Die Another Day:
I was warned in advance about this movie. It’s reputation, as embarrassing, camp, dumb schlock, very much preceded it. Yet, when I actually sat down to watch DAD (sorry for the acronym) I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, there’s a lot of moments that’ll make you spit out your lager, but there’s some surprisingly creative stuff as well. The good moments don’t redeem the bad, but the bad doesn’t rub out all the good either.
Let’s start with the good. The film opens with Bond getting captured while on a mission in the Demilitarised Zone in North Korea. We segue into Madonna’s opening titles, which are actually telling a story this time around, instead of parading sexy silhouettes in front of us, showing Bond being electrocuted, waterboarded, branded, and generally tortured.
When the opening credits end there’s a timeskip of about a year and a half, and Bond is still in jail, looking like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. I gotta admit that this dark turn really made me sit up and take notice. I’ve always maintained that Bond as a character works best when he’s at a disadvantage, and having him reduced to looking like a dishevelled wino goes a long way towards dialling that up.
Bond is then released as part of a trade made by MI6, and shares a scene with Mama Dench. His double-00 status is revoked (Again? He loses it more than I misplace my bloody keys), because M suspects him of having leaked intel while incarcerated. Bond, for his part, insists that he didn’t want to be released in exchange for captured terrorists, and dogmatically stands by his own loyalty.
Tension, suspense, ambiguity… I knew it would be too good to last.
This premise could have been really smart. Bond, at rock bottom, slowly regaining his abilities and charisma over the course of the narrative, ending the film as the badass he once was. This movie is meant to be another anniversary celebration, and what better way to do that than having Bond relearn who he is?
But Bond strolls into a posh hotel, and one shave and a haircut later he’s back to his old self. We don’t get any real sense that he’s been hampered by isolation, degradation and humiliation over the last 18 months. It’s almost like a fresh tux resets Bond to his factory settings. What a squandered opportunity.
Bond then goes to investigate a gene therapy and plastic surgery clinic in Cuba, which is owned by the suspiciously-new billionaire Gustav Graves. He bumps into Final Girl Jinx Johnson, played by Halle Berry, and they then bump uglies after approximately 3.4573 seconds of tiresome banter. Infiltrating the clinic, Bond learns that Graves is secretly involved in a plot to smuggle (what else?) diamonds, and isn’t who he claims to be. Jinx fucks off and Bond heads back to Blighty to investigate Graves.
Graves is another bungled opportunity. He’s framed as the Wario to Bond’s Mario: a lady-killing English toff who engages in naff puns and flamboyant spectacles. It’s essentially having the villain take the piss out of Bond by parodying Moore’s take on the character.
Of course, it later turns out that Graves is actually Moon, the NK terrorist Bond seemingly killed in the opening. Moon has gone through surgery and gene therapy to change his appearance, and is intentionally sending up his nemesis with his new alter-ego. He even says as much when Bond unmasks him later:
GRAVES:"When your intervention forced me to present the world with a new face, I chose to model the disgusting Gustav Graves on you. I paid attention to details — that unjustifiable swagger, the crass quips, the self-defence mechanism concealing such inadequacy."
Again, this is actually quite a cool idea, even if it does rip-off Face/Off to get away with it. It furthers the critique of Bond originally made by Alec back in Goldeneye, by having the villain actually embody all of Bond vices. It might have been cool to see Moon become lost in his method acting, and lose his sense of identity in becoming Bond, if the script had been about Bond regaining that same identity himself. This film could have felt a lot like the Schizoid Man episode of The Prisoner.
Bond goes to a swanky fencing club to try to get a read on Graves, and in what seems to be a ridiculous attempt to impress Miranda Frost (it’s a motif, alright?) they get into an insanely reckless sword fight. It’s a common trope to have two characters engage in verbal sparring while actually sparring, and this fencing scene could have been handled like the game of golf in Goldfinger (e.g. snide one-upmanship) but instead Bond and Graves go apeshit, and in a bizarre case of folie á duex they just try to murder each other with any bladed weapon they can get their hands on for ten minutes, and then give up and act like nothing happened.
Suspicious of Graves, Bond follows him to a party he’s throwing at (and I’m not making this up) his ice palace in the North Pole, built over the site where he allegedly discovered a large diamond deposit. From here on things only get sillier, with Bond being given an invisible car, bumbling about with all the subtlety of a drunk baby giraffe.
It transpires that Graves/Moon has built a brand-new orbital mirror satellite which is able to focus concentrated sunlight into a deadly laser beam. I’m not sure why Graves thinks it’s a good idea to accelerate the process of global warming, or why he demonstrates this new tech by melting the ice caps, but everyone applauds his contraption so I can only assume that climate change is making the world colder in the Bondverse.
Bond meets up with Jinx again, Rosamund Pike predictably turns out to be a Femme Fatale the morning after fucking Bond, and the two of them are captured. Bond escapes, and Graves decides to try to kill him using his phenomenally-expensive satellite laser beam, instead of just having snipers do the job.
The next sequence is so stupid I’m not even going to comment on it, because a description alone is more damning than any further commentary. Graves melts a glacier, which causes a tidal wave. Bond surfs on it like one of the Beach Boys and goes all the way back to the melting palace to save Jinx. Even after all the insanity the franchise has put me through, I still couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing.
The movie feels like it should have ended here. I mean, honestly, no climax is going to surpass something as insane as melting glacier surfing. But the movie carries on for another half hour, with Bond fighting Graves on a plane as he tries to electrocute him with a shit Infinity Gauntlet. The movie finally ends with Miss Moneypenny having steamy VR sex with Bond, which John Cleese interrupts, while Bond and Jinx hook up IRL.
So that’s Die Another Day. It was entertaining in a ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ way, and had moments of ambition. But ultimately? Bad. I think the main problem is that the script’s tone is so schizophrenic it feels like EON tried to fuse two completely different Bond movies into one cohesive whole, and failed completely.
The first half is a gritty, Daltonesque thriller, and the latter is a silver age runaround that even Roger Moore thought was OTT. Seriously, upon its release Moore remarked: “I thought it just went too far, and that’s from me, the first Bond in space! Invisible cars and dodgy CGI footage? Please!”
Having seen all this, it would be easy to assume that this series has finally run out of ideas. After all this nonsense, where else is left for it to go? Well, luckily for me, saner heads prevailed, and Bond next film is less like the Batman TV show and much more akin to Batman Begins.
Daniel Craig, we’re ready for you.