Die Another Day (2002)

The Bond franchise is no strange to inconsistent and scatterbrain films, but Die Another Day is easily the most broad, inconsistent and bold failure in the franchise. However, as purely awful and downright hideous as the film can be, it’s not among the worst of Bond’s exploits. There are a few redeeming qualities that make Die Another Day intriguing and entertaining for brief spats of time.

The film has one of the strongest setups in the series. James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) poses as a weapons buyer in North Korea. When the deal goes south, Bond ends up a prisoner and is tortured by the North Korean military until he’s finally traded by MI6 for the dangerous Zao (Rick Yune). They fear Bond has let out important Intel and plan on keeping him restrained, but Bond has other plans.

It’s a cool setup that puts Bond in a completely different place, emotionally and professionally. It questions his strength and resilience and makes the mission perilously close to a revenge fantasy for Bond.  The problem becomes that the film never makes this setup pay off in any meaningful way, certain things come back to Bond, but they don’t feel as poignant or personal as they could be.

The trouble with the film is that it becomes way too gadget and technology heavy. The opening action set-piece is ruined by some silly technological goofiness and later on, the film actually destroys the entire need for this technology to exist. Perhaps in 2002 this tech had people geeking out, but even then, the film become so reliant on it that the wits of Bond are replaced with expensive toys.

The lowest point of this gadget heavy affair is when the obligatory car chase happens. Instead of being a pursuit, it becomes a gunfight with cars as they shoot missiles and weapons back and forth at one another. It’s silly, over-the-top and ruins the entire pursuit and flow of the chase as the cars become too clunky and grounded for the pursuit to become exhilarating.

Even the fight scenes without the gadgets are horribly calculated. There’s an extraneous sword fight about halfway through the film that becomes an excessive display of collateral damage and masculine compensation. What it has in grounded mass of swordplay, it loses when it drags the entire affair out to such a length that it becomes dull and lifeless.  The only exception is a cool little gunplay action sequence with a twist result. It’s got good momentum and is short and sweet.

After the setup, the only element that gives this film any sort of life is the Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry) character. She’s one of the better Bond girls, another spy who plays off of Bond well. In some ways, she’s the female version of Bond and it’s interesting to see how she comes across as a female character who feels like a true equal to Bond in a way some of the other female spies never quite reached.

But even then, the film is mired in terrible plot, a lot of horrible casting decisions and the fact that there’s too much stuffed into too little.  In those moments, the film fails to be intriguing or entertaining. Even the displays of excess are so drawn out that they quickly become an absolute bore to endure.

And to make it all the worse, the film tops off the ending by once again destroying and demeaning another Bond character in the most tasteless way possible. The desire for an adolescent sex joke goes too far and feels like an all-time new low for the Bond series.

In that regard, I understand why many call Die Another Day one of the worst, if not the worst, Bond film. Its lows are some of the franchise’s worst points. However, I think there’s enough good material to save it from being counted among the number of the more consistently dull and terrible affairs that make up the absolute worst of the Bond series.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing