We enter the 21st century world of Bond with Brian Gregory’s look at Die Another Day (2002), starring Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry and Toby Stephens.
When Die Another Day came out to celebrate 40 years of the 007 series, I avoided seeing it at the cinema as I had almost completely lost interest in Bond during the Brosnan years. The hope given by Timothy Dalton’s Licence To Kill in 1989 had evaporated with a succession of poor Brosnan Bond films, with only Tomorrow Never Dies worthy of the franchise. This wasn’t really Pierce’s fault. He is a versatile, intelligent actor and genuinely gave his all in the role. He was let down by awful scripts, poor casting, daft decisions, forgettable music and (in Die Another Day) Sega Mega-drive quality CGI (more of which later).
I remember renting the film on DVD and sitting down to watch it with my two Bond loving flatmates. The fact that, just an hour in, one was doing his ironing (an act never witnessed before or after in that flat) and the other was reading the paper, says it all about this movie. It’s poor……no, it’s beyond poor, this film is an insult to the name of James Bond and anyone who ever worked on the series. An irremovable stain on the CV of everyone who worked on it. This is a film that will leave you open-mouthed in disbelief that it was ever green-lit.
The plot is dreadful. Bond takes on a North Korean leader who undergoes various DNA procedures to allow him to assume different identities (yes, really!) while Halle Berry (as Jinx Johnson) assists Bond (Pierce Brosnan) to stop the baddies exploiting a satellite that is powered by solar energy…..or something like that. You’ll either be too bored or too busy laughing to care.
We get invisible cars, ice palaces, robot suits , Madonna, Bond surfing a tidal wave (you read that correctly), genetic reconstruction, appalling dialogue and most terrifying of all… Toby Stephens as a villain! After first being asked to accept that a North Korean has been somehow genetically modified into Toby Stephens, we are then supposed to buy Stephens as a credible villain. He is hopeless, a performance more suited to a pantomime than Bond.
John Cleese is similarly miscast as Q. He plays him (utterly humourlessly) as a Basil Fawlty clone and it’s without doubt the most cringe-inducing role of his once brilliant career. Cleese must have needed the money for one of his endless divorces.
While it was bad enough that we had to suffer Madonna’s auto-tuned theme song, to have her make an all too obvious cameo only adds insult to injury. Madge’s role as fencing mentor, Varity, should have been slashed on the cutting-room floor, if for no other reason than to avoid her (bordering on self-parody) line to Bond, ‘‘I see you handle your weapon well.’’
Yet, it had all begun so promisingly (if you can ignore the second worst Bond song ever, also courtesy of Madonna). Bond actually messes up at the start of the film and is thrown into prison, where, during the title sequence, he is tortured for 14 months. He even grows a very un-Bond-like beard and the scenes are genuinely surprising and gripping. He has to fake his own death to escape and ends up having his license revoked. A great start! Unfortunately, after the promise of this thrilling title sequence, Die Another Day dies a creative death.
The invisible car is a step too far and Moneypenny seducing a virtual reality Bond is pure insanity (a moment more worthy of the holodeck in Star Trek). But it was Bond surfing a tidal wave in terribly rendered CGI that was, for me, the moment that the Bond series lost the plot completely. In fact, ‘007 surfing a tsunami’ became the new ‘Jumping the shark’. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw this scene. What were they thinking? Indeed, were they thinking at all? Someone on the production team sat with director Lee Tamahori and somehow agreed that this scene was worthy of inclusion. Had their brains’ DNA been genetically devolved? I’m surprised that Ian Fleming didn’t rise from the grave and take his rights back.
You could of course argue that Die Another Day is so brilliantly bad that it is has become essential viewing. You’d be wrong. It’s an assassin’s bullet through the heart and soul of any James Bond fan. Thank the lord then that Daniel Craig and Casino Royale were around the corner. Bond just about managed to survive this travesty of a movie intact but Brosnan’s Bond career (along with most of the artists involved) didn’t. This was his 007 swan song, an unfortunate and humiliating way to bow out for such a talented actor. Brosnan gave it his best shot but had no chance with such a poor script and soulless production. Like Bond’s opening credits’ turmoil, the producers, writers and director should have all been locked up and tortured in some off the grid military prison for crimes against cinema… yet that would still not redeem the mess they made of this film.
The Bourne Identity was also released in 2002 and, more than any other film or series, Bourne magnified what had gone badly wrong with the James Bond franchise. 007 looked ridiculous in comparison. The new decade needed realism, believable characters and action, with real stunts and minimal (if any) CGI. The Bond team very sensibly took a few years off to reconsider their approach and thank goodness they did! For if they had carried on in the same fashion as this film, Bond would not have lived to Die Another Day.
MoM Rating 2/10 (One mark for the title sequence and one for destroying Brosnan’s tenure, thus allowing the Craig-era to blossom).