Director: Lee Tamahori
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Kenneth Tsang, Colin Salmon, John Cleese, Samantha Bond, Will Yun Lee, Michael Madsen and Judi Dench
Plot: A double agent leaks information suggesting James Bond (Brosnan) sold secrets when imprisoned by the Koreans. Bond breaks out of his cell to hunt down the traitor in MI6.
Die Another Day did not go down well, when it was first released. Some argue that this movie nearly destroyed the Bond franchise, taking a complete makeover with Casino Royale to bring it back to mainstream cinema.
It is easy to see why. The action has never been this messy. Brosnan’s films often depict the agent going against massive leaps in technology. A grand theme of his era in the Bond canon is that the enemies in the shadows have slowly been building unstoppable pieces of technology (an allegory for nuclear weapons, one presumes), and 007 has to really push himself to save the day. As we hit Die Another Day, that side of things is pushed too far. Solaris, a massive laser in the sky, fires out a Goldfinger style laser from space that Bond must outrun. The bad guys have their own Mission Impossible face-changing equipment. Even Bond’s gadgets are getting more and more ridiculous. His car has the ability to turn invisible, something the cast try to parody with a couple of disbelieving gags, but the fact that James Bond has the arsenal of a superhero team is just too hard to simply laugh off. The worst thing that these misfires do is put the rest of Brosnan’s era in a bad light. Before Die Another Day, the actor was the best thing since Connery. Now, his films have been lumped as one big mess, uncontrollable camp action with no grace. The fun of the last three films appears to be all but forgotten, and all it took was one Madonna song.
Remember when I reviewed World is Not Enough and applauded the three-dimensional characters. We are back at square one with Die Another Day. Elektra King’s complex Bond girl has been replaced with Jynx, Halle Berry punching her way through a script with zero personality and even less shame. Sure, she is just as tough as 007, but your feminist argument goes out the window, when she needs to be rescued every other scene and the camera spends more time panning across her chest than it does the gorgeous scenery. Rosamund Pike might be a stronger actress, but she feels like she has been looking over what the last 19 films of Bond girls had done, rather than finding an original take on the stock character. To be fair to the girl, Miranda Frost’s key feature is her steely poker face, her cold composure that is frostier than both her name and the Ice Palace. You just wish that there was a little more complex character arc for the character to tackle. Then we have Toby Stephens’ Gustav Graves, topping Jonathan Pryce for pantomime villainy. Sean Bean and Robert Carlyle had layers to their baddies, but Stephens is happy to simply cackle like a mastermind villain and swing a sword. The character list just screams a step back for the entire franchise.
But all is not lost. There is a good few years between us and Die Another Day now, and once the disappointments have had time to settle, we can learn to appreciate Brosnan’s final film. As ever, that sense of unflappable fun saves the day. Pierce Brosnan almost benefits from the supporting cast’s poorly written characters because he becomes the best thing about the movie. Cool, suave and sophisticated, there isn’t too much to hate about Brosnan’s 007. And even if the characters are one-dimensional, the cast have the time of their lives with them. Can you blame Toby Stephens for over-acting his bad guy, when the script gives him no other way to be remembered? Yes, some of the gadgets and fights are messy, but some of them work. The car chase over the ice is the highlight of the film, Bond finally getting a bad guy with a car just as dangerous as his. The comparisons between Graves and Bond are hard to miss and a sword fight in a gentleman’s club provides a meaty showdown between the two parallels. Yes, this is silly fun, the kind of dumb action that we expect from Lethal Weapon and Mission Impossible, but it still hits the mark. A forgivable disaster.
Final Verdict: Yes, sadly, it does mean that Brosnan has one black mark on his record before bowing out of the role, but at least Die Another Day ends with enough face to be forgiven.