Friday, January 18, 2013

Die Another Day - See Another Movie

Die Another Day - 2002

Bond:  Pierce Brosnan
Directed by: Lee Tamahari
Produced by: Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli 
Theme: "Die Another Day" written and performed by Madonna

"I thought it just went too far – and that’s from me, the first Bond in space! Invisible cars and dodgy CGI footage? Please!" - Roger Moore

Every actor to play Bond to this point had at least one really terrible movie. Connery had his Diamonds Are Forever. Moore had Moonraker. Dalton had License to Kill. Even Lazanby had that middle part of On Her Majesty's Secret Service where he wears the frilly shirt and pretends to be gay. Brosnan is no exception with Die Another Day serving as his turn at stinking up celluloid.

So much is wrong with this movie, it's hard to know where to begin. So I'll start at the beginning. You can tell things aren't going to go well as soon as you see the altered gun-barrel sequence with the bullet shooting towards the audience. Why mess with a good thing? Director Lee Tamahari spends most of the movie trying way to hard too put his personal stamp on the franchise through slow motion punches, stylistic transitions, and crude sexual innuendo, even by Bond standards. Maybe he should have spent some time on plot or acting notes.

Then the film moves right into a surfing sequence which I guess is supposed to look cool because there's no dramatic tension as we don't know who these people are or what they're doing. Then we have some clumsy exposition worthy of the Roger Moore years, followed by setting up our North Korean villain who then immediately dies. Our henchman gets a ridiculous diamond-studded face for no reason other than it looks cool. I think every creative decision for this movie was made on the grounds that it "looked cool", no matter how terrible it made the movie. Even if it involved kite-surfing down a calving glacier.

And this movie is terrible. Not just because the acting, dialogue, CGI, and plot are all terrible, but also because of timing and dumb luck. Two things happened between the release of The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day that made the franchise, in its then current state, unsustainable: 9/11 and The Bourne Identity. 9/11 made shit real. The Bourne Identity showed you could make a really good spy movie grounded in realism. Die Another Day is not a spy movie grounded in realism. In fact, it's the most ludicrous Bond film since Moonraker.

Here's all you need to know this movie's absurdity: race change through DNA replacement therapy. I don't even need to mention the giant mirror in space turning the suns rays into a weapon that can destroy nuclear missiles and clear the DMZ of land mines.

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the franchise, the film is crammed with references to nearly every preceding film. Which is cool, if you're like me and you can play "spot the reference", but makes the movie feel even more like a series of loosely strung together gimmicks with no real point or emotional stakes. It's like one of those terrible ESPN highlight montages set to a popular rock song that doesn't give you any context for what you're seeing.

The torture sequence could have been remarkably ahead of its time, given events that would happen in the immediate years to follow the film's release, except that it's not handled with any sort of realism. It happens as a stylized montage throughout the opening title sequence. It's hard for the torture to have any real impact when it's happening in between shots of naked women dancing to a Madonna club remix. And did I mention Madonna's IN the movie? Remarkably, she probably gives the best performance because she seems fully aware of how ridiculous the whole thing is. When a Madonna cameo is the highlight of your movie, you've got issues.

That's not true. Halle Berry walking out of the ocean in her bikini is the highlight of the movie, even if it is an homage to Ursulla Andress in Dr. No. She and Rosamund Pike form two of the most blindly attractive Bond girls of the franchise. Yet somehow Berry manages to turn in a terrible performance in spite of the fact that she won her Oscar during filming, and Pike isn't much better. Not that I'm complaining exactly, but why is Pike mostly topless in her final sword fight with Berry? Oh right, because it looks cool.

Wait, I take it all back. The best part of this movie is John Cleese, in his one and only performance as Q. His witty dialogue with Bond in the "old gadget warehouse" is the most enjoyable and vaguely believable piece of dialogue in the film. Here, just follow this link to YouTube (embedding is disabled on the clip), skip to a 1:16 and watch the scene. See how many gadgets from earlier movies you can spot. Skip the rest of the movie.

Personal Rankings: It would go straight to the bottom, except that nothing could be worse than The Man with the Golden Gun... except Moonraker
  1. Goldfinger
  2. From Russia With Love
  3. The Spy Who Loved Me
  4. Live and Let Die
  5. You Only Live Twice
  6. Tomorrow Never Dies
  7. GoldenEye
  8. The Living Daylights
  9. For Your Eyes Only
  10. The World Is Not Enough
  11. Dr. No
  12. Octopussy
  13. Diamonds Are Forever
  14. A View to a Kill
  15. License to Kill
  16. Thunderball
  17. Die Another Day
  18. The Man with the Golden Gun
  19. Moonraker

2002 Context

President: George W. Bush
Queen: Elizabeth II

The U.S. invades Afghanistan.

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