Die Another Day (2002) (part 1 of 7)
The early ’90s were a dark time for Bond fans. From 1962 to 1989, no more than two years had ever gone by between films. But then the supply suddenly dried up and people started worrying. Was the series really finished?
Thankfully, a full six years after the previous film, Goldeneye hit theaters in 1995. It brought with it a new Bond in Pierce Brosnan and a entirely new approach to the series. The old office sets were done away with, and there was a new, female M played by Judi Dench and a sassier Moneypenny played by the wonderfully named Samantha Bond. Thankfully, Desmond Llewelyn stayed on as gadget master Q until his death in 1999. His final film The World Is Not Enough luckily introduced a protégé played by John Cleese just in time. The series was now in completely new hands, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time, because the fortieth anniversary of the series was fast approaching and the people in charge knew they had to come up with something big to mark the occasion.
Unfortunately, what they churned out was Die Another Day. It’s not hard to figure out where this film went wrong. In an attempt to give fans of the series more than just a typical Bond film to celebrate the anniversary, the filmmakers loaded it with references to previous Bond films to the point where they forgot to give the film any kind of identity of its own. The result is the only Bond film that I would describe as feeling hollow. There are some good ideas here to be sure, but the execution leaves much to be desired and the result is simply another big, dumb action film of the caliber we see far too much of these days. Since I own every film in the series and have seen them all numerous times, I figured this would be a great target for my next Agony Booth article. So without further ado, let’s dive in.
Right off the bat, we get a hint of just how big and dumb the film is going to be, as the standard gun barrel opening is set to what could almost be called a calypso version of the theme song, and the bullet Bond fires is actually seen coming toward the camera.
The teaser sequence takes place in North Korea, where three guys are seen surfing some huge waves onto the beach. We’re actually watching real stuntmen surfing here, making this easily the most impressive part of the movie. It’s not good that it’s the first scene.
The boys slip past some guards on the beach using the time-tested method of hiding behind a sand dune until they pass. Of course, once the guards pass, they come right out into the open and thus would be screwed if the guards happened to turn around.
One of them takes off his mask, revealing that it’s James Bond himself. Meanwhile, director Lee Tamahori displays the first of many annoying gimmicks that will be on display in this movie, as the entire section of the film that takes place in Korea is given a color de-saturation treatment like in most of the film M*A*S*H. It’s far less successful here, because we’re actually supposed to care about these characters, and tricks like this just make the audience aware that they’re only watching a film.
One of the other guys removes the bottom of his surfboard, revealing a bunch of spy gadgets. He then takes a pair of pliers and rather easily snips a wire which shuts off an alarm system somewhere. Bond busies himself by twisting the handle of a knife and sticking it into the ground, making a satellite transmitter come out. Hey guys, you should really pace yourselves here. Don’t use up all the good gadgets now.
The signal causes a helicopter to land near them, carrying a guy with a suitcase who looks somewhat like Bond. Bond takes off his wet suit to reveal an outfit identical to the one Bond-Look-Alike Guy is wearing. Hey, just like in Goldfinger! Stick around, because there’s plenty more references where that came from. The three spies easily overpower the guys in the helicopter, and just to add insult to injury, Bond even swipes his look-alike’s sunglasses.
On the helicopter, Bond opens the suitcase to reveal an insert full of diamonds. He takes it out, puts some C4 in the case, sticks in a pin that I guess intercepts a signal from his watch somehow, then puts the insert back in. Pretty tricky, except that the insert was clearly up to the edge of the suitcase when it was opened, so there’s no way it would fit inside with that block of C4 under it now.
Elsewhere, some trucks pull into what the caption identifies as “Colonel Tan-Sun Moon’s H.Q., De-Militarised [sic] Zone, North Korea.” Actually, we already had a caption that said this was North Korea, but thanks anyway.
Inside, the eponymous Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) is punching and kicking a heavy bag, then he tells his men to open it, revealing a man inside. He snaps, “That will teach you to lecture me!” He then watches Bond’s helicopter land in the base, as he tells someone off-screen to find him a new anger therapist. Introducing this guy with a joke like this will prove to be something of a bad idea, as seen later on.
As Bond disembarks, one of the guards snaps a picture of him with some Whatever Technology and transmits it somewhere. Hang on to that thought for a while. A guard introduces himself to Bond as Zao. Just to give you an idea of the taste in roles that actor Rick Yune possesses, on one of the DVD commentaries it’s revealed that he wanted the far smaller role of Colonel Moon until he was talked out of it. That doesn’t inspire much confidence in his decision to be in the film in the first place.
Colonel Moon appears and introduces himself, and Bond helpfully exposits to the audience that the guy he’s impersonating is a middle man in a trade of military hardware for African conflict diamonds. Moon reveals he majored in “western hypocrisy” at Oxford and Harvard. Maybe it’s just the frustration talking, but this really seems to be just an update of the college-educated evil Japanese guys seen in many an old war movie. Anyway, this line leads Bond to point out a long line of sports cars, leaving no doubt as to the fate they’ll meet either now or by the end of the film.
Zao calls in the weapons, which are carried in by five hovercrafts, one of which is much bigger than the others for no apparent reason. Moon exposits some more about the hovercrafts being necessary to avoid all the land mines in the DMZ, although you know they’ll come into play anyway in the big action scene that’s doubtlessly about to occur. As Bond hands the diamonds over, Zao gets a message on his Whatever Technology that reveals Bond’s identity. He quickly shares this with Moon.
Moon displays a big honking gun, then shoots Bond’s helicopter a bunch of times. Or maybe it’s just one shot edited to make it seem like a bunch of times, or maybe he’s shooting more than one thing. It’s really hard to tell, and sadly this Michael Bay-lite technique will be displayed by Tamahori a lot more for the duration of the film. The helicopter explodes, and Moon reveals he knows who Bond really is.
In a line that comes off a bit differently today, Moon taunts Bond with, “It’s pathetic that you British still believe you have the right to police the world. You will not live to see the day that all Korea is ruled by the North.” Bond shoots out the first of many particularly half-assed quips: “Then you and I have something in common.” The events are interrupted when Moon’s father, General Moon, radios to say he’ll be arriving shortly. Man, don’t you hate it when your folks cramp your style like this?
The younger Moon orders the weapons off the base, and tells Zao to have Bond killed. He hops on the big hovercraft and skedaddles. The guy who’s supposed to kill Bond just stands around for a while for no apparent reason, even while Zao is shouting at him to do it. This gives Bond time to twist his watch and set off the C4 in the suitcase. This provides enough of a distraction for him to escape. As he takes off, we get a quick glimpse of Zao where, due to the explosion, he now has diamonds embedded in his face in a total “remember this for later” moment.
Bond proves predictably impossible to hit, even by several guys firing machine guns. Soon, he commandeers one of the hovercrafts. He somehow intuits which button shoots some kind of explosive thing, which he shoots at one of the cars, which flies backwards into a bunch of barrels, which all explode. Then he presses more buttons, and more things blow up. Hey, I’m doing the best I can describing this.
After shooting at some other stuff off-screen and making more things blow up, Bond gets another hovercraft on his tail. He shoots the controls for the gate surrounding the base, causing it to come crashing down. He scoots under it at the last moment, leaving the other hovercraft to run into it and make a much bigger explosion than you’d expect, if you were expecting one at all.
Col. Moon, still on his own hovercraft, notices Bond on his tail and again takes out the big honking gun. He suddenly proves to be a terrible shot, missing four times despite Bond not really making any evasive maneuvers at all. Moon sics the other two hovercrafts on Bond. Bond gets rid of one by broadsiding it, which somehow makes it flip over and lightly tap some kind of bunker, which explodes in another huge fireball. Geez, were they storing Pintos in there or something?
Through some confusing editing, Bond ends up alongside Moon, who shoots up the area with a machine gun and then with a flamethrower. Unfortunately, he leads a little too much and only succeeds in frying the area right in front of Bond. The other hovercraft shows up just as Bond enters the aforementioned minefield, and he gets rid of his pursuer by shooting a couple of mines, which throw up enough dust to get the hovercraft to run into a tree and give us another big explosion.
Through the magic of more confusing editing, Bond gets in front of Moon. This allows Moon to ram him real good. This forces Bond to climb onto the big hovercraft and shoot the driver. Moon gets out a gun that seems kind of puny next to what he’s been using so far, but Bond foils him by coming out holding out a bulletproof vest that just happened to be right in his hiding spot. Moon dutifully shoots the vest instead of taking the easy shot at Bond’s legs, and is even bettered at hand to hand combat despite his proficiency shown earlier.
Moon gets to the flamethrower and Bond is forced to leap to the side to avoid the flames. But as Moon heads back to finish him off, Bond somehow (I suspect you’ll be seeing that word a lot before this recap is over) gets back into the front of the hovercraft and speeds it up. Moon is pinned in place just as the hovercraft crashes through a temple and down into a waterfall on the other side. In what frankly seems like kind of a rip-off, there’s no explosion this time. Come on, they had to know everyone was waiting for the big one to explode.
Bond is revealed to have survived by grabbing on to the temple’s bell ringer. He jumps down and says, “Saved by the bell,” to no one in particular. Earlier films tended to be pretty punny too, but a lot of the quips on hand here are just plain lazy.
General Moon shows up and reacts to the situation by capturing Bond and ordering him to be taken away. His men then torture Bond by a dunking him in some ice water, which is the sight that leads us into the opening credits.
Visually, the credits sequence this time around is pretty good, with fire and ice girls frolicking around, while in the background Bond keeps getting tortured in a variety of ways. However, you also have to take into account… that song. Madonna’s opening tune is definitely one of the worst Bond themes of all time, on par with Lulu’s insipid theme from The Man With the Golden Gun. And let’s face it, Die Another Day is a much easier title to build a song around.