One would hope that when a movie franchise reaches both its 40th anniversary and its 20th film at the same time, they’d want to do their best to create the greatest entry in the franchise’s history. Yet Die Another Day, which released just over a month after the 40th anniversary of Dr. No, isn’t anywhere close to the best in the franchise. At the time of its release, reviews were mixed, and general opinions of the movie have gone way down since.
Despite how the movie earned $435 million, making it the highest earning film in the franchise to date, Die Another Day did enough damage to the Bond franchise’s reputation that it pretty much forced a hard reboot starring Daniel Craig. The only actor to survive the reboot was Judi Dench, who even in this movie, does a great job of portraying M. Going over all of this movie’s faults in detail would require a novel-length blog post. I don’t have the time to write that, and I’m sure nobody will have the patience to read through it. So let’s take a more general look of what went wrong.
A quick internet search didn’t reveal much about this movie’s writing process. Most of the production information I could find only talks about where they filmed the movie, and how actress Halle Berry suffered a minor eye injury due to debris from a smoke grenade. The debris was removed in a 30-minue operation, and thankfully no permanent damage was caused. There’s also information on how they initially planned a spinoff movie/series for Berry’s character, Jinx, who in Die Another Day is pretty much Bond’s American equivalent. Well, except she’s nowhere nearly as good at her job and keeps getting captured. Apparently producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were initially furious over the spin-off’s cancellation, but some of their ideas were recycled in 2006’s Casino Royale.
The title song by Madonna also completely split critics in two. It received a nomination at the Golden Globes for Best Original Song and a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording. Yet it also received a nomination for the Razzies for Worst Original Song. Madonna also won the Razzie for Worst Supporting Actress for her cameo in the film, and despite her very short appearance, I won’t argue against it. My own thoughts are that this song is dreadful to listen to. It tries to mix pop and techno, but it comes across as ear bleeding. Here’s the song down below in case you want to make your own judgement, but be warned, it’s quite possibly the worst song in the franchise.
By the way, that gun barrel sequence highlights two of the major problems with Die Another Day as a movie. It inserts that pointless bullet with CGI, hinting at both the overuse of bad CGI and the movie’s overblown attempts to be trendy. It also begs the question – did Bond just kill the guy by shooting him in the gun? How does that even work? However I will admit that with a darker, more dramatic song, the visuals of Bond being tortured while in a North Korean prison for 14 months would have been a very effective way to set the tone for a more serious movie. Like The World Is Not Enough’s theme song for example.
That leads us to the movie’s opening, which shows Bond masquerading as a diamond smuggler, selling diamonds to a North Korean military commander and the son of a general. After he’s exposed by an insider, it turns into an action scene filled with an excessive amount of explosions. That said, it’s not a terrible moment. When Bond is captured at the end of the scene by the father of the man he just apparently killed, the movie is showing promise.
It’s after the opening song where the movie starts falling apart on every level. It’s here where the movie seems to insert references to past Bond movies with reckless abandon, starting with Bond getting his licence revoked like in Licence To Kill after he’s rescued with a prisoner exchange. Then he somehow fakes a heart attack to escape his confinement. Considering MI6 knows how dangerous Bond is first hand, you’d think they’d keep at least a couple guards at this little holding facility. Also since it’s on a boat in the middle of a river, they should be able to track him down before he swims to shore with smaller boats. Or stop him before he’s able to leave the country. And how is he able to swim half way across a large river after 14 months of straight torture in a North Korean prison? Despite all of this, he makes his escape look easy.
Bond also finds it way too easy to gather the resources he needs to start an investigation into who exposed him to the North Koreans, almost as if it’s a plot point they tacked on just to be a reference. His investigation leads to Cuba, where two of the movie’s other major problems show themselves. First, Bond meets Jinx, where their double entendres lack subtlety so much that it’s almost disturbing.
This also leads to a scene that skips all pretense and goes straight to the sex, and a rather graphic scene at that. If this weren’t a Bond movie, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but the Bond franchise was all about subtlety in that sense. It never showed the actual act, just a bit of the foreplay and the after pillow talk. That subtlety is what makes these scenes sexy in the Bond franchise. Here, it’s only a nip slip shy of being a softcore porn. It just feels out of place. Again, there’s a total lack of subtlety and sophistication that the Bond franchise is usually known for.
It’s shortly after this where we’re introduced to a third major problem with this movie – it goes too far into science fiction territory. At least when Moonraker went full sci-fi, it was clearly a self-parody. This movie feels like it’s trying to be serious and trendy at the same time, and it backfires hard. Bond discovers a hidden clinic in Cuba where people can genetically alter their blood and change their face. It’s got something to do with first removing the bone marrow and replacing it with marrow with different DNA.
No matter what way you try to break this down, this is medically impossible. Removing the bone marrow would be fatal, as you wouldn’t be able to produce blood anymore. Human DNA isn’t just in the blood, but it’s in every single cell in the body. Suddenly getting bone marrow and blood with different DNA is going to cause all sorts of problems. In the movie, all it seems to do is cause sleeping problems for the two characters who used this service.
This is also a good point to mention that the action often features the kind of camera action that speeds up and slows down rapidly, a popular technique at the time. There are wider camera shots showing 360 views, or at least partial rotating views of an environment, made popular by 1999’s The Matrix. Of course by the time this movie released, people were starting to get sick of this choreography style. It just doesn’t work in a Bond movie. There are a couple moments where the visuals go in slow motion after Bond punches someone, and it feels gratuitous. It’s made worse by the fact that the slow motion has very few frames, making the movie feel choppy, especially compared to The Matrix’s high frame count during its slow motion. It makes these little moments feel like they’re from the 70’s, not the early 2000’s.
As the movie goes on, the action is more and more over the top in a bad way. You’ve got a scene that not only borrows from the laser scene in Goldfinger, but there’s what Film Brain calls the sushi mode, where a number of lasers are randomly firing all over the place. Bond is fighting a guy called Mr. Kill (really, you’re really going with that name?) in the middle of this laser sushi mode.
There’s a scene of Bond surfing on a title wave near the arctic ocean, and it’s quite possibly the worst green screen shot in the history of big budget movies. The climax takes place on an airplane that flew through a giant laser, and is falling apart on every level. Yet somehow there’s enough time for a several minute long fight scene between Bond and the main villain before the plane starts crashing down.
The only action scene in this movie that I actually kind of like is a duel between two gadget cars. It’s a creative scene that shows Bond in his gadget car fighting Zao in a car filled with a different set of gadgets – a more aggressive set of gadgets. In a better movie with less obnoxious camera work and music, this could have been a highlight. Instead, it’s the closest this movie comes to saving itself.
(Even though I do kind of like this scene, the fact that Bond’s car doesn’t have any dents after these “bumps”, or the dozens of bullets fired onto it, makes it hard to take this scene seriously.)
Similar to the over the top action, the story goes right back to someone trying to take over the world, or at least reunifying North and South Korea using military might. The main villain is a North Korean Colonel who’s successfully gone through the face/gene therapy, and you’ll pretty much figure out within minutes of his intro as to who he’s disguised as, thanks to this movie’s complete lack of subtlety. His plan is to use a giant satellite laser to blow up the minefields between North and South Korea, and then use that same laser to wipe out anyone who resists him.
Yup, this movie brought back the giant laser plot from Diamonds Are Forever. This is a story that’s since been parodied a number of times, most notably in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Nobody could possibly take this plot seriously anymore. Not to mention that Goldeneye (only three movies ago) used satellite weapons as well – just satellite weapons that felt much more realistic. To make matters worse, the Colonel uses a weird mech suit to not only control the satellite, but to make him stronger in a fight. It looks super goofy and turns him into a lame boss fight, similar to the Silver Samurai in The Wolverine. Except here, it includes an electric weapon he uses on Bond for almost a minute straight. Somehow this doesn’t stop Bond’s heart or fry his internal organs. Dumber still, somehow Bond is able to make this weapon shock the Colonel himself, while he’s wearing it, just by pushing one button.
There are plenty of other problems with this movie, but this blog post needs to end somewhere. Whatever serious tone the previous three Pierce Brosnan Bond movies contained, it’s completely lacking here. The movie’s attempts to make itself trendy made it feel dated the day it released, and it feels even more dated now. For a series that always tried to rely on practical effects, the bad CGI not only makes the action feel silly, but it makes this feel like it’s not a Bond movie, but some generic early 2000’s action movie. It’s also loaded with too much product placement – in fact it held the record for most money earned from product placement at the time, at $70 million (USA reported that number was as high as $100 million). Jinx as a character is useless half the time, and Berry comes across as more annoying than intelligent as a spy. Also, as I’ve said in my X-Men movie reviews, she’s got no charisma. You kind of need charisma to match Bond on any level.
Now for the fun part of this blog post – the kill counter.
Bond kills – 31
Other’s kills – 20
Total kill count – 51
Sean Connery’s total kill count – 72
George Lazenby’s total kill count – 5
Roger Moore’s total kill count – 90
Timothy Dalton’s total kill count – 23
Pierce Brosnan’s total kill count – 135
Not only is Die Another Day a terrible Bond movie, but it angered both North and South Korea. The North Koreans disliked the portrayal of their state as a brutal and war-hungry nation. Not knowing the complexities of the North Korean government, I won’t comment on that one. South Korea was angry over a scene where an American officer issued orders to the South Korean army to defend their homeland, even though their military is perfectly capable of commanding itself. That and the Jogye Buddhist Order found a lovemaking scene near a Buddha statue very disrespectful. An official in the South Korean Ministry of Culture and Tourism said that Die Another Day was “the wrong film at the wrong time,” further straining the weakening relations between SK and the United States at the time.
It’s these reasons and more that forced the Bond franchise to undergo a hard reboot with 2006’s Casino Royale. This is really not a good Bond movie. Save for maybe a handful of entertaining scenes, a couple lines, and the gadget car battle, this movie is virtually unsalvageable. This is the only Bond movie in which I cannot see myself ever feeling the desire to watch ever again. I’d watch Octopussy for 2 days straight over watching this once after this blog post.
Next up is Casino Royale, and after watching Die Another Day, rewatching Casino Royale for the first time in several years will feel like an extra special treat. Then it’s Quantum Of Solace (eh, it’s ok), Skyfall (very much looking forward to that), and then we’ll conclude this James Bond blogathon with Spectre (snore). I’m hoping to finish this blogathon by mid-October, and then I’ll start planning my NaNoWriMo book for November. In December I’m going to try and look at some of the movies that released this past year, tied to previous blogathons I’ve done, but haven’t posted about yet. Also, I should get around to finally ranking all of the Pixar movies in order of my personal preference. I plan on continuing my DreamWorks blogathon next year, and a Marvel Cinematic Universe blogathon as well, hopefully timing it so I get to Avengers 4 right around the time it releases.