Two surfing scenes, an ice palace, dodgy effects and a warbling Madonna all add up to this – Pierce Brosnan’s final Bond film.
Roger Moore, noted ham and by far the most flamboyant Bond, said of Die Another Day: “I thought it just went too far – and that’s from me, the first Bond in space!” When I first saw it I hated it with the fire of a thousand suns.
Die Another Day (1999)
Directed by Lee Tamahori, with Pierce Brosnan as James Bond (for the 4th and final time)
The Theme Song: “Die Another Day” performed by Madonna
The song is great for 16 seconds and then Madonna starts singing. She’s a pop artist and great at pastiche, but here her vocal stylings are woefully inadequate. The lyrics are mind-numbingly horrible as well, full of non-sequiturs like “Sigmund Frued / analyse this / analyse this”. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this is the worst Bond theme yet and will make you and your loved ones stupider for having heard it.
Bond surfs into frame in the first indicator that Die Another Day is leaving all reality behind. 007’s in North Korea, looking to trade conflict diamonds with the brutal warlord Colonel Moon. The exchange goes sideways as Bond grievously injures Zao (Rick Yune) and seemingly kills Moon during a lengthy hovercraft chase through a live minefield. Bond is subsequently captured and (in a franchise first) the movie continues throughout the credits sequence as Bond is tortured for information against a superimposed backdrop of writhing ladies.
Cut to 14 months later and a very hairy (hobo-like) Bond is released in exchange for Zao in the demilitarized zone. 007 returns home, embittered and unsure of his position within the secret service. He basically goes rogue, escaping his hospital confines and looking for revenge against Zao and whomever in MI6 betrayed him. His search leads him to Cuba, Iceland, the United Kingdom and back to North Korea as pursues Gustav Graves – a wealthy British industrialist who’s harnessed the power of the sun with a giant frickin’ laser beam.
James The Fighter
Gustav Graves is a fun concept – a Richard Branson-like entrepreneur whose outwardly benevolent veneer hides his craven lust for power and wealth at all costs. Actor Toby Stephens has an eminently punchable face and his lip snarl is second to none. The ridiculous twist (one of many homages to former Bond films, this time Mr. Big in Live And Let Die) is he’s actually Korean Colonel Moon, having undergone extensive “gene therapy” to convert him into a ginger Brit.
Zao is his second-in-command and main henchman, sporting a bald pate and embedded diamonds in his face. Other than his unique look, he doesn’t get to do much beyond threaten Bond with a permanent sneer. Most of the action is severely underwhelming, over reliant on shoddy effects and lacking in gravitas. Bond surfs not once but TWICE, pilots a rocket car AND an invisible car, effortlessly dodges all of the bullets all of the time, and generally just exists in a movie that throws logic, physics, internal consistency and all sense of weight or impact out the window in a callous and crass attempt to one-up previous Bond movies.
James The Lover
Like Tomorrow Never Dies, Die Another Day again pairs Bond with a supremely capable female counterpart in the form of Halle Berry’s Jinx. And while Jinx’s entrance (which pays homage to the immortal Ursula Andress emerging from the water scene of Dr. No) is stirring and full of promise, much of that potential is squandered by a tone-deaf and broad performance by Berry that in all fairness has her saddled with terrible dialogue as well. Unsurprisingly, a planned spinoff movie never materialized.
The other love interest for Bond comes in the form of Miranda Frost, played by a young pre-Gone Girl Rosamund Pike. Covertly working for M to keep tabs on Bond, she proves to be a worthy foil for 007 but is turned into a stock villain once it’s revealed she’s actually in league with Graves (she likes to win at all costs too). She gets a climactic fight scene with Berry’s Jinx, but like much of the movie the action is muddled and unconvincing.
- The new Q (John Cleese) gifts Bond with the dumbest gadget yet – an invisible car that proves the screenwriters simply weren’t trying. Q’s lab offers glimpses of previous gadgets like the alligator boat (Octopussy) and iconic jetpack (From Russia With Love), as if to say “Remember these? Look here!”
- Madonna shows up as a fencing instructor! Sadly her character is denied an epic death scene
- Among the many homages to previous films, Jinx is trapped and threatened with a slow moving laser (Goldfinger)
- There are two virtual reality sequences that allow the movie to indulge in unlikely scenarios (Bond shooting M; Moneypenny and James hooking up) without dealing with any of the fallout
- Michael Madsen plays a Felix Leiter stand-in and sleepwalks through the role
- In case you didn’t hate the Madonna theme song enough the first time, there’s an even worse remix over the end credits that feels like a cruel twist of the knife
Uninspired direction (lots of unnecessary slow-mo), cheap sets (the ice hotel being the worst offender), terrible effects and a generally listless story all combine to create the perfect storm of the worst Bond film. The 20th film in the series, Die Another Day is jam-packed with references to all the previous Bonds but is devoid of their heart and soul. This is soulless franchise filmmaking at its worst and to me represents a nadir in the series. Brosnan ends his run much like Connery and Moore before him, with his worst entry being his last. It would take four years and a certain controversial casting choice (Blonde bond? Sacrilege!) to revive the series and wash the bad taste of Die Another Day away.
- From Russia With Love
- Dr. No
- The Living Daylights
- The Spy Who Loved Me
- You Only Live Twice
- Live and Let Die
- For Your Eyes Only
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
- Licence to Kill
- The Man with The Golden Gun
- The World Is Not Enough
- A View to a Kill
- Tomorrow Never Dies
- Diamonds Are Forever
- Die Another Day
(A new!) James Bond will return in Casino Royale…