007 Mission Files: ‘Die Another Day’
Brandon: “Ugh…do I have to do this one? It’s the Batman and Robin of Bond films.”
Editor: “You’ve done all the other ones.”
Brandon: “This one’s so bad, though. Worse than Thunderball, and you know how I feel about Thunderball.”
Editor: “I know. Just grit your teeth and power through.”
Brandon: “I’m pretty sure that’s what the director told Brosnan while they were filming.”
Most Bond fans have selective memory loss when it comes to Die Another Day. The cartoonish portrayal of our favorite spy was way too over-the-top and unreal for most fans to enjoy. Invisible cars, satellites shooting concentrated sunbeams, and castles built of ice were all too grandiose. The CGI was overused and Bond was given a laughable sidekick to swap one-liners with. It’s like the writers and producers took inspiration from The Phantom Menace.
Most unfortunate was the timing of the release. It’s the 20th Bond movie, and they waited until 2002 so it could coincide with the 40th anniversary of the movie Dr. No and the 50th anniversary of the book Casino Royale. They tried to make a huge spectacle of the production, packing it with references to previous movies, the novels themselves, and they even show the book A Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies from which Ian Fleming used the author’s name James Bond.
That’s not to say the movie is all bad, just mostly bad. The opening sequence is a great idea, with Bond being held prisoner and tortured for over a year. They even had the torture play throughout the opening credits, which was a nice touch. The actors themselves are all top-notch, with four Oscar nominees (as of now with Dame Judi Dench, Rosamond Pike, Halle Berry, and John Cleese), but the abysmal script and horrible direction left them little to work with.
Speaking of direction, the producers only looked at a handful before this movie. Pierce Brosnan was pushing for X-Men killer Brett Ratner but the studio was unimpressed with his previous efforts, which really only included Rush Hour of note. They also talked to Stephen Hopkins, who has a nice little directorial resume with movies like The Ghost and the Darkness, Lost in Space and Predator 2. They also looked at Stuart Baird, who is primarily an editor that would eventually work on Casino Royale and Skyfall. They eventually hired New Zealander Lee Tamahori, who was known for Along Came a Spider and The Edge. That shouldn’t instill confidence in you. Since then his only movie of note is xXx: State of the Union, which had a script so bad they couldn’t convince Vin Diesel to return. Tamahori’s big problem was the speed ramping that was so popular back then. They would speed up and slow down the action to try to emphasize events, but it often led to weird cuts. It looks like a John Woo film.
Even Roger Moore was disappointed with the movie; he criticized the weak CGI and invisible car, calling them a low point of the series. Roger Moore thought this was a low point. Roger Moore, whose best stunt was ruined by a slide whistle and had a car chase that included a pigeon double take. He thought this movie was a low point.
Of course, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. They didn’t set out to make the worst film of the series to celebrate its success, so let’s figure out what went wrong. The movie’s budget again ballooned, this time up to $142 million (that’s 2.5 times the amount of GoldenEye) with $120 million of it secured before filming in product placement, and despite negative reviews it was the highest grossing Bond film at the time with a worldwide box office of $456 million. Even the worst ones are unbelievably popular.
The movie opens with Bond infiltrating a North Korean military base with two other agents. They surf onto the shores of North Korea, because when I think of North Korea I can’t help but be reminded of their killer surfing competitions. (Okay…research has shown me that they would actually have pretty great beaches for surfing if they weren’t occupied by the North Korean army. Either way, Bond shouldn’t be surfing.) Anyway, Bond eventually arrives on the base to catch an illegal munitions/diamonds trade with Colonel Tan-Sun Moon. Moon’s bodyguard Zao realizes that Bond is a secret agent, and they capture him. Bond sets off an explosion and a hovercraft chase ensues. Colonel Moon’s hovercraft eventually goes over a waterfall, and Bond is captured by Tan-Sun’s father General Moon.
Bond is kept prisoner for 14 months, and his torture is shown throughout the opening credits. Eventually James is traded for a North Korean captive that turns out to be Zao, now with a diamond encrusted face thanks to the explosion caused by Bond. James is furious that he was traded for Zao, but M informs him that the North Koreans were being fed information and they believed that James had cracked under the duress and drugs. He is stripped of his 00 status and his license to kill, and he is suspended until further notice. He is being kept prisoner by the British now.
Bond is able to escape from custody and finds his way to Hong Kong. Here he showers, shaves, and puts himself together at a hotel he frequents. He speaks with a Chinese contact and learns that Zao is in Cuba. The Chinese also want to make sure Zao isn’t running wild, so they provide Bond with a passport, a gun, and cash so he can find Zao in Cuba and take care of him.
Once in Cuba, Bond meets with a British sleeper agent who tells him that Zao is at a clinic on a nearby island. Bond meets a young American named Giancita ‘Jinx’ Johnson (I have a bigger problem with this name than Pussy Galore… ‘Born on Friday the 13th’ …quiet Jar Jar) and spends the night with her. The next morning he sees her going to the same island and finds his own way over there. It turns out the clinic is for gene therapy and Zao is having his genes replaced with someone else’s to alter his appearance. This is the least of your worries if you’re trying to suspend your disbelief for this movie.
Jinx turns out to be an NSA agent working the case from a different angle. She destroys the facility just as Bond finds Zao, and he is able to escape. Bond is left with some diamonds that lead him to Gustav Graves, a British billionaire who has just arrived on the scene. Bond returns to London and goes to a fencing club to meet Graves and his assistant Miranda Frost. There they get into a massive sword fight, and Graves invites Bond to Iceland for a scientific demonstration. After Graves and Frost leave, Bond is handed an envelope with a key in it.
Bond heads to a secret MI-6 bunker and meets with M. M also believes that there is more to Graves than meets the eye. She restores Bond’s 00 status and after a quick meeting with Q he’s off to Iceland. After Bond leaves, we discover Frost is also an MI-6 agent working deep undercover to investigate Graves.
Graves is hosting a large group of supporters and media at an ice palace where he unveils Icarus, a satellite able to focus solar energy to provide year-round sunshine for crops. Jinx is also there, and the pair decide to team up. Jinx breaks into Graves’s office but is immediately captured by Zao. Bond is able to rescue her from a bunch of lasers after way too many one-liners from all of the characters involved. In Graves’s office, Bond also discovers Colonel Moon survived his hovercraft crash and used gene therapy to change his appearance to that of Gustov Graves. Apparently, when people become rich and famous in Britain no one does a background check or wonders about their past. No magazine articles examining their childhood or interviews with loved ones. Even MI-6 didn’t have a file questioning his past.
Bond tells Jinx to find Frost and head for cover while he confronts Graves, but Frost reveals she is the mole who betrayed MI-6 and fed the North Koreans information. She has also locked Jinx in her suite. Bond escapes in Graves’s rocket car with Graves shooting a focused beam of sunlight at him from Icarus. Bond drives the rocket car off a cliff but is able to use the drag chute and a panel from the top of the car to parasurf toward the open ocean. He inexplicably returns to his invisible Q-mobile, where he is spotted by Zao and what can only be called a car fight ensues. He eventually returns to the ice palace, rescues Jinx from drowning, and kills Zao with a chandelier.
Bond and Jinx follow Graves and Frost to North Korea and stow away on his cargo plane. There, Graves reveals to General Moon that he is his son and plans to use Icarus to clear a path through the demilitarized zone and into South Korea to lead an invasion. General Moon is disappointed in his son and disgusted in his plan, but Graves kills Moon as he attempts to stop the plan.
Jinx and Frost get into a sword fight, which Jinx wins…beating the Olympic fencing gold medalist with sheer will and street smarts. She heads to the cockpit to take control of the plane and fly it into the path of the Icarus beam. She apparently guesses that if the controls for the satellite are destroyed then the satellite will stop? I know when my Nintendo controller stops working or comes unplugged the game keeps going, so I’m not sure where she came up with this plan. The plane flies through the path and is now just a heap of metal gliding to the earth (don’t worry, it takes about 20 minutes to fall from the sky). Bond is able to force Graves out of a hole in the side of the plane, and he’s ground up in the engine. Now that the controls are destroyed, the Icarus beam stops. Huh…I guess Jar Jar was right. Bond and Jinx escape the plane aboard a helicopter with most of the diamonds in hand.
Obviously, I’m not very impressed with Die Another Day. They tried to do too much with the movie and make it the biggest and most extravagant Bond movie ever (the Donald Trump of Bond movies, if you will) to celebrate all the anniversaries. Unfortunately, they failed miserably. They tried to make Bond a cartoon or a superhero and it just didn’t work. The producers (Wilson and Broccoli) and writers (Purvis and Wade–who were also writers on Johnny English) have even recognized the movie didn’t work and have since apologized to fans.
Part of the problem might have been the film wasn’t even cast until the last minute. A month before the cameras were set to roll the only cast were the people still under contract from previous movies–Bond, M, Moneypenny, Q, and Robinson. Rosamund Pike wasn’t cast until five days before she had to be on set.
A spin-off was planned that would follow the exploits of NSA agent Jinx. The writers were even paid to develop a script, and they worked on it for a few months before the project was thankfully killed by MGM.
The theme song was performed by Madonna and makes me want to lurch. I don’t even think of it when I think of Bond themes. It’s kind of like techno/house music, but it’s really weak so it doesn’t scare away the old people that have been fans of the series since Dr. No. Just very boring and forgettable. The song was nominated for both an Oscar for Best Theme Song and a Razzie for Worst Theme Song. Bond being tortured during the opening credits was neat and different from the usual crazy-pants naked ladies opening credits.
The idea of the ice palace is cool, and there are hotels and bars like it around the world, but none in Iceland where it is too cold. They are all within the Arctic Circle. The location in the movie was built as a set and took over 6 months. It wouldn’t have taken as long to construct, but once filming of the car fight began the director decided he wanted the cars to go into the ice palace. This meant large portions of it had to be rebuilt to hold the weight of the cars.
The lake that was the scene for most of the car fight was also unable to support the weight of the cars. The lake is too close to the ocean and holds large amounts of salt water. To get the ice to freeze solid enough and thick enough to support the cars they had to build a dam. It was so cold that it only took two days for the ice to freeze after the dam was completed.
Even the gun barrel sequence couldn’t escape the overuse of CGI in the film. When Bond shoots the gun, Tamahori had them add a bullet that came at the audience through the middle of the screen. That means Bond shot into the barrel of the other gun.
Michelle Yeoh’s character of Wei Lin from Tomorrow Never Dies was originally going to return. Yeoh ultimately wasn’t available, so the part was reworked for the hotel scene with Mr. Chang.
A lot of the plot points were taken from the book Moonraker: the villain having plastic surgery to conceal his true identity; the villain creating a space device to help humanity that he then weaponizes; even, if you really want to stretch, the duel between Bond and the villain. In the book they play a card game called Blades, and in the movie they sword fight with blades.
Cars: The three-picture deal with BMW ended after The World is Not Enough, and Ford was quick to jump in and take their place. Ford was now also the parent company of Aston Martin, Jaguar, and LandRover.
The primary Bond car was the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish. It was nice to see him in an Aston Martin again, but I don’t like them as much as the classic DB5. Jinx drove a 2003 Ford Thunderbird and Zao drove a Jaguar XKR. All of Ford’s major brands were highlighted. There were also hovercrafts, snowmobiles, and a rocket car.
Allies: Dame Judi Dench returns for the fourth time as M. Her part has been drastically reduced after her sizeable role in The World is Not Enough, but you still can’t argue with her talent. I think she only has three or four scenes, but she’s really good in all of them.
John Cleese steps in as Q for the recently deceased Desmond Llewelyn. He appeared in The World is Not Enough as Llewelyn’s protégé. Cleese is fine, but his humor is a little broad. I like the character enough, but it’s just weird seeing someone else as Q. This would be his final appearance.
Samantha Bond returns as Moneypenny for the fourth and final time. She was a good Moneypenny, particularly to play off of Brosnan’s Bond. She isn’t as good as Lois Maxwell, but she’s better than Caroline Bliss. She’s the only one who got to make out with Bond, even if it was just in a simulation.
Colin Salmon also returns for the third and final time as Charles Robinson. I liked the character and he did a good job, but his role was always pretty minor.
The British sleeper agent in Cuba was named Raoul and played by Emilio Echevarria. I liked the character, though he wasn’t in the movie too much. He reminded me of Karim Bey from From Russia with Love or Milos Columbo from For Your Eyes Only.
Michael Madsen also appears as M’s counterpart at the NSA. He’s terrible. The character is two-dimensional and has awful dialogue. He’s a cartooned version of an American through the eyes of the British. Madsen doesn’t even seem to care that he’s there.
Bond Girls: I’m putting Jar Jar Binks…I mean Bar Bar Jinx…I mean Giancinta ‘Jinx’ Johnson here. She’s technically an ally, but she’s really bad at her job. It’s no wonder she didn’t get a spinoff series. Bond is constantly forced to save her and the help she provides is fairly minimal.
I’ll give Halle Berry the benefit of the doubt and blame the terrible character on the writing. She was awarded her Oscar for Monster’s Ball while shooting this movie, but somehow that didn’t translate. She was the first Oscar-winning Bond Girl.
Since Rosamund Pike was also nominated for an Oscar recently for her role in Gone Girl, this marks the first time the two top-billed Bond Girls were both Oscar nominees. Top three, if you count Dame Judi Dench. *insert sexy tiger growl sound*
Pike actually does do a nice job as double agent Miranda Frost. She’s probably the highlight of the movie no matter the ridiculous costumes they have her in to show off her body. The character is the only one that seems to have any depth and Pike is one of the few actors in the movie who is acting like they want to be there.
Madonna is also in this movie for some reason. Yes she sang the theme song, but I don’t remember a Louis Armstrong cameo in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. She plays a fencing instructor at the club where Graves and Bond get into their big sword fight. She was better as Breathless Mahoney in Dick Tracy.
Gadgets: One of the major criticisms of the movie is that it is way too gadget-heavy. The car is invisible with rockets, machine guns, ejector seats, and everything else. Too much. His watch, and Omega Seamaster, is also too loaded.
I do like the sonic agitator ring. It comes in handy numerous times. It’s a nice, simple device that sets off a high-pitched frequency to break glass. It fits on the ring finger and you just twist to activate it. I also like the return of the mini-breather from Thunderball. It might be the coolest part of both movies.
Villains: Sir Gustav Graves, aka Colonel Moon, is the primary villain of the movie. At the beginning of the movie he’s living in his father General Moon’s shadow, selling illegal arms for illegal diamonds. After he fakes his death and re-emerges as Gustav Graves, his ideas get much grander. He builds a satellite called Icarus (originally called Solaris until the George Clooney movie of the same name was announced) that shoots concentrated sunlight at his enemies. It’s a frickin’ laser satellite.
Toby Stephens does a fine job as Graves in an over-the-top, Bond-villain way in the vein of Max Zorin or Elliot Carver. He goes over the edge of sanity, but in this cartoonish movie his out-of-control performance is overlooked. Will Yun Lee plays pre-op Colonel Moon. He does a nice job, but his role is pretty small.
Graves’s right-hand man is Zao. Zao was with Moon when Bond’s bomb exploded, but he received the blunt of it, and his face is now speckled with diamonds. He is halfway though the same gene therapy procedure Moon had, but he appears pale and hairless since he is unable to finish his treatments. Rick Yune plays Zao as a pretty straightforward henchman. He’s a little smarter than someone like Jaws, but he’s pretty forgettable if it weren’t for the diamonds in his face. You might recognize Yune from The Fast and the Furious, Olympus has Fallen, or The Man with the Iron Fists.
Mr. Kil is Graves’s bodyguard. He’s basically a bouncer at the ice palace. Clearly he doesn’t know how to use the diamond-cutting lasers, and Jinx lasers him through the face.
As is often the case in the series, the writers and producers build and build to something bigger and greater until ultimately the tension snaps, and they return to a smaller character-driven piece. After You Only Live Twice had a huge budget and a volcano lair they did On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; after Moonraker took Bond into space they eased back to For Your Eyes Only and so on. Maybe I’m looking at this in the wrong light. Maybe Die Another Day had to be huge and overproduced to return to the good Bond movies. Immediately after the worst Bond film, they recalibrated and gave us Casino Royale, which is probably the best Bond film.
“I thought it just went too far–and that’s from me, the first Bond in space! Invisible cars and dodgy CGI footage? Please!” – Roger Moore
That wraps up Pierce Brosnan’s tenure as James Bond. After a decade of pining for the actor, they were able to sign him on for GoldenEye. He’s definitely the Bond of ’90s and has a soft spot in the hearts of the people who grew up watching him. However, he’s pretty low on the list of Bond actors, mostly due to the scripts he had to work with. The scripts, character, and even his performance were pretty sporadic. He would be cracking jokes one minute and trying to cry the next. I would have liked to have seen his portrayal of Bond in more of a character piece like Casino Royale or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Here’s my ranking of his films.
- Die Another Day – Steaming pile of garbage. Brosnan has gone full Connery and checked out, often slipping into his Irish accent.
- Tomorrow Never Dies – I wouldn’t send the meal back, but the sides didn’t complement the entrée. Too many flavors happening, and they don’t work together.
- The World is Not Enough – The meal was okay, but I’ll order something else next time. The atmosphere was top-notch and the wait staff was on point.
- GoldenEye – Magnifique! Send my compliments to the chef. It isn’t the best meal I’ve ever had, but it’s really good. I’m coming back so I can have this chef cook me another meal. What’s his name? Martin Campbell? Oh good. I’ll order the Casino Royale next time. That sounds good.
Brosnan was unfortunate to have portrayed Bond in this era. After the mediocre reviews of Timothy Dalton, the producers wanted to reintroduce more of the humor and gadgets from the Moore years. Like everything, they went overboard and the series got out of hand.
How would you rate Brosnan’s Bond films? Where does he rank on your list of favorite Bond’s? Let us know in the comments below.