Matthew Kresal goes behind enemy lines...
With 1999’s The World Is Not Enough seeing James Bond out of the twentieth century, plans were quickly afoot for the film that would see him enter the twenty first with a bang. That film would also be released in time for the series’ fortieth anniversary in 2002. That film would be Die Another Day, which would also see Pierce Brosnan return for the fourth (and, ultimately, final) time as 007. The film was set to be an anniversary celebration of the series’ legacy as well as the exciting way forward. Now, more a decade on from its release, the question is just how successful was it on both counts?
Let’s start by examining Pierce Brosnan’s final performance as Bond, shall we? After the somewhat harder edged Bond of the previous film, viewers would surely be expecting much of the same. To a certain extent, Brosnan and the film deliver just that. The film’s first twenty minutes or so see a Bond behind enemy lines, betrayed, captured, tortured and eventually handed back over to his own side that doesn’t trust him anymore. For these opening minutes, and indeed the film’s first hour, Brosnan shines even when the rest of the film doesn’t (more on that later). The second hour of the film feels like Brosnan, like Connery and Moore before him, simply going through the motions to earn a paycheck. It’s a shame as Brosnan shows he clearly could have been better in his last outing.
The rest of the cast though are mixed to say the least. For example take Halle Berry as Jinx Johnson, the NSA agent turned Bond girl. Both her performance and the writing feels like a walking, talking cliche of the “tough but sexy” woman stereotype seen in countless films. It also doesn’t help that Berry, despite winning an Oscar in the middle of filming, can’t seem to deliver a single one of her clichéd lines in a fashion that isn’t cringe worthy. Much the same can also be said of Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves and Will Yun Lee as Colonel Moon, the film’s villain split across two different characters who both barely manage to play their respective roles this side of the very thin line that is parody, again thanks largely to the script. All of these characters come across as little more than clichés and caricatures, something made even worse by most of their counterparts in the other Brosnan films.
The supporting cast isn’t much better. One can go through them and spot characters better done in other Bond films, be it Rick Yune as Zao, Emilio Echevarría as Raoul, Michael Gorevoy as Vlad or Michael Madsen as Damian Falco who is little more than a clichéd, gung-ho American. There are some bright spots such as Rosamund Pike who absolutely shines as Miranda Frost, playing what is frankly the best role in the film that isn’t Bond, Judi Dench’s M and John Cleese making what would sadly turn out to be his only appearance as Q. The cast overall then is mainly disappointing.
What about the rest of the film then?
Well production value wise, the film is mixed as well. Peter Lamont’s production design work is up to his usual standards, ranging through the film’s various locations including North Korea, Cuba, London and Iceland. The editing of Christian Wagner, an editor best known for working with Tony Scott and John Woo, is a major problem however due to an editing style that tries to bring the editing characteristics of those director’s (including “speed ramping” at what can only be described as odd and random moments) into a Bond film, with results that are frankly disastrous and do nothing but damage the film’s pacing. That is only the start of the film’s issues.
The film’s action sequences are another problem. Some of it is down to Wagner’s editing (especially in the car chase and climatic plane based fights in the climax), but in large part it's because they feel stale. The surfing sequence in the film’s teaser lacks any kind of danger or tension, while the big hovercraft chase that follows it feels derivative of the boat chase that opened the previous film. Derivative is the word that also describes the other two aforementioned action sequences as well, as both have had variations done far better in other Bond films. That’s also without mentioning the oft-ridiculed CGI iceberg surfing sequence, which is exactly as bad as its reputation suggests. Oddly enough the film’s best action sequence, the sword fight that comes midway through, is the one that is done the most traditionally and the most effectively. It seems sad that a sword fight, arguably one of the biggest action film clichés, feels the most original amongst more complex, and ultimately derivative, sequences.
Derivative is also the word that best describes the film’s script as well. Its various plot points (diamonds, villain’s changing identities, Bond going rogue to get revenge, etc.) all have the feeling of having been just torn at random from other Bond films and then glued together to make a plot. For the first hour or so, Die Another Day gets away with it for the most part. Once Bond, and indeed the film, goes to Iceland though, it all becomes little more than a series of Bond film clichés. It also doesn’t help that perhaps the biggest plot twists are given away not by Bond but by bad writing and editing. The script also isn’t helped by the fact that it is filled with the worst one liners and indeed basic dialogue in a Bond film post-Moore era. In fact, it’s the weakest script the series has had since A View To A Kill nearly two decades before.
Where does all this leave Die Another Day, both as Brosnan’s last Bond film and as a celebration of the Bond legacy? Between its various faults, this is the weakest of Brosnan’s Bonds by far. As a celebration of the first four decades of 007’s film adventures, this much is clear: Die Another Day is indeed embracing the series’ legacy but doing so with all the wrong elements. While this isn’t the worst Bond film by any means, it is clearly apparent why many felt that a change was in order.
And indeed change was coming…
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.