Friday, July 5, 2013

007 Movie Project: Die Another Day

This summer we are blowing your mind by counting up all of the Eon Productions James Bond films!  We'll rank all 23 official Bond films and tell you which are the very best and which are less than spectacular.  We'll also pick our favorite Bond, Bond girl and Bond villain.  So strap in and join us as we stroll through the Bond library!  We'd love to hear what your favorites are along the way!

We'll get the absolute worst of the bunch out of the way directly

Die Another Day

Too much.  Die Another Day is a Bond movie killed by excess.  Excess of spectacle, excess of useless characters, excess plot, this movie just has too much of everything we don’t need.  The plot is nonsensical, and not in a workable way, but in a “why are we doing this” way.  The scripting is stilted and scenes between Bond and both of his love interests end up being extremely awkward and stiff, never smooth and suave.  And while both of those have been problematic for the series historically, DAD (sorry dads out there) suffers from a third strike in the form of absolutely over-the-topness.  Absolutely.  Case in point, near the end of Act II, Bond engages his nemesis (which is a feint, as his true nemesis is set up to be, though never realized as, the person who betrayed him in North Korea) in a fencing duel that quickly escalates into a full blown sword fight.  That alone is pretty interesting and smacks of the glass museum fight from the Moore era. But rather than enjoy the moment and its novelty, the fight goes on far too long, becomes far too involved, ends up outside and all over the grounds of the private club causing volumes of damage, and ultimately resolves unsatisfactorily with the intervention of the character who fills the role described above.  It’s too much.

All of this is symptomatic of the cinematography and style of filmmaking which also lets the film down again failing to knit together a coherent story.  And when the story starts to lag, the movie fills the gaps with trendy filmmaking gimmicks like slow motion, fast motion, and quasi-Matrix level computer generated camera angles.  The film is so busy being told in a fashionable way that it doesn’t get told very well at all. (see Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance)

The opening sequence and the bit with Q (man, oh, man I miss Desmond Llewellyn), played here successfully by John Cleese, are about the only parts of this movie worth seeing.

Brosnan continues to please as Bond, but is given so little to do that you almost forget this is a Bond movie.  He is consistently upstaged by the sidekick he is saddled with, but we’ll get to her in a minute.  It is unfortunate that his era will end on such a low note, but Brosnan certainly has left his mark on the role and to his credit, never had a bad performance as the character.

Bond Girl Miranda Frost: Fetching but wasted in a confusing plot.
Now, I mentioned a sidekick.  Halle Berry is set up as our Bond girl for this film, but she also feels as out of place as Terri Hatcher or Denise Richards felt in the two previous Brosnan era movies.  Honestly, her character comes across more as a second rate Michelle Yeoh from Tomorrow Never Dies than anything else.  Her character is an agent along the lines of Yeoh or Pam Bouvier from Licence to Kill, but lacks the conviction or the impact of either of those characters.  Berry’s performance is less than spectacular and it is unsurprising that the desperate attempt to spin her character Jinx off crashed and burned before it ever left the hanger.  On the flip side, the underused Miranda Frost character provides a bit more meat for a Bond girl, but is also given little to do and is often lost in the shuffle.  This is wasted potential, particularly since she should be the primary villain.  For my money, Rosamund Pike is also far more fetching than Halle Berry here.

Toby Stevens (Gustav Graves) and Rick Yune (Zao) share the role of top villain playing dual foes for Bond.  Gustav is the primary villain and mad planner, but his plot is beyond megalomaniacal and borders on the insane, along the lines Dr. No or Moonraker (which this film is a veritable remake of).  The scenes where he matches wits with Bond are exceptional, the rest is a bit off.  Zao, on the other hand, is a great top level henchman, and is sadly not given as much to do as might have been helpful to the film.  I still don’t know why they never take the diamonds out of his face?

Overall, Die Another Day is a definite low point for the franchise.  Excessive everything, ridiculous plotting and terrible stylistic filmmaking drown competent actors and potentially interesting story elements to create a mess that guaranteed that this would be the last film of the Brosnan era.  They tried so hard to pack this film with homages to the franchise due to the release falling on an anniversary year, but it comes across, instead as a James Bond garage sale where everything is overpriced and no one has a clue what they are selling.  This was an easy pick for the bottom of the barrel.

Aimee here:

Wow, that Marvel Project seems like it was over fast. What are we reviewing again? Bond films? Ok. This is something I thought I was already comfortable with doing, but after watching them all again (some for the first time!) I realized that some long-held biases were completely unfounded, and some assumptions I made were totally false. I came to know what a "true" Bond film really was, and which films lived up to that weighty standard. Too over-the-top? Too much action? Not enough levity? Severe dearth of sharks? Over the coming weeks we'll see many examples of the finest tropes in 007dom, and many, many examples of James lurching across the big screen like a cinematic Frankenstein, cobbled from bits of unused scripting from his previous films.

Unfortunately, there is no worse film in this regard than Die Another Day.

Die Another Day started off rough for me, and while I was of movie-going age when it came out, I refused to see it--despite a deep love of the Pierce Brosnan Bond. I must say, my opinion of it did not change much having finally sat down with it. The Madonna title song (and her subsequent unnecessary cameo!) are pretty dismal, as Bond anthems go. It's certainly no Goldfinger.

Hello, Madonna, you're looking strange as always.
This film's plot makes no sense. I had Stan explain it to me half-way through because I honestly wasn't at all following it. Like my husband, I have no idea why a henchman/villain wouldn't remove diamonds from his face. You can get all the plastic surgery you want, but I'm pretty sure like Interpol or the CIA would be only too happy to ID you based on the diamonds lodged in your face without a fuss. Seriously. How many people are there out there who have 1) the opportunity to have at least a dozen diamonds lodged in their face and 2) the opulence necessary to say "nah, no need to remove these!" Maybe it's different in the universe that this film takes place in (as it clearly wasn't ours) but I think that just having that kind of injury would make you subject to a lot of unwanted attention during daily tasks like walking outside or talking to people.

So it's a diamond-smuggling plot about a North Korean kind-of-defector I think who becomes a German man in about 4 months. Assuming Bond is captured and immediately put in prison, he's only gone for a few months before getting out, in which time the North Korean that he (supposedly) killed has built up an enormous infrastructure for his nefarious plots, turned Frost to his side (or was there ever a question?), had enormous amounts of surgery/DNA therapy to become German-looking but also British, remove all trace of previous accents, and put together a mega-plan that will allow you to rule the world and get revenge on your father. In four months.

In the middle of this, we have Halle Berry wearing the Ursula Andress bikini for no other reason than to wear it and we have the signature vehicle for no other reason than to see it and we have a lot of miserable homage that goes way, way over the top and is just painful, really, and bad. Halle's character is just worthless here. A terribly forgettable Bond girl and a performance that is really very flat are the only standouts for one of the most-heralded castings in the history of the franchise.

Look, she's astonishing in this bikini, make no mistake, but there's no reason for her to wear it. None.

We have Q branch providing a really over the top cloak for the vehicle which, honestly, makes little sense for the application of this film. I won't judge too harshly as Q is the only good thing in this film...although no one could take the place of Desmond Llewellyn, who had recently died. The scene with Q is good, though, and one can definitely appreciate all the previously-featured gadgets that make cameos here. But for the much-hyped 40th anniversary, I must say that they should have stopped there with the homage.

The film suffers greatly at the hands of absolutely dated film-making techniques, that I am personally glad have managed to stay in the early-2000s.

This was the only Bond film on the entire list that I had trouble sitting through. To say that I didn't enjoy it would be an understatement. I detest the virtual reality Moneypenny/Bond "love scene". Really, everything in the movie was like that--unnecessary, over-the-top, and painful to endure. It's quite plain they wanted this to be a loving homage, but they fail all over the place. There's a basic lack of respect and understanding for the films that came before--even the ones that featured Brosnan.

Die Another Day is terrible. Next!

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