Die Another Day

Synopsis: When his top-secret mission is sabotaged, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) finds himself captured by the enemy, abandoned by M16 and stripped of his 00-license. Determined to get revenge, Bond goes head-to-head with a sultry spy (Oscar winner Halle Barry), a frosty agent (Rosamund Pike) and a shadowy billionaire (Toby Stephens) whose business is diamonds…but whose secret is a diabolical weapon that could bring the world to its knees! Bristling with excitement and bursting with explosive special effects, Die Another Day is an adrenaline-pumping thrill-ride with “stunts and nonstop action [that] will astonish you” (Jeffrey Lyons, WNBC-TV)!

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Die Another Day 7.0

*** WARNING: SPOILERS INCLUDED HEREIN ***

After 40 years and 19 movies on the silver screen, intense competition from the Die Hards, Lethal Weapons, and purportedly, the XXXs of modern action cinema, what are the 007 producers supposed to do to keep James Bond fresh, accessible, and entertaining?

Easy. Just pile it on. More is always better.

Unfortunately, what the producers fail to understand, is that in their quest to remain relevant they are their own worst enemy. Moore, uh, I mean… more is not always better. In this case, more is only more.

The producers are forgetting that they will need to compete with their last film on the next outing. With an ever-increasing array of gadgets, stunts, explosions, and fight-scenes, it seems very unlikely that ANY film-maker will be able to contain more incidentals without hacking the movie in the editing room.

Having said that, let’s dissect the new Bond movie:

The writers and producers are keeping up with modern times and are willingly catering to its cool, young audience – the very first scene involves surfing! Yes, surfing. Not a big problem, if we weren’t exposed to an overly long montage of waves that are certainly meant to impress the very crowd that actually thought “XXX” was a good movie.

Had they kept it understated, it would have worked. But no. They might as well have played a Beach Boys tune over it (let’s remember that they did exactly that in the tongue-in-cheek opening to “A View To A Kill”. Retch).

The opening sequence was palatable in spite of this – the infiltration by Bond into a weapons transaction is similar in tone to the opening sequence of “Tomorrow Never Dies”. If it worked once, it could certainly work again, of course.

The requisite explosive chase scene ensues, enthralls, but then concludes on the wrong note. The traditional James Bond movie would have implied Bond’s capture, and then faded to the opening credits. But where they would have faded out, at the water pouring down a small waterfall, they instead trodded on for a little bit to explain in detail what will then happen to Bond.

It could have been worse, much worse – it could have been the endless opening sequence of “The World Is Not Enough”. The opening sequence should be a teaser – not a full-length exposé.

In keeping with modern cinema, the audience is considered too stupid to understand subtleties. We are therefore privy to a montage of Bond being tortured by his jailers. The new Bond, for those not keeping up with current traditions, is a grittier Bond, and he faces “real” danger as often as possible. So REAL, in fact, that there is no doubt in our minds that James Bond will not die another day and won’t be around for a 21st mission!

And this is where the opening sequence ends, and the calamitous theme songs starts!!!

As a promotional coup, getting Madonna for the theme song is brilliant. The 20th Bond requires a big name, and no one gets bigger than Madonna. However, the theme song is the worst Bond song in the 40-year series: it isn’t epic, hummable, and cannot be used as a recurring theme during the film.

Instead, it is more reminiscent of Madonna’s recent hit song “Music”; it’s an electronic, funky number, that requires even less vocal skills than Madonna has ever needed in her career (and that says a lot, considering her vocal stylings early on). It’s a good pop song, a good Madonna single, but by far the worst James Bond song ever.

During these credit, we are exposed to more footage of 007 being tortured. Oh joy. Exactly what everyone wants to see. Bring out the kiddies!

And so we discover that Bond has been incarcerated for 14 months, has been tortured endlessly, has grown a beard and long hair. Could Bond actually be real? Pierce Brosnan has been so busy making his James Bond cool that you’d almost have expected him to eat his hair off to keep it short and well-groomed!

In fact, his main fault as James Bond is that he tries too hard. Pierce Brosnan oozes cool. When he first came to the series, he was the epitome of effortless cool. He has since become a bit self-conscious in his efforts to make Bond swagger. He shouldn’t try to act out Bond’s coolness – it then feels like a bit of over-acting. Some people are cool, others are poseurs. Die Another Day’s Bond is a bit of a poseur.

Eventually, 007 makes his way out, and after 14 months of malnutrition at the hands of his captors, he stumbles out to freedom with… a gut? Clearly, recent years and successes have made Bond… uh, I mean, Brosnan eat much more foie gras than when he was on television, but for the sake of realism, please throw a girdle on him for a couple of minutes!!!

Bond is disowned by M16, having become damaged goods with all the torture he suffered – he is considered a weak link who may very well have revealed official secrets to the enemy. He is then isolated by his employers, who need to assess the situation before letting him go.

And here comes an example of the problem with the new movie: Bond manages to fake his death using shallow breathing techniques (a credible technique that does exist and that he could have learned over the years). However, this whole scene is constructed using slow-motion and jump-cutting.

Instead of clearly, slowly detailing what Bond is up to and explaining the ensuing debacle, the movie tries to make it “exciting” by turning it into an action piece.

This movie is so busy being an action movie that is forgoes much of the intrigue and adventure that should be synonymous with James Bond. In trying to compete with other very popular series, it is trying to become something other than what these very series are often trying to emulate.

The James Bond series owes much to espionage movies such as “North By Northwest” in their tone, but it is still an original. No other modern series will be able to survive 20 movies, many changes of the guard, and changing times quite like it has. By trying to become an action series, it is changing its formula for success and lands itself right in a mix that is disposable by definition alone – the action movie, a formula based on theatrics instead of performance and exposition.

The movie treads on with an over-the-top laser-laden fist fight: take Goldfinger’s laser torture scene and turn into a manic action sequence and there you have it. It would have been alright if the moving lasers didn’t move quite as fast – while fighting, no one could dodge so many lasers moving at that speed, not even 007. Had they slowed it down by half it would have been credible to a certain extent. But now it’s just a stupid cartoonish sequence perfect for a video game segment.

The ending duel of “The Phantom Menace” between Darth Maul, Qui Gong and Obi Wan Kenobi is a great example of using time to add tension (instead of using acceleration and jump-cutting). If only the people behind James Bond understood that concept…

There’s another surfing sequence to wake up the cool, young audience that dozed off since the beginning sequence. It proves another point – real stunts feel more exciting than blue-screened, computer-enhanced trickery.

Use simpler stunts, but have stuntmen make them for real. The James Bond series started it all, including such notable stunts like the bridge-jump in “The Man With The Golden Gun” and the bungee-jump in “GoldenEye”. They were real. They were exciting – even the simpler ones.

Worst case scenario: make them real, but enhance them subtly with CGI.

But this second surfing sequence was retched – it looked as realistic as most of “Attack Of The Clones”. As useful a tool as a PC can be, it still doesn’t produce realistic effects. They might as well have made 007 surf donning his tuxedo, to make it more ridiculous!

The usual logic is lacking in the storytelling, of course (including a ridiculous stealth-car infiltration of Graves’ compound!), but we won’t criticize that – ever since “You Only Live Twice”, logic has escaped Bond regularly.

Let’s just say that suspension of disbelief is required to the full during this film.

The dialogue was riddled with clichés and puns, as per usual, only more so. There were hardly any real exchanges in the movie – but thankfully, until the stomach-churning closing sequence between Jinx and Bond, the dialogue was relatively enjoyable.

Many of the characters and actors were finally used appropriately.

“M” was authoritarian without seeming overly mean, and at least she didn’t get kidnapped and wind up in the field, acting like MacGuyver!

“Q” didn’t act like a twit like when he was only “R” – no googling eyes and pratfalling, thankfully. He was witty and charismatic, as only John Cleese can be. He doesn’t replace Desmond Llewelyn, but he makes a very worthy successor now.

Miss Moneypenny was hardly used, but the little screen time she got was put to great use.

The requisite “Bond Girls” were decent, erasing the poisonous memory of Denise Richards’ dreadful acting and plastic surgery-laden features. Halle Berry should be doing theatre instead of cinema – her delivery is too obvious a performance for the screen. But it was well-performed nonetheless. Quite unlike Madonna’s few seconds on screen – she couldn’t deliver a line if Bond’s life depended on it, even after years of experience. As for Rosamund Pike… well, she was rather frosty, but she got by adequately – for a Bond actress.

The gadgets were efficient, somewhat believable (they should always tease one’s imagination in the first place!), and were thankfully few; Bond didn’t have to rely on them. He also didn’t rely on wits, but an action movie needs more action sequences anyway, right?

David Arnold’s music was very good, as per usual, although the cinema we were in was far too loud and had too much bass to clearly discern the layers in his compositions.

The direction was standard, but was surprisingly flashy and overdone considering Lee Tamahori is the same person who made “Once We Were Warriors”. This must be the producers’ doing, since he can certainly do better than this.

Overall, “Die Another Day” is a good entry in the Bond canon. An 8 out of 10 as far as Bond movies go. As a motion picture, it ranks a 7 out of 10. It is fun, but it is clearly disposable fun. It won’t make you emote in any fashion – it may not even succeed in making you projectile vomit everywhere either (which may be its strong point!).

As for Brosnan’s legacy, it is certainly the most consistent Bond he’s made. “Tomorrow Never Dies” had the most potential, but it went limp midway. Goldeneye lacked excitement and music (the requisite James Bond Theme appeared once in the whole film!). “The World Is Not Enough” was just not enough. It was serious, which was good, but it got hampered by nauseating acting and misuse of the James Bond characters.

As a 20th movie and 40th Anniversary entry, it was certainly lacking. They made references to other movies or had inside jokes, but it could have been much more: they could have landed Connery or Moore as a villain, could have had plenty of cameos by other actors from the series (leading ladies and others), and could have returned Bond to his roots instead of trying to make him BIGGER, and more slick.

Plus which they could have brought back a worthy adversary like SPECTRE or even an offshoot of SMERSH – an organisation bent on world domination seems more realistic in today’s reality. After all… how many rich, insane, twisted individuals with great connections roam this planet anyway?

What do you think?

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