I have always hated this film. From the second I saw it in the cinema, excitedly heading in as a James Bond aficionado to catch the latest adventure, I have thought it was an overblown, underwritten and poorly constructed mess that marked the lowest point of a then forty year series that, while I am a fan I have to admit, has seen some ups and downs. The Man With the Golden Gun is quite dull, A View to a Kill lacklustre, The World is Not Enough is narratively inconsistent, You Only Live Twice is casually racist and so many of them are sexist. Die Another Day though is worse than them all.
Inevitably then, while on my pre No Time to Die trail through the 007 catalogue, this is one I had to revisit. Could it possibly be as bad as I remembered?
You appreciate my delight then when while watching it again I thought it wasn’t actually as terrible as I remembered. Pierce Brosnan was giving his same dryly knowing performance, the action scenes were impressive and there was John Cleese as Q in what is a very good interpretation of the role. In writing this piece therefore, I set out to list the things you needed to excuse to be able to appreciate the film, because I could see there were still problems. In doing this though I realised anew quite how long that list is and quite how inexcusable the issues are. Its no good, my enthusiasm couldn’t last with this onslaught of crap. I tried but there is no getting past that on balance Die Another Day is awful.
First off you’ve got the surfing. The opening scene has Bond and two other agents surfing into North Korea which makes little sense. Had they come all the way from Japan this way? Later though there is that ridiculous sequence where Bond para surfs a wave in Iceland having just fallen in the water with the iceberg that caused it. Unbelievable as this is though it is made all the worse by the shoddy special effects work.
All the way through this the CGI and compositing are rubbish. Frankly it looked more convincing when Sean Connery used to drive his DB5 in front of a back projection. The model work is poor too. There is no reason for this. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers came out this same year, using groundbreaking digital effects to created CGI characters yet they couldn’t even make Brosnan look like he was sitting in that orange race car.
I do need to talk about the invisible Aston Martin here. Camera reflection technology is a real thing but it doesn’t work if the thing you are camouflaging, you know, moves. Yet Bond’s car vanishes like the frickin Predator. I was prepared to let this go but it is where most people lost it with this movie. It’s James Bond, not Star Trek.
Then there is director Lee Tamahori’s incessant use of slomo. Oh my god, it is so annoying. It’s like the guy turning the handle on the projector keeps falling asleep. John Woo popularised this technique in the mid eighties and retired it on 2000, two years earlier, but Tamahori uses it like he’s invented bullet time.
Let’s talk about Jinx too. Halle Berry’s NSA agent is set up as the female version of Bond; her and Brosnan mirroring each other’s gun toting stance was the main image on the posters. She was supposed to be this strong, kick ass woman but she is actually just a teenage boy’s fantasy of a strong kick ass woman. Introduced coming out of the sea Ursula Andress style in a bikini, she never gets past this 1962 era objectification because no one on the film wants her to. I know this was one of several ways in which they were trying to reference Bond’s past, this being the fortieth anniversary, but I wish they hadn’t. The low point of this is the stupid scene with the lasers. Do you expect us to talk about this? No Mr. Bond, I expect the reputation of the series to die.
Finally there’s the script. It is especially terrible every time bad guy Gustav Graves opens his mouth but is worse with its smutty innuendos. I know this had long been a trait of the Bond films but there is a big difference between ‘Keeping the British end up’ and ‘Don’t take it out yet, I’m not done with it; it’s a perfect fit.’ It’s not subtle.
In the end this is the problem with Die Another Day, none of it was made with even a modicum of subtlety. It was all just too much. No wonder they needed to completely reinvent everything with Casino Royale four years later and thank goodness they did.
Madonna is fine in it though.