Die Another Day
based on characters by Ian Fleming
Despite my relative unfamiliarity with the Brosnan films before embarking on the Bondathon, I knew about Die Another Day. I heard the theme song on the local top 40 station (Star 94 represent!) in middle school. It was the one with all the CGI. It was the one with the invisible car. It was the one that made Eon realize that they had gone too far, thus the reason Casino Royale is a deliberate reboot, not a soft one like GoldenEye. I both looked forward to and mildly dreaded its reputed awfulness. I ended up just blasting through it in a double bill with The World is Not Enough, because I just had to get out of the Brosnan years before my fondness for the franchise died.
Die Another Day opens with James Bond infiltrating a North Korean military base to stop the young General Tan-Sun Moon, who is purchasing illegal weaponry with blood diamonds. Unfortunately, Moon’s right-hand man, Zao, identifies him, and the ensuing hovercraft chase leaves Moon supposedly dead and Bond imprisoned. Fourteen months later, Bond is traded for Zao in a prisoner exchange, as MI6 believe that Bond has been cracking under torture and leaking information. Although they revoke his 00 status, Bond goes rogue to discover who betrayed him to Zao. Along the way, he teams up with the mysterious Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson and finds himself on the trail of Gustav Graves, a self-made British billionaire.
I’m just going to come out and say it: Die Another Day is better than Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough. All three films feature incredibly stupid ideas, but Die Another Day is the only one that whole-heartedly commits to them, making them beautifully stupid instead of just confusing and disappointing. Where The World is Not Enough brings up the idea that a bullet wound in the right place can give you superpowers and then shamefully pulls back, Die Another Day opens with Bond and two other agents surfing into North Korea. And that’s just the first scene. More deliriously silliness awaits, from the tonal whiplash of having Bond get waterboarded to the strains of Madonna’s “Die Another Day” as he hallucinates women of ice and fire to comfort him, to smashing up an ice palace with an invisible car, to “DNA transplants” and racelifts functioning as major plot points.
And the entire cast is more or less in on it. While Brosnan’s Bond will never be my favorite, he’s relaxed into the role. He’s a little more engaging here, which is a huge step up from the previous two films. Toby Stephens is deliriously smarmy as Gustav Graves; to say more would be to give away one of the film’s greatest stupid twists. As Miranda Frost, Graves’ PA and an Olympian fencer, Rosamund Pike is lovely. I feel like I haven’t seen her in anything—I’ll take recommendations. Stepping up to the huge task of replacing the late Desmond Llellewyn is John Cleese, and his prim mutterings (“Wish I could make you disappear”) fit perfectly into the over-the-top tone of the film. We even get to see the beginning of Dench’s M evolving into the gruff, pragmatic woman who barks, “Christ, I miss the Cold War” in Casino Royale when she explains to Bond that he is useless to her now. (Dreamy!)
But the biggest surprise for me was how much I liked Halle Berry’s Jinx. I suppose I’m used to Berry’s fairly flat portrayal of Storm in the X-Men franchise, but Jinx is capable, fun, and engaging, able to showboat without coming across as arrogant. A spin-off was planned for Jinx’s character, but, after Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life (…is that seriously the title?) performed poorly at the box office, MGM pulled the plug on it. BOO. I could have used an action franchise with Jinx snarking at bad guys with Bond-level puns, kicking butt, and taking names.
2002 marked the fortieth anniversary of the Bond franchise and, thusly, Die Another Day is stuffed with references to the rest of the films; I direct you to the film’s IMDb trivia page for specifics. But perhaps the last reference in the film is one that I cherish the most: the fact that Q and Moneypenny are friends outside of the world of Bond, some we’ve seen in a few of the previous films. Samantha Bond’s Moneypenny is vastly underserved here, getting scraps in two scenes, but the idea of Q letting Moneypenny mess around with a virtual reality machine while he cleans up the office is terribly sweet. Q and Moneypenny will both vanish until Skyfall, but I do hope Bond 24 will include their friendship.
Bottom line: Die Another Day makes the stupid sublime by committing to it whole-heartedly. Well worth a watch, if only to rubberneck.
I rented this film on iTunes.