Dec 14, 2017
Die Another Day (2002) (part 1 of 6)
Note from the author: For an alternate take on this movie, I recommend you check out Ryan Lohner’s recap of the movie.
SUMMARY: James Bond is back, going up against a demented villain with an orbiting death ray and an editor who apparently learned his craft while hopped up on Jolt Cola. Yes, it’s time for Die Another Day to get a second session in the Agony Booth.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of two spy thrillers, both of which are incredibly silly, way too over the top for their own good, and pathologically obsessed with what’s been done before.
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The first is the Vin Diesel flick xXx. Made in a blatant attempt to show up the Bond films, it featured Vinnie as Xander Cage, an extreme sports enthusiast with his own web show who gets roped into the secret agent game by Samuel L. Jackson. The film was fairly pathetic in how it conducted itself, opening with a secret agent clearly intended to be Bond getting killed after trying to blend in at a punk nightclub while dressed in a full tuxedo.
The rest of the movie is pretty much the same crap we’ve seen before in every other action movie from the early ’00s, only with an unlikable jerk-ass of a hero, and a lame “we’re cool and everyone else sucks!” attitude that’s truly off-putting. It’s funny; the other big spy franchises like Mission Impossible and the Bourne films have never felt the need to take down what came before. Kind of explains why the fourth Mission Impossible movie hit the jackpot recently, and we’re getting another Bourne sequel in August, to be followed by a new Bond epic in November!
In the case of xXx, they mustered up a pretty crappy sequel in 2005 (directed, ironically enough, by the director of our subject today) starring Ice Cube, that bombed. Yes, Ice Cube, since Vin Diesel wasn’t interested, I guess. To compensate, the producers took the wonderfully mature road of brutally killing him off (or at the very least, a guy made up to look like him) in an extra on the first film’s extended cut DVD that came out before the sequel was released, probably alienating the few fans of the original.
Yeah, you stay classy, guys.
So, to sum up, in 2002 the film that was intended to take over for the Bond films as the big spy franchise was done in by being arrogant, selfish, and generally inconsiderate towards anyone who might possibly enjoy it.
Making the movie look even worse is how much better our feature today is. Die Another Day is exactly what I described above: silly, over the top, and obsessed with the past. The main difference is in this case, it works to the film’s benefit… More or less. To be fair, you can argue that it does some of the same things wrong that xXx does, and I readily admit that the fact this out-grossed xXx is more a reflection on how bad the Vin Diesel movie is than how good this one is.
Die Another Day is pretty much the Moonraker of its time, which is both good and bad, as we will see.
The film came out in time for the 40th anniversary of the series, so the film is chock full of references to the previous 19 movies that came before it. For the most part, they’re incorporated into the movie pretty well, but as with all things, perfection is unattainable.
We get tons of action, lots of good looking women, plenty of explosions, your prerequisite cheesy humor (both intentional and unintentional), and most importantly, the great unanswered philosophical question of our era: If an invisible car is involved in a crash, will the insurance company cover it?
Like Rambo III, it’s roughly half a good movie and half a rather meh one, so I’ll give it about 8 out of 10 invisible cars for the first half or so, and about 6 out of 10 for the rest. Let’s check it out.
We begin in bombastic fashion, as the traditional gun barrel logo is enhanced by a CGI bullet flying towards the viewer after the gunshot.
Following this, the film proper begins in North Korea, where three guys in camo gear surf towards the coast, complete with enthusiastically overdone music from David Arnold.
Actually, that description doesn’t really do it justice, as the bit is given an almost ‘80s level of over the top energy, with one surfer appearing, then another as the wave crests, and then a third after that. And that’s just one little sequence!
Yes, even the establishing shots in this movie are over the top. It’s like somebody took a James Bond film and gave it steroids.
The surfers reach their objective, and of course, it turns out to be 007, along with some cannon fodd—Uh, I mean partners. Yeah, partners!
Bond and company take out a communications network, and end up intercepting a helicopter carrying Mr. van Bierk, a South African fellow with a suitcase who just happens to look a little like Bond. I love the little smile Brosnan gives as he takes the man’s sunglasses. His films were sometimes hit and miss (The World is Not Enough would be a miss in my book), but he usually threw in some nice touches to the character.
A touch that isn’t quite as good is the way director Lee Tamahori shoots the pre-credits sequence. I think he wanted to show this was taking place sometime before the rest of the movie by de-saturating the color, but to be frank, it just looks bad. Making things worse is the title card after the main titles that flat out tells us fourteen months have passed, making the choice a rather pointless one.