Die Another Day is inconsistent fun
The Pierce Brosnan era of Bond sadly comes to a close with his fourth and most divisive film. Die Another Day is plenty entertaining, but consistent with most of Brosnan’s Bonds, a few misguided decisions keep it from being a classic.
It gets off to a roaring start with Bond on a mission to stop an illegal weapons deal set up by Colonel Tan-Sun Moon (Will Yun Lee, The Wolverine). Bond is only partially successful as he breaks up the deal and apparently kills Moon, but gets captured in the process.
Seeing Bond actually lose is fascinating stuff. Whether undersea, the desert or even space, Bond absolutely never comes up short on completing his mission. Watching him get disavowed by MI6 and left for dead places Bond in a vulnerable position we hadn’t previously seen.
Even better, Bond doesn’t engineer his escape and is instead traded for Zao (Rick Yune, Olympus Has Fallen), one of the terrorists who captured him.
M initially considers Bond a broken liability before he proves he’s still a valuable asset and covertly aids him while he’s on the outs with MI6.
Convinced he’s been set up twice by a mysterious party, Bond travels to Havana to find Zao. There he encounters Jinx (Halle Berry, X-Men: Days of Future Past), a beautiful woman with her own secrets.
There have been few better Bond Babe entrances than Jinx emerging from the water in the Dr. No inspired bikini and purely from a watching them onscreen, Jinx is definitely one of the Top 5 hottest Bond Babes. Only problem though is as a character, Jinx is easily the most irritating Bond Babe.
Bond producers were considering a Bond Babe spin-off so instead of just telling a great Bond story, Day also has the agenda of proving Jinx is the coolest American secret agent ever. Ultimately it fails on both counts.
Partly due to Berry’s stilted line delivery, her poor dialogue reducing her to a quip machine with an awesome body doesn’t help either, Jinx comes off more as an annoying sidekick.
Jinx is supposed to be a fully capable agent, but she never manages to be more than sexpot sidekick. Compare Jinx to the far superior female agent Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies who was portrayed as a deadly agent first and foremost and you’ll see where Jinx comes up short.
Bond’s investigation leads him to Gustav Graves (a preening Toby Stephens who’s overblown performance makes sense after the big twist), an arrogant millionaire who quickly emerged on the scene thanks to discovering a massive diamond mine.
Bond gets temporarily shot down by Graves’ assistant Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl), but never fear, Bond’s charms are defenseless. Immediately suspicious, Bond confronts Graves leading to a duel at a fencing club.
It’s here where things start to get messy. The duel is well-staged and escalates well, but Bond and Graves go at it like hated enemies instead of two guys meeting for the first time. Considering the extravagant over-the-top final battle, I’d prefer this sequence be saved for the climax.
Bested, but not beaten, Graves invites Bond to his ice palace in Iceland. This is where the film goes off the rails as Bond soon is faced with lasers, escaping a solar weapon, surfing down a waterfall and a surprise enemy that for some inexplicable reason is using an Iron Man-esque power suit.
A lot of people hate on the invisible Vanquish car Bond uses, but come on, if a spy can’t use a car that turns invisible, who could? Yes, it’s needlessly gimmicky, but it would only work in Bond’s world.
As CGI was in full swing at this point, Director Lee Tamahori happily indulges all the possibilities even if the results like corny and badly rendered. The surfing scene is particularly embarrassing, but Tamahori’s random slow-motion additions are equally confounding.
It’s as if screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade didn’t trust that audiences could handle a more serious take on Bond. Ironically, before the Daniel Craig era films, this was the highest grossing of the Bond series. Adjusted for inflation, it’s still the sixth highest of the 24 Bond films. Maybe giving the audience enough credit is overrated?
Madonna’s autotune techno theme doesn’t help the film’s cause much either. It’s excellent for a workout mix, but an ill fit for a Bond film. Still, I’d take this over anything in the Daniel Craig theme catalog save Adele’s Skyfall.
Die Another Day is a rare Bond outing that tries to satisfy every corner of 007 fandom in the 20th anniversary of the franchise. It gets dark like a Timothy Dalton outing, has some outlandish plots like a Roger Moore film held together by the best Bond since Sean Connery.
It’s as often frustrating as it is fun, but Die Another Day rarely fails to be entertaining.
Rating: 7 out of 10
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Die Another Day [Blu-ray]