Reel Talk

Die Another Day and Hiding in the Past

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There comes a certain time in your life when you realize that all movies aren’t great. When you’re a kid you kind of love everything, and going to the theater is such a treat that you just kind of get swept up in the experience and thoroughly enjoy everything you see. But then you reach a point in your life where you start to acquire taste, and realize that maybe things aren’t always good. Maybe there’s such a thing as a bad movie, and it’s possible that you got tricked into going to the theater to see something that wasn’t good. And Die Another Day was one of the first movies that made me realize this. I remember going to see this movie after becoming a total fanatic for the Bond franchise. I had started reading the novels, I had watched most of the movies, and I became aware of all of the inside jokes and references that this movie was going to have. It was the 20th film and the 40th anniversary of the franchise. It was a big deal. And then I saw it, and knew something was wrong. Yeah, I was still a kid at the time, and felt like invisible cars and crazy supervillain suits were fun, but there was just something about this film that rubbed me the wrong way. Then, when the film came out on DVD, that feeling continued. And it was probably sometime around the time the DVD came out when I was hit with another film that I actively realized I disliked while watching it in the theater (Hi Ang Lee’s Hulk!) that I finally came to terms with the fact that this was not a movie that I liked. And that feeling just kind of festered as I became more of a fan of film in general, and Bond flicks in particular. It became a movie similar to the Star Wars prequels that it was assumed everyone hated, and that feeling continued for me. So when I got ready to do this project, I knew this was the film I was least excited to revisit. It had been years since I’d seen it, and I would easily say that it’s my least favorite of the whole franchise. Even worse than the terminally boring For Your Eyes Only. And yet, I’d heard from some people that Die Another Day had gotten a lot more fun with age. It had become ridiculous and campy, like Diamonds Are Forever, and ended up becoming a joyfully stupid movie. Which is something that I would certainly be interested in. I’m a huge Diamonds Are Forever apologist because of this exact same idea, so I decided to go into Die Another Day with a relatively open mind, hoping that this movie would becoming something new and interesting for me.

Because this movie really tried to be something interesting. Which makes sense. Like I said earlier, it’s the 20th film, and it came out 40 years after Dr. No, and it became a huge deal. Such a massive anniversary for the franchise seemed to give EON two choices. Really knock this film out of the park or get bogged down in weird self-referential call-backs and in-jokes. And they chose to go down that second path. Because this movie seems obsessed with putting as many references to the franchise into itself that it becomes detrimental. It’s like playing some weird Where’s Waldo game to find things that may or may not be references. The world was rapidly changing when this film was released. It’s the first post-9/11 film in the Bond franchise, although probably close enough to the event that the script was already in motion. But even beyond that, the ideas of spies was changing, what with the new spy characters in pop culture. This film came out the same summer as the Bourne Identity and the show 24 had been going for more than a year. People were loving these new type of spies, who existed in a more realistic world. They dealt with terrorist threats, and seemed to be torn from the newspapers. So of course it was fine for James Bond to fight a race-bending Korean despot with a solar-based space-laser and an ice castle. Finger on the pulse.

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Die Another Day opens exactly like you’d think it would. With James Bond surfing into North Korea. Turns out that there’s an unhinged colonel in North Korea named Tan-Sun Moon who is looking to buy weapons in exchange for a whole bunch of blood diamonds. And Bond has been sent to capture the actual weapon’s dealer and impersonate him. Things go smoothly, until a mysterious accomplice identifies Bond’s true identity, and everything falls apart. Bond ignites a bomb that blasts Moon’s henchman Zao with diamonds, and then gets in a hovercraft chase with Moon. Eventually Bond is able to knock Moon off a cliff, seemingly killing him, when General Moon, his father, arrives and has Bond arrested. We’re then given the worst title-sequence in the franchise’s history, showing Bond getting tortured, until the rest of the film begins and we learn that Bond has been held captive for 14 months. But now he’s being released, because the British government is trading him for Zao, who has been a terrorist with a diamond encrusted face since Bond and he last saw each other. Apparently some American secrets were being found out by the North Koreans, and it was assumed that Bond had cracked under pressure and was divulging Intel, so they had to get him out. Bond is taken to Hong Kong where he speaks with M, who isn’t convinced that Bond didn’t betray their country. She strips him of his rank, and Bond has no choice but to flee from MI6 and make his way into Hong Kong. He meets with a Chinese secret agent at a hotel, and after some intimidation and name-dropping the agent agrees to help Bond find Zao, who Bond thinks will be able to lead him to whoever has framed him. And it look like Zao was last seen in Cuba.

So Bond heads out to Havana, where he meets up with a long-forgotten sleeper agent working at a cigar factory. The man helps him locate Zao, who is at some mysterious health clinic. And while waiting to infiltrate the clinic Bond meets a woman named Giacinta Johnson, who goes by Jinx. The two immediately have sex, and the next morning Bond is surprised to see Jinx also heading into the clinic. Bond infiltrates the hospital, and ends up finding Zao getting some “DNA replacement therapy” which will eventually turn him into a white guy. Meanwhile, Jinx is killing the doctor who created the process, and stealing all of his files on Zao. Bond and Jinx end up running into each other while Zao flees from the compound, leaving behind some diamonds that he was going to use as payment. Jinx escapes before Bond can figure out what’s going on, and brings the diamonds back to the sleeper agent, who help him identify them as coming from a famous billionaire named Gustav Graves who recently discovered diamonds in Iceland, despite the fact that Bond can clearly tell that these are the same diamonds from the beginning of the film. So Bond returns to England, ready to investigate Graves. He runs into the eccentric billionaire at a fencing club, and engages in a ridiculous sword fight with Graves, trying to pester him into giving up some information. He doesn’t, but does invite Bond to Iceland for an upcoming scientific demonstration. Which is when Bond gets word from M that he’s been reinstated back in MI6. She trusts him now, and wants him to keep investigating Graves. He gets all of his new gadgets, including a car that can turn invisible, and heads off to Iceland with a surprising ally. Graves’ assistant Miranda Frost is actually an MI6 agent investigating him, and she’ll be helping Bond out.

Bond gets to Iceland and arrives at a massive hotel made of ice that Graves has had constructed solely for this demonstration. He’s apparently invented a machine he calls Icarus that uses a satellite to redirect sunlight all over the world, in theory to help grow crops year-round. Bond also is shocked to find that Jinx is there as well, but still doesn’t figure out what her deal is. But Graves is more important, and Bond begins investigating Graves’ laboratories. He ends up sleeping with Miranda Frost, and then infiltrates Graves’ secret office where he learns the truth. Gustav Graves is Colonel Moon, who didn’t die in the hovercraft accident and has had the gene therapy to become a white dude. He then used conflict diamonds to make himself a famous billionaire and devise this whole scheme so that he could create Icarus, which he plans on using against South Korea. Oh, and Miranda Frost is actually a double agent working for Graves, and was the one who betrayed Bond in the beginning. Graves then leaves Iceland with some North Korean military men, including his father, and gets ready to unleash Icarus. Bond then has to flee from Zao, getting in a crazy car-chase where they both fire all of their gadgets at each other, while Jinx is locked in the ice hotel while Icarus starts to melt it. Bond saves Jinx, and learns that shes a CIA agent also tasked with taking down Graves. So Jinx and Bond return to M and a CIA equivalent, and are given permission to continue taking down Graves. They then infiltrate a massive plan that Graves and the North Korean military men are flying around in while Graves prepares to fry South Korea with Icarus. Graves ends up killing his baffled father while wearing some crazy suit of armor that controls the satellite, and then starts attacking South Korea. Bond and Jinx get into the mix, and Jinx is able to kill Miranda Frost while Bond fights Graves. And after a fight Bond unleashes Graves’ parachute next to a hole in the plane, and he sucked out and into the jet intakes, killing him and shutting down Icarus. Bond and Jinx then head off to have sex while laying on a bed of diamonds.

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This movie is still an utter mess. I will say that I certainly see some of the same traits in this film that Diamonds Are Forever has, but it’s not quite far enough removed yet to be enjoyable for me yet. This is an extremely bad film, but it’s not yet an enjoyably bad one. I’ll give it a few more years, maybe it will have sweetened into something hilarious by then, but for now it’s still a total bummer. Basically everything about this film falls flat for me, to an almost ridiculous degree. Pierce Brosnan is so completely bored with the role at this point, and is putting in a serious “Connery in You Only Live Twice” performance. I guess Toby Stephens is having fun being the hammy villain Gustav Graves, but the whole idea of his character, being a literally white-washed Korean, is so stunningly bad. It obviously wouldn’t fly today, and I’m kind of shocked that it flew then. I’ve never been the biggest Halle Berry fan, but she’s putting in an extraordinarily cartoony performance as Jinx, really hoping that people adore her enough to give her a spin-off series. The design of Zao, with the diamond-encrusted face, is completely ridiculous, but the character is too boring to take advantage of the aesthetic. But beyond the acting issues, it just is a very oddly made film. It’s full of random slow-motion and speed-ramping that don’t serve any purpose. Its also full of incredibly strange music choices, such as the purely evil music that plays when Gustav Graves is introduced, ensuring that we know he’s the villain from the get go. And that’s not even counting the terrible theme song from Madonna. Or Madonna’s inexplicable cameo in the film. And don’t even get me started on the invisible car. Everyone knows about it, and knows how terrible it is, and it’s ridiculous nature really serves as the perfect symbol for this film.

As I said earlier, the world of 2002 was a rapidly changing one. Bond had to survive and adapt after the Cold War, and find a way to remain viable. And the method that the Pierce Brosnan films settled on was to recreate the larger than life plots of the Roger Moore era, and just remove the Communists. But then the entire world was radically changed. The September 11th attacks completely altered the course of history, and seemingly changed the country’s opinions on action films and television over-night. The Cold War was by no means an ideal time period, but there was something about it that allowed a fun-filled series about a gentleman spy saving the world from colorful villains. But now America had seen some true villainy, and the antics of James Bond suddenly seem very old-fashioned. This is obviously not Die Another Day’s fault. I’m sure that they were very far along in production when the attacks happened. But it’s very clear that after this film things would have to change. And change they did! It would be four years until another Bond film came out, and when it did arrive it didn’t look much like Die Another Day. This was a film that was utterly obsessed with the past. There are countless references to the rest of the franchise in this film. From Halle Berry mimicking Honey Rider’s iconic bikini to Q referencing Bond’s 20th watch, this movie reveled in the past. But reveling in the past was not a very attractive quality in 2002. People were changing, and they wanted stories that reflected the future. And this film was not the future. Die Another Day is an incredibly forgettable film, but what it’ll probably be best remembered for is serving as a last gasp of the Brosnan era’s sensibilities before the Craig era brought the paranoia of terrorism into the franchise. For better or for worse.

Die Another Day was written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, directed by Lee Tamahori, and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, 2002.

DADJinx

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