Today’s film is the 20th Bond film and the first on the countdown to feature Pierce Brosnan. . .
SETUP: Bond surfs into North Korea on a mission to kill Colonel Moon, a rogue soldier planning to sail a hovercraft armada over the world’s largest mine field and conquer the south. Bond succeeds, but an unknown double agent betrays him, landing him in North Korean custody. For the next 14 months, the Koreans torture and abuse Bond, forcing MI6 to trade for him when it appears he’s leaking information. Bond realizes the leak is coming from the same double agent that set him up, so he breaks out of the MI6 hospital and goes on the hunt for his betrayer.
After faking a diamond find in Iceland, actually a front to launder African conflict diamonds, Graves becomes a billionaire and the toast of Britain. Bond and American CIA agent Jinx (Halle Berry) piece together the truth just as Graves introduces Icarus, a satellite capable of directing the sun’s energy into a death laser. Graves sends the laser after the Korean mine field, carving a path for his northern troops. Bond confronts Graves on his warplane and finishes the job he started by tossing Graves outside and into his own jet engine.
Oh, and the leak? That turns out to be Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), an MI6 agent in love with Graves.
VILLAINOUS DISFIGUREMENT: The process that changed Col. Moon into Gustav Graves has left Graves with permanent insomnia. He never sleeps, and uses a psychedelic dream machine to prevent insanity, which strikes me as funny because he already changed his DNA to become this guy.
His plan is to conquer the world with a Virtual Boy.
THE MUSCLE: Zao (Rick Yune) is Graves’s best friend and business partner, a terrorist responsible for bombings, murder, and a whole lot of other bad things. Bond’s first assassination attempt exploded a box of diamonds in Zao’s face, leaving the rocks (somehow, I guess?) permanently embedded in his face. Sometime later, Zao tries the same DNA replacement that created Graves, but gets trapped as a bald albino, which obviously lies somewhere between Korean and Anglo on the DNA scale. Despite his wicked appearance, Zao doesn’t accomplish very much and winds up crushed under a crystal chandelier in Graves’s melting ice palace.
BOND GIRL AND FEMME FATALE: Our Bond Girl is Jinx, an American who’s little more than a Bond clone: She’s capable, randy, and speaks only in one-liners. Halle Berry tries hard to sell the role, but her strengths are in the few scenes of quiet dialogue, not the action. The result is less than memorable.
On the other side of the coin is Miranda Frost, the woman who betrays Bond to the North Koreans, frames him for leaking information, and then seduces him by playing frigid and hard to get. She’s also a fencing champion, which she clearly believes will be enough to kill Jinx in the film’s climax, realizing her mistake only after Jinx kicks a knife through her chest.
“PAY ATTENTION, 007”: John Cleese takes on the role of Q, guiding Bond on a tour of the Q Lab’s storage area. We get a look at several gadgets from Bond history before he hands Bond his new laser watch (“your 20th, I believe”), a ring that shatters glass, and an invisible car.
Ah, the infamous invisible car, fated for a spot on every list of dumb Bond gadgets from now until the end of the movies. In an age of cell phones, high-powered computers, and GPS tracking – all things Bond used back when they seemed like science-fiction – the invisible car is the price we have to pay to keep Bond ahead of the technology curve. Yes, the car is based off existing experimental tech, and yes, it’s still ridiculous.
MOST EMBARRASSING CULTURAL MOMENT: The saying goes, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. This is especially true if the “people” is North Korea and you’ve just made a Bond movie in which the villain is a North Korean maniac who abandons his genetic heritage on his way to starting a war with the west. Protests erupted in both North and South Korea over the film, leaving a black eye on what should have been a 40th anniversary celebration film.
BOND’S BEST ONE-LINER: After sending Moon through a temple and over a waterfall, surviving only by grabbing an ancient gong – “Hm. Saved by the bell.”
WORTH MENTIONING: Halle Berry’s Jinx character was intended for a series of spinoff American films, but the idea never materialized. . . Madonna appears in the movie as a fencing instructor and also provides the (awful) opening theme song. . . Trailers for this film appeared in front of Austin Powers in Goldmember as part of a legal settlement over their spoof of the Goldfinger title.
OVERALL: Hey, let’s play a game. Think of an author whose work you love. Got one? All right, now go to your shelf and rip a single page from each of your author’s books, bind those pages together however you like, kick back, and enjoy. Congratulations, you just published their latest book.
Or maybe you wouldn’t bother, because you know it’s impossible to paste random pieces together and create anything but a scattered disaster. Congratulations, you’re one step ahead of the producers of Die Another Day.
Die Another Day was designed as a tribute to the 19 James Bond films that came before, literally cobbled together from bits and chunks of those movies. Jinx’s introduction comes from Dr. No, the diamonds and the death satellite from Diamonds are Forever, the glass-shattering fencing scene from Moonraker, and so on.
It’s a cool idea, but for it to work, the whole movie has to come together and it’s not even close. We’re talking about a film that opens with its hero tortured in a grimy North Korean prison, then ends with lasers from space, dream machines, and invisible cars. To this point, Brosnan had been the star of three solid, watchable Bond films, but this one veers off into that Moonraker dead zone with too much camp, and not enough believable action. Compounding problems, the action relies heavily on CGI, but nobody bothered to budget for the good stuff.
Die Another Day was the last film produced before the Daniel Craig reboot. The movie works as a loving send-off for the original series, a pranked-up highlight reel, but it’s poison otherwise, and easily the worst of Brosnan’s Bond career.
The James Bond Project
19. Die Another Day
22. A View to a Kill