IT'S THE ONE WHERE
James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is disavowed by MI6 after being captured and tortured in North Korea.
Subsequently he heads off on a personal vendetta to kill the Korean Zao (Rick Yune), one of the men responsible for his predicament. The mission leads him to Cuba, where he meets saucy agent Jinx (Halle Berry). Eventually the trail leads to international playboy and millionaire Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). Ostensibly a perfect, driven specimen of Western capitalism, Graves is not what he appears to be, and the space-based Icarus program he's currently developing probably isn't either. Bond sets the course for Iceland, to investigate Graves, and soon has his hands full. In more ways than one, nudge-nudge.
This time Bond, doesn't flirt with Moneypenny, the secretary. She does get to make out with him, but alas this is just a holographic training program. Meanwhile the real Bond sleeps with operatives from two different agencies: Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), a colleague from MI6, and the aforementioned Jinx, from NSA.
This is also the film with the invisible car.
THE SECRET PLOT TO RULE THE WORLD AWARD GOES TO...
Gustav Graves, who wants to - sigh - control the entire world with his amazing new technology. His goofy grin and superior fencing skills are apparently not enough to threaten the world into submission.
Then there's Zao, whose face has been scarred by the initial encounter with Bond. He's got diamonds stuck in his face. Why he doesn't just pick them out is unclear, maybe it's because diamonds are forever? Just a thought.
Also, there's someone who betrayed Bond when he was originally captured. This person will also have an important part to play, but I don't want to spoil anything.
I'm a little ambivalent about Die Another Day. On one hand it's a gorgeous, sprawling, big budget action movie - exactly the kind I love. On the other hand it's so detached from reality that it should probably be labeled as science fiction or fantasy, rather than as an action movie.
The overall globetrotting style of the film is the only thing that works perfectly. The story takes us to Korea, Cuba, China, England, and Iceland. The locations are vasty different and very interesting. There's the monochromatic look of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, the bright warm colors of Havana, and the white snow-covered surfaces of Iceland. Bond even returns to london, to an abandoned underground train-station, which conceals a secret MI6 office.
We'll ease our way into "the bad" by way of the bad guy Gustav Graves, who's suitably sleazy and obnoxious. Bond is introduced to him in a fencing club, and the following duel between them is fantastic. They pretty much trash the entire place, trying to get the upper hand. Unfortunately Toby Stephens' portrayal of Graves goes downhill from there. It's not entirely his fault, though. He's stuck with a character whose big plan involves a giant laser in space, world domination, and an Iron Man-like suit (clearly we're in an Austin Powers film). What can he do, but laugh manically and twirl his invisible mustache?
This leads us into an even more problematic area, with the introduction of the DNA altering technique used by the bad guys. A special gene-therapy, which can change your appearance, down to the microscopic level. Listen, you can't alter your DNA. Believing you can is a fundamental misunderstanding of the real world. This is not just a throwaway gag, the entire plot is riding on this. Then of course there's the invisible car. James Bond is not usually a stickler for scientific accuracy, but this really stretches movie-reality to a breaking point. Bond's new car actually has a Star Trek-style cloaking function. It's physically impossible to create something like that, especially using the technique described in the film. And once again this is not just a funny gadget, the car plays a crucial part in several scenes in the film. Speaking of Star Trek, at one point in the film Bond trains in a simulation, which can only be described as a holodeck - a photo-real virtual reality device, where he can hone his super agent skills. Later there's a fist-fight which is complicated by a runaway laser-beam.
It's impossible to defend the film beyond this point. I could have accepted one of these missteps, but a DNA machine, an invisible car, laser-beams and a holodeck is too much for one damn movie, unless it tales place on the bloody Enterprise. And I haven't even covered the abundance of physically impossible action scenes, like Bond surfing CGI waves in Iceland, or driving his car backwards and upside down (!), while firing rockets and guns.
Many regard Die Another Day as the ultimate meltdown of the modern Bond movie, and a total failure on every level. I disagree, I think it works on some levels, except for all the really important ones. I like watching Die Another Day, because it's stupid and over the top, but you won't hear any objections from me if you hate this movie with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. Most people do.
And so we bid farewell to Pierce Brosnan's take on Bond. Too bad he never got a chance to redeem himself. After this the franchise was rebooted, and a completely different Bond emerged. Daniel Craig has the potential to be the best Bond of them all, if he manages to make a second good Bond film that is. At this point Brosnan is still my favorite.