Short Take: The last of the Brosnan Bond movies feels just as safe and pedestrian as the one before it. However, Die Another Day lacks the memorable silliness of its predecessor, making the plot look like it’s only going through the motions.
I’d be lying if I said that I was unhappy to leave the Brosnan Bond’s. Like the other three, Die Another Day contains a hero who looks only partially interested in being there, inside of a plot that grew asinine instead of intriguing over an extra-long running time. A gadget-fest that uses entirely implausible means for characters to get into and out of often bombastic problems, Die Another Day seems like it was written with haste by people not completely convinced. As a result, the performances are equally disengaged, as though play-acting caricatures of action characters as opposed to letting them grow from within.
After Bond surfs into North Korea, he kills a soldier named Colonel Moon before being taken captive and held for fourteen months. When released (in a completely contrived misdirection by a North Korean general) in a trade for a ruthless villain named Zao, Bond is momentarily removed from MI6 for being a threat to the organization. Bond traces Zao to Cuba where he meets a beautiful NSA agent named Jinx. Bond then runs into a wealthy diamond pusher named Gustav Graves and his assistant Miranda Frost. Bond discovers that Frost is also an undercover MI6 agent. Turns out Gustav is actually Colonel Moon whose undergone a facial replacement procedure. Zao and Gustav prepare to activate a satellite that will allow North Korea to redirect sunlight and monopolize all the world’s crops. When Frost reveals herself as a traitor working for Colonel Moon, Bond and Jinx must together take down all three villains before they start worldwide chaos.
There’s something that bothers me about the Bond movies, which is that the villains are often uncovered before they actually commit any visibly bad deeds. Bond et al. swoop in right before something happens and the villains turn out to be some of the most forceful armies of assassins in existence. I get that this is part of the formula, but couldn’t there at least be something we see on-screen that shows an evil character doing something bad; just as a way to raise plausible stakes for our hero? Die Another Day is the biggest offender of this idea. While I can intellectualize how bad North Korea is, there’s an existing knowledge that the viewer must bring to the film for it have any resonance. For instance, imagine you know nothing of North Korea or the horror of blood diamonds. How then would this story have any weight at all? It’s the job of a film to make the viewer feel the tension of what could happen if the hero fails. The Bond films have a way of forgetting that part of storytelling while resorting to redundant action scenes.
That said, Die Another Day succeeds at setting up its villain, planting its plot twists, and following through, assuming you are willing to go with it. Going with it means buying into all the ridiculous gadgets (an invisible car and a face replacement surgery being the worst) and suspending disbelief as this technology helps to create and diffuse situations. The problem of the plot resting on suspense that doesn’t existence on-screen only heightens how difficult all these tricks are to swallow. Had there been a more effective base for the story to rest on then perhaps Bond’s fresh technology would have been a nice 21st century addition to the franchise. Instead, the film at times feels like a poorly written Science Fiction film rather than a suspenseful thriller.
On the plus side, watching Die Another Day this time (this was the only Bond I had seen previously) I was taken by Halle Berry. I had remembered her as the wax figure Goddess who saunters in from the ocean and says her lines with plastic cadence. However, she actually sparkles amongst otherwise flat performers. While her strange street-wise overtones don’t completely add-up or come together, she’s often the most exciting part of the adventure story. Unfortunately, she just doesn’t have all that much to do, save run around with a gun and then get herself in trouble so that Bond can save her.
It was pleasant to see that this film was actually cohesive and made at least some semblance of sense. Assuming you are willing to go with the “face-off” idea, the plot was easy to follow and stuck to its through-line from beginning to end. I was fearful the film would devolve into a chaotic battle scene for the last half-hour, similar to Tomorrow Never Dies. Yet, the set pieces in the last portion were fairly well-built and corresponded with the flow of what was set up in the first half. It seems like this should be a given for any professionally made film, but the Bond sagas have a way of veering far away from already cumbersome plot ideas. Die Another Day, for a Bond film, is actually quite simple in narrative structure. While I wouldn’t say it’s engaging, it’s at least palatable.
The worst thing you could say about a film is that it was “all right” and that’s precisely what Die Another Day is. Without the uniquely bad acting of The World is Not Enough or the original stylings of GoldenEye, Die Another Day only plays better than Tomorrow Never Dies because it doesn’t digress into an explosive mess. Yet, what it does do isn’t all that memorable or exciting. It simply exists. A serviceable action film with only reasonably exciting set pieces and performers that go through the motions. Perhaps the most fundamentally sound of the Brosnan Bond movies is also easily the most forgettable. [C+]