Time: 133 minutes
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond
Halle Berry as Jinx Johnson
Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves
Rosamund Pike as Miranda Frost
Rick Yune as Tang Ling Zao
Judi Dench as M
John Cleese as Q
Michael Madsen as Damian Falco
Director: Lee Tamahori
James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is sent to investigate the connection between a North Korean terrorist and a diamond mogul, who is funding the development of an international space weapon.
I reached the end of my rewatches of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond movies with Die Another Day. It is widely known regarded one of the worst Bond movies, if not the worst. However I remember watching it a lot when I was younger, so I was curious whether my opinion would change sharply, or if I’d be more lenient on it. In a way, both happened. I definitely don’t hate it like a lot of people do, I do find parts of it I enjoy, even when most of it is ludicrously silly. However, it’s not a very good movie, it has a ton of issues and easily ranks as one of the worst Bond films.
The strangest part of Die Another Day is that it starts off pretty good, at least the first 20 minutes or so. James Bond is on a mission in North Korea, and the opening set piece is entertaining (if darkly lit), and even goes to some dark places. Bond is captured, tortured and interrogated before being released. The opening was new ground for Bond and the tone seemed like it was where Brosnan wanted to take Bond for the longest time. Even with some weird inclusions such as a CGI bullet flying towards the screen in the opening Gunbarrel sequence and the Madonna opening song, it had a good start. You really notice a change from the point where Bond escapes from the hospital by faking a cardiac arrest by lowering his heart rate by will. This dark tone and opportunities from the start of the movie aren’t capitalised on at all, any potential given by the start of the movie fizzles out quickly. MI6 and M initially don’t trust Bond after he’s released, believing him to have given up vital information during the torture. However that doesn’t last for long and soon enough he’s back on a mission with them. The opening being that dark is very strange considering that on the whole it is one of the silliest Bond movies. The plot is straight out of a Roger Moore Bond movie, especially with the inclusion of a solar laser beam being shot out by a diamond encrusted satellite. There’s even a plot point where the main villain played by Toby Stephens (a British white guy) turned out to be a Korean guy who used gene therapy (ironically this isn’t even the most racist moment in Bond’s film history). Being silly isn’t going to bother me, many of the Moore movies are absurd and people mostly gave those a pass. Die Another Day would make for an enjoyable campy Bond movie if they were aiming for that. Unfortunately it is not self aware, in fact it takes itself pretty seriously, which makes things tonally strange. Also despite the very silly things that happens, on the whole it feels strangely dull with not a whole lot of energy. The attempts at humour are bad but somehow also feel low effort, and the plot is rather predictable. So while there are individual moments that are goofy, its not the kind that keeps you endlessly entertained throughout the entire runtime.
The acting is a bit of a mixed bag. Pierce Brosnan has been gradually been improving as James Bond with every subsequent film but his work here is rather disappointing, feeling a little lazy and on autopilot. The opening with the torture in North Korea certainly provided an opportunity for a much darker journey for the character but unfortunately the film didn’t take advantage of that. However I wouldn’t call it a bad performance, Brosnan is still charming and fun to watch, and effortlessly delivers the (mostly cheesy and bad) one-liners written for him. Halle Berry plays the main Bond girl named Jinx. Berry was disappointingly underutilised and forgettable, delivering a rather boring performance and having basically no chemistry with Brosnan. Toby Stephens plays the villain, and the character is rather silly given that his name is Gustav Graves. The character is rather boring, however Stephens seems to be acting so hard to be the villain that he’s kind of entertaining. He is just sneering throughout the last half of the movie as he tries to be menacing, and as that he’s kind of fun to watch. Still, he’s a strong contender for the worst Bond villain. Rosamund Pike is in this movie in an early role for her. While there are issues with the writing of her character, she leaves a strong enough impression (more than Berry or the main villain), and is overall one of the film’s stronger performers. Rick Yune also made for a decent henchman, working better than the main villain too. John Cleese is the new Q after his introduction in The World is Not Enough. He’s decent enough but a bit underutilised, definitely not as memorable or effective as Desmond Llewyn or Ben Whishaw. Michael Madsen is very out of place in this movie as the head of the NSA, and it feels like he should be in a completely different movie, he’s not believable at all in his part.
Lee Tamahori is the director of Die Another Day, and in the nicest possible terms, his work is a bit mixed. It’s one of the three Bond movies released in the 2000s, but DAD is the only one which really feels dated and very much in the 2000s. Specifically, the style uses a lot of slow motion and shots being sped up, especially in the action scenes. It’s like it was trying to imitate John Woo’s style from Mission Impossible 2, but even that movie seemed to have some level of energy, while Die Another Day has none. There’s also an overreliance on CGI and green screen, more so than most of the past Bond movies, and the CGI just looks clunky today. The gadgets in the Bond films have never been what you’d call realistic at the best of times, but this film takes it to a new level. The biggest example that everyone points to is an invisible car, and while that is firmly a step into the sci-fi territory, given the other stuff that also happens in the movie I would not call it the most silly part of the movie. The action scenes are ridiculous, there is a chase scene between two cars on ice, and most infamously there’s a scene where Bond windsurfs, making use of horrible green screen and an obvious stunt double. However there’s still fun to be had with some of the action. There’s a fight scene that makes use of multiple laser beams spinning all over the place and its just so absurd and hilarious for it. There’s also a fight scene between Bond and the main villain in their first encounter in a duelling club where they fight with swords, that was entertaining too. The production design is solid, the ice palace in the middle of Iceland particularly makes for a memorable setting for a Bond film, and not necessarily in a bad way. I don’t usually mention Bond songs in reviews but Madonna’s song for Die Another Day is so atrocious I don’t know how it ended up being used. The title sequence actually advances the story showing Bond’s torture, but it feels very out of place that Madonna’s song is played during this. Speaking of Madonna, she has a cameo in this, and somehow is even more out of place than Michael Madsen was, which is rather impressive. There are also some weird song choices, like how they literally needledrop “London Calling” by The Clash as James Bond is travelling to London. However I will give great praise to David Arnold’s score, which is really the only consistently good/great part of the movie.
While I’d say that Die Another Day is definitely one of the worst Bond movies, I don’t dislike it that much, at the very least not as much as other people. It is certainly memorable, even if it’s for the wrong reasons. However it’s just as well that after DAD they rebooted the franchise, and that if anything is the film’s greatest contribution, as it would result in the Daniel Craig Bond era. The most disappointing thing about this movie is that you could swap out the Bond name and it would’ve fitted alongside other generic action flicks around that time. There are certainly some fun moments but the movie on the whole is surprisingly dull. As bad as it is, if you watched the first three Pierce Brosnan Bond films you might as well watch this one too, even just for completion.