Die Another Day
by Del Harvey
The 20th Bond film in 40 years pays homage to the early films while securing Brosnan as the once and future 007.
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I’ve read a number of reviews about this film, ranging from the confused to disgruntled to sublime. And so it was with some apprehension that I went to see Die Another Day. The 20th film included plenty of images we’ve all grown to accept as belonging to the Bond franchise, such the now signature opening clip featuring a camera lens blipping across the screen to the right, then scanning left as it follows Bond’s silhouette just before he draws a pistol and fires at the audience. The next sequence was much longer than the usual 3-minute opening action piece aimed at getting our blood racing, but for good reason. 007 (Pierce Brosnan) has been captured in the course of carrying out his mission and is held captive and tortured by the North Koreans for 14 months. When he is finally traded, it is for the evil Zao (Rick Yune), who survived Bond’s earlier mission and went on to kill several important Chinese delegates. Bond’s reception back home is a bit chilly, as M (Judi Dench) worries he may have unknowingly given information while under the influence of drugs or tortured out of his mind. But this is James, as dedicated, loyal, and true as they come. When he realizes his predicament, he goes rogue, determined to learn who set him up and why.
Die Another Day is an excellent entry into the James Bond series, now the longest-running film series in history. Considering it was 40 years ago when the first Bond film hit the screen with Dr. No, and considering the gamut of genres the films have veered into, it is amazing that the franchise has lasted this long. The author of the original books, Ian Fleming, created a tough, no-nonsense spy whose exploits were much more down to Earth and real than any of the films have ever been, with the possible exception of Dr. No. In a way, the films have inspired much of the far-fetched action, adventure, sci-fi, and thriller films which have come along these past 40 years. The celluloid Bond is a tough loner who can overcome any threat with his wits or through violent action. His presence typically signifies a wave of explosions, a series of near-impossible stunts and action scenes, and not a few smoldering run-ins with the opposite sex. Now, how many films sound like that?
And, as Hollywood is continuously attempting to outdo itself, this is no truer anywhere else as much as it is with the Bond series. Often downright silly, there have been Bond films whose sole purpose seems to have been to out-explode, out-gun, or out-wow the previous film. Once Sean Connery left the series, its creators struggled to keep the audience’s attention, offering up improbable and laughable plots and characters in what was ultimately a disservice to then-Bond Roger Moore and the millions of loyal fans worldwide. As other Bonds have come and gone, including George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton, the one actor who most sought the role finally won it, and thank goodness, because Brosnan is the best Bond since Connery, if not better.
Unlike those earlier Bond films where he so often was forced to defeat a comic-book villain, Die Another Day offers up several individuals who are borne of war; warriors whose thirst for power and superiority have led them to the darkest reaches of corruption. The fantastic element comes in via genetic mutation. And, of course, those wonderful gadgets which no self-respecting James Bond film would be without. On hand to dole them out to our ultra violent civil servant is the good Quartermaster, aka ‘Q,’ now played by Monty Python’s John Cleese. And there could never be a better replacement for Desmond Llewellyn anywhere on Earth.
Much has been written about Bond’s Die Another Day co-star Halle Berry as Jinx, an American agent who crosses his path and shares his bed. In many ways Berry’s character is the culmination of all the Bond women who have come before, and is by far the best. At times she almost transforms the film into a buddy picture, and we don’t mind at all. The other new Bond ‘girl’ is Rosamund Pike as Miranda Frost, as cold on the outside as her name suggests, but a scintillating beauty with a hot core.
The bad guys include the aforementioned Zao (Rick Yune - Fast and Furious), a North Korean soldier and killer-without-remorse, who reports directly to Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee). Wealthy power-hungry industrialist Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens - Possession, Orlando) is the top dog amongst this pack of evildoers, and one of the best Bond villains in many years. There are a couple of surprise appearances, including Madonna as Verity, a fencing teacher, and Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Species) as Falco, Jinx’ boss and M’s U.S. counterpart.
Director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors) does a fine job of directing the film, although the second-unit directors and camera artists probably deserve as much credit, as do the sound technicians and blue screen artists. I will add that my comments on this film are based upon the series as it stands, and not upon any other personal standards which would be folly to attempt, and which other reviewers have done. The films are not the books and they have not always been good, but they are now a tried and true formula, and one which the Broccoli family has excelled at. So, to the other reviewers, I say, “Get over it.”
Die Another Day is exciting and suspenseful, and a very appropriate entry in the Bond series. If you’re a fan of the Bond films, forget those other reviews and see Die Another Day. If you like Bond, you won’t be disappointed.
Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of Film Monthly. He currently lives in Southern California, is a devout Chicago Bears fan, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College for giggles.
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