I can count the positive things about Die Another Day on two fingers: 1) Pierce Brosnan, and 2) the glittery diamonds encrusted in the villain’s cheek so forcefully that they look like tiny comets. Everything else about this movie is executed poorly and without skill or panache. When the big plane, with our heroes and villains on board, catches fire and starts to disintegrate, how stupid is it that the two women remove bits of their clothing and engage in swordplay?
Die Another Day marks the 40th anniversary of the Bond franchise. That’s quite a big deal, if you think about it. 40 years of watching James Bond defeat insane villains, sleep with all kinds of women, play with gadgets that could probably never exist in the real world, and drive beautiful cars that inevitably meet horrific deaths. There is a very strong history attached to this franchise, and the people behind Die Another Day are aware of this. Besides the usual mayhem that Bond either creates or brings with him, the filmmakers have also decided to include references to each of the past movies. From Dr. No right up to The World Is Not Enough, and then some. It’s a novel idea, and it’s great fun trying to spot them, but they add nothing to the plot or the characters.
Let’s start with the plot. The North Koreans have been betrayed by one of their own, a rogue colonel by the name of Moon (Kenneth Tsang), who wants to make benefit glorious nation of North Korea. He has a partner in crime, Zao (Rick Yune), who’s more like a personal bodyguard (he owns one of those mobile phones that has a facial recognition app capable of identifying random people). We meet these two in the pre-credit sequence. They’re in their country’s de-militarised zone, waiting for a shipment of diamonds to arrive. What the diamonds are for exactly, I don’t know. They play a part in the bigger picture, but they’re never explained. Or maybe they are, and I was just too distracted by all the CGI action scenes to really give a damn.
After Bond does away with Moon and is subsequently captured by the Koreans, we jump forward 14 months. Bond has been exchanged by the British for Zao, who must’ve been captured at some point. And a new villain is on the scene, Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), who owns one of the most pleasantly unique lairs in all of Bondian villainhood: A massive hotel complex in Iceland, completely formed out of snow and ice. He also owns one of the most unpleasantly recycled superweapons: A satellite in space that has the power to concentrate the heat of the sun into a singular beam of intense heat. Logic will tell you that both these assets don’t go together. Fire and heat melts ice. Indeed, before long, the entire complex is collapsing and filling up with what should be icy-cold water. This is when Bond, his Bond Girl, Jinx (Halle Berry), Gustav, and his Gustav Girl, Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), fight it out on that big plane I mentioned.
Now let’s move to the characters. Apart from the usual Bond gang, we get a few new additions. There’s Damian Falco (Michael Madsen), who is about as useful to the plot as a needle is to a balloon. There’s Miranda Frost’s fencing instructor, played by Madonna — I think this is the first Bond movie to feature the singer of its theme song. And there’s Jinx, who’s only good to look at. In what is clearly a tribute to Ursula Andress in Dr. No, Jinx introduces herself by emerging from the ocean water in a bikini and utility belt (her subsequent pose is all Berry though), and she looks great. She isn’t a useless Bond Girl, like many of the ones before were, but she isn’t very likable. Berry seems more concerned with looking good and holding a pistol properly than actually being sexy and dangerous. And that’s where she flounders.
Where the entire movie flounders is in its impracticality and silliness. There is too much CGI and too many redundant scenes. When Bond fences with Gustav and turns a friendly spar into an all-out brawl, what is the point? Is it only to pay tribute to Bond’s fight against Chang in Moonraker? When Jinx is tied to a device and is in danger of having her head sliced in two by a laser beam, what is the point of Bond fighting Lawrence Makoare amidst a labyrinth of other laser beams? Director Lee Tamahori certainly has a vision, but it’s clouded by unnecessary spectacle and illogical action sequences. James Bond has endured 40 years of good and bad movies. When faced with a disaster like Die Another Day, our only consolation is that we know he’ll endure it too.
Best Moment | Lawrence Makoare being illuminated by a laser beam shot right through his head and out through his mouth.
Worst Moment | Many. Many many many. Madonna’s cameo. The fencing. The car chase. The vulnerability and invincibility of the ice complex — everything except the structural walls melt when the heat beam is directly on it. How convenient. Also, if it’s made entirely of ice, why can’t Jinx smash the doors open?