The UnPopular Opinion: Die Another Day
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Bond movies are like Baskin-Robbins ice cream: there is something for everyone, assuming you are not lactose intolerant. Obviously there are people out there who are not into Bond movies, but those of us who consider ourselves 007 fans have our own internal lists of which movies are our favorites and which are utter dreck. In fact, we do the same thing with out Bond actors. I know a few folks who still refuse to watch any of the Daniel Craig movies because they don't like the rebooted Bond. But, those tend to be the same people who prefer their Bond in the cartoonish, Roger Moore form.
Pierce Brosnan was a great James Bond. He was a refreshing return to the debonair super agent that was missed by many during the Timothy Dalton years. Brosnan was cool, badass, a sex machine, and handy with a gun. He also remains the only Bond who shifts from the realistic side of the 007 universe to the complete opposite side of cartoon incredulity. He actually completed the transition from Sean Connery to Roger Moore in the span of GOLDENEYE to DIE ANOTHER DAY.
That rug really tied the room together, man.
But, DIE ANOTHER DAY is not a bad Bond movie. In fact, it is the prototypical Bond movie. If you go back and revisit all 23 of the movies, you will find the vast majority are comprised of ridiculous gadgets, over the top villains, cheezy one liners, buxom babes, and impossible plot devices. DIE ANOTHER DAY has all of these in spades. From the diamond-studded face of Rick Yune's Z to the incredibly sexy Halle Berry as Jin, this movie is Pierce Brosnan's best Roger Moore Bond movie. GOLDENEYE is clearly his best Sean Connery Bond movie. But, that does not make this a bad movie by any means.
Back in 2002, James Bond was celebrating his 40th anniversary. DIE ANOTHER DAY was released to coincide with that milestone date. Director Lee Tamahori crammed a celebration of that momentous occassion into the movie by having a reference to every preceeding Bond movie in one capacity or another. Many of these turned out to be sight gags or humorous asides, but all added to the fun of this movie.
DIE ANOTHER DAY has a typical Bond story: Bond must operate outside of MI-6 guidelines in order to seek vengeance on the villain who wronged him. That villain happens to be Colonel Moon, a North Korean soldier bent on domination. Moon and his henchman, Zao, are trading in African conflict diamonds when Bond crashes the party. Bond is taken prisoner and only released once he has grown a kick ass Lebowski beard and lost the support that he kept his mouth shut while imprisoned. That sends him off to Havana, Cuba where he meets NSA agent Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry).
Sweet mercy. There are no words. Humunah humunah!
I defy any man to tell me that Halle Berry's homage to Ursula Andress' famous bikini scene from DR.NO is not one of the hottest moments in Bond history. Hot damn. Berry was probably one of the best Bond girls of all time in terms of her ability to stand next to 007 and hold her own. There were rumors for a long time that she was going to get her own spin-off movie but that never came to fruition. I blame CATWOMAN.
The plot relies heavily on gadgets, which James Bond became synonymous with before Daniel Craig took over. John Cleese takes over the role of Q from the deceased Desmond Llewelyn. Cleese had played the role as a bumbling fool in the prior Brosnan film, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, and here plays it straight. He provides one of the most outlandish gadgets in series history: an invisible car.
I have heard complaints that DIE ANOTHER DAY relied too heavily on CGI. Yeah, there was a lot of it in terms of the invisible car sequence, but how the hell can you make something invisible with practical effects and not have it look cheap? I have never had a problem with Bond gadgets in any of the films. Sure, I like the Daniel Craig films being gadget free. SKYFALL is going to have "gadgets" but in a more practical sense. They are the lifeblood of the series. DIE ANOTHER DAY has goofy gadgets but they all fit with the cartoon mode the movie plays in.
I don't mean to be rude, but does anyone else think Madonna's arms are f*cking terrifying?
Rosamund Pike, Toby Stephens, and Rick Yune play the villains with aplomb. Gustav Graves (Stephens) is a maniacal bad guy with a master plan that involves world domination and revenge, just like the best Bond baddies. Rick Yune plays the disfigured henchman Zao like a cross between Oddjob from GOLDFINGER and Robert Carlyle's Renard from THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. He is just crazy enough to straddle the line between believable and caricature. My only regret is that he is underused in this movie. Rosamund Pike plays her role as secondary Bond girl well but she comes across as cold and stuffy and can never really compete with Halle Berry's sheer hotness.
Lee Tamahori does a good job handling the action. While Tamahori is no Sam Mendes or even Martin Campbell, DIE ANOTHER DAY never feels poorly directed. You get the sense that the movie was more about paying homage to the legacy of Bond rather than worrying about being the best Bond movie, but everyone looks like they had fun making it.
Madonna's theme song has proved to be one of the more popular in the series' history. I like the electronic weight of the song and it does get the movie off to a raucous start. Many scoffed at Madonna being selected for the title track, but those may have been the same people who thought Adele wouldn't be good for SKYFALL. Madonna's cameo is unnecessary but it is so brief it doesn't really do any harm.
Zao is the Darth Maul of the Bond series.
James Bond is supposed to be cinematic popcorn. It is supposed to be over the top, insane, and yes, funny. DIE ANOTHER DAY meets all of these requirements and does so with balance. You never feel like you are watching a spoof of Bond movies, but you also know you are watching a movie. You will never see anything that happens in DIE ANOTHER DAY happen in real life. The Daniel Craig era of Bond is an interesting alternate reality to the Bond saga, but will always feel like an alternate reality version of the character. DIE ANOTHER DAY fits perfectly into the Bond pantheon.
In a recent survey, Bond fansite MI-6 ranked DIE ANOTHER DAY as the third worst Bond movie. Why? You have the classic John Barry score, lots of intense action set-pieces, and a droll 007 saving the world from utter doom. There are no nuclear physicists played by Denise Richards. Bond does not go to outer space. You have Pierce Brosnan having a shitload of fun blowing away the competition. What else could you ask for?
Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!