Saturday, October 13, 2012

Brandon Peters dissects the 007 series part 20: Die Another Day.

With Skyfall dropping in theaters in just a few weeks, along with the 50th anniversary of the James Bond series, a close friend and fellow film nerd, Brandon Peters, has generously offered to do a comprehensive review of the entire 007 film franchise. Today is the twentieth entry, with a full review of one of the worst films in the franchise, Die Another Day. I hope you enjoy what is a pretty massive feature leading up the November 9th release of Skyfall. I'll do my best to leave my two-cents out of it. But just because I'm stepping aside doesn't mean you should. Without further ado...

Die Another Day
Director: Lee Tamahori
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Rosamund Pike, Toby Stephens, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, John Cleese

I’m Mr. Kil
                        ~Mr. Kil

Okay, so I’m starting a little early, but I have to mention this.  This moment is so horrible.  Bond gets out of his car and this big goon by the side of the road just awkwardly and out of place says this to him.  FOR NO REASON.  Bond doesn’t acknowledge the guy or anything.  Its almost very “I like turtles” variety.  And seriously?  Mr. Kil?  That’s like calling Oddjob ‘Mr. Hat’.  Or Red Grant “Blonde Strong”.  Or calling Jaws…uh…oh…well…”Giant Metal Mouth Biting Man”. 

Kills:  16
Bond Girls:  Jinx, Miranda Frost
Cars:  Aston Martin Vanquish
Locales:  North Korea, Cuba, Iceland
Odd Villain Trait:  Zao has the side of his face embedded with diamonds
Song:  “Die Another Day” performed by Madonna

Ridiculous.  If I were to describe Die Another Day with just one word, that’s what I would choose.  Bond’s 20th film, released on his 40th anniversary features poor direction, performance and much absurdity with an overabundance of call backs (some obvious and some very Where’s Waldo-ish).  Like the other long tenured Bonds, Roger Moore and Sean Connery, before him, Pierce Brosnan bows out on an obvious sub par entry and one of the worst films of the series.  Funny, both Pierce and Sean left off with diamond related satellite-laser beam plots by madmen who are having DNA reconstruction done to change faces.

Die Another Day’s plot resembles the book Moonraker more than the film of that name.  After being set up and taken in to North Korean captivity, Bond is released in exchange for terrorist Zao.  An assassination happens shortly after, making MI:6 suspect that under extreme torture, 007 has given up top secret information to the North Koreans.  Stripped of his license to kill, James Bond goes on a hunt to find out who set him up.  Aided along the way by NSA agent Jinx, Bond’s investigation leads him to British billionaire Gustav Graves.  Graves has built the satellite Icarus, intended to provide sunshine for crops year round.  But alas, Graves is actually General Moon, whom Bond thought he killed at the opening of the film.  Moon has gone through complete DNA reconstruction and taken the identity of Graves.  Graves isn’t the only person who isn’t who they appear to be, as fellow MI:6 agent Miranda Frost is the one who set up Bond all along and is working with Moon.  Moon intends to use Icarus to cut a path through the Korean Demilitarized Zone so North Korea could invade South Korea.

Lee Tamahori takes the director’s seat for this one.  Prior to this, his notable films were The Edge and the really bad Along Came A Spider (side note, after this fall, this may not be the worst Alex Cross film anymore).  After Die Another Day he did garbage like xXx: State of the Union and the embarrassing Next.  Bond’s 20th film and 40th anniversary is a big deal and the producer’s knew it.  They delayed production so that they could hit that mark.  So why not bring in a better known director?  Why not pair Brosnan back up with Martin Campbell.  Pierce Brosnan was championing Brett Ratner for the film, but the producers wanted a non-American.  I won’t say this about him often, but Ratner would have been a much better choice.  Tamahori makes some really weird and noticeably out of place in the 007 world decisions.  To start off, we get a bullet zipping by the screen during the gun barrel sequence.  There is also an over abundance of some really weird slow motion at times.  The film is marred by a heavy reliance on CGI for its special effects, lacking in the practical stunt work the 007 series is known for.  The opening titles also try to feed us some story mixed with the silhouette dancers.  This would be fine and not so bad, if they didn’t use a flashback five minutes after to show us everything that just happened in the opening titles again.  When I use the word ridiculous, most of that aim is going at Tamahori.

There are a lot of really dumb ideas brought into the film.  As if starting with James Bond surfer dude isn’t enough, later in the film he gets out of a situation in a RIDICULOUS kite surfing moment that is pretty much entirely CG.  It is REALLY bad and possibly the dumbest moment in the franchise.  A lot of the action is just too much, over the top and too fantastical.  I know there’s been some big over the top stuff moments in earlier films (space, I know), but those were done with practical, physical effects and stunts.  There’s much more enjoyment and charm watching something you know is real compared to obviously computer generated stunts, vehicles and locations.  Did I mention there’s an invisible car?  Ridiculous.  And the one practical action moment that should be cool, is just comes off as incredibly juvenile.  I love sword fights like everyone else, but this one has no respect for logic, character or plausibility in the story.  Yes, the film forces itself by a few brush lines to acknowledge what just happened, but it shouldn’t have gone to that place to begin with.

2/3 of the villains in this one are awful.  I’m giving Miranda Frost a pass.  Rosamund Pike is pretty good and makes a pretty thin character more intriguing and interesting than she should be.  And it’s not her fault for that stupid costume during the final battle.  Gustav Graves is turned in by a horrible performance by Toby Stephens.  I can tell just by this film why I’ve not seen him in anything since.  The character in itself is pretty stupid, but Stephens make it worse with his RIDICULOUS performance.  I feel like I’m watching the villain in a really bad kids movie from the 80s/early 90s with him.  It’s not campy fun, not so-bad-its-good, just flat out bad.  I don’t have many things to say about Zao other than he is a cool concept, but the actor stinks.

I have been waiting for this moment for pretty much this whole series.  One of my biggest pet peeves of this film – HALLE BERRY.  I mentioned last time I preferred Denise Richards to her.  Jinx is something we’ve seen before, a rival spy from another country.  For some reason, Berry can’t bring any credibility to her being this character.  She also can’t decide what kind of personality Jinx should have.  She’s so tough.  Now she’s a damsel in distress.  Now she’s a dollar bin Coffy.  Ope, now she’s a smitten teen in love.  It’s all over the place.  My biggest beef with her is she tries to blatantly upstage everyone in any scene she’s in.  It’s rather annoying.  Her ego just shines through this whole thing.  You can tell she’s thinking she’s much better than she is.  And to think they were going to attempt a spin off of this character?  NOOOOOO THANKS!  We’ve had our share of bad actresses and miscast women in these films, but nothing as ego driven and determined to steal scenes with every frame which in turn hurts the overall film.  At least the other actresses tried to be a part of the whole, rather than try to slit throats on their way to the top.

Also of note that Madonna, someone people long wanted to sing a Bond tune, provides the title song.  However, they got Madonna far too late.  The Madonna you wanted was in the 90s.  Her Razzie award winning song sounds more like a club single remix than a Bond song.  Its really weird and doesn't make a lick of sense (Sigmund Freud? WTF?). 

Despite my gripes and the fact this film is rather bad, I have to say it’s actually watchable.  You will shake your head and groan throughout, but it’s pure shut your brain off entertainment.  The film’s pace really does move and has lots of explosions, crashes, and gunshots to carry to the end.  I’m sure there’s a level of fun people can have with this movie.  The film does start out with a great concept, but then begins flying off the rails when 007 reaches Cuba.  I do like glass shatter ring gadget and some of the action, while silly, provides some fun.  The film also became the highest grossing film of the franchise.  But, the producers weren’t too trusting that going on in this direction was the right move.  And wisely, they chose to move on to a different path with 007.

Brandon Peters will return in CASINO ROYALE

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Alan Worsley said...

The thing about Die another Day is I always thought the opening in Korea was one of the best in the franchise. I LIKED the fact that Bond got caught and tortured and at the time, it seemed a much darker turn for the Bond franchise and showed an unusual amount of vulnerability for Bond. Then the rest of the movie happened and it was just "where the hell did THIS come from?" Everything else was awful. Which was a shame - because I thought the movie was going in an interesting direction at first. Also, Halle Berry was terrible.

James O'Leary said...

i agree with Alan about the opening--very good. Then we get Pierce Brosnan in a obviously fake beard and bad long-haired wig. That's the warning bell that this movie is going to suck form here on out (that, and Lee Tamahori name as director).


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