PG-13 for forty years of Bond family-friendly sexuality and violence. Per usual, James Bond tends to sleep with a lot of women and kill a lot of dudes. Possibly the only questionable content on top of that comes from the fact that James Bond is tortured for the beginning of the film. Also, we get to see slightly more blood than usual due to recurring sword fighting sequences. There's also all kinds of filthy jokes. I don't know if any of them reach the one I think of with The World is Not Enough, but they are pretty overt.
DIRECTOR: Lee Tamahori
Oh man. I have been dreading this one and dreading this one. As quickly as I started the Brosnan era of James Bond, it would fizzle out in what I clearly think is the worst Bond movie ever made. It's so rough, guys. It's so rough. It's not like all of the James Bond movies are absolute winners. I know it was kind of pulling teeth for me to sit down and rewatch some of the rougher Roger Moore entries. But Die Another Day is in such a different level of bad that it really burned out my obsession with James Bond. That's even considering that potentially the best Bond movie is next, that is kind of saying something. While I can't free the producers from their responsibility with this movie, I do think a lot of the problems lie squarely on the director, Lee Tamahori.
There's some choices being made with this movie. Perhaps Tamahori is the child of 2002, an end of an era that I consider the Mountain Dew of filmmaking. Everything in 2002 was angsty and stylized for the worst. The Matrix had done amazing things for science fiction, but stylistically tainted every action movie that would come out for the next few years. Die Another Day was released as the 40th Anniversary celebration of all things 007. It was the twentieth Bond movie on the fortieth anniversary. Expectations were that Die Another Day was going to bring Bond into the new millennium while paying tribute to all of the movies that paved the way. For director Lee Tamahori, I think that meant "Lean heavy into the spy-fi and have stylized edits.
But there's nothing at all special about Die Another Day. It is overloaded with really bad references to each Bond movie that came before it. (Some of the references are stretches or just plain old lame.) But instead of focusing on making a good Bond movie or something that would change the world of Bond forever, the story becomes easily one of the most forgettable in the series, mainly because it is just an homage / rip-off to Diamonds are Forever. There's something to be said about being beholden to the past. There's a really fine, but important, line between nodding to the past and straight up addressing it. Because the movie is so drowning in the past, it kind of treats Bond history like Austin Powers does. Rather than viewing forty years of Bond filmmaking as revolutionary long-term storytelling, it strips away any degree of complexity to simply the Bond tropes. What Die Another Day leaves us with is heavy, heavy spy-fi.
The spy-fi stuff in Bond might be the worst. There's a reason that the Craig movies shot for a more grounded foundation for the films. Gustav Graves' mech suit is over-the-top stupid. Couple that with really bad electric special effects and the movie just has nothing to stand on. I guess this kind of spirals into the moment where my love for Bond died. In my World is Not Enough blog entry, I talked about one of the worst deliveries of a line in cinema history. (Again, my apologies to Denise Richards for my long diatribe.) But the use of CG in this movie is a travesty. The 40th anniversary is meant to be a celebration of Bond. As part of that, it should also be a celebration of stuntmen and the risks they take. I'm talking about Bond surfing down a glacier here. This is a scene that has two separate surfing action sequences. (Yeah, I just realized that too.) But the second one, where Bond converts the hydrofoil into a surfboard crosses a big line.
One of my favorite action sequences in Bond history comes from The Living Daylights. The rear of the cargo hold is open and Bond is holding onto netting for dear life. The sequence is homaged here with the helicopter coming out of the plane. Uncharted 3 also did the same bit. But in The Living Daylights, Dalton's stunt double is being whipped around and that scene is genuinely suspenseful. I know that James Bond is going to make it out of there alive, because it is a James Bond movie. But with the surfing down a glacier scene, it doesn't even have an uncanny valley feel. It just feels like watching a video game. There isn't a moment of investment there at all. I know that no one is really doing the stunt. It looks like someone just copied and pasted Pierce Brosnan's head onto a computer generated model. But most importantly, and I've always felt this about Die Another Day, is that if a real person can't do the stunt, James Bond can't do the stunt.
That's a weird logic that I want to explore. I get that one stuntman isn't doing all of Bond's stunts. He has a team that specialize in each choreographed sequence to ensure that the stuntman can leave the scene unharmed. But the idea that someone is really doing that action in the moment gives us that element of fantasy that we need to imagine one man doing all of these stunts. Yeah, James Bond should have been dead ages ago, considering the things that have been thrown at him. But when Bond starts surfing down a glacier, it completely pulls the viewer out of the fantasy. No one could do that. It's the bridge too far. We can't be expected to have an emotional attachment to the impossible.
Halle Berry is wasted on this movie. I honestly don't know how they got her to show up for a film like this. Maybe it was the prestige of being part of an anniversary? But Jinx might be one of the least developed Bond girls in the franchise's history. Say what you will about Miranda Frost, at least she has some motivating characteristics. Miranda Frost is supposed to be the secondary Bond girl. She's there for the plot and that's it. But Frost is way more compelling than Jinx. Part of it comes from the fact that her lines are eye-rolling bad. I've heard Berry complain about a lot of her roles being poorly framed and I don't think it ever really gets worse than Jinx.
Why Gustav Graves? There's a line in the movie where Colonel Moon says that he based Gustav Graves off of James Bond. I mean, he has to instantly retract that by saying "Just in the details". But there's almost nothing about Toby Stephens and his weird sneer that come across like actual Bond. If you squint, I suppose he might look like a passable Roger Moore. But Graves is possibly one of the most vanilla bad guys in the franchise. Bond villains are fun to play and they should be horrifying and scary. Graves, as a commentary on Bond, doesn't work. It's a strong misunderstanding of what the character is about and it just sucks.
The funny thing is, each time I watch Die Another Day, there are elements of a decent Bond movie. The first half isn't that bad. I know that some people would be mortified to know that Bond is captured early on and tortured for over a year. But that's very Ian Fleming and I think it makes sense. It's just odd that the movie wouldn't embrace that element in the movie more. That year should have had psychological repercussions on the character. Skyfall would eventually learn from this mistake and play up the idea that Bond can't always be perfect all of the time. There's something to be explored. But when a self-given haircut can wipe away years of abuse, that's pretty weak.
This movie should have crushed and it continues to be a disappointment. It's so bad because it is at the hands of people who don't really understand what Bond could be. It embraces formula over substance at every turn and took one of my favorite Bond actors to a low point.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.