Ahead of the release of SPECTRE this month, the Bond Reloaded series takes a look back at each film in the iconic James Bond franchise. This time, in Die Another Day, Bond meets a new foe – CGI waves.
The release of Die Another Day in 2002 marked the fortieth anniversary of the James Bond franchise, as well as the twentieth film in the series. New director Lee Tamahori, who had previously helmed James Patterson crime adaptation Along Came a Spider, stepped into the series for Die Another Day, in which Bond battles a corrupt diamond tycoon and finds trouble greeting him when he is dispatched to North Korea.
Whilst Pierce Brosnan returned to the role of James Bond, it was all change elsewhere for the franchise, with computer generated imagery making a big entrance. Nostalgia was also on the menu, with nods to every single other film in the series littered throughout Tamahori’s film, scripted by The World is Not Enough writing duo Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.
Despite the promise of Die Another Day, the resulting film was something of an ugly mess. It has since gone down as perhaps the worst film in the history of the James Bond character and was almost solely responsible for the series taking a hiatus until the Daniel Craig-led Casino Royale rebooted the chronology in 2006. Looking back on it with modern eyes, it’s perhaps even worse than critical opinion would suggest.
An icy welcome
The film sees Bond captured and tortured by a North Korean general, before being released in a prisoner exchange for Korean terrorist Zao (Rick Yune). He is then forced to go rogue in order to track down Zao and tracks him to a plastic surgery clinic, where he meets US agent Jinx (Halle Berry). The trail leads them to suave, arrogant diamond entrepreneur Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) and his mysterious assistant Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike). He invites Bond to a product launch at an immaculate ice palace, but things soon take a rather destructive turn.
There are myriad problems in Die Another Day, starting with the ludicrous plot, which brings back the weirdest elements of the physical transformations in Diamonds Are Forever, which were questionable even in the 70s. The twists and turns are ridiculous, particularly once you factor in the slightly too nasty portrayal of the early torture sequences. The torture is presented alongside Madonna’s theme tune, which is a sensible choice given the frankly excruciating song the artist recorded.
"He did you? I didn’t know he was that desperate."
Matters aren’t helped by Toby Stephens’ over-the-top villain. As soon as we first meet Graves, it’s clear that he’s a bland character and this isn’t helped by the fact that he spends the final act of the film speaking Korean and wearing a strange robotic suit. His diamond-faced henchman Zao is far more compelling, trading quips with Bond in one fight scene. However, his big moment is taken from him by the real villain of Die Another Day – an over-reliance on unconvincing and ridiculous CGI.
One of the major action set pieces of Die Another Day is a car chase between Bond and Zao, with the villain’s Jaguar boasting many of the signature weapons that have graced Bond’s cars over the years. Bond, himself, drives his new Aston Martin Vanquish – complete with the bizarre ability to render itself invisible at the owner’s will. This infuriating CGI trick is far too sci-fi for Bond and renders aspects of the car chase irritating, when they should be gripping. Bond’s car chases have always been gritty, visceral and noisy, but Die Another Day transforms them into something glossy, sanitised and pretty dull.
The CGI usage gets worse. The entire final act of the film features dozens of mad special effects sequences, including the attacks carried out by Graves’ Icarus satellite, rendered in the kind of style that is now available to just about anyone with a video editing package. It isn’t the use of CGI in Die Another Day that makes it terrible, but the slapdash way in which it is used.
A jinx on Bond?
Things are no better for the pair of Bond girls in Die Another Day – both of whom have thankfully gone on to do much better things. First up, Halle Berry, who appeared in Die Another Day only months after scooping the Best Actress award at the Oscars for her role in Monster’s Ball. Jinx, however, is a cardboard cutout of a character, first introduced in an homage to Ursula Andress’ arrival in Dr. No. She joins a long line of Bond girls who are secret service agents, but are still written as inferior to Bond.
Elsewhere, Rosamund Pike – years before wowing critics and audiences as Amy in Gone Girl – is given very little to do as Miranda Frost. Introduced as Graves’ assistant, Frost is very quickly revealed to be an MI6 colleague of Bond’s on her own undercover mission within Graves’ organisation. Frost’s main role in the narrative of Die Another Day is to flip allegiance constantly, never allowing the character to showcase anything in the way of depth.
"You can’t kill my dreams. But my dreams can kill you."
It doesn’t help that Die Another Day also butchers the fragile equilibrium of the MI6 setup that had been such a crucial part of the franchise throughout the previous four decades. John Cleese, as talented a performer as he demonstrably is, simply isn’t Q in the same way that Desmond Llewelyn was and the transformation of Samantha Bond’s Moneypenny into a sex-crazed Bond stalker is an unforgivable departure from her character. This aspect of the story was clearly not a priority for the writers and, as such, it feels played entirely for comedy to a disturbing degree.
Die Another Day is such a catastrophic failure on every level that it’s difficult to understand why director Lee Tamahori was not pushed more into line by the big movers at Eon. His movie is entirely out of step with the Bond franchise and, instead of proving an exciting vehicle for the nostalgic references it packs in to previous films, it instead uses that nostalgia as a get out of jail free card for its major departures from the tried and tested formula.
Blast from the past?
Die Another Day premiered at the Royal Albert Hall in November 2002 at an event attended by the Queen and Prince Phillip. This marked the first time a Bond premiere had featured the royals as guests since You Only Live Twice back in 1967. If only they had picked a better one to see. The film made in excess of $400m worldwide, becoming the highest grossing film in the franchise at the time, when not adjusted for inflation.
Bizarrely, critical reception for Die Another Day at the time of the release was reasonably positive. In the New York Times, the film was lauded as being the best of the Bonds since The Spy Who Loved Me and Entertainment Weekly praised Tamahori as a “true filmmaker”. Roger Ebert called the film utterly absurd “in a slightly more understated way” than usual in his positive review.
Since its release, reaction to Die Another Day has veered more towards the film’s true status as something of a cinematic trainwreck. James Berardinelli accused the film of throwing the 40 years of Bond history down the toilet and former Bond Roger Moore said that even he, the first Bond in space, felt that the sci-fi elements of the film pushed things a little too far.
"I know all about you – sex for dinner, death for breakfast."
Best forgotten, Die Another Day brings Pierce Brosnan’s career as James Bond to an end with far more of a whimper than a bang. A duo of intriguing Bond girl performances are squandered on the way to a poorly plotted story, which falls apart under the weight of some utterly terrible CGI. It’s no surprise that Bond went considerably darker when it returned a few years later…
Next time, Daniel Craig brings Bond up to date with the gritty Casino Royale.
What do you think of Die Another Day? Was this the right time for Brosnan to leave Bond behind? Let me know in the comments section.