Directed by Lee Tamahori
Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench as M, John Cleese as Q, and Samantha Bond as Moneypenny, Colin Salmon as Robinson.
Music by David Arnold
Title Song by Madonna
Based on characters created by Ian Fleming
Is Die Another Day the worst Bond film ever made? In a word, YES! That’s not to say it doesn’t have any good moments, like the sword fight sequence in Blades gentlemen’s club. The fight is one of the most muscular sword fight sequences ever filmed, and the equal to many of the classic fight scenes performed by the likes of Basil Rathbone (The Mark of Zorro), or Stewart Granger (Scaramouche) to name but two. But Die Another Day, as a whole, is a very patchy effort.
The film starts well enough with James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) impersonating a South African mercenary selling conflict diamonds to the North Koreans. Particularly to Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) and Zao (Rick Yune). (For those unaware, conflict diamonds originate from African nations controlled by forces in opposition to their legitimate and internationally recognised government (such as Angola or Sierra Leone). These diamonds are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments. On 1 December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted, unanimously, a resolution which forbade the trade of rough diamonds originating in these areas, in the hope of breaking the link between the illicit trade in rough diamonds and armed conflict.. The recent film Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio shows why this resolution was put in place.)
Unfortunately for Bond, before he can complete his mission, his cover is blown. He escapes in a hovercraft, hotly pursued by the North Korean Army in their own flotilla of hovercrafts.
Ultimately, Bond and Moon end up wrestling on top of the same driverless hovercraft as it rushes towards a waterfall. The craft goes over the falls with Moon, but Bond leaps off at the last moment. His reprieve is short lived as he is captured by the North Koreans.
Here, dear readers, is where the films goes off the rails. Firstly, Madonna’s theme song is rubbish. This is not just a case of Madonna bashing on my behalf. I thought her song, Beautiful Stranger for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me was a great pop song, but Die Another Day is sub standard.
Next problem is the title sequence. Bond’s torture at the hands of his captures continues throughout the titles. Daniel Klein, who took over the Bond title sequences after the passing of Maurice Binder, has proven himself over the past three movies. Let him do his job!
Once the film resumes, eighteen months has passed and Bond is still a captive. He is far from the suave, impeccably dressed agent we are used to. He is gaunt; his hair is long a matted and an unkempt beard adorns his face. But his incarceration period is over as he is swapped in a prisoner exchange, for Zao, who is now horribly disfigured with a diamond encrusted head.
Back in safe hands, Bond is not trusted. There has been an information leak and Bond is the obvious suspect. He is to be interrogated and locked up. Before this can happen he escapes. Clothed in a soggy set of pyjamas and with his hair still matted and tangled he marches into the foyer of an exclusive Hotel in Hong Kong. Of course, all the guests are disgusted at his appearance, but unperturbed, Bond walks up to the front desk and asks for his usual suite.
Within moments, Bond is cleaned up and back in a Tuxedo. Not long after that, he is in Cuba, tracking down Zao, the man he was traded for in the prisoner exchange. Bond traces Zao to Los Organos, a gene altering, transformation clinic. It is here that Bond meets C.I.A. agent Jacinta Johnson, A.K.A. Jinx (Halle Berry). Both agents are working on the same case but from different ends. But does this mean that they would pool their resources and work together? Not on your life. After a quick interlude, they go their separate ways.
Bond catches up to Zao at the clinic, but Zao evades capture. But he does leave behind one clue. Diamonds. These diamonds are engraved with G.G. While Bond was in captivity a young entrepreneur, Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), has started a diamond mine in Iceland and had struck it rich. Bond finds it suspicious, that Graves’ diamonds should have they same composition as African Conflict Diamonds. He decides to look into Graves operation more thoroughly.
Although Toby Stephens is a good actor, he was fantastic in Cambridge Spies, in this film his performance is particularly ‘hammy’. Admittedly, he got lumbered with some atrocious dialogue, and equally silly scenes to act out. He comes off as a rather petulant young pup. When compared to the Bond villains of the past, he simply isn’t a threat.
My two major gripes, of the many things that I didn’t like, were the editing and the sloppy CGI. Editor Christian Wagner has adopted an MTV style of editing where there is exaggerated speeding up and slowing down of the action to create a visual effect. But all this does is cause Bond to look less potent than he should. Rather than throwing a good hard punch, Bond’s actions are slowed down and stylised. It is almost visual castration.
And now onto the CGI. It was atrocious. If there is one thing us Bond fans have come to expect is that the stunts that are performed professionally and generally, where possible, actually in front of the camera. Think of Bond skiing of the cliff in The Spy Who Loved Me (and now think of it done with CGI – blah!) But in Die Another Day we are treated to some substandard effects as Bond rides a gigantic ice wave. I know it couldn’t be done in real life, but at least hire a team of professionals who can render this type of environment well. It looks like a video game.
I am not even going to talk about the invisible car! My thoughts on that are best not aired in public.
A quick word about the music: With the exception of Madonna’s title song, which I have already talked about, the Dave Arnold score is of a high standard. Particularly the Cuban rhythms which are not only infectious they creatively incorporate the James Bond Theme. Strangely, little of the Cuban music ends up on the Soundtrack CD. But my last gripe about the music used in Die Another Day is the inclusion of London Calling by The Clash as Bond returns to London. In any other film, I’d almost applaud the use of The Clash or Joe Strummer in a soundtrack but in a Bond film it is inappropriate.
After the success of this film, there was talk of a spinoff movie featuring Halle Berry as Jinx. Again it was to be directed by Lee Tamahori. It is rumoured that a script was prepared but he film never eventuated. Maybe we were lucky? Tamahori would later go on to destroy the xXx franchise.
Die Another Day was an unworthy swan song for Pierce Brosnan. Sure Brosnan will go on to make great films after his time as Bond, but I sort of feel, that his Bond films were wasted opportunities. He’s a good actor, and he had the charm and charisma to succeed as Bond, but unfortunately he got lumbered with some poor scripts, and crew members (Directors, Editors, and even Actors) who just weren’t up to the task. Thankfully for the Bond series, the producers went in a different direction for the next feature Casino Royale. Sure, it was sad to see Pierce go, but if the series was to survive, a new approach was needed. And thankfully we got it.