The absolute worst Bond film is here! The film that almost killed this franchise, the film so shallow and depraved and dumb that it pretty much poisoned any goodwill the general public had left for the Bond franchise at the time. In this episode of our retrospective we:
- Take a look at the final moments of the original Bond film continuity.
- Explore a conflict of theme, bundled and bungled with bad everything else.
- Talk about Halle Berry.
It’s time to…
Die Another Day (2002)
This film isn’t an adventure, it’s a chore. It’s the punishment for talking back. The broccoli against other films’ candy. The start of the Brosnan era may have shown such promise, but tone and effort wasn’t the only thing holding these films back. It was tradition. Tradition to Bond is what was killing Bond for years, and this film was smothered by it. I try to avoid attacking the cliches. The “shaken not stirred”, “Bond, James Bond” type of criticism. Yeah, we hear that a lot in these things, but this film has its legacy as baggage.
Before we get any further, we have to discuss
Bond infiltrates a North Korean camp to fake a trade deal with Colonel Tan-Sun Moon. Turns out Colonel Moon is trading North Korean military weapons illegally for African Conflict Diamonds. Big no-no. Wait, there was a setup! Moon’s henchman Zao figures Bond out and Bond is now on the run from Moon. Bond is able to push Moon over a waterfall ensuring his death, but Moon’s father has arrived and is furious about the events that have transpired. Bond is kept captive and tortured every day for fourteen months.
Bond is traded as a captive for Zao by the American and British governments. It’s not because of how awesome Bond is, China has recently been attacked by North Korean agents and they think Bond was the person feeding them intel. Bond is pissed as M tries to interrogate him in a hospital bed, Bond thinks there’s a rat within MI6. He believes it so much he escapes his captivity, license revoked, and crashes one of his usual Hong Kong hotel rooms to freshen up and locate Zao, who has fled to Cuba.
In Cuba, he meets Jinx. Jinx and him immediately have sex, but Jinx leaves Bond early in the morning to visit the island Zao is supposedly on. Bond follows behind, and realizes Zao is at a medical clinic meant for complete facial surgery. Zao is trying to become a new person, Jinx kills the doctor and sabotages the system while Zao is inside, and Bond tries to murder Zao but he escapes. Jinx and Bond both escape separately.
The one shred of evidence pushing Bond forward is an African Conflict Diamond with the initials G.G. etched onto it. It’s short for Gustav Graves, a diamond magnate who has only recently come into power within the past year. He’s a British playboy that likes to live dangerously, Bond tries to engage with him and challenges him to fencing. Bond beats Graves and Graves invites him to the debut of his Icarus project.
Bond talks to M, M actually agrees that Graves is probably up to something and sees Bond as a useful asset because he’s no longer officially sanctioned by the British Government, which Graves has a lot of influence over. Bond goes to Graves’s diamond site and ice palace in Iceland (yeah, the movie’s getting worse now). Outside of Bond’s awareness, M talks to an undercover 00 agent and Graves’s assistant, Miranda Frost. M asks Frost why she hasn’t found any dirt on Graves, Frost replies that Graves is clean and Bond shouldn’t help her because he’s sloppy and reckless. M doesn’t like these answers and tells her Bond will be there.
The Icarus project is basically a satellite that shines a very, very bright light down to wherever it’s beaming. Bond runs into Frost and Jinx once more. Jinx works for the NSA and she starts to investigate Graves’ command center. Bond has sex with Frost. Jinx is captured, and when Bond investigates himself, he finds out that Graves is secretly Colonel Moon, who never actually died. He faked his identity as Graves, pretended to be the most obnoxious British man ever (much like someone he knows), and is making large amounts of money selling the Conflict Diamonds. Oh, and Frost was the rat in MI6. Bond and Jinx escape, get into some invisible car shenanigans, and kill Zao.
Moon reveals his actual plan to his father on his plane while wearing a weird iron suit that controls the satellite. Icarus is a weapon, and it’s going to destroy the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, allowing North Korea to easily invade. Moon’s father realizes immediately how terrible the plan is and has to die for it.
Bond and Jinx are sent to stop Moon, Jinx gets into a fight of swords with Frost and Bond fights Moon. The plane starts flying apart and Icarus is destroying sections of the zone. Bond activates Moon’s parachute, Moon flies into the propellor and Icarus malfunctions. Jinx kills Frost, they escape the plane just barely and have all of the Conflict Diamonds.
Moneypenny is seen by Q wearing the VR headset as she is seduced by virtual Bond, Bond sleeps with Jinx as they are covered in diamonds.
A Closer Look
So I made that film sound way cooler than it actually is. I think the problem of the film is two halves that do not want to compromise with each other. I think Bond being held captive for over a year and going rogue is totally an awesome thing for Bond to do. I think North Korea is a great villain because their military and leadership are so unapologetically evil it’s easy to make them bad guys. This is a good recipe for a real Bond film. This film is also campy, full of gadgets and CGI (we’ll get to that) and goofy villains. Still, mixing camp and cheesy dialogue with the gravity presented at the start of the film is inappropriate. The film gets more ridiculous, more nonsensical as it goes on.
A good analogy for the film is the theme song sequence. It’s terrible, in all of the ways the actual film is terrible. It’s a techno pop song by Madonna. The song itself is mostly nonsensical lyrics that I think is about homosexuality, of all things. It shouts “Sigmund Freud” at random points of the song, for no reason. Okay, so even then we’ve heard stupid pop songs for Bond before. What’s the footage playing on top of it? The Brosnan era opening credits were always striving for evocative imagery of women, violence, and the film’s core themes. This film’s opening credits are CGI scorpions, CGI ice women and fire women (fire is not a part of this film at all) dancing around footage of James Bond being tortured. The footage is also reused as a flashback later within the film. It reuses footage! Not in the cool Bond way of “Here’s all the cool stuff you’re gonna see in this movie!” The footage is a man being drowned by ice water and burned alive. There’s too much conflict here, and it’s deeply troubling on so many levels.
I think Graves isn’t a bad idea. The mockery of 007 is a great way to have Bond face himself. It’s him against his shadow, but the shadow is the character qualities so unique to Bond. Other Bond-equal villains in the series such as Scaramanga or Alec had a different feel to them than Bond himself. They’d adopt a specific aspect of Bond and utilize that. Graves’ introduction is him jumping out of a plane with a Union Jack parachute, itself based on an iconic Bond scene from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
The fencing sequence, though ridiculous, is a great example of rising stakes and kinetic energy. It’s also mostly practical, which the rest of the film is desperately lacking in action.
Uhhhh, that’s it? That can’t be it. Can it?
I don’t know where to start. First, I guess I’ll tackle the bad aspects to the stuff I liked. Graves’ plan is terrible, he wears a very stupid suit at the climax that makes him feel like a video game final boss and that’s a terrible way to make a film. Graves is also by extension Colonel Moon, and that’s the problem with his character. Moon is a terrible villain to Graves’ unique villain. North Korea isn’t actually a bad guy in this film. Moon is doing evil things even North Korea wouldn’t approve of, and Moon’s father is actually HEROIC. Maybe the film didn’t want to upset North Korea, but I mean come on! Commit to something, please. This isn’t even mentioning the very idea that the film is whitewashing Moon. A Korean Bond mastermind is very cool, especially one as brash as Moon, why do we lose him immediately and instead get a white actor to play Moon? The answer is clearly that Graves and Moon needed to be different villains in different films.
To get off that tangent, I’ll talk about the major problem I have with the film. The action is deeply rooted in special effects. When I say special effects for a Bond film, you probably think like green screen with some footage in the back or some post editing to make his watch a laser. No, I mean that there’s a CGI Bond doing crazy CGI things as the entire frame is CGI falling apart. Huge chunks of the film aren’t practical or real at all. The car chases, the fortresses, it’s all the ugliest kind of fake there is. Bond is surfing across melting ice, and maybe JUST MAYBE that would be cool in a film where the ice actually existed. Graves fights Bond with punches and grabs that give force lightning from Star Wars. The big superweapon is blinding to the screen. Evil superweapons don’t have to be amazing, they don’t even have to be visually appealing, but they shouldn’t be visually repulsive.
The rest of the problems are poop icing on the fecal cake. Just different shades of brown. The sins of Bond as a franchise have come to roost. It is such a slave to formula and references, let’s run through some. Previous Q gadgets are seen in the underground HQ, Jinx gets out of the beach just like Ursula Andress did in Dr. No (1962), Bond is ordering a Vodka martini and saying his name to everybody within earshot, Moneypenny gets gratuitous flirtation scenes that out and out ruin her character’s dynamic with Bond, the bugged hotel room, the foreign diplomat that hooks Bond up, his car is an Aston Martin, he sleeps with every girl he says more than two lines to, and every single line from every character is either exposition or a joke. I don’t think I like James Bond anymore.
Jinx is also a very cynical Bond girl that makes the film very repulsive. I like Halle Berry a lot, I think she’s attractive, a great actress when she tries to be, and I think celebrity casting isn’t a terrible idea for the franchise. Not to talk too much about studio politics, but Jinx exists in the hopes that she would get her own separate franchise as the US secret agent. Every aspect of the film involving her and Michael Madsen (yay for Michael Madsen) push forward this extra movie agenda. This is bad, and the film should feel bad for trying that. People like to point towards Marvel movies for causing the spin-off trend, but spin-off attempts were always a thing, Marvel movies just made spin-off attempts and shared universes the brand’s appeal. Bond? Bond’s appeal is the quality action and iconic character. Don’t half-ass a US badass woman spy and think she’s gonna be able to carry her own franchise. That’s how you get movies like Salt (2010).
This film is also responsible for a terrible start to Rosamund Pike’s career. Pike is an amazing actress as well, but this film made an impression, and it wasn’t a great one for her. Her character is so vapid and dumb and uninteresting. She’s so clearly the rat from the moment she’s on the screen I’m insulted they felt the need to do the twist at all, and I’m insulted Bond still slept with her.
Brosnan’s too old, I said it before and I’ll say it again. This time, they allow the fourteen month absence as an excuse for his body looking terrible.
This looking forward is really going to be a look back. This is the final film in the traditional, classic James Bond timeline. Sean Connery to Lazenby, to Connery again, to Moore, to Dalton, to Connery again but unofficially, to Brosnan, it was the same Bond. Same traumas, same experiences. Told through different personalities, different eyes. The franchise was woefully dated, in some of the best most beautiful ways.
I think Connery’s Bond was rough and direct. Smooth in a dinner party, but wasn’t going to tolerate anything but what he wanted. Early Connery was also very human and vulnerable.
Lazenby didn’t have much time, but his Bond was written with multiple dimensions. He had the strongest love interest this Bond ever had and his charm came from his mere presence.
Moore was heroic. Early Moore played Bond almost as a joke to the rest of the film’s tone. Later Moore films spread the tone more evenly throughout, but Moore’s Bond would also go in different directions depending on the vast amount of contexts needed for him. He mourned at Tracy’s grave, he fell in love, he smiled, he became frightened, he was calm and collected.
Dalton had a Bond with multiple dimensions like Lazenby. He had plots with real and personal stakes to them. Dalton was tender when he was in love and sipping martinis, but was also cold and calculating when he had to be an assassin. His Bond knew he was a killer, and that’s all he could ever be.
Brosnan tried to be an amalgamation of all things, like Moore. He attempted to inhabit the image of Bond the audience has, instead of playing the character on the page. I think in certain films and scenes he accomplished that, I think at worst he showed Bond at his limits as a character.
Bond had stagnated to a point almost irrecoverable. There was nowhere else to go with this man. Everyone had gotten familiar with the schtick, their best effort was to make the villain a joke on him, and nobody laughed.
What happened after? They threw out the continuity and the baggage. They picked up an Ian Fleming novel, the first one: Casino Royale, and decided to make a movie based on that. They gave up on the character audiences had built with the producers for over thirty years, and they went back to the source.
So, like a phoenix from the ashes, Bond returns. The worst Bond movie of the franchise happened so the best Bond movie of the franchise could exist. In March, we’ve got a blonde Bond for our retrospective, and in April we’ll have that same Bond on screen one last time.
What I Drank
A Mojito, because Bond orders it for himself in Cuba and sips on it with Jinx. Two ounces of white rum, 3/4 ounces of lime juice, 1/2 ounce of simple syrup, some crushed mint leaves, and a splash of club soda. It was the best part about the viewing.
2 thoughts on “James Bond Retrospective: Die Another Day”
I did not see anything on a screen really for about 15 years. This era was there. I certainly watch plenty now so may have not done myself any good. I wonder if your knowledge draws out which Pierce Brosnan opens with a prisoner exchange, Bond. Probably from over the Iron Curtain bit I don’t know. I think I have not seen all that film but can’t find it.
Certainly I need now to not watch this one if you say anyway.
It is key moments that make films often I think, like people, like plots revolve around them don’t they?