Interestingly enough in this movie the pre-credits sequence in which Bond is causing mayhem in North Korea is actually part of the main plot, or at least it is an important prologue to the main plot. Bond is captured and spends fourteen months in a North Korean prison. When he is released he finds that MI6 no longer trusts him and no longer wants him. He isn’t pleased about this and he goes rogue. He is convinced that he was betrayed by a mole inside MI6 and he wants revenge. The trail initially leads him to Havana, to a secret medical clinic. He encounters Kickass Action Heroine Jinx (Halle Berry). But to track down the mole he will have to go to to London. There he runs into the villain of the piece, supercilious upper-class business tycoon Gustave Grimes, and he will follow him to his ice palace in Iceland. Lots of action ensues.
It’s probably fair to deal with the film’s strengths first. The action scenes are spectacular. Some are a bit silly but a touch of self-parody in the action scenes has been par for the course in Bond movies since the 70s so that’s no great problem. The highlight of the movie is the sword-fighting scene between Bond and the villain. Sword-fights are the oldest of all action movie clichés but this one has an extraordinary intensity and physicality that makes the cliché seem fresh. The hovercraft battle is original and exciting.
There are enough explosions and gun battles to satisfy any reasonable person.
Some of the gadgets are also on the slightly silly side, like the camouflaged Aston Martin, but again it’s no problem since this is expected in a Bond film.
The sets, by Peter Lamont, are generally superb. Any Bond Villain worth his salt has to have a cool secret headquarters and the ice palace qualifies nicely (and it’s used to excellent effect). The mysterious clinic and the secret MI6 headquarters are terrific as well.
Gustav Grimes is a very serviceable Bond Villain. Toby Stephens plays him as an arrogant public school bully and he puts plenty of enthusiasm into his performance. John Cleese is fun as Q.
They’re the good things in Die Another Day.
Now we come to the problems. Firstly, the CGI effects are not good. The scenes on the aircraft at the end could have been fun but they look very very fake. The space scenes look cheap and fake. The disappearing Aston Martin provokes laughter rather than wonder.
Not one but two Kickass Action Heroines have been added to assist Bond, champion fencer and MI6 agent Miranda Frost and Jinx. Jinx threatens to take over the film. Now the essence of the Bond character is that he’s a loner. He works alone because nobody can work with him. He’s not a team player. He’s a loose cannon. MI6 tolerates him, reluctantly, because he gets results.
There is a standard Bond formula. We know who the villain is right from the start. MI6 knows as well. Bond’s invariable approach is to get close to the villain (whether the villain likes it or not) and get right up his nose. Put as much pressure on the villain as possible and sooner or later he’ll make a mistake and Bond will destroy him. To do all this Bond neither needs nor wants a sidekick. All the Jinx character manages to do is distract us from the plot, slow things down (and it’s a movie that is already way too long) and shift the focus away from Bond. She’s a completely unnecessary character and she serves no plot purpose whatsoever.
It doesn’t help that Halle Berry and Rosamund Pike (as Miranda) are rather dull and their characters are uninteresting. Actually that’s probably just as well since Pierce Brosnan’s performance is bland and colourless. His Bond seems old and tired. Brosnan was nearly 50 when he made this movie. Of course Roger Moore was much older (and fatter) when he was still playing Bond but Moore had style and charisma and an unparalleled ability to make dialogue sparkle. Brosnan sadly lacks these qualities.
One thing that’s amusing is that this is a movie that is trying desperately hard to be feminist but it’s actually the most sexist Bond movie I’ve ever seen. There’s not a single female character in the film. The ostensible female characters (Miranda, Jinx and M) are simply male characters who happen to be played by actresses. If you replaced Halle Berry, Rosamund Pike and Judi Dench with male actors you wouldn’t need to make any changes to the dialogue or the plot or the characterisations. All you’d have to do is eliminate the very unconvincing love scenes that seem out of place anyway. The message of the film seems to be that women are awesome as long as they behave exactly like men.
The big problem is that in this movie James Bond is no longer James Bond. The character has been watered down to the point where there’s nothing left. He’s been made safe and innocuous and inoffensive. He could be an accountant enjoying a holiday in exotic climes, or be working behind the counter at a chemist’s shop in the High Street. He doesn’t seem the least bit dangerous. You could take him home to meet your Mum. This is Bond made politically correct. And a politically correct Bond is not Bond.
Die Another Day is not in any way, shape or form a Bond movie.