Tuesday, February 20, 2018
"DIE ANOTHER DAY" (2002) Review
"DIE ANOTHER DAY" (2002) Review
The 2002 movie, "DIE ANOTHER DAY" marked several milestones in the James Bond franchise. One, it was released during the 40th anniversary of the Bond film franchise, which began with 1962’s "DR. NO". Two, it was the first time that an actress of African descent portrayed the leading lady in a Bond film. And three, it happened to be Pierce Brosnan’s last Bond film for EON Productions.
"DIE ANOTHER DAY" starts out with a mission in which Bond has to kill Colonel Moon, a young North Korean Army officer who has been illegally selling military weaponry in exchange for African conflict diamonds. Betrayed by a MI-6 mole, Bond is swept up in a chase and shootout that results with Colonel Moon being killed by Bond before falling over a waterfall. In a departure from the usual Bond formula, the agent ends up being captured by Colonel Moon’s father and the North Korean military. He spends the next fourteen months being tortured for information. Disavowed by his superiors upon his release and his status as Double-0 Agent suspended by M, Bond sets out to learn the mole's identity on his own. He eventually uncovers evidence that overtakes his personal vendetta, leading M to restore his Double-0 status. She also offers MI-6 assistance to help him uncover more evidence to support his discovery. Bond’s search eventually leads him to billionaire businessman Gustav Graves, who is actually Colonel Moon surgically altered via gene therapy. Graves/Moon has been collecting African conflict diamonds for an orbital mirror system that uses the diamonds as a source of solar energy for a small area to light the Arctic nights and, if the investment goes well with buyers, provide year-round sunshine for crop development. In truth, the orbital mirror system is actually a super weapon to be used to clear a path through the minefield in the demilitarized zone that separates North Korea from South Korea. Needless to say, Bond discovers the MI-6 mole who had betrayed him and with the help of American NSA agent, Jinx Johnson, destroys Graves/Moon’s weapon and the latter’s scheme.
Since the release of Daniel Craig's first Bond movie, 2006’s ”CASINO ROYALE”, there has been a harsh backlash against Brosnan’s tenure as the British agent. The backlash against "DIE ANOTHER DAY" has grown considerably virulent in the past several years. In fact, the 2002 movie is now regarded by many as one the worst Bond movies in the franchise’s history. Personally, I do not agree with this harsh assessment. I do not view "DIE ANOTHER DAY" as a masterpiece or even among the better Bond films. But I certainly do not view it as the disaster that many have claimed it to be. In fact, my assessment of "DIE ANOTHER DAY" has improved slightly after my last viewing.
Pierce Brosnan had to wait three years after 1999’s ”THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” to portray James Bond for what turned out to be the last time. I do not think I would consider his performance in "DIE ANOTHER DAY" to be amongst his finest. Yes, he had some very good moments in the film that were featured in the following scenes:
-his confrontation with M aboard the British frigate in Hong Kong Harbor
-his last meeting with General Moon before being released and exchanged by the North Koreans
-his first meeting with Gustave Graves at the Blades Club
-and his discovery of the MI-6 mole
But I did have problems with certain aspects of his performance – especially his second meeting with M inside one of the London Underground tunnels and some of the sexual innuendos that he was forced to spout, thanks to screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. In fact, that second scene with M left me with an uncomfortable feeling that dramatic angst might not particularly be Brosnan’s forte. And I find this ironic, given his superb peformance in an old 1981 TV miniseries called "THE MANIONS OF AMERICA". Perhaps he simply was not up to par during the days when he shot that particular scene.
EON Productions seemed to have better luck with the movie’s leading lady, Oscar winner Halle Berry. Many fans felt it was improper for her to co-star in a Bond film – viewing her as a bigger star than Brosnan. I do not know if I agree with this assessment. Both Honor Blackman (1964's "GOLDFINGER") and Diana Rigg (1969's "ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE") were already well-known thanks to the successful (1961-69) television series, "THE AVENGERS", when they shot their respective Bond films. So, I cannot really see the harm in Berry following in their footsteps. She portrayed Giacinta "Jinx" Johnson, a NSA agent investigating the whereabouts of one of the villain’s henchmen, Zao. Her investigation leads to a sexy encounter with Bond in Cuba and eventually a showdown with Graves and his minions in Korea. Due to her current unpopularity with Bond fans, many of them view Berry as the worst Bond girl ever. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps in some way, she does not fit their image of what a Bond girl should be. Personally, I thought that Berry gave an excellent performance, despite some of the bad sexual innuendos that her character was forced to speak. In fact, I really enjoyed Berry’s take on the competent, yet humorous and very sly Jinx. She made the character a fun person to know. And she performed her action sequences in a competent manner. Granted, I did not feel impressed by Berry’s "homage" to Ursula Andress’ watery entrance in 1962's "DR. NO". But I was never that impressed by Andress’ little moment, either. Although I would never list Berry among my top five Bond ladies, I would certainly list her among my top ten. Probably at number six.
British actor, Toby Stephens portrayed Gustav Graves, a billionaire with sinister ties to North Korean agent Zao, a DNA gene therapy machine and a supply of African conflict diamonds that provide energy to a new destructive weapon called ICARUS. Graves turns out to be the same Colonel Moon with whom Bond had clashed (and allegedly killed) in the movie's pre-title sequence. Stephens had the double task of portraying a credible villain against Brosnan's Bond and recapturing Will Yun Lee's performance as Colonel Moon during Graves' private moments. Personally, I felt that Stephens did a pretty damn good job. Not only did he managed to portray Gustav Graves' overblown persona perfectly, he also succeeded in recapturing Lee's portrayal of the scheming and arrogant Moon, who also longs for his father's approval. Unfortunately, being sixteen years younger than Brosnan, there were times I felt that Stephens seemed a bit too young to be considered as an equal adversary for Bond. And quite frankly, some of his dialogue seemed overblown.
Rosamund Pike gives a subtle performance as MI-6 Agent Miranda Frost, who seemed to blow hot and cold toward the sexually interested Bond. Her performance, in fact, strongly reminds me of American actress Grace Kelly's performance in the 1955 Hitchcock film, "TO CATCH A THIEF". However, I did have problems with Pike's love scenes with Brosnan. She seemed to come off as a little too breathless . . . and fake. Perhaps that breathless quality was meant to be an indication of Frost's fake (or real?) ardor for Bond. If so, I feel that Pike may have overplayed her scene a little bit. And like Brosnan, Berry and Stephens, Pike had to endure spouting some bad dialogue. Rick Yune portrayed Zao, Graves/Moon's right hand man, who is wanted for terrorist acts by the Americans and the Chinese. He is the very Zao who is exchanged by the Americans and the British for Bond at the North/South Korea border. Aside from his imposing presence, I did not find anything particularly unique about Yune's performance. All I can say is that he did a competent job. On the other hand, I found myself being very impressed by Will Yun Lee's performance as Gustav Graves' alter ego, Colonel Moon. Like Toby Stephens, he did a beautiful job in capturing Moon's arrogance, impatience and great need to impress "Daddy". And speaking of Moon's father - namely General Moon - it seemed a pity that the latter did not turn out to be Bond's main adversary. Kenneth Tsang portrayed the North Korean general as an intimidating and intelligent man whom no one would want to trifle with. Even Bond seemed to feel the presence of his forceful personality after a joke failed to make any impact. I must commend Tsang on an impressive performance.
Judi Dench returned as M in "DIE ANOTHER DAY". By this time, she had made the role of MI-6's director as her own. But I must say that I did not find anything unique about her performance in this movie, even if she gave her usual more-than-competent performance. John Cleese went from Q's assistant to the Quartermaster in his second appearance in the Bond franchise. And if I must be honest, I enjoyed Cleese's performance very much. Unlike his role in "THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH", he did not ruin his character with ridiculous slapstick. Instead, his "Q" radiated delicious sarcasm and sharp wit. I realize that I am about to commit an act of sacrilege, but I found myself preferring Cleese's "Q" to the one created by the role's original actor, the late Desmond Llewellyn. Do not get me wrong. I thought that Llewellyn did a great job. But I simply preferred Cleese's more acid take on the role. Colin Salmon returned as M's assistant, Charles Robinson. I like the guy, but I barely noticed him in this movie. I did notice Michael Masden's performance as Jinx's NSA boss, Damian Falco. Who could help but notice? The Falco character came off as an aggressive blowhard. Masden tried his best, but the poor man was saddled with a blowhard character that reeked with the "Ugly American" cliche. Pity. And finally, there is Samantha Bond as Moneypenny. Poor woman. Poor, poor woman. I disliked her sexual innuendo-spewing performance in "TOMORROW NEVER DIES". But while watching "DIE ANOTHER DAY", I had to wince through that embarrassing sequence that featured Moneypenny's holographic dream of being seduced by Bond. Personally, I feel that Ms. Bond managed to reach the nadir of her tenure as Moneypenny in that particular scene.
I think it seemed fitting that "DIE ANOTHER DAY" marked the Bond franchise's 40th anniversary. In many ways, the 2002 movie reminded me of its 40-year counterpart, 1962's "DR. NO". The older movie featured Sean Connery's first performance as Bond. "DIE ANOTHER DAY" featured Brosnan's last. Both movies featured the first appearance of the leading ladies emerging from the water. Both featured Asian or part-Asian villains. And both seemed to be hampered by what I feel were schizophrenic plots and production styles.
Actually, that is the main problem I had with "DIE ANOTHER DAY". Like "DR. NO", its story was presented in a manner in which the first half seemed more like a spy thriller and the second half, a fantasy adventure reminscent of Bond movies like "GOLDFINGER", "YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE", "THE SPY WHO LOVED ME" and "MOONRAKER". And instead of the two styles blending into a solid movie like "THE SPY WHO LOVED ME", "DIE ANOTHER DAY"nearly became a schizophrenic mess. I enjoyed the first half very much. Bond's capture by the North Koreans, his and Zao's exchange, his adventures in Cuba and the search for the MI-6 mole who had betrayed him felt like a genuine spy thriller . . . well, except for that ludicrous moment in which Bond appeared in the lobby of a Hong Kong hotel. Unfortunately, screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade really screwed up the movie's second half in several ways. They allowed "Q" to present Bond with that invisible Aston-Martin, which still makes me wince with disbelief. They sent Bond to Iceland and that ridiculous ice hotel owned by Graves. Even worse, they subjected fans to that ludicrous ice duel between Bond (in the Aston-Martin) and Zao (in a Jaguar XKR). The two writers allowed Miranda Frost look like the dimmest woman in the history of the Bond franchise. First, she catches Bond roaming around Graves' Iceland complex and instead of killing him, she decides to have sex with him in order for the writers to confirm Bond's sexual potency. After forcing Jinx to put Graves' transport plane on auto-pilot, Miranda tries to take the latter prisoner instead of immediately lopping off Jinx's head. The second half of the movie also featured the uninspiring fight between Bond and Graves/Moon aboard a military transport over Korea. The only scenes that truly made the movie's second half worthwhile were the tense scene that featured Miranda Frost's revelation as the mole and her deadly fight with Jinx aboard the transport.
Lee Tamahori ("MULLHOLAND FALLS" and "ALONG CAME A SPIDER") directed "DIE ANOTHER DAY". I thought that his direction was pretty solid. But I believe he may have been hampered by Purvis and Wade's schizophrenic script - especially the movie's second half. Speaking of the script, I think I may have already said a lot about it. On second thought, perhaps not. For example . . . the dialogue. Yes, the movie had a some good lines. But like "DR. NO", the dialogue pretty much sucked. Let be more specific, the dialogue containing sexual innuendos pretty much sucked. But that seemed to be the case in most of Brosnan's Bond films. If "TOMORROW NEVER DIES" seemed annoyingly peppered with bad innuendos, "DIE ANOTHER DAY" seemed to choke on them. I truly felt sorry for Brosnan, Berry, Stephens and Pike; who had to spew them every now and then. Cinematographer David Tattersall had beautifully captured the exotic color of Cuba and London's elegance. But that is as far as my admiration can go. I simply could not drum up any excitement over the Korea and Iceland sequences. Madonna sang the movie's title song (penned by Madonna and Mirwais Ahmadzar) and made a cameo appearance as a fencing master named Verity. Many fans raised a fuss over her contributions to the movie. Frankly, I found their fuss a waste of time and Madonna's contributions - both the song and the cameo - rather solid, if not exceptional.
On the whole, I disagree with the prevailing view that "DIE ANOTHER DAY" was the Bond franchise's worst movie or one of the worst. Frankly, I have seen worse Bond films. In fact, I have a slightly better view of "DIE ANOTHER DAY"than I do of the movie it was supposed to be celebrating - namely "DR. NO". But it seemed a shame that Brosnan's last Bond film had to be one of borderline mediocrity.