We’ve celebrated the 60th anniversary of the James Bond franchise many times this season, but there’s another interesting anniversary happening this November 2022. Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan’s final outing as 007 (and the 20th movie in the franchise for that matter) is now 20 years old! Directed by filmmaker Lee Tamahori from New Zealand, Die Another Day closed the chapter on the Brosnan era on November 22, 2002 and, by doing so, ushered in the Daniel Craig era, which can be safely stated as the complete opposite of the Brosnan era.
As this was both Fred and Sean’s first experience with James Bond in the theatres as young kids back in 2002, they want to take the time to think back on it: the good…and yes, the VERY bad. Of course, cutting to the chase, this movie is not great…but just how bad, really? For most fans of the franchise, but also regular viewers, Die Another Day has a terrible reputation. Often ranked as the worst movie in the series by critics, we like to say that this is the Batman & Robin of the 007 universe. Although it is not a great film by any standard, we do think there are a few redeemable qualities in the movie, which are, unfortunately, buried beneath the mountain of cringe.
Here’s a little recap of the plot. Undercover as an arms dealer, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan, still excellent) is sent to North Korea in order to assassinate a military Colonel named Moon who is threatening the West. The mission goes bad after Bond’s identity is revealed. He tries to escape from the North Koreans, but finally gets captured after seeing the Colonel fall to his death. After a full year as a prisoner being tortured for information, MI6 decides to swap him for one of the Colonel’s men, Zao (Rick Yune), to avoid seeing Bond crack under the pressure and unintentionally revealing state secrets. Having lost the faith of M (Judi Dench) and his MI6 colleagues, as a result, Bond flees to retrace the steps of Zao in Cuba, where he will meet the mysterious NSA agent Jinx (Halle Berry), who seems to be looking for the same criminal as he is. What starts as a personal vendetta mission becomes much bigger, as their path will cross with a British millionaire named Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) who is getting ready to inaugurate a revolutionary satellite during an exclusive presentation in Iceland.
A thrill ride filled with Vodka Martinis, invisible Aston Martins Vanquish, a cyborg suit filled with electricity and more sexual punch lines than an Austin Powers movie, this is an imperfect entertainment ride.
What Actually Works
It’s important to take the time to recognize that this film does have a few qualities, and they ALMOST succeeded in making it redeemable in its first act (for about 30 minutes). The first half of the film is undeniably better than the rest, as it followed a more unique route where Bond is a prisoner of war for the very first time and goes rogue, using his wits and minimal resources to begin the investigation. There’s certainly a grittier element to this opening act, one that seems wildly at odds with the rest of the film’s almost satirical delivery. Once Jinx gets introduced in Cuba, the movie begins to pivot and things just go off the rails when they go to Iceland, with absurd action, special effects and misplaced humour (and PUNS, SO MANY PUNS). But let’s just give a shoutout to Zao’s diamond-encrusted face, it’s such an awesome villain design, but Rick Yune’s performance is not memorable at all. He is an American actor playing a Korean soldier…so maybe he can sound a little more foreign and drop the California accent he got from the original The Fast & the furious (2001)? Just a thought.
I think it’s fair to raise our hat to Pierce Brosnan for being able to pull off a great James Bond in uneven films. Of all the 6 actors who portrayed him, Pierce was perhaps given the worst scripts. Although Fred has very fond memories of Goldeneye (1995) and The World is not Enough (1999) and Sean really likes Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), the films he made are decidedly weaker compared to the classics of the 60s and now the new Daniel Craig films that go deeper into the secret agent’s personal demons. It’s a shame that Die Another Day is the final time Pierce was able to wear the tuxedo, as it didn’t do him justice as a great balanced James Bond. If anything, it was a terrible misfire to exit the franchise. As mentioned in our actors ranking, Pierce was efficient in merging many qualities of some of the others, including Sean Connery’s manliness, Roger Moore’s charm and Dalton’s killer instinct. Not convinced yet? What if we told you that the great Quentin Tarantino finds Pierce to be one of the greatest Bonds, the second best after Connery? He even pitched a Bond film starring Pierce, while intoxicated with alcohol in a hotel, so he was pretty serious about it! For a guy who has seen many thousands of movies, that’s something.
A smaller, but more important role in Die Another Day is Rosamund Pike as Miranda Frost, the lead MI6 traitor who sold Bond’s real identity to the North Koreans in the film’s opening. In her debut role, she is actually pretty good, icy and fatal (12 years before Gone Girl no less, which is considered her apex). Although we see the twist coming miles away, she is the better ingredient in the messy group of villains as a cold and sexy femme fatale and a stronger screen presence than Berry’s Jinx.
The Guilty Pleasure
We’re not sure how to categorize this, as the absurdity present is overwhelming (looking at you, invisible car), but the chase itself still is cool. The Aston Martin vs. the Jaguar frozen lake car chase is pretty authentic in the film, and even in the franchise itself. It’s absurd but also genuinely entertaining, also considering the great stunts, the use of gadgets, but also the amazing soundtrack from composer David Arnold. Since the very first use of a pimped-out Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger (1964), where Sean Connery wowed audiences with an ejectable seat, Die Another Day has a nice call-back to this era, as the Vanquish performs a 180 degrees flip using that same technology. Also, props to the practical effects and set design team, we are witnessing a wonderful location and very cool-looking roaring cars. It’s always a thrill to watch car chases that take place in locations that aren’t just roads, so seeing these two weaponized luxury cars take to the frozen lakes in Iceland is definitely unique and original.
Without considering the movie’s massive flaws, it’s hard to deny that the Die Another Day car chase is legendary once we compare it to the other car chases in the series (not counting other vehicles like boats, tanks and planes). It’s the very first time in 40 years that Bond goes against a sports car as fast, with as many lethal gadgets, for at least 7 to 10 minutes. For the Bond fans who remain young at heart, especially us kids who witnessed this in the theatres, it’s an efficient way to get a younger generation into the world of James Bond. It’s a narratively simple scene, but it’s also really cool and a great showcase for these luxury cars. A friend of Fred bought both cars in miniature…which made him a pretty jealous young man at that time.
What Still Stinks
Yeah, we’re in the shit now! There’s a ton to mention in this category, but let’s start with the obvious: Halle Berry is and remains one of the worst female leads in the entire franchise. Although a gifted actress at times (we like her as Storm in the X-Men movies and she won her Oscar in 2002 for Monster’s Ball), her dialogue was so poorly written in this film, she sounds like a drama queen using street talk to keep up with James. Surprising but true, Halle Berry was in discussion following the shoot of Die Another Day to have her own solo film where Jinx would come back on her own dime. Thank god this didn’t happen. We never really buy their romance and she is one (if not THE) reason why the sexual puns of the movie fall flat. The romance between Bond and Miranda Frost is much more believable and interesting, we would take that any day over Halle Berry’s infamous punch line “your mama” when Zao asks her “who sent you?”.
There is an ‘uniconic’ scene in Die Another Day that is a trademark of the bad special effects in the early 2000s, and of course, we’re talking of that para surfing scene on a massive wave. That sets the tone for the final act of the film, where CGI and digital filmmaking is present everywhere, making everything not so realistic, but a spoof of a futuristic Spy Kids movie. It’s a terrible scene and one of the worst action sequences in all of Bond’s filmography. Hard to just disregard it. What can also be said about Icarus, the satellite that shoots a heat beam on Earth to destroy everything in its path? Gotta love the 2000s, baby!
Another epic fail in the movie is the final act, which sees Graves fighting Bond in a cargo plane…only he’s wearing a dumb suit that shoots electricity out of a gauntlet. Yup, that happened. When compared to the gritter opening act, this final showdown seems like a Saturday morning cartoon and is just so at odds with the movie and the franchise overall. It’s a lost piece of science fiction that would be seen on TV that just made its way into the 007 franchise.
Finally, it’s important to save some space for the main villain of Die Another Day: Gustav Graves. Spoiler alert (duh), but it is revealed that Graves was actually Colonel Moon all along, who survived his fall from the movie’s opening but decided to change his physical appearance, voice and gestures through DNA gene therapy. Interestingly, in one of the better scenes of the film, Graves reveals to Bond that he chose to model his new alter ago’s swagger on Bond himself to present a distinguishing character to the world. So, in a way, how Toby Stephens plays Graves actually kinda works, as he sounds like a carbon copy of Brosnan for most of the film, but with an over-abundance of confidence. What we don’t buy is that he is supposed to be an entirely different man from the beginning of the film, both physically and psychologically. Hard to believe that the gene therapy works SO well in 2002.
In the end, after 20 years, did our appreciation of the film change? Nope, it’s still pretty bad. However, there’s a growing interest in Brosnan’s legacy as Bond as fans are starting to rediscover him and appreciate his well-balanced interpretation. In capable hands, with a good script, Pierce could have been truly memorable as 007. In our professional opinion, in an alternate universe (depending on EON and Amazon’s ambitions), there is a place for Brosnan to come back as an older and more serious 00-agent. He is one of the coolest stylish grey foxes there is (see Black Adam to take our meaning). What if Tarantino’s idea wasn’t so bad after all…
*PS – We actually love the theme song from Madonna, we accept that we’re in the minority haha! –What do you mean “we” Fred??
Fred and Sean’s Final Grade: 5/10
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