With all the 2012 shenanigans going on this year and Britain being the focus of the world for everyone (except us miserable Brits who are refusing to get caught up in the swirl of Union Jack clad mayhem we are being subjected to) it seems only fitting that the greatest living fictional Brit is also celebrating a jubilee this year. Yes, it’s 50 years since everyone’s favourite right-wing, gun-toting psychopath killed his first bad guy on screen, for Queen and country. And probably cos he quite enjoys killing people a bit too much.
The release this week of the first Skyfall trailer seems to have made everyone forget how dreadful Quantum of Solace was and focus instead on how the series has been rejuvenated by the casting of Daniel Craig, and the darker, more sombre tone. Sadly, ten years ago, for the 40th anniversary of Bond’s first on-screen shag, things were a little different.
Pierce Brosnan was being wildly credited with reviving the sexist, misogynist dinosaur for a new audience. Out were Roger Moore’s raised eyebrow, Timothy Dalton’s obvious disdain for a role beneath his abilities, and Sean Connery’s wigs. In came a confident swagger, better supporting actors and bigger action. And after three hugely successful films of variable quality it was decided for the big 4-0, they would go for broke on a thoroughly schizophrenic adventure which would combine a tough revenge thriller, of a kind hard core Fleming fans wanted, and high octane thrills for the mass audience.
What we got was Moonraker 2.
It’s been a long time since I last saw Die Another Day. I caught some of it on ITV a few months back and turned it off as soon as the first ad break appeared (I think it was before the opening titles), so I came back to it having largely forgotten huge chunks of it. But it was just as dreadful as I remembered it being.
If you can’t remember Die Another Day, you’re very lucky. So I’ll refresh your brain. It’s the one with the invisible car. Yes, that got through the committee script process: an invisible car. That pretty much sets the tone for everything else in the film.
Halle Berry plays another ‘female Bond’ who is as talented, resourceful and dangerous as him, but still needs to be rescued four times throughout the film. Toby Stephens is the sneering villain (and a wonderful sneer it is too) called Gustav despite the fact he’s supposed to be from Argentina (but isn’t really). Rosamund Pike is the far more attractive, and more interesting secondary female, and is consequently given little to do. She may be a spy, or she may be working for Gustav. She changes her mind everytime the plot starts to sag.
Bond is banged up in North Korea after killing a General. He’s busted within seconds of landing his helicopter despite pretending to be someone else. This is not the last time you’ll think “Actually, Bond is a bit of shit spy”.
14 months of torture later (over which plays Madonna’s entry for the ‘Worst Bond Theme Ever’ competition. It’s not clear if that’s part of the torture.), he’s still wisecracking with the father of the general he killed, but finds himself traded for the henchman Zao, a character so dull they have to imbed diamonds in his face to make him appear more interesting. MI6 think Bond has cracked and is leaking secrets, so naturally, they let him escape from a high security boat in Hong Kong harbour, so he can find out what’s really going on.
Much tedium ensues as Bond goes to Cuba, shags Halle Berry, blows some stuff up, has a sword fight with Gustav (one of the better scenes in the film, despite Madonna’s contractually obligated pointless cameo) before the villain invites him to Iceland for the demonstration of his diamond encrusted space laser. You know, just like the one Blofeld had in Diamonds are Forever.
Once we get to Iceland things go from bad to worse. We meet ANOTHER henchman called… dear, lord… Mr Kil (sic). There’s also a weasley electronics nerd who talks like Peter Lorre, who’s designing a Robocop style suit for Gustav to control his space laser.
The villain’s lair will here be played by a palace made entirely of ice (nice idea, based on a real hotel in Scandeweigia somewhere), which of course will have to be destroyed. Nice twist is that the villain blows it up himself in an attempt to drown Halle Berry. Odd this, as she’s trapped in a room made of ice that’s melting. Surely, it can’t be that hard to escape from? And why not just blast her directly with your space laser, instead of s-l-o-w-l-y melting the building?
Meanwhile Bond is trying to escape bad guys (by running away, like a girl) by stealing Gustav’s ice riding thing (it looks like a canoe with skis), and ends up ice surfing into the worst CGI ever seen in a $150 million movie.
Horace Goes Skiing
Bond then remembers he hasn’t driven his new car yet, so goes back to the ice palace and takes on Zao, who himself has a souped-up, gadget-laden motor. Nice, if pointless, idea, but it results in one of the dullest car chases in the series since they just keep blowing each other’s missiles up. It’s a shame, as the logistics for staging the sequence of a car chase on a frozen lake, were huge. Sadly, most of the good work is lost thanks to Tony Scott and Michael Bay editor, Christian Wagner. Ooh, sped up then slowed down car chases… exciting. The sequence does feature one of the series best ever moments though, when Bond uses the ejector seat to flip his car the right way up after being hit by a rocket.
Then there’s a ridiculous climax as our heroes stowaway on a big plane, while Gustav space lasers the demilitarised zone between the Koreas, so the North can invade the South. People get sucked out of the plane, obviously and Halle Berry calls Rosamund Pike a bitch. Which isn’t very nice.
And then we get that bloody awful Madonna theme song in an even worse, bloody awful remix version.
END. Thank god.
There’s so much wrong here, it’s hard to know where to start. The Moore-isms are back with a vengeance, but Brosnan just doesn’t convince, and comes across as a sleazy old man (particularly his continual advances to the excellent Pike who was, literally, half his age). The scene where he flirts with Hale Berry on their first meeting, is frankly the worst dialogue that has ever appeared in a Bond movie (with the possible exception of Moore’s ad-libbed “That should keep you in curry for a few weeks” to his Indian contact in Octopussy).
And Berry, is no better, possibly even worse. It’s hard to imagine this is the same woman who won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball when she was making this. Every line she delivers tumbles from her gob, with her tongue visibly in her cheek. It’s like she knows it’s complete crap, but at least she’s having fun making it. I think it’s a good example of why Bond movies are normally better with lesser known, better actors, than with BIG NAME stars (with the exception Christopher Walken). Did anyone really go to see Die Another Day just because Halle Berry was in it? Come to think of it, has anyone EVER gone to see a film just because Halle Berry was in it? They certainly didn’t go and see Catwoman. Miaow.
"How do you know I'm good?", asked Halle. "You're not, love", replied the audience
Stephens has fun as Gustav. Many criticised his rather broad performance, and sneer, but as he’s created a new personality for himself, he clearly says he based it on Bond. It justifies all the perceived awfulness, as he’s just being Brosnan as a bad guy.
Judi Dench is her usual flawless self, facing off against an angry Bond AND Mr Blond (Michael Madsen was considered for a recurring character but it never happened. Sadly, she doesn’t slap Bond down when he snaps “Let me get on with my job”, which in the earlier films she most certainly would have.
And Rosamund Pike is excellent, considering this was her first film. She desperately tries to make Miranda Frost an interesting character, despite the script. And her contempt for Bond is as marvelous as Luciana Paluzzi in Thunderball.
A gratuitous picture of Rosamund Pike
It’s just an absolute mess. It’s like one of the major studios, with big American producers, had decided to make a rival Bond movie and got everything wrong (just like Casino Royale ’67 and Never Say Never Again). Poor CGI is tossed around, unforgivable in a series which has always prided itself on real stunts, and high quality craftsmanship in its model work. Even in this day and age, for some reason, Bond movies have never been able to master back projection. Some of the shots are as bad as the legendary Jaws on a cable car from Moonraker, which did feature real stuntmen hanging off a cable car on Sugar Loaf mountain WITHOUT a safety cable. I doubt very much a stuntmen went anywhere a glacier for the ice-surfing scene.
The dialogue is so pun heavy it starts to resemble a Carry On film, or worse, a Confessions film. None of the characters are particularly interesting, they are all just archetypes: female Bond, villainous turncoat, villain, henchman, mad doctor, cannon fodder, singer who wants to be in the film…
The excuses for its overindulgence were that it was supposed to be a celebration: 40 years, obviously, but also it was the 20th (official) film. So the film is peppered with references to all the other films in the series, some obvious, some more cryptic. What this does though, is lift you out of the film, and kills any momentum or tension it may have generated. How can you stay involved with something that every 5 minutes is nudging you going “Look, did you see that? Look it’s the jetpack from Thunderball. Look it’s the Union jack parachute. look Gustav nearly said ‘Diamonds are Forever’, but then didn’t. Aren’t we so clever?”
No, you’re not clever. You’re annoying. It feels at times like one of those awful Dr Who specials for Children in Need. I expect Terry Wogan to appear throwing a metal rimmed hat, or Graham Norton to menace Brosnan with a metal arm. Actually, either of those would have been preferable to Bond fighting Mr Kil surrounded by killer lasers (still, with the fricking lasers?).
You can make a case for several Bond movies being the worst in the series, but they all have something to redeem them. Except this one.
Die Another Day was the last DVD to leave its cellophane straight jacket in my DVD box set. I suspect when the Bluray box arrives, it will remain there forever.