Lee Tamahori, 2002
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rick Yune, Rosamund Pike
Oh, Die Another Day. Is it possible for a Bond film to be this bad? I would have said no, if we had not already been graced with Tomorrow Never Dies, which ranks as my least favorite Bond film of all time. Die Another Day is better, but only barely. Bond is sent to North Korea to infiltrate a military base where General Moon’s unruly son, Colonel Moon, is trading illegal African conflict diamonds for arms. Moon and his henchman Zao soon discover Bond is a British agent and a fight ensues, resulting in Zao’s disfiguration when diamonds are blown into his face by an explosion. Bond pursues Moon, who is fleeing on a hovercraft, and Moon is killed. Bond is taken prisoner for over a year and tortured.
He is eventually traded for Zao, but M no longer trusts him and thinks he shared classified information while being tortured. Bond is convinced that someone inside MI6 betrayed him and goes rogue to track down information in Hong Kong. He follows Zao to Cuba, where he meets Jinx, an NSA agent also on the case. They discover a secret clinic practicing gene therapy that allows clients to change their appearances. (Gee, I wonder why this plot device is introduced?) Bond fights with Zao, who escapes, but leaves behind a case of African diamonds that belongs to Gustav Graves, a British billionaire. Bond tracks down Graves and they have a particularly tense fencing match, after which Graves invites Bond to Iceland where he introduces an orbital mirror satellite that can focus solar power. Bond soon realizes that Graves is really a post-surgery Colonel Moon, who faked his death and used gene therapy to alter his appearance. Bond and Jinx team up to stop Graves from using his satellite to destroy the world. Or at least the 38th Parallel.
Thank god this is the last Brosnan film. A tired-looking Brosnan is clearly over it and, frankly, he should have signed on for GoldenEye only. The sad thing about this is that he was pushing for a darker, more serious Bond, which the decent opening sets him up for. His lengthy period of capture and torture by the North Koreans is politically relevant, scary stuff. He presumably would have come back changed and much could have been done with a revenge plot or at least with inner demons, tensions between he and M, etc. But the diamond-sprinkled shit hits the fan and any semblance of seriousness is blown out the window.
When you hire the director of xXx: State of the Union, you are absolutely going to get what you paid for. The gadgets are simply awful. Between the invisible car, the hovercraft, and the incredibly stupid mirror satellite, I’m not sure which is worse. The sickeningly overproduced, MTV-style editing and the terrible CGI are appalling. The ending scene with Graves’s airplane burning up is just offensive. And don’t forget about all 40 ice-related chase scenes, explosions, and fights galore. I love the snow more than most people and am dying to go to an ice hotel, but the scenes in Die Another Day are just redundant. I wish I could say there were good stunts to balance things out, but aside from an entertaining opening sequence, we are left with things like the ridiculous fencing scene between Bond and Graves. This scene, by the way, is introduced by Madonna, who randomly appears in the film after singing the frustrating opening theme. Why?
Because this was the 40th anniversary of the franchise, the film is loaded with references to the Bond franchise. While this worked very well in Skyfall, here it is absolutely dreadful. I think the only exception is when Brosnan lands in Cuba and pretends to be an ornithologist, an amusing reference to his character's namesake. When the producers weren’t advertising other Bond films, they were just plain advertising. Die Another Day has the highest amount of product placement in any Bond film to date, so much so that film critics at the time were calling it Buy Another Day. Yikes.
Though a lot of the acting is dreadful, there are a few exceptions. Brosnan gives it the old college try, but is hamstrung by a lousy script. Toby Stephens and Will Yun Lee both have a lot of fun with the raving Colonel Moon/Gustav Graves, though I wish Lee had more screen time. His father, General Moon, is played by a thankfully serious Kenneth Tsang. He is a respected Hong Kong actor who has appeared in a number of excellent John Woo films. Like Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies, there was nothing he could have done to save the film. Rick Yune is energetic as Zao, but this doesn’t resolve the fact that he’s a henchman with diamonds embedded in his face. Rosamund Pike gives a subdued, somewhat questionable performance as double agent Miranda Frost, but she looks like an absolutely genius next to Halle Berry.
If I had to pick a single worst thing about this film, and believe me, it’s difficult, it would have to be Halle Berry as NSA Agent Jinx. Words fail me. There have been some lousy Bond girls, but she absolutely takes the cake. (Though she might tie with Maryam d’Abo from The Living Daylights.) From her entrance aping Ursula Andress’s famous first scene in Dr. No to the final scene where she and Bond have sex on a pile of illegal diamonds, she is appallingly bad.
The only reason this is better than Tomorrow Never Dies is because that film is dreadfully boring. Die Another Day is bigger, faster, and more ridiculous, with what must be the worst script in the entire series. If you’re going to borrow plot elements from any Connery-era Bond film, why Diamonds Are Forever? Aside from the diamond smuggling, there is also the horrible gene therapy subplot, where Colonel Moon has himself changed into a posh British man. This is reminiscent of Blofeld’s cloning plot and we all know how that worked out. Sadly, Graves never appears dressed as a women. I think the only thing that kept me watching the film until the end was the constant sense of “This surely cannot be happening right now.”
If you want to subject yourself to it, Die Another Day is available on a number of DVDs, such as the 2-disc Ultimate Edition, which I am reviewing. This is also included in the Ultimate Edition box set volume 2. Special features include a commentary track from director Lee Tamahori and producer Michael G. Wilson, a second commentary from Pierce Brosnan and Rosamund Pike, several featurettes, a making-of and two documentaries. There is also a Blu-ray.