I have a brilliant theory for you all this Across the Bond and Xander just pretty much hates Die Another Day. I can’t say I blame him since he doesn’t grasp my brilliant theory yet. Once you read it though you’ll think, “Oh man, now that movie is only kind of crap instead of insanely stupid.” It’s a good theory.
This marks the end of Brosnan’s tenure sadly as Die Another Day and 9/11 pretty much killed off the direction the franchise was going in. It’s too bad he had to go out on a low note, but the relaunch of Bond was a necessity.
I am illegitimately going to defend Die Another Day here, an action I’m sure Xander will scoff at me for in a very British manner. Look, I’m not about to say that Die Another Day is a good movie. It’s far from it for the most part and exceptionally worse as it gets closer and closer to the end of the film. CGI water surfing James Bond might be the worst moment in Bond history (even worse than the damn slide whistle in Golden Gun). There is a crap ton of bad that goes on in this movie, which I’m sure Xander will elucidate on fully in his bit. But I have a theory and it’s a theory that makes the film way more fun to watch and actually turns some of its bad parts into good parts or if not good at least understandable parts. Hang with me here and I think you’ll get a lot more fun out of Die Another Day when you watch it.
First off it’s important to know that Die Another Day was the 20th Bond film and as such a bit of a celebration considering that’s unheard of in movie franchise terms. So, as you may notice, there are a ton of throwbacks to older Bond movies scattered throughout the film. There’s almost too many to mention that the experienced Bond eye can pick up, but to name a few: the old gadgets in the background of Q’s lab in the metro are from older Bond movies; Halle Berry coming out of the water is a copy of Ursula Andres from Dr. No; Brosnan eats a grape while ducking out a door a la Connery in Thunderball; Bond picks up the book whose author he was named after early in the movie. There’s a plethora more, but clearly the producers, writers and directors were trying to give as many throwbacks as possible to previous Bond films. The movie wasn’t just a new Bond movie; it was a celebration of all of Bond. If that’s the case then why wouldn’t the screenplay be as well?
Now I’m not saying this is a particularly well written screenplay or a great story, but it is a smarter screenplay than you think. See Die Another Day‘s story arch is also the story arc for the Bond franchise. Bond is initially captured and tortured until he is a husk of his former self. We’ve swept away the years of overblown action and we’re back to a spy with no gadgets and little resources other than his charm and connections. In this way the beginning of the film establishes that we’re back to basic with Bond. I personally think that the first part of this film (other than the obnoxious Madonna song) is not too bad. Brosnan gets to flex a bit more emotions than usual with M and it’s definitely a different Bond than we’ve seen in a good long while. Anyway, Bond then shaves and heads to a tropical island and then a “spa.” We’re basically retreading Dr. No and FRWL here (the aforementioned nods to previous films strengthen this theory). He there finds out that his enemy has received plastic surgery and changed his face (Diamonds are Forever). The film then escalates from their to more and more ridiculous heights much like the Bond franchise did over the years. Eventually we’re watching Bond get chased by a giant space laser made out of diamonds with throwbacks to both Moonraker and TSWLM. Basically, Die Another Day perfectly encapsulates the history of Bond, whether that be good or bad. The pattern of Bond films staying small and then getting bigger and bigger has repeated itself a few times, but what we see with Die Another Day is a screenplay that aims to do that in a single movie.
Does this make Die Another Day a good film? No, but it excuses a lot of the crap. The giant laser shooting from space is a lot more tolerable if you think of it as a metaphor for all the insanely stupid stuff that’s happened in Bond films. Jinx is a far less annoying character if you interpret her as the amalgamation of every “independent” Bond girl. Gustav Graves and Zao are far cooler as representations of the ever more ridiculous Bond villains, and their flying fortress plane is far more believable if you’re in the mindset of some of the more grandiose Bonds that have come in the past. Maybe it sounds like I’m just trying to defend some of the clearly awful decisions made in this movie, but I just can’t believe that they’d make many of these choices without a reason. It doesn’t make sense that a group of people who have worked on Bond for so long would make this movie unless they actually wanted to make this movie. Even if I’m entirely wrong about this my theory makes the movie far more fun to watch as a Bond fan. Whether or not this excuses the film for you is up to you to decide, but take another look at it in this light and I think you’ll enjoy it more.
Lee Tamahori is the worst human being to ever be involved with the Bond series. Kevin McClory may pip him, since his persistent legal action was the last nail in Ian Fleming’s coffin, but he got a producer credit on Thunderball without actually working on the movie, so I’m not counting him. Tamahori, though, was involved with every terrible decision that went into the Die Another Day debacle. What he must have done to convince the Broccolis to hire him beggars belief, and not just because he was arrested four years later for offering oral sex to an undercover policeman while dressed in drag. The man clearly had zero knowledge of the series or respect for what made it work. For one thing, the intensely idiotic ‘codename theory’, postulating that every Bond until that point had been playing a different character under an assumed ‘Bond‘ name, originates from him. Never mind that it was debunked by the interviewer in THE SAME CONVERSATION as Tamahori proposed it, the idea has lingered like a bad smell around the series ever since, tediously repeated over and over by people who might have seen one or two Bonds and want to feel clever and controversial. No. Bond continuity is messy, but it’s patently obvious that everyone until Daniel Craig’s reboot was playing the same man, often made clear through references to previous adventures or, most commonly, the loss of Tracy Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Even the most cursory observer can only arrive at the conclusion that Tamahori’s theory is guff. Even this movie’s recall of gadgets from the classic movies and Brosnan’s immediate familiarity with them, suggests it doesn’t even make sense within the director’s own work.
Tamahori’s love of CGI and push for its inclusion in a series acclaimed for the authenticity of its stunts further demonstrates his tragic misunderstanding of what has made Bond tick over the preceding forty years. In promotional interviews, the director boasted about a CG-created scene so realistic no-one would be able to tell it apart from the live action. This boast was similar to one made by the Wachowski brothers (as they were then) a year later for The Matrix Reloaded, and even with a much bigger budget and more advanced technology, they couldn’t pull it off. Needless to say, the scene Tamahori was referring to has gone down in Bond lore as one of the series worst – and yes, that includes the double-taking pigeon inMoonraker – not only for the sub-video game standard of the CGI work in question, but the staggering idiocy of expecting audiences to buy into Bondkite kite-surfing a tsunami. In the outstanding recent documentary Everything Or Nothing, even Pierce Brosnan cracks up at the stupidity of what he was asked to do. The addition of a bullet to the gunbarrel sequence isn’t quite as bad – better than not having one at all, EH SKYFALL – but is a needless, meaningless addition which doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense in any context.
Maybe it’s not entirely fair to put all the blame on Tamahori, despite his being culpable for the worst crimes – urgh, all that slow-motion! Writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, inexplicably still on EON staff, deserve to take a significant chunk of the blame for a screenplay overflowing with painful dialogue, loathsome characters and a superweapon imported wholesale from Diamonds Are Forever. What’s worse is that the story can be loosely interpreted as a bastardisation of Fleming’s Moonraker novel, in which a foreign villain poses as a British national hero and intends to use a space-based weapon to redraw the political landscape. Despite the title, the novel is one of Fleming’s most grounded, at times verging on a work of detective fiction as Bond and undercover Special Branch agent Gala Brand (the original name for Miranda Frost, until the producers, probably correctly, thought it sounded too much like a luxury sausage) gradually discover the truth behind a project secretly intended to destroy London in an act of retaliation by a vindictive enemy hiding in plain sight. In contrast, Die Another Day is an almost non-stop assault by misguided flights of wild fantasy, featuring invisible cars, a Robocop-esque control suit for the villain, an assistant with a Transylvanian accent named Igor and Jinx, a contender for worst ever Bond girl thanks to a series of pathetic wisecracks (‘Yo mama!’) and Halle Berry’s inability to even hold a gun convincingly. Yes, she looks great in a bikini, but so did Britt Eckland.
In fairness, there are a handful of positives, although the fact they’re so badly wasted becomes a further reason to dislike the movie. The idea of Bond being captured and tortured for over a year by enemy forces is a potent one, and the pre-titles sequence is sort of okay but for the shoddy backscreen work and laborious ‘saved by the bell’ pun, though it all goes to pot the moment Madonna’s dreadful theme tune kicks in. Until Alicia Keys and Jack White came along with their incoherent ramblings for the Quantum Of Solace track, Madonna’s was the first Bond song I genuinely disliked – yes, I’ll even listen to Lulu – and only sounds increasingly dated over the passing years. That she was even allowed to cameo in the movie, a grievous little scene where the dialogue solely consists of double-entendres (or maybe single-entendres, they’re so bad), shows the depths of the movie’s creative failure. But anyway, further pluses include Rosamund Pike as Miranda Frost, who somehow manages to be a fairly enjoyable presence despite struggling with some of the movie’s most aggressively awful lines (‘That’s pretty good tailoring…’), and Toby Stevens piling on the hammy smarm as Gustav Graves.
Pierce Brosnan is also comfortable enough in the role to throw in some nice little character grace notes – swiping a villain’s sunglasses, showing a fondness for grapes recalling Thunderball and some uber-swagger walking through a posh hotel lobby sporting soggy pyjamas and a bushy beard – despite playing a character both considerably stupider than usual (yeah, you see how far you get hiding behind that invisible car, James) and too often Commando Bond than Commander Bond. He does some of his best work in the scenes evoking Bond‘s emotional damage, making it even more of a travesty it’s trapped in far and away his worst movie.
Unfortunately, any hint of enjoyment is quickly submerged beneath a CGI tidal wave of awfulness. Countless further paragraphs could be written on the movie’s other crimes, but we all have lives to lead and, frankly, I suspect most of us would rather leave this mess behind. Needless to say, it edges out Diamonds Are Forever for me as the lowest of the Bond low – although at least doesn’t feature a villain wearing drag – and was so dreadful it inspired a full reboot of the series. In one way of looking at it, Die Another Day killed off the James Bond who had gone strong for forty years previous. While Daniel Craig brought the character back to his roots with a vengeance in the following movie, hopefully it will serve as a warning next time anyone at EON so much as dreams about another space laser.