With “No Time to Die” coming out in November, I’m looking back at the eight modern-era James Bond films from the perspective of a newcomer, from July 11-26. Next up is the 20th Eon-produced film and fourth starring Pierce Brosnan, “Die Another Day” (2002):
Director Lee Tamahori’s (“The Edge,” “Next”) lone “Bond” entry boasts a solid first hour but then turns into a cartoon – although, admittedly, it’s kind of fun to see the film pile up the insanity, starting with an invisible car and accelerating to a fencing match on a plummeting plane that’s on fire.
Perhaps because this is Brosnan’s farewell, “Die Another Day” tacks on one of those bombastic “fourth acts” that make theater-goers squirm: Everything could be wrapped up at the melting ice palace in Iceland, but there’s one last mission after that. As is often the case, we don’t want the bonus act as much as the filmmakers think we do.
Madonna performs a techno number that’s easily the most annoying song from the four Brosnan pictures. She also briefly and unnecessarily has a role as a fencing instructor. The title doesn’t have meaning other than the fact that the villain is seemingly dead, but then – without explanation – he isn’t. So he’s gonna “die another day.”
The title segment is unusual: In stylized fashion, it shows Bond being tortured with heat and cold, in a film that will go to Cuba and Iceland. Also, the torture will play into the question of whether he did or did not spill state secrets to the North Koreans — until the film shifts its focus, which it will do about 10 times.
Halle Berry sandwiches the role of Jinx between superhero turns in “X-Men” (2000) and “Catwoman” (2004). I like that this US agent teams up with Bond, but Bond doesn’t have the same spark with her as with Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin from “Tomorrow Never Dies,” far and away Brosnan’s best Bond Girl.
Rosamund Pike is easy on the eyes as MI6 turncoat and Olympic-level fencer Miranda Frost, but her evilness is sketchily explained and doesn’t have much impact on a viewer beyond our disappointment in her.
North Korean Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) dies in the opening action sequence, but then inexplicably re-emerges thanks to Cuban “Face/Off” technology as British diamond-mining magnate Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). The film briefly says something about how he has been shaped by the West’s hypocrisy during his schooling in the UK, something that offends his father (Kenneth Tsang), who is bizarrely noble for a North Korean general.
Graves mines blood diamonds in Africa, but he pretends they are innocently mined in Iceland. When we learn Graves’ satellite-based mirror Icarus can redirect the sun’s rays to help the world’s agriculture, I thought “Die Another Day” might say something interesting about an evil person doing good for the world. Or perhaps he would at least see Icarus as a way to get richer. But nope, he uses it as a superweapon, cuz he’s Evil.
BEST ACTION SCENE
Bond and a henchmen engage in a car chase across the ice that might’ve given the “Fate of the Furious” filmmakers some ideas. It even features some Tokyo-esque drifting.
MOST RIDICULOUS MOMENT
That said, the sequence features a particularly cartoonish moment where Bond’s car is sliding upside down. So he hits the ejector seat button, which flips the car right-side up again. There must’ve been groans in the audience.
The invisible car would be the obvious choice, but I’m going to pick a slightly less silly one: a ring that can emit a sonic pulse that breaks glass. Bond gets nice use out of it to dump a bunch of henchmen standing on a (conveniently) glass floor.
In a regressive throwback, Jinx and Frost display animosity toward each other that goes beyond the fact that one is good and one is evil and into the territory of rivalry for Bond’s affections.
But I’ve figured out something about Bond. If he beds a woman, he’s in it mainly for that reason. “Tomorrow Never Dies” shows him merely kissing Wai Lin; I think she would be relationship material for James if he believed in such a thing.
The same goes for MI6 researcher Moneypenny (Samantha Bond), with whom he’s always flirting at the office. In the epilog, Moneypenny uses a virtual reality headset to imagine intimacy with Bond. I think Bond truly likes her, which is why he doesn’t act on his feelings. And I suspect this sequence – although a fake-out – is a nod to Bond-Moneypenny ’shippers.
Patient: “What the hell do you want? I don’t need a goddamn wheelchair.”
James Bond: “No?” (Knocks him out with one punch.) “You do now.”
Schedule of Bond reviews:
Saturday, July 11: “GoldenEye” (1995)
Sunday, July 12: “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997)
Wednesday, July 15: “The World is Not Enough” (1999)
Saturday, July 18: “Die Another Day” (2002)
Sunday, July 19: “Casino Royale” (2006)
Wednesday, July 22: “Quantum of Solace” (2008)
Saturday, July 25: “Skyfall” (2012)
Sunday, July 26: “Spectre” (2015)