Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bond Is Forever: “Die Another Day”

On assignment in North Korea, British agent James Bond’s (Pierce Brosnan) identity is exposed. Bond attempts an escape, as Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) apparently falls to his death, but 007 is ensnared and tortured extensively. Fourteen months later, Bond is released, as MI6 trades him for Zao (Rick Yune), who’s been disfigured with diamonds embedded into the right side of his face, the result of a rigged case from Bond’s previous mission. M (Judi Dench) explains to 007 that MI6 believed that he was leaking information while in captivity, but Bond attributes MI6’s presumption, as well as his blown cover, to an informer working in the West, as suggested by the colonel’s father, General Moon (Kenneth Tsang). Secured by MI6, Bond evades the agency and tracks Zao from Hong Kong to Havana, Cuba, encountering NSA agent Jinx (Halle Berry) along the way. Bond is ultimately led to his home turf of London, where a pompous British entrepreneur, Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), has ties to Zao and another MI6 agent, Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), who’s deep undercover. Graves, expediting a project known as the Icarus Space Program, has much more in mind than obtaining diamonds.

Die Another Day (2002), the sole Bond film from director Lee Tamahori, is a largely underrated entry in the series. Most criticisms of the film cite Bond’s reliance on gadgets and the abundance of CGI. The complaint of 007’s gadgets, which has been voiced of a great number of the series’ movies, tends to negate the first half of Die Another Day. Upon evading MI6, Bond is rogue, and he travels from Hong Kong to Cuba to England without the benefit of gadgets and having to make do with standard binoculars and a revolver. Only when he connects with Q (John Cleese) does he have the opportunity to utilize MI6’s specialized weaponry. The CGI in Die Another Day is admittedly overwhelming at times, particularly in a sequence near the end which almost resembles a computer game in play. This, however, is really a technical issue, perhaps the filmmakers overextending themselves. One might as well complain about the pronounced rear projection in more popular films such as Roger Moore skiing in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) or Sean Connery driving a car in Goldfinger (1964) or Thunderball (1965).

In addition to a distinctively convoluted plot that bounces Bond to beautiful locations around the world, Die Another Day is bolstered by expressive characters and zealous performances. Halle Berry, fresh from her award-winning turn in the previous year’s Monster’s Ball (including an Oscar), displays panache as Jinx. The agent’s initial scene with Bond is memorable, as 007’s typical seduction is counterbalanced by Jinx’ alluring mannerism; in other words, it’s difficult to tell who’s seducing whom. Viewers may favor Jinx in that regard, as it is Bond who wakes up to an empty bed. Stephens as Graves is a sour note, and it’s especially discouraging that he essentially takes over for Will Yun Lee as the lead villain, when Lee is far more energetic. Nevertheless, Pike as Miranda Frost and Yune as Zao more than compensate for Stephens’ shortcomings. Pike makes Miranda an appropriately cryptic character, her bitter demeanor towards 007 a sign of either distrust or secrecy. The tall, handsome Yune spends much of the film with his sparkling blemish to accommodate his pale skin, icy blue eyes and lack of eyebrows (the aftereffect of undergoing gene therapy). He’s a formidable opponent worthy of Bond.

There are numerous references to other films in the Bond series, the most notable being previously used gadgets clearly visible when Bond is with Q (e.g., the bladed shoe from 1963’s From Russia with Love, the crocodile sub in 1983’s Octopussy, and the
breathing apparatus from Thunderball, the latter which 007 uses in Die Another Day), Jinx’ emergence from the ocean echoing Honey Rider (Ursula Andress) in Dr. No (1962), and the NSA agent also bound and threatened with a laser, much like 007 in Goldfinger. In the script, elements of Ian Fleming’s novel, Moonraker, were incorporated, mostly pertaining to the villains. Additionally, Colonel Tan-Sun Moon’s name was likely inspired by the titular character in 1968’s Colonel Sun, written by Kingsley Amis (under the pseudonym of Robert Markham), the first Bond novel published after Fleming’s death, and the only one, discounting novelizations, until John Gardner continued the series in 1981.

Q supplies Bond with a sublime Aston Martin Vanquish, and 007 is eventually pursued by Zao in a Jaguar XKR. Both cars are, of course, outfitted excessively with munitions. Not to be outdone, Jinx drives a 2003 Ford Thunderbird, an elegant beauty on four wheels which is either unarmed or simply not given a chance to blow anything up. Ford released a limited edition 007 Thunderbird similar to Jinx’ car but with a slight difference: Her car was coral throughout (the color as described by the manufacturer, though it looks burgundy to match her attire), while the limited edition T-Bird had a white hardtop.

The film’s title song was performed by Madonna, who has a cameo as a fencing instructor. The opening credits differ from other Bond movies, as the focus is less on the sensuality of the series, and more on 007’s 14-month interrogation, consisting of regular beatings courtesy of the North Korean soldiers. Furthermore, the only soldier shown in clear detail is a beautiful female whom Bond sees when first taken into the room that will be his prison. She’s seen again during the credits, a reversal of sorts, as she seems to represent the lovely ladies typically the target of the spy’s philandering ways and at whose hands Bond is now suffering.

This was the second Bond film for John Cleese and the first movie without Desmond Llewelyn as Q since he debuted in the second of the series, From Russia with Love (with the exception of 1973’s Live and Let Die, in which Q does not appear). Though Cleese is credited in Die Another Day as Q (since it merely signifies his position), Bond never refers to him as such, only calling him Quartermaster. To date, the character of Q has not appeared in the Bond films with Daniel Craig.

On the plane ride to London, Bond is served a martini by a flight attendant played by Deborah Moore, daughter of previous 007 Roger Moore. The same year as Die Another Day, Hong Kong star Kenneth Tsang appeared in The Touch with Bond Girl, Michelle Yeoh, the two actors also sharing scenes with Jackie Chan in Police Story III: Supercop (1992).

This was the final film for Pierce Brosnan. Following Die Another Day, most presumed that the actor would be appearing in a fifth film, as audiences remained responsive to his portrayal of 007. However, amidst rumors of the studio prospecting for a young actor in the role (though Brosnan was only 49 in
2002, compared to Roger Moore, who announced his retirement at the age of 58), Brosnan left the series, or at least publicly stated that he was doing so. In the press, the actor cordially supported Daniel Craig’s casting. Brosnan will be remembered as a dashing, incomparable spy, and a distinguished actor whose portrayal of 007 will be forever ingrained in viewers’ hearts and minds.

My wife and I are fans of Die Another Day: the consistently impressive Brosnan, Berry as the resilient and self-assured Jinx, an imposing and vicious scoundrel in the form of Zao, and the reliable M, Q, Miss Moneypenny (Samantha Bond), and action set pieces. It is unquestionably flawed, and some critics boil grievances down to a singular component: the optional cloaking device for the Aston Martin Vanquish, allowing the vehicle to disappear. But if I have the choice between watching the Vanquish vanish, watching 007 float aimlessly in outer space (1979’s Moonraker) or watching the pale British agent pass for a Japanese man with bushy eyebrows (1967’s You Only Live Twice), I’ll take the invisible car.

Bond Is Forever will return next month with A View to a Kill (1985).


  1. This was the only Bond film I didn't like. I tolerated Moonraker, but this seemed a re-maker of Dr. No with Halle Berry doing what she could to resemble Ursula Andress. Brosnan seem a wee bit long in the tooth to be doing what he did in the film. They seem to rely more on gagetry than story in this film. Not a good film.

  2. Sark, this was another well-written and informative Bond review. It took me a film to warm up to Pierce, but I rather liked him as 007. I think he could have made another couple of films. I guess Michael and Barbara just wanted to reboot the franchise. Don't get me wrong...I like Craig and particularly CASINO ROYALE. Interesting to learn Ms. Moore was in DAD. Great Bond trivia!

  3. Sark, I apologize for being late with my comment -- but I never miss one of your Bond reviews! I liked Pierce Brosnan as Bond, and it's hard to believe anybody would think him too old! It's getting ridiculous, the Hollywood trend of younger and younger being the only acceptable thing - pretty soon we could have a 16-year old Bond! LOL!

    What a cool enemy Yune is -- diamonds embedded in his face, no eyebrows -- only in a Bond movie! Great picture of him. I loved your description of Jinx as the seducer, with Bond being the one to wake up to an empty bed. It's about time! You are so Bond knowledgable with your examples of other Bond events taking place in this movie. And I am surprised that the opening was so different. I haven't seen this, but just the credits sound intriguing, not to mention what sounds like a perhaps flawed, but darned good movie.

    Another great review, Sark!

  4. I think this is pretty good Bond film, with some caveats. I loathe Madonna's title song, as I do almost all the title songs in the post-Cubby Broccoli era. The absolute nadir is Jack White's drooling for "Quantum of Solace. How these songs get approved is one of the great mysteries of our time. I mean they are beyond bad.

    I like Brosnan as Bond just fine, especially in "Golden Eye" but I wish he had better scripts to work with. Not his fault, but the scripts for his last three are pretty weak. This is probably his strongest since his first. I adore Halle Berry as Jinx and think her and Bond make a good team. I also like the fight scene at the end as the plane is literally breaking up around them as the satellite's death beam is creating havoc below them. Great stuff.

    I could also do without the annoying ramping in some scenes and the embarassingly bad CGI scenes.

    But all in all, a good show. Brosnan went out on a high note.

  5. Sark, I always look forward to your thorough and interesting Bond series posts. Brosnan was very strong as Bond. I did not know or had forgotten that Roger Moore's daughter made a brief appearance as a flight attendant. I love small touches like that! Excellent article as always!