never able to cut through story points involving diamond smuggling, space weapons, billionaire playboys and plastic surgery. If a cynical person were to take a step back from the film, they may conclude this movie has no ideas of it’s own but functions as a highlight reel referencing memorable moments from previous films via inside jokes. Take the part where Bond is in his Cuban contacts office and he picks up a bird watching book. Savvy fans know Ian Fleming enjoyed bird watching from his Jamaican estate and he nicked the name James Bond from an author of an ornithology book. The joke is continued further when on the beach, Bond, James Bond introduce himself to the Bond girl as an English man on holiday, in town to observe the birds. See, bird is a British term for woman and Bond is poising as an ornithologist so this is funny. The Bond girl, by the by, emerges from the sea in a bikini with a white knife belt on her hips a la Ursula Andress in Dr. No. Another character makes his entrance into the film skydiving over Buckingham Palace with a Union Jack parachute recalling not only The Spy Who Loves Me (1977) open but also the jet pack fly-over of the villa in Thunderball (1965). Gone is the BMW replace by an Aston Martin and Q’s work shop it littered with everything from the fore mention jet pack to the knife shoe and briefcase seen in From Russia With Love (1963) to the hang-glider from Moonraker (1979) to the mini-jet from Octopussy (1983) and many, many more. In case we missed all of that, when Q gives Bond his watch he comments, “It’s your 20th I believe.” Perhaps with his lack of establishing shots and slash and burning cutting Tamahori was fondly recalling Spootswood’s Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) in which case good on yah … I guess.
Villain’s Name: Col. Moon or Gustav Graves. Yes, the British playboy diamond miner and the dead guy in the cliff diving hovercraft crash are one in the same. Turns out that after the fall the younger Moon not only lived to, shall we say die another day, but went on to live the most incredible 14 months in human history. I say that with full knowledge of Bob Dylan’s 1965-1966, a period of time during which The Bard wrote, recorded, and released three masterpieces (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde), plugged in and got booed at the Newport Folk Festival, toured Europe twice, was accused of being Judas and changed the face of rock & roll. While Bond was cooling his heels in a Korean prison Col. Moon (deep breath) faked his death, escaped the DMZ, made his way to Cuba, got a DNA transplant that turned the 5’ 9” Korean into a 5’ 11” member of the Shakespearian Acting Company, opened a fake diamond mine in Iceland, convinced his entire diamond smuggling ring to now go thought Iceland, joined the Blades fencing club, corrupted an MI6 agent, fixed the Sydney Olympics, built a greenhouse on a frozen lake, built a diamond infused sun reflector, launched said sun reflector into space and got it working perfectly, and gained the trust of the crown to the point where when we meet Gustav Graves he parachuting into Buckingham Palace to be knighted by The Queen. Ummm, hummm. What you got to say now Zimmerman? Moon’s 14 months “after” his death makes your ‘65-‘66 look like Axle Roses’ 1993 – 2008. Zao, he of the diamond face who was the prisoner exchanged for Bond, also goes AWOL from the Korean army and joins his now Anglo pal Moon in his bid to melt the world, not to stop the world and melt with you. Don’t confuse the two.
Villain Actor: Toby Stephens. This English actor would be right at home in “Downton Abby.” A capital “A” Ac-Tor, he based his Bond villain nakedly on Virgin mega-mogul Richard Branson. The Branson bit works fine but the character in the context of the film is quite silly. Stephens gets this and embraces the camp by going very wide. He also displays very impressive swordsmanship in his best scene in the film. But despite his perfect diction, Stephen’s not a miracle worker and try as he might, the character is just not well written.
Villain’s Plot: Graves uses his “from nothing to everything in no time at all” story to endear himself to the elite of the UK while behind the scenes he’s dealing in conflict diamonds and building a dooms day machine called “Icarus.” Students of mythology will recognize Icarus as a flying man who in his arrogance flew to close to the sun and burnt his wings. Why one would name his project to take over the world after someone who literally crashed and burned is not clear but we have much bigger fish to fry. Look, there’s no way around it, this villain simply doesn’t work. His journey from a corrupt Korean Colonel with daddy issues to a knight of the realm who speaks like Sir Lawrence Olivier is simply a bridge to far. The problem isn’t so much the absurd fiction of the thing; past villains have lived under the sea and in doormat volcanoes, the issue is the characters narrative arc has zero connective tissue. These two men, Moon and Graves, exist in two separate films. The Kananga / Mr. Big baddie from Live and Let Die (1973) was not perfect, but you could see this was the same man living two lives, both of which contributed to the same goal. He was essentially playing the supplier (Kananga) and distributor (Mr. Big) for the same company (Coke is Us.) In this movie, the diamonds are meant to be the connective tissue, but how? Graves set up his ring very quickly, do his partners know he is Moon or did they just trust this out of the blue Brit? Moon was clearly in the diamond biz to sell at a profit (hence the cars) where as Graves needs the diamonds to build Icarus. Was Icarus somehow in the cards all along? If so, how would he launch the satellite as Moon when North Korea has no space program? And what would Moon want with Icarus in the first place? Was his plan to sell it to the North Korean government? Possible, but then as Graves he kills his father, shooting the general in the head while we watch in slow mo. Was he planning on going rogue with the space weapon all along? Then why be so public about its launch, something he never could have done as Moon? This whole thing doesn’t pass the smell test. There is just no way both these men are the same person with the same goals unless, maybe Moon was going to become Graves the entire time and Bond just gave him a good way to disappear. But even that doesn’t work because Graves tells Bond he modeled this playboy character after the British spy, who he never meet till the day he was chased of the waterfall. Indeed, Die Another Day references nearly every past Bonds film in one way or another but Diamonds Are Forever (1971) casts the largest shadow. In fact, a solid argument could be made that Bond 20 is a remake of Sir Sean’s swan song. In the 1971 film Blofeld makes several clones of himself that result in false deaths and mistaken identities. Blofeld also kills off his former self to take on the identity of a seemingly legit businessman, casino mogul Willard Whyte. The legit business in turn is a front to smuggle diamonds which Blofeld uses to build a star wars death ray. In fact, all that’s missing from Die Another Day is a pair of deadly gymnasts (Bambi and Thumper) and a pair of homosexual hit men (Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint) and the two movies are nearly identical in terms of not only story but also, sadly, quality.
Villain’s Lair: I’m not sure Graves holds the deed but he has strong ties to a hospital off the coast of Cuba on the Isla Los Organos or the Island of the Bodies. Bond uses a pretty clever scheme involving a guard and wheelchair to work his way onto the island and discovers the hospital is a front for a gene replacement clinic. To hammer this point home the hospital is decorated with DNA helixes on rotating mirror poles. Graves also has one of these gene facelift doohickeys at his “mine” in Iceland. Built on a frozen lake, the mine is really a glass-doomed greenhouse that is full of planets, which apparently don’t require soil. Also built on this frozen lake is a huge ice hotel that looks like the Sydney Opera House with a gigantic octopus growing out of it. Everything in the hotel is carved from ice, which is very cool. (Thank you, thank you. Don’t forget to tip your bar tender.)
Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: Zao’s diamond face is rather creepy and is actually quite a good idea. The issue is the Zao character is little more then an earned boy for Graves. Zao is a hell of driver but mostly he just kind of walks around shouting orders as his face sparkles under the klieg lights. Besides being an Asian man trapped in a British body, Graves also never sleeps. Somewhat counter intuitively this leads to him having boundless energy. It’s later implied that his gene therapy robs him of sleep but this is never adequately explained.
Badassness of Villain: As Moon, the baddie is quite badass. We are introduced to him as he is practicing kickboxing on what appears to be a heavy punching bag. We quickly learn he is in fact beating on his anger management therapist in a sack. Speaking of sack, it takes a sold set of stones to be smuggling diamonds in and out of the DMZ right under both North and South Korea, not to mention NATO’s, noises. But once Moon becomes Graves he is no longer as much of a badass as he is a pampered punk. Indeed, wanting to melt the world is badass but we have zero sense of motivation. He might simply be bored as opposed to bad. And in the end when he shoots his father he comes off more like a pouting teen then a maniacal madman.
Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: Besides Zao, who has been well covered, there is Graves’ personal assistant Miranda Frost. One of the rules in Roger Ebert’s Movie Glossary is The Law of Economy of Characters. It states in part, “Movie budgets make it impossible for any film to contain unnecessary characters. Therefore, any apparently unnecessary or extraneous major character is undoubtedly the villain.” Blog, James Blog has praised past Bond films for their villain switch-a-roo’s; two Brosnan pictures in particular, GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough (1999), pulled off the misdirection so well that when we learned the truth it was an exhilarating surprise. Here, it matters not one bit that Moon and Graves are the same person so the revile means little. But there is another two-face in Bond’s world and much of the film is given to 007’s quest to learn who set him up. We meet Mrs. Frost at the Blades Fencing club where Madonna introduces her as an Olympic gold wining fencer. When Bond asks “didn’t she win by default?” the not at all currently doing HGH Madonna tells Bond Frost’s opponent “ODed on steroids.” A. No one has ever ODed on steroids and B. I’m not sure what steroids would do to give one an upper hand in the sport of fencing but here we are. Frost next turns up sitting across the desk from M, who brings up the fact that as an MI6 agent, Mrs. Frost has turned up zero illegal active on Graves despite being so deep in cover she has become his right hand woman. “As far as I can tell he’s clean.” Next, Frost hops into bed with James for the least sexy encounter in a Bond film to date (more on that to come) until she finally ends up pulling a gun on Bond while he and Graves stand in a greenhouse office. Please allow good old Gustav explain, “Her weakness is also mine, winning at any cost. So when I arranged for that overdoes of the true victor in Sydney I won myself my very own MI6 agent.” And there you have it. This character is so under written and shoehorned into the plot that an ill gained fencing title is all it took to turn a highly trained MI6 agent against king and country. We are not talking about a 10 in the floor exercise here people. The scene is made all the more silly since Frost is exposed as the third wheel on the baddie bicycle. We get a wide shot of Bond facing Graves, Zao and Frost, the three over dressed villains standing around like hanger on’s waiting for a table during fashion week. And to top it all off, when we get to the climax, Bond doesn’t even get to exact his revenge against she who betrayed him. No, Frost is done in by the Bond girl who kills the Olympic fencing gold medalist during … a sword fight! There is one other henchman of note and even though he gets little screen time he was my favorite. Vlad, a blond with a Dutch Boy bowl cut, is Graves’ answer to Q. He builds and maintains all of Graves little toys, like ice jet cars and the world melting Icarus. He even designed Zao his very own James Bond car with all the usual refinements. This idea is only touched on but it got me to thinking, an evil Q who somehow had counter-measures to Bonds gadgets would be a very cool character. Someone at EON should get on that.
Bond Girl Actress: Halle Berry. For the second film in a row the Bond girl is a Hollywood star (Dennis Richards in The World Is Not Enough) and once again it doesn’t work. First off, I know many people absolutely love Mrs. Berry but I must confess I am not among them. I have not seen Monster’s Ball (2001), the film which won Berry the actress Oscar, an award she left the Iceland set of Bond to collect, but I’ve seen her in many other movies and I find her to be rather dull. The first time I remember taking notice of her was as Vivian in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever (1991). She was good as Gator’s crack-head partner but Samuel Jackson was transcendent, so much so that Cannes invented an award for his performance. Other then that nothing really jumps out. Her Storm in X-Men gets buried by the other team members which is nuts. During the period I read the X-men, mid to late 80’s, Storm was robbed of her powers and continued to lead the X-men while sporting a kick ass Mohawk to boot. Berry clearly needs a new agent after staring in bomb (Swordfish (2001)) after bomb (Gothika (2003)) after bomb (Catwoman (2004)). What has always been great about the Bond babes is their exotic, unknown qualities and nothing is exotic about A-listers who have every bit of their person life out in the open, especially if they gossip page favorites like Halle Berry or Dennis Richards. All that said, I think even Berry’s biggest fans would have to admit she not good in this movie. Her line reading is flat and lifeless one second, too flirty and over the top the next. But to be fair, Berry also had to deal with scenes like the one where she’s tied to a table, which is attached to a robot arm that goes berserk and is waving her around while several out of control lasers cut back and forth barley avoiding her. “Hurry up James or I’m going to be half the woman I used to be.” Not even Meryl Streep could make that work.
Bond Girl’s Name: Jinx Johnson. When Honey Rider emerged from the sea she was moving in real time, singing to herself, and startled to learn she was not alone. When Jinx pulls of a similar move 40 years later she does so in slow motion, with orchestral stings swelling, while over a dozen patrons in a Cuban beach bar watch. Exhibits A thru Z when defining less is more. Rider’s entrance was an innocent moment full of surprise and intrigue, Jinx’s is a voyeuristic display of a “girls of spring break” DVD. As for Bond, he didn’t find it at all odd that an American would be hanging out in Cuba and offers the lovely lady a Mojito. Turns out Jinx is a NSA Agent after the same prize as Bond, so the two keep bumping into each other until they decide to team up. To her credit, Jinx does kick some ass. In fact, she kills close to as many people as Bond this film including Miranda Frost. For the climax of the film, all the principles end up on a huge cargo plane that’s flying over the DMZ. From the plane, Graves is controlling the Icarus laser which is cutting a path of destruction across the DMZ and heading for an allied base. Bond shoots a hole in the plane through which everyone is sucked except Bond, Graves, Jinx and Frost. We then cut back and forth from Bond and Graves duking it out in the cockpit to Jinx and Frost crossing swords in the cargo hold. While all of this is going on, the pilotless plane flies through the Icarus sunbeam laser and starts to plummet earthward while melting/ falling apart. Still with us? OK, Frost is already sporting a Brandi Chastain sports bra so naturally Jinx removes her shirt as well. While the plane is plummeting, these ladies display impeccable footwork, parrying and thrusting amongst the flying sheets of metal. Finally, the film goes into some kind of blurry slow motion as the gold medal winner bellows “I can read your every move.” Jinx responds by grabbing a knife that’s stuck in a book and screaming “Read this Bitch!” while stabbing Frost in her ice cold heart. Ripley’s “get away from her you bitch” this is not. This entire scene was such an assault on the brain it hurts just recounting it. I can’t even bring myself to describe how Bond and Jinx escape from the crashing plane.
Bond Girl Sluttiness: Sex has always been strangely chased and rarely exotic in Bond films but here it’s outright bizarre. Tamahori has shown that little things like establishing shots and character development don’t interest him and nowhere is that more on display then the sex scenes. One of the jokes of the Bond films is how quickly women jump into bed with him and I fully support this, but to get to the punch line there must be a joke. The doctor said “Then don’t do that” is not funny unless you know the guy first said “Hey doc, it hurts when I lift my arm like this.” After telling Bond she is a Jinx “Born on Friday the 13th” Bond spends 45 second making bad bird puns and the two are in bed. It’s worth noting the strange jump cuts and the odd fadeout on the wine glasses. The barley sexual encounter looks like a second rate outtake from the Top Gun (1986) sex scene and is as exciting as sitting in traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel. It all feels as if Tamahori has no interest in this mushy stuff and is simply putting it in the film because he’s expect to. He’d rather get it over with as quickly as possible so he can get back to playing with the fast cars and big exploitations. For instance, when Bond is invited to Iceland by Graves, he turns to Mrs. Frost and asks…
Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: “Can I expect the pleasure of you in Iceland?”
Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: “I’m afraid you will never have that pleasure.”
Number of Woman 007 Beds: But of course he does. The scene happens in the ice palace on a swan bed. The two enter the room talking MI6 business. They both disrobe in such a business like manner I truly thought they were quickly changing out of their evening wear to put on some black night raid gear and out the door they would go. But Frost, unprovoked, just kind of jumps into bed for the least sexy sex scene I can think of that’s not in a comedy or horror film. It’s literally just checking off the boxes. “OK Bond banged both ladies in the film, cut it, print it. Next set up please, let’s go people, time is money!”
Number of People 007 Kills: With all the bullets and minefields and plane crashes and ice racing and space laser shooting you would think more folks would have been killed but no, just a relatively tame 14 by Bond’s hand. (Jinx takes care of at least 6, which has to be an all-time high for a Bond girl.) Things start off in the minefield with a, ahem, bang. The hovercraft chase is actually cooler then I thought it would be. It has a lot to do with how the vehicles move kind of loosely unstable as they slide over literal landmines just below them. And when they do blow up, boy howdy. They flip and somersault and get caught up in trees and all kinds of stuff. Bond takes out at least 4 baddies before sending Moon over the falls to his “death.” Or did he? Much later in Iceland Bond runs over two snowmobile dudes. Dear old diamond faced Zao adds some bling to his grill when he ends up with a crystal chandler through his skull. However, given the record number of comebacks in this film, it is hard to be 100% sure that he was truly done in.
Shades of Dr. No, a helpful computer voice announces the plane is loosing cabin pressure after Bond shoots a hole in the fuselage. Apparently the four men, including Korean generals and Vlad, getting suck out into the wild blue yonder wasn’t sufficient evidence. While Jinx and Frost cross blades below, Bond goes hand to hand with Graves in the wind tunnel of a busted up cockpit. Graves, who is wearing some kind of Ironman armor that controls Icarus, gets the best of Bond and is about to parachute to safety, but not before he makes the fatal mistake of hanging around to taunt his adversary. “Time to face destiny.” “Time to face gravity,” Bond retorts which is not entirely correct, it’s more like time to face suction. None the less, with the sharp quip and a quick wrist Bond pulls Graves’ ripcord sending the baddie and his open parachute out of the hole and into the jet engine. Since we first meet Graves sky diving over Buckingham Palace, I was reminded of the old saying, live by the parachute, die by the parachute.
Most Outrageous Death/s: I was going to go with the old laser-pierces-back-of-dreadlocked-head-and-comes-out-of-dudes-open-mouth death but upon my second viewing I reconsidered. By the way, in regards to dreadlock dude’s death, this happens in the same scene with the galloping bench upon which Jinx is secured. If anyone, anywhere, can tell me what was happening in the scene; IE where people were and what was doing what, then I will personally pay for your doctorate at the University of your choosing because you clearly understand spatial relations better then anyone else on this planet. (Ed Note: Offer not valid on this planet) Anyway, the most outrageous death in the film is James Bonds. After getting out of the Korean prison he is being held in an English prison. This is a very big upgrade, instead of receiving beatings 007 is now receiving medical treatment, but a golden cage is a cage none-the-less. Naturally, Bond wants out. While lying in bed and hooked up to a heart monitor we see Bond flashback to the Korean prison. It a foggy single image of prisoner Bond sitting cross-legged on the floor. This three second shot has a lot of heavy lifting to do. The grainy image is meant to tell the audience that while Bond was being held as a POW he learned to meditate to the point where he could stop his heart. This is the film that felt the need to underline the fact that Bond is flying to London with a music cue that says London calling. This is a movie where Jinx, suffering from hypothermia, is dunked in what was long ago established to be a hot spring as Bond mummers “Come on, come on, it’s warm in here. This is warm you up.” (I can only assume he is saying this for our benefit since Jinx is unconscious.) This movie doesn’t trust us to get the most obvious points yet we are to discern Bond can stop and start his heart at will with a three second flashback? OK, so Bond stops his heart, which makes the machine that goes ping go flat-line and nurses come rushing in. Bond then makes like Nikki Sixx and kick starts his heart, going from 0 to 60 BPM in 2.3 seconds. He then jumps up, subdues two doctors, escapes the prison, runs to a river, and swims to freedom. I know some yoga masters can bring their heart rates down to a near stop, but I don’t think they do a triathlon immediately afterward. By the by, Zao, like Bond, it seems can also jump up from 100% unconscious sleep on a hospital bed and in immediately engage in the highest level of hand to hand combat.
Miss. Moneypenny: GAAHHHHKKK!!!! What the hell is it with these later Bond’s and Moneypenny? She has not had a decent thing to do since the late 1970’s. This is a strong, intriguing character that can give you a ton of storytelling points and in the past few films she’s been reduced to a bad punch line. That said, she has never had to suffer the indignities Tamahori puts dear Miss. Moneypenny though in this film. This is a new low. At one point Bond is sitting at his desk at MI6 (He has a desk? He has an office? This has never come up before…) when he hears a noise. He runs into the hall, draws his PPK, and starts taking out intruders dressed like cat burglars right out of the Batman TV series. As he moves from room to room we get a quick pan of Moneypenny, slouched in her chair at her desk, bleeding from the face, dead. Moneypenny is dead?!?!?! But no no no dear viewer, EON has tricked you. See, Q has a new virtual reality toy and Bond, sporting Men In Black style sunglasses, is simply going through a training exercise. This is a cheat, and a cheep one, but it’s also a set up. After the mission has ended and Bond has saved the world, he is presumed killed in a fiery plane crash. Moneypenny, writing 007’s obit, looks up to see him standing in her office doorway. She gets up, walks over to him, and the two embrace, kissing passionately. Bond then pushing everything on Moneypenny’s desk to the floor and the two start going at it in her office. They are then interrupted by Q’s voice and cut to Moneypenny with the virtual reality glasses on, laying on her back and rolling around while wearing a skirt in the middle of Q’s lab, moaning “OH James.” First off, this is 100% inconsistent with the Moneypenny character in both her feelings for James and her workplace conduct. It’s played as a joke but what is the joke? That Moneypenny was caught masturbating by a co-worker? Could this be any tackier? Why yes it could, we cut to a cabin exterior where we hear Jinx asking James to “Just keep it in a little bit longer.” “Well it has to come out sometime…” Yes, they are in bed but the conversation is about a diamond resting in Jinx’s navel. If this film has shown us anything, it’s that Tamahori has stranger ideas about human sexuality then Rick Santorum. As for Moneypenny I wish she’d been shot, she would have never suffered through this cheap, undignified, and totally unnecessary shaming.
M: A real life moment here if I may. I adore Judy Dench as M. Like Patrick Stewart as Jean Luc Picard, she brings a seriousness and dignity to a part that most other actors would view as slumming. That’s what makes both Picard and Dench’s M so endearing, they are sold as a rock and dependable every time, even when delivering subpar techno-babble dialog. So I was heartbroken when a few weeks ago I learned Judy Dench is going blind, to the point where she needs others to read her scripts to her. No doubt, this puts her future as M in jeopardy but on a more important note, Blog, James Blog wishes her the best of luck with her health in all respects. As for M in this film, she is backed into a position of playing the heavy; cutting Bond off and then pulling him back in when needed. M doesn’t sugarcoat it and explains her impossible position in such a frank manner that even if Bond doesn’t agree, he needs to respect her actions. She even gets a good jab in at Mr. Blonde near the end. Sold as a rock.
Q: John Cleese, no longer R, is now Q. Continuity between films, always a dice and fluid thing in the Bond universe, is quite odd here. Cleese’s character was introduced by his predecessor in the previous movie, so we know he is not Major Boothroyd. However, it is 100% understandable that he would become Q, the position at MI6, much like Dench became M even though she is not Sir Miles Messervy. All that said, Cleese is not the bumbling absent-minded professor of the last film but a sharped tongued Bond agitator in the exact same vain as Llewelyn’s Q. He has not the history with Bond nor the seniority to get away with such behavior but there you have it. And now that all said, Cleese can’t help but be funny. As an exasperated man trapped in a lab while Bond has all the fun with his inventions, the Monty Python vet is pitch perfect. Weather he’s calling Bond “double o zero” or telling Bond “I wish I could make you vanish” Cleese’s timing is perfect and he is a pure delight.
List of Gadgets: I dunno, perhaps I’m having an overly negative reaction to this movie but even the gadgets seem just kind of shoehorned in to serve a function but without the mystery or joy. I like the idea of hiding stuff in the surfboard, but really what do was have here? A pair of wire clippers and a radio? The binoculars Bond has on Cuba are more usefully as they serve two purposes, he can spy on the island and the “birds” at the same time. Bond dose get a neat ring which transmits a frequency that can shatter bulletproof glass. Then there are the switchblades. Let us break down the switchblade bit as just one self contained example of why the film on a wider level is a Frankenstein of poorly put together, incompatible parts that never comes to life. The battle of Hoth, I mean Iceland, is done. Bond rescues Jinx by jumping into the hot spring. When revived, Jinx asks “What took you so long?” This exact line, delivered by Bruce Willis when he saves Julia Roberts from a gas chamber at the last second, was held up in The Player (1991) as representing everything that is wrong with Hollywood movies. And here it is, 11 years later. The writers should be ashamed. Anyhow, try to keep up because here we go. We cut from hot springs of Iceland to a base in South Korea where Bond’s boss M tells Bond he needs to stop the “Icarus,” currently raining fire on the DMZ. It’s being controlled by Graves who is at a base in the north. Jinx’s boss Damian Falco tells her to tag along. Cut to the cargo bay of a plane where Bond and Jinx get on one-man glider things called switchblades and jump out of the plane. Cut to a shot of them flying. Cut to a shot of them looking through a chain link fence that would be better suited for a tennis court then protecting a military instillation. In .03 seconds they pick out Graves and see him boarding a plane. “We’ve got to get on that plane.” They start to cut the fence. Cut to them running down the runway of a North Korean airbase, catching up to the taxiing plane, and jumping in the wheel well. Cut to them in the cockpit about to take out the pilot. This all takes up about a minute of real estate. Why bother? It’s so clear the story matters not a hoot, it just about slamming us into the next action set piece. I can see the production meetings now. “Too much talking in this part, we might loose the audience. Cut it down to half a page.” Hitchcock once famously broke it down like this; four guys are sitting at a table playing cards. If the bomb under the table goes off, that’s action. But if the card players don’t know about the bomb under the table and the audience does, that’s suspense. Die Another Day takes the four guys and the table, throws the whole lot out of a 60 story building, and while the guys are falling they get attacked by rabid hawks with laser eyes. It’s not action, its not suspense, it’s a Red Bull induced fever dream determined to keep you so off balance you won’t realize nothing makes sense. So much of this movie plays like a hacks shortcut to film making, and it just plain stinks.
Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: Nope, everything comes back in tip-top shape. Including the car that has been flipped upside down, skidded on ice upside down, been driven through a melting ice castle, smashed throw the melting ice castle walls and shot at by more projectiles then one gets bombarded with during the average Call of Duty session. To be fair, the windshield was broken but Bond did that to save Jinx and no, other then that, not a scratch.
Other Property Destroyed: For as much destruction as there is in the film; melting of major glaciers, annihilation of the entire North/South Korean boarder, the melting of a huge hotel, the downing of an enormous cargo plane, Bond himself was responsible for little damage. Before the credits 007 blew up Moon’s Jay Leno car collection and took out a few of his hovercraft and some jeeps. Indeed this incident alone would cause a war but please move along, nothing to see here. He blows several holes in the walls of the Cuban DNA hospital and in the side of a plane. However, it’s Jinx who sends the aircraft into the sunbeam from hell. This leave the fencing club which, as a dreadlocked attendant pointed out, “needed some redecoration anyway.”
Best One Liners/Quips: Bond: You know, you’re cleverer then you look. Q: Still, better then looking cleverer then you are.
Felix Leiter: The CIA man has been replace by the head of the NSA, one agent Damian Falco. We first see Falco, played by Michael Madsen of Mr. Blonde and Free Willy (1993) fame, standing on the boarder during Bond’s release from North Korean custody. “Look at him. You would think he was some kind of hero” Madsen moans, to which I reply “you got arrested for beating the shit out of your kid dude, so lets not throw stones hey.” I much preferred two other characters that functioned as Bond contacts, Mr. Chang and Raoul. Mr. Chang is awesome from the moment he comes on screen acting as a concierge at the Hong Kong Yacht Club. While the man behind the desk of the swanky establishment is turned off by Bond post prison Soundgarden roadie appearance, Mr. Chang recognizes 007 immediately and sets him up in the presidential suite with a bottle of Bollinger and a masseuse named Peaceful Fountains of Desire. The tone here is correct. The film takes an outrageous moment and makes it plausible because it’s done with everyone involved knowing it’s meant to be a lark. Moments later, 007 breaks the mirror in his room to reveal Mr. Chang and three other men spying on him. “You didn’t think I knew you were Chinese secrete service all along Chang.” To which Bond ads “Put your hands down.” Again, in this moment, everything is in the Bond universe we have come to know and love; Bond turning the tables, defusing the situation, and moments later is getting the info he needs, that Zao is in Cuba. It’s all handled with wit and charm, two elements that are rare in the film and completely absent by the time we arrive in Iceland. Bond’s man in Havana is Raoul, a Cuban out of central casting. We meet him drinking coffee and smoke a cigar while working in his open air roof top office that sits above a sweat shop. Then he speaks. Raoul deliciously rolls the cigar smoke around his cheeks as he purrs every line in a low, seductive, monotone. He sums-up his feelings about his communist county by observing “our heath system is second to none.” I wanted to spend the rest of the film with Raoul, watching as he and Bond jumped into a 1957 Chevy and went on a rum soaked adventure across the island. Someone at EON should get on that, along with the evil Q thing.
Bond Cars: While in Cuba, Raoul hooks Bond up with a convertible 1950’s shark-fin Chevy rolling on whitewalls down beach side highways. It’s by far the coolest car in a film that’s silly with high-end automobiles. MI6 also supplies Bond with a V12 that “Aston Martin calls the Vanquish” but Q “calls it the vanish.” Q goes on to explain that the car is made invisible with “adaptive camouflage. Tiny cameras on all sides project the image they see onto a light emitting polymer on the other side” so “to the casual eye it’s as good as invisible.” It’s also got “all the usual refinements; Ejector seat, torpedoes, target seeking shotguns.” IE The works. Zao also gets his very own James Bond car with the all the usual refinements on a green Jaguar XKR. I know these neon compact cars are all the rage as demonstrated in the Fast and the Furious films (Rick Yune, who plays Zao, is one of the series stars) but to me they lack the weight and substance of older autos and look like candy colored toys. At the risk of sounding overly negative I feel the need to once again pick apart an action sequence, this time the car battle on between Zao and Bond on the frozen lake. First off, Bond was already chased out on to the frozen lake by the Icarus sunbeam, a sunbeam that melted the lake we are about to go out onto again. But forget that for now. What we have is Bond running away from the ice hotel, returning (on snowmobile) and then running away again, and then return again. We get two chases in a row that narratively and literally go absolutely nowhere. On the DVD extra, much is made of the ice chase, as crew member after crew member, including director Lee Tamahori pat themselves on the back for this “car chase on ice. Something that has never been done before.” Since this is a film that is meant to pay homage to all past Bond movies I would have thought that Tamahori and crew would have done their research but apparently like the rest of the world they overlooked George Lazenby wonderful film. But even if there wasn’t already an ice car chase in On Her Majesties Secrete Service (1969) just because something has never been done doesn’t mean it should be done. I hold up Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011) as exhibit A. (That said, the first Centipede has it’s merits and is worthy of discussion.)
Anyway, the cars slide and swoosh this way and that as the camera does the same and film speeds change on a whim. Scenes like this boggle the mind from a film making standpoint. If I was a director, and I spent three weeks and god knows how much money shooting an elaborate case like this, I would want the audience to, you know, see it. We never see a shot for more then 2 seconds as it’s cut/cut/cut/cut and we have no idea what’s going on. The way this thing is put together EON could have saved a ton of time and money and just rented the rink in Madison Square Garden, stuck two cars on it, draped the stands with a green screen and it would have looked the same. By the time they are chasing each other inside the melting ice castle it truly doesn’t matter what’s going on, all semblance of film making has joined Elvis and left the building.
Bond Timepiece: His 20th as Q points out. It’s got a detonator for C4 and timer as well as a laser Bond used to cut a hole in the Icelandic ice to do some fishing. As for the watch itself, for the third film in a row Bond has his trusty Omega Seamaster Professional, the automatic variety.
Other Notable Bond Accessories: Once again, 007 uses glasses in the open to become another man. In fact, Bond sports several different kinds of sunglasses in the film leading me to suspect either the folks at EON think Pierce looks good in dark spectacles or they have a contract with LensCrafters. Bond is finally smoking again and how could he not; after all when in Cuba … Speaking of Brosnan’s good looks and Cuba, our hero looks simply smashing in his Havana shirt. For a guy who is always dressed up it was a delight to see him in comfy and looser island attire. Again, we should have had Bond & Raoul: Havana Nights.
Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: When comes to booze I have zero issues with the 20th Bond. They even get a sly joke in at the top that involves the British doctors checking out Bond’s health after his 14 months of being held captive. “Liver not to good. It’s defiantly him.” While cleaning up at the Hong Kong Yacht Club, Bond enjoys his first post prison drink, a bottle of ’61 Bollinger. At a beach side bar in Cuba Bond has a Mojito. In the next scene while rolling around in bed with Jinx we see two champagne glasses on the dresser. 007 also has two martinis, both with a bad joke chaser. The first is served to him on a turbulent flight, bound for London if memory serves; making Jimmy B glad he ordered his drink shaken. The second Vesper Bond orders at a bar in the hotel made of frozen H2O. “Martini, plenty of ice if you can spare it.” We also see him with a drink in hand, some kind of whiskey I would wager, while sitting at his desk but since this turned out to be a “holodeck episode,” I don’t think it was real.
Bond’s Gambling Winnings: The late, great George Carlin had a bit where he declared that baseball, football, and basketball were the only three real sports. Everything else is an activity. He then goes on to list all the other activities we think of as sports and comes up with a reason to disqualify them as such. When he gets to fencing, he says it can’t possibly be a real sport because you can’t gamble on it. “When is the last time you placed a God damn fencing bet?” Bond being Bond, he proves there is nothing he won’t put money on, including fencing. Bond tracks down Graves at the Blades Fencing Club, named after a social club that appeared in the “Moonraker” novel. After some flirting with Madonna, the hero and the villain get down to business. It all starts out very friendly; $1000 a point, three points wins. As is the case every time Bond places a wager, the match takes place in the most gorgeous room imaginable; huge windows, wooden floors, impeccable furnishings and ceilings as high as the heavens. The two seem evenly match but Graves gets the first point. For the second bout, Graves comes at Bond in a much more aggressive manner when scoring his second point. “Two nil, do you wish to continue?” asks Graves. “Would you like to up the wager? Let’s play for this” Bond says presenting one of Graves’s diamonds. “I picked it up in Cuba.” We’ve seen Bond play this card many times in the past and every time it works. By putting something he has of the baddies on the line Bond accomplishes three things; he lets the bad guy know he’s on to him in no uncertain terms, he throws down the gauntlet to say “Hold on, I’m coming,” and he puts the baddie on tilt, big time. Bond drops his mask, game on. When the two go at each other this time, they are out for blood, literally. Bond swipes Graves between his glove and his sleeve, cutting his wrist. “Oh dear, you want to continue?” patronizes Bond. “Of course I want to bloody continue” an apocalyptic Graves shouts while grabbing two swords from a display on the wall. He tosses one to Bond, “We’ll do this the old fashion way, first to draw blood from the torso is the winner.” The two remove their protective shirts and go at. They move from room to room, smashing glass cases and slashing paintings, until they end up outside on a staircase, recalling Errol Flynn at his swashbuckling best. It all comes to an end when Bond strikes a cut across Grave’s belly, sending him flying into a fountain. At this point Frost breaks the two men up as Graves laughs it off, “Just having a bit a fun.” This is everything that makes Bond Bond. The build from fun to serious to deadly is perfectly paced (and look ma, no slow motion!) Brosnan and Stephens have the right amount of swagger and together they strike the perfect balance of humor and hubris. The villain, in a proud 007 tradition, underestimates Bond and then, once bested, laughs the whole thing off. Better still, the contest against Bond revolves around a privileged activity that takes place on the villains turf much like the pheasant hunt in Moonraker, or the tiger hunt in Octopussy, or equestrian steeplechase in A View To A Kill. This scene is by far the best in the film and is so steeped in the Bond tradition that it feels as if it were flown in from Thunderball (1965) or another classic. As for that bet, Graves makes good and hands Bond a check, the amount is not reviled.
List of Locations: The wonderful opening surfing was shot in Maui on Christmas day. The waves wait for no man dude. The Korean DMZ scenes were shot at a military training base in Aldershot, England. The part of Havana was played by Cadiz, Spain where terrible weather almost forced the crew to abandon the location.
As I stated before, almost nothing works in the film once Bond touches down in Iceland and after learning the location of the shoot I know why. The crew spent three weeks shooting the car chase in Jokulsarlon, Iceland which also happened to the location for one of the all time worst images in Bond history, the iceberg boat in A View To A Kill. Indeed London called and Bond 20 answered with shots of Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and an abandon underground station. The Blades Fencing Club was the Reform Club in London. Opened in 1841, the club became famous as Phileas Fogg’s starting/finishing point in Jules Verne 1872 classic, “Around the World in 80 Days.” Finally, Graves’ eco-diamond mine was based on England’s Eden Project, then the world’s largest greenhouse.
Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: Bond makes like Brody in Point Break (1991) by night and para-surfs digital tsunamis by day. He may have piloted a hovercraft before but never one this big or through a minefield. Other vehicles include an invisible Aston Martin, a stolen snowmobile and a rocket iceboat that hits 325 mph. He proves himself to be an expert swordsman and has now gained the ability to make like Lazarus and come back from the dead. All in a days work.
Final Thoughts: Die Another Day bends over backwards to remind us of the rich history of the James Bond character. The idea is the audience will see these moments and think back fondly on films we enjoyed over the past forty years. Fine, I’ll play. If we are meant to think of Ursula Andress entrance in Dr. No and the laser-meet-crotch of Goldfinger (1964) and the mini-jet of Octopussy, what are the signature moments we are to remember when recalling Bond 20? I’ll give you the foggy bridge during the hostage exchange was quite good and the sword battle is a true Bond moment but before I rewatched this film that’s not what I recalled. What really sticks out is an invisible car climbing a melting ice wall, an airplane melting away in thin air, and Bond surfing down a melting glacier while being chased by a sunbeam. (By the by, is it just me or doesn’t “Surfing down a melting glacier while being chased by a sunbeam” sound like the title of a long lost Donavan song?) We give Bond films quite a wide birth when it comes to suspension of disbelief but this film just goes to Crazy Town. No doubt the cast and crew had a ton of fun push everything to 11 but it’s simply not much fun audience. “Big” in and of it self is not bad, as we saw in say The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). However, the bigger the circus, the stronger the central pole holding up the tent must be or it will snap causing the entire thing to collapse. That central pole, no matter how nutty things are around it, must be based in reality. Back to the Spy Who Loved Me, the grounding force was the relationship between XXX & 007. What held the film together was watching these two professionals worked on a human level to overcome their difference, in this case political loyalties, for a shared goal … and having great sex while doing so! It’s a tale as old as the hills and it gave the audience something to relate to. Since we have a baseline understand who these characters are and what their motivations are the action sequence in turn mean something. The huge battle in the belly of a ship had purpose and weight because we are invested in the out come; we want to see these two people succeed. Without them, the battle becomes just a clip-reel of special effects, IE any Bruckheimer production.
Bond should be better then that, because we should care about him. Despite all his superhero qualities, he is still a person, an ideal of who we want to be. But not in Die Another Day. This is the Los Angeles of Bond films, there’s no there there. It has no identity as a movie and there is the paradox; in attempting to anchor itself in the rich forty-year history of Bond, EON has created perhaps the most ephemeral 007 picture to date. To put it another way, in trying to give the fans little bit of everything the movie ends up being a whole lot of nothing. I realize I get kind of hung up on theme, pacing, and structure when looking at these films, I mean it’s just James Bond right? Popcorn fun! The truth is, 20 films into this project, I have come to realize that these more “arty” and technical bits are the key component in separating the good from the bad from the ugly. As for this outing, there is zero connective tissue tying the “torture plot” to the “Graves framing Bond by using his very own MI6 agent plot” to the “melting the world with a sunbeam weapon plot.” These three things are totally separate stories speeding away from each other. All three are made all the more opaque by pointless action set piece after pointless action set piece. Think of how Harold Ramis and Bill Murray starting World War III with a Winnebago at the end of Stripes (1981) had zero to do with “I’m a lean, green, fighting, machine” and you get the idea of how separated all these ideas are. Like Madonna’s voice in “Die Another Day” everything in this film is artificial and forced. This isn’t a movie, it’s a collection of moments edited together, poorly. Brosana deserved a better send off. Bond is barely a character here. I really want tip my cap to Wilson and Broccoli for having the balls to torture their hero for 14 months but they botch the play terribly. Bond learns nothing from his ordeal and grows not a bit, keeping perfect pace with the film around him. Forgive me for pulling 9/11 back up on stage, but in the decision to turn a blind eye to the trauma of that event, it’s almost as if the film is afraid to look at what would happen to Bond after his ordeal. And if that is the case, then don’t torture Bond at all. We smell the dishonesty a mile away. The movie doesn’t need to reference 9/11 directly but the filmmakers need to understand that we as an audience were still very raw in 2002 and we knew something as traumatic as what happened to Bond changes a person. It must! But Bond keeps his head in the sand, destroying any sense that he is remotely human and by extension rendering the rest of the film bloodless and soulless. I am giving extra credit in the rating for the fencing scene, which was wonderful, but man-o-man I did not like this movie. Some people would argue that such a judgment is a matter of taste, which is correct; as in do you have good taste or bad. On the DVD extras Wilson talks about how Cubby told him to protect Bond at all costs. Whelp, you failed buddy. In paying tribute to past 007 films we are left with the least “Bond” of the Bond films yet.