Die Another Day review: Embarrassingly silly
Ivan Radford | On 25, Sep 2021
Director: Lee Tamahori
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Rosamund Pike, Toby Stephens
If The World Is Not Enough saw Pierce Brosnan start to lose his ability to keep the cheesiness of the James Bond franchise in check, Die Another Day saw The Bronhomme seemingly give up and dive face-first into a giant vat of brie. Terrible dialogue, ludicrous science, a dumb plot. It’s a proper, cheesy Dairylea dunker of a film.
So concerned with 007’s 20th anniversary were Eon that they gave writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade free rein to do whatever they wanted. Despite turning out a solid The World Is Not Enough script, the result here is a string of barely coherent set pieces all conceived with the sole purpose of constantly referring to Bond’s birthday. Old props appeared, parachutes popped out and Bond continued into space with technology that Roger Moore could only dream of. Make no mistake: this is the Moonraker of the 21st century.
The plot, such as it is, sees Bond betrayed while on a mission in North Korea, only for a British billionaire (Gustav Graves – Toby Stephens) to turn out to be connected to North Korea and involved in a plot to invade South Korea and start a nuclear war. There’s potential for something interesting and topical to explore, and Graves’ idea of modelling himself on Bond could even be an intriguing deconstruction of the 007 persona – Stephens turns the sneering arrogance up to 11 and even gets to have a fun sword fight – but any possibility of doing something a bit different is swiftly wasted. Even the henchmen are rubbish, half of them only invented just as an excuse for a pun. “My name is Mr. Kil,” says one after opening a car door. “That’s a name to die for,” retorts Bond. This has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the film.
And we still haven’t got to the invisible car. As if John Cleese as the new Q wasn’t bad enough, Die Another Day then tarnishes the reputation of the Aston Martin as well by turning it invisible – and even a clever use of the ejector seat as a self-righting mechanism can’t undo such nonsense. And then the film has the gall to take Ian Fleming’s secret agent and drop him in the middle of a CGI surfing set piece that’s closer to a PS2 game than a Hollywood blockbuster.
It’s a wonder, then, that Die Another Day starts off so phenomenally well. The Bronhomme grows a proper beard, is banished by M and winds up out of date in the changed, modern world of espionage. Why? Because director Lee Tamahori has one good idea: actually trying to kill Bond. After the pre-titles sequence (including a nifty bit of non-CGI surfing) sees Bond get captured by the bad guys rather than swagger away with a grin, Tamahori spends the whole of the opening credits sequence beating up 007 in a North Korean jail cell. We don’t just see Bond shot. We see his face, wincing, shoved into the camera, surrounded by ice-cold water.
It’s a dark, surprising and unsettling sight (the less said about Madonna’s theme song that accompanies it the better) – which only makes the silliness that follows all the more perplexing. The result sees Brosnan live up to one of the franchise’s key traditions – a Bond actor outstaying their welcome, to the point where they become so old that the action becomes implausible and any hint of romance is cringe-inducingly awkward (even when you get Halle Berry in to play fellow spy Jinx). It’s a fate that Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby escaped – whether Brosnan’s final Bond outing is enough of a cautionary example for Craig and future Bonds is yet to be seen.