Sunday, November 1, 2015

Die Another Day (2002)

The name is Bond, James Bond.  For fifty-something years, the super fly super spy has been fighting, shooting, killing, and sexing his way across movie screens.  There have been twenty-three Eon produced movies about the secret agent, with another being released out this coming weekend, as well as two movies not produced by Eon.  The man has become synonymous with the spy genre.  Though many franchises (Mission: Impossible, Bourne) have tried to take this one’s spot at the top of the spy game, the James Bond films still manage to be the standard.

I’m not going to be discussing Spectre, since I obviously haven’t seen it.  The movie is still a week away from opening wide.  Instead, I’m going to go back to the previous incarnation of Bond.  I’m going back to the previous actor to fill the shoes.  Pierce Brosnan played James Bond in four movies.  The final of his tenure is the focus of my attention this week.  It is what I might consider to be the worst of all Eon produced James Bond movies, and that’s saying a lot with the amount of movies that there are.  The movie is Die Another Day.

The movie came out in 2002.  It followed James Bond as he dealt with the North Korean army and a wealthy British man who built a machine that could use the sun to destroy parts of the Earth.  As I’ve already said, Pierce Brosnan was once again in the role of James Bond.  This time, he was cast alongside Halle Berry as Jinx Johnson, Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves, Rosamund Pike as Miranda Frost, Rick Yune as Zao, Judi Dench as M, John Cleese as Q, and Michael Madsen as Damian Falco.  It was a fairly large, recognizable cast doing spy stuff.

Die Another Day is an easily watchable movie, so I don’t want to spend the post eviscerating the movie.  There are good moments throughout the movie.  There are also bad moments.  I would be doing a disservice to this blog if I decided not to mention those bad qualities.  For these reasons, my idea for this post is to point out a bad thing, followed by a good thing, followed by a bad thing, and so on and so forth.  Why don’t I get this started with something bad?

This is actually two bad things wrapped up in one.  First is the fact that she was hired to perform the theme song of the movie.  Die Another Day was a dance pop introduction to a James Bond film that felt anything but how you would expect a James Bond theme song to feel.  Most themes have a grandiose feel to them, whether it is Skyfall by Adele with the big vocals or A View to a Kill by Duran Duran with its driving beat.  Die Another Day feels like it is holding back on the size, being confined to simplistic dance pop.  Adding to that is the fact that it plays over an opening sequence that actually moves the story forward.  The song feels misplaced.  The lyrics semi-fit with what is happening but the sound seems to ruin the mood a little bit.

The other side of Madonna in Die Another Day is that she actually appears in the movie.  Madonna has a small role in the movie during a large sword fighting scene between James Bond and Gustav Graves.  Madonna can act.  Sometimes she is a serviceable actor.  She wasn’t bad in A League of Their Own.  And she was fitting in the short film The Hire: Star, where she played a celebrity being chauffeured by Clive Owen (not playing Clive Owen but how awesome would it be if he was playing himself).  In the case of Die Another Day, she seems entirely unfitting of the situation.  It’s not that her performance is overly bad.  It is okay.  She does feel like she is acting, but that’s forgivable.  The issue is that she has zero chemistry with anyone around her and she talks really weird.  There are hints of an accent at some points, and at others, no accent at all.  She gets the mannerisms right though, so that’s something.

The Cast
The vast majority of the cast in Die Another Day is good.  Judi Dench is so good that when they rebooted the franchise, they brought her back as the same character.  She makes a great M in whatever iteration of the character she plays.  A female authority for Bond gives an interesting counter to the character’s misogynistic ways.  He might bed and abuse women, but there’s one in charge of him.  Halle Berry holds her own to the point that producers were hoping to spin-off her character into a side franchise of spy films.  Sure, she’s not great.  She’s still one of the better aspects of the movie.  Instead of being a ditsy, bad agent like Mary Goodnight in The Man with the Golden Gun, she is a tough, capable spy well embodied by Berry.  In terms of the pre-reboot films, she is one of the better performed Bond girls, I’d say.  People might argue that.  Oh well.

Other actors like Michael Madsen, Rosamund Pike, John Cleese and Rick Yune manage to pepper the movie with solid performances.  Each makes the movie a little better with their presence.  They know what they are doing in their roles and bring something different than everyone else in the movie.  Without them, the movie would have fallen into complete shambles, even though it almost already goes there with other aspects of the movie.

The Reverse of You Only Live Twice
To set this part up, I should probably explain what happened in You Only Live Twice.  In that James Bond film, James goes undercover in Japan.  He must get some makeup done to make him look like a Japanese person.  It’s really quite racist in its depiction of that material.  You would never expect something like that to happen in a more modern James Bond movie.  Surely we have moved beyond that kind of insensitive material.

Not really.  Near the end of Die Another Day it is revealed that Gustav Graves is not all that he seems.  He is actually Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee), a North Korean military man who got cosmetic surgery to look like a Caucasian British man after James Bond threw him off of a cliff.  Of course, this one isn’t as racist.  It isn’t actor Will Yun Lee donning makeup to look whiter.  It is a different actor playing the role.  It still seems weird that the big twist for the villain is “Oh yeah, I was that guy.”  It wasn’t necessary at all, other than explaining his henchman.  Makes it weird that his father didn’t know, though.

The Henchman
Rick Yune was a solid henchman to Gustav Graves.  He was believably tough.  He was believably menacing.  He got a good death.  And he had a good look.  Zao is a unique enough henchman to stand out among some of the more popular villains.  He is probably not looked upon as fondly as a Jaws, Oddjob, or Nick Nack because he’s in one of the more rejected films in the series.  That doesn’t mean he isn’t memorable.  He is a tough henchman with diamonds stuck in his face.  That’s something that makes him stand out.

The Car
An invisible car is not a cool thing in a James Bond movie.  You want the character to have cool gadgets, but you want them to be at least somewhat realistic.  Back when the franchise began, the gadgets were things like a suitcase equipped with a knife and some money.  Die Another Day took the gadgets to the extreme of insanity with an Aston Martin that could not be seen.  The technology made no sense, computer graphics weren’t great at the time, and the fact that it distorted the look of people when they walked around it made it a bad addition to the arsenal of James Bond gadgets.  Seriously, if someone saw someone else through the car, they would see a distorted image and know something was up.  That’s a major drawback to the cloaking.

The Ring
I do not dislike the ring.  There is a ring that James Bond gets that can emit a frequency that will break glass.  Sure, it might be more dangerous a gadget than depicted in the movie.  How is it targeted?  Who knows?  It still seems like a reasonable gadget to me.  It is something that can get Bond out of a tight situation.  It is useful.  It doesn’t need to be stealth or anything.  It looks like a normal ring.  Used correctly, though, it gets Bond to safety.  It isn’t an overly convoluted idea.  I like it.

I’m going to finish the post on a topic that fits both the good and bad of Die Another Day.  Sure, I will have missed some stuff that happens in the movie.  I know that.  There is a lot to dissect with this movie and, to spoil my thoughts about the future of this blog, I may come back to it at some point.  Who knows?  The topic is…

The Action
The most important aspect of any James Bond film is the action.  The series is known for its elaborate set-pieces and stunts that push the limits of what you would expect.  Let’s think back on the action that has been in the series.  There are large sets built for climactic battles seen in movies such as You Only Live Twice, Goldfinger, and Moonraker.  There are car chases and stunts in movies like Diamonds Are Forever and The Man with the Golden Gun that feel realer because they are practical stunts.

That doesn’t mean that all of the stunts in the franchise have been practical.  Hell, some of the most classic Bond films have bad green screen work.  That is so the producers can put the Bond actor into the action instead of only having stunt doubles.  Roger Moore did it a lot, especially when it came to skiing.  Remember the opening of The Spy Who Loved Me?  There are many inserted shots of Roger Moore during the skiing in that scene.  Before the cliff jump, of course.

Die Another Day has a weird mixture of the two, with much more reliance on computer effects than many previous Bond films.  Some of the action scenes, such as the early hovercraft chase, is done mostly practical with real hovercraft driving around.  And most of these sequences are entertaining because of the practicality.  But it was the early millennium when Die Another Day was made, so there was going to be much more focus on computer graphics when making the action in the movie.

The entire climax of Die Another Day is dependent upon computer graphics.  The climax involves Gustav Moon (as I’m going to call him because he’s really that other non-white character) attacking the Earth with his sunbeam machine thing.  There is a steady bright orange light throughout the scenery as everything in its path is either burned or exploded.  Then you have the plane that everyone is on, which begins to crash and stuff while they are all in it.  It goes down looking like computer garbage

To sum all of this action talk up, the practical stuff is pretty good.  The computer-based stuff is terrible.  This movie is a mixture of good and terrible and it tears at itself as those two styles fight for their screen time.  There are good ideas, but the movie goes beyond its limitations in the effects department.

Die Another Day isn’t all bad.  There are lots of things to like about the movie, while at the same time there is lots to dislike.  As a whole, it wouldn’t be near the top of my favourite James Bond movies.  It’s perfectly watchable, if grating at some moments.  It is also one of the most orange and blue movies I’ve ever seen.  That’s irrelevant to what I was writing about but I felt the need to let you all know that.  The movie is worth taking a look at, but don’t expect high art.  It’s a flashy, if a little bit dumb, action movie that is meant to entertain.  For the most part it does that.
These notes might not entertain much.  They’re here anyway:

  • Die Another Day was suggested by @MarceloJPico.  You can also check him out at @TalkFilmSoc or check out his podcast The Talk Film Society Podcast.  He previously suggested Chicks Dig Gay Guys.
  • Halle Berry is making her second appearance in the Sunday “Bad” Movies this week after she was previously in New Year’s Eve.
  • Will Yun Lee appeared before she did, making his first Sunday “Bad” Movies appearance in Torque.
  • Have you seen Die Another Day?  Is it good or bad?  Am I right or wrong?  I’m probably wrong on everything I’ve said in this post.  Tell me all about it in the comments.
  • You can also use the comments section if you want to suggest a movie.  Just tell me what movie you want me to watch for the Sunday “Bad” Movies.  Most movies get consideration.  If you want to be more direct, you can find me on Twitter and tell me there.
  • Next week’s movie will be The Marine 4: Moving Target.  I watched the first three Marine films a couple years ago in a triple feature week.  The Miz, star of the third, returns for this new installment in the Marine franchise.  I was excited when I found out this came out and saved watching it for this blog.  The week has come.  Am I hyping it up too much for myself?  We’ll see next week.

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