And Then Bond Has A Shave: Die Another Day (2002) review – BlogalongaBond 20
Typical. You arrange your big anniversary celebration and then people keep turning up with inappropriate gigs – a post-9/11 downer; terrible CGI; Halle Berry…
Die Another Day
(Lee Tamahori, 2002)
The consensus has quickly formed over the past decade that Die Another Day represents the nadir of the James Bond series – even the founder of BlogalongaBond hates it. But what’s really interesting is why it’s achieved that unfortunate reputation. The 20th Bond movie, released in the 40th anniversary of Dr No, should be a celebration of all that has gone before. And yet, as M tells 007, “the world changed while you were away” – this is the first film after 9/11 and for half an hour the film captures the pulse of the times with Axis of Evil, and Bond a torture prisoner.
You can see the problem, right? These two things cannot co-exist in any sane and rational universe. Who wants to party in the aftermath of tragedy? Tonally, the first act is darker than even its contemporaries 24 and The Bourne Identity, especially in a jagged, abrasive title sequence that hints at the pain inflicted on 007 by scorpion venom, red hot pokers and a really bad Madonna song. Bond is bedraggled, abandoned by M, and lost. All seems lost. And then Bond has a shave…
The transformation is so utterly ridiculous it makes a mockery of everything that has come before. Within minutes, Bond is on his way to Havana, ogling Halle Berry, exchanging terrible double entendres and carrying out a pair of binoculars. Why? The Bond scholars will tell you it’s because Ian Fleming was a keen birdwatcher, but really it’s so Pierce Brosnan can spot all of the other on-screen references to past 007 movies; this is the geek’s version of Peter Greenaway’s Painting By Numbers, and what follows is Bond By Numbers… a parade of girls, gadgets, twisted villainy and daft action scenes, although for some reason they forgot the frickin’ sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their frickin’ heads.
The trouble is, Die Another Day is a flat, hollow affair, like a Comic Relief sketch without any charities to donate to. The self-conscious navel gazing rarely throws up any interesting juxtapositions or ironic reversals – the exception is Brosnan’s discovery of a From Russia With Love-style sex tape being filmed, a witty in-joke that proves 007 has been paying attention after all. But most of the callbacks (notably having the villain arrive in London via a Union Jack parachute a la The Spy Who Loved Me) serve to cheapen the series’ most iconic moments.
Even before you consider the overused and woefully executed CGI, or Lee’s Tamahori’s insistence with dicking about with the camera speed in post-production to show how ‘down with the kids’ he is, this is a facsimile of a Bond film. The effect is to render that startling opening just as ersatz as what follows. It’s as if nothing we watched in the first act mattered. That wise philosopher Bart Simpson once noted that he liked Homer’s half-assed under-parenting a heck of a lot more than his half-assed over-parenting, and Die Another Day would have been more enjoyable – if not necessarily better – had it dispensed entirely with the cack-handed attempt at character development.
Otherwise it’s the launch party for Now That’s What I Call James Bond Vol. 20, and it’s apparent that the designated driver is getting sloshed in the corner. How else to explain the plot of Die Another Day? Bond is incarcerated for 14 months, during which time we’re expected to believe that Colonel Moon has escaped to Cuba, changed his identity, created a megabucks global brand and announced the launch of a fearsome satellite system – and MI6 still hasn’t got any evidence! At least when The Master did this in Doctor Who, the satellite was actually brainwashing the population; here, M is just having a very long blonde moment. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, why does Zao blow up a peace conference just before his boss’ allegedly covert operation is about to commence? That’s a schoolboy error for a Bond villain.
Is it the worst Bond film? Given my love of Diamonds Are Forever, you’re probably asking the wrong guy – but it’s never as boring as Thunderball nor as lacklustre as A View To A Kill. For sure, Halle Berry achieves the single biggest fall in standards in cinema history by filming this at the same time she won her Oscar for Monster’s Ball and yes, the synthetic surfing sequence remains one of the worst set-pieces of the CGI era. Yet (and I’m heading for a geek lynching by saying it) I don’t have a problem with the invisible car – it’s no sillier than a dozen other gadgets from Q Branch – and I have a sneaking admiration for Toby Stephens’ chutzpah. Boy, does he go for it. So, sorry haterz, Die Another Day only gets the bronze medal of bad Bond – it can’t even get ‘being awful’ right.