‘Brilliantly inept’ is how The Guardian chose to describe ‘Die Another Day’ in an article from 2014. It has a point. ‘Die Another Day’ has plenty of spectacle, even some entertaining moments, yet it is generally considered to be the worst Bond film ever made.

I would argue though that ‘Die Another Day’ has some good moments and perhaps not the travesty that Bond fans suggest. It does, however, have several key problems that are worth exploring.

STRUCTURE

‘Die Another Day’ has an odd structure and I don’t mean the Ice Palace. If one were to break down a basic structural approach for a traditional Bond movie it might go like so: Exotic Location 1 > London > Exotic Location 2 (or 3) > Villain’s lair. This approach isn’t set in stone, but it’s rather how an audience might expect a Bond movie to traditionally work. Crucially, ‘Die Another Day’ ignores this. The decision to send Bond to Cuba after being trapped in North Korea is a good one. It kicks the movie into high gear. Bond doesn’t need to go back to London and the movie can continue. The problem is Bond does go back to London and he’s there for quite a while. Not only getting his own briefing, we also see Miranda Frost being briefed. Bond then has a couple of meetings with M and Q in an underground station just off Westminster Bridge. Then there’s the fencing scene in which Bond gets the measure of Gustave Graves, while wrecking a London club for good measure – it’s quite a time before Bond goes to Iceland. The party in Iceland, followed by Bond’s bedding of Frost and the subsequent outing for the invisible car also seems over-long. By the time Bond’s doing his cgi tidal wave surfing you’re beginning to wonder if this is the end of the movie. It’s not and the action goes back to Korea. Nothing wrong with that ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ begins and ends in Scaramanga’s base, the difference is Bond’s returning to somewhere he’s already been.

In essence then, you could cut out the whole London sequence and still have a coherent movie. Bond could be reinstated on the ground in Cuba, flown straight to Iceland (as Bond reads his mission notes on the plane we intercut with M briefing Frost), Bond then briefed by Q in Rekyavik, drives to Ice Palace, meets Gustav Graves, they fence, then there’s the party in the evening. Bond and Jinx break into the Ice Palace garden, are captured, Frost reveals her duplicity, Bond and Jinx escape and hide onboard Graves’s plane to Korea and then save the day as planned.

STYLE

Lee Tamahori at least imbues the film with some stylistic touches that differentiate the film from ‘The World is Not Enough’s rather dour approach. However, the film feels decidedly un-Bond like because of some of these. ‘London Calling’ playing over the top of the London sequence is from the Big Book of Location Cliches. It’s frankly amazing that we don’t get the ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ playing over the top of the Cuba introduction. Mercifully ‘Gangnam Style’ was ten years away.

The film was (and has been since) criticised for its over-reliance on CGI. The tsunami surfing scene looks particularly bad. While it may well have been rushed to reach the film’s release date it should have been down to Tamahori, who insisted on the sequence, to decide if it was good enough to be shown onscreen. Another of Tamahori’s additions was the car chase in the Ice Palace, which given the lack of scale in the location and stop-start nature, never really takes off. It’s also worth noting that Tamahori decided on this sequence once the set had begun construction.

Graves’ super-villain outfit for the movie’s conclusion makes him look more like a member of the X-Men than a Bond baddie. The gadgets have become part of the outfits which can’t be right. No matter how fashionable you attempt to make a pair of Oakleys, you’ll still associate them with sports world. Which brings us to…

STUNTS

The trend that we saw emerging in ‘The World is Not Enough’, using stunt versions of vehicles associated with ‘extreme sports’, is continued in ‘Die Another Day’. From Moon’s mine-sweeping hovercrafts to both of Bond’s surfing sequences and the Switchblade glider, it’s no surprise that Tamahori was chosen to direct ‘xXx: State of the Union’ three years later. The surfing stunt is pretty amazing to look at and surfing at the cinema can produce some epic spectacle – look at ‘Point Break’. Whether or not you buy Bond himself surfing, is up to you, personally I didn’t. The camouflage surfboards were also a little ridiculous. At least ‘A View to a Kill’ had the decency to play that for laughs.

The stunt-work I really enjoyed in the film was actually the fencing. Bond and Graves put some real impact into the fight and their dislike for each other is palpably carried over the screen by the actors. It’s also quite funny, watching the Blades Club staff scurrying about. Fencing simply feels more like Bond to me than surfing.

STORY

You have to feel slightly for Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. With the director deciding to insert new action sequences and the casting of Halle Berry throwing off their original script’s structure, the pair probably felt like they were scrambling. With this being the twentieth Bond they probably also felt the pressure to create an anniversary feel to the plot which borrows from both the novel of ‘Moonraker’ and also the plot of ‘Diamonds are Forever’. The homages are far too numerous to go into here, but familiarity can breed contempt. Perhaps the most outrageous reprise is Miranda Frost working for the enemy, largely because we’d seen exactly the same twist in ‘The World is Not Enough’. Not only that, but they have the audacity to do it again in ‘Casino Royale’.

There are some good ideas in the movie. The capture of Bond, the plastic surgery gamble in Cuba, the Ice Palace, I like all these ideas. Jinx may be another attempt to create a female Bond, like Michelle Yeoh’s Wei Lin, but she is at least fun and well acted by Halle Berry. Some of the dialogue, “Yo momma” leaves a little to be desired. For Brosnan though the dialogue is probably the weakest of all of his movies, though his performance continues to be confident and assured. Interestingly his best scenes are those with Toby Stephens who relishes playing a real arsehole in Graves. If Brosnan was essentially playing Bond as a teenager, this is the movie where he goes travelling, surfs, grows a beard and encounters someone the same as him, but is a bigger spoilt prick than he is.

AND YET…

Having now re-watched all four of Brosnan’s over the past couple of weeks I found ‘Die Another Day’ to be entertaining. More entertaining than ‘The World is Not Enough’ in fact. This surprised me, but whereas ‘The World is Not Enough’ feels kind of timid, ‘Die Another Day’ is brash in its spectacle. Yes, there’s some terrible dialogue and some questionable stylistic decisions, but at least it has a style as opposed to Apted’s lacklustre approach. I still think ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ is Brosnan’s best, it’s tight, confident and a welcome satire. ‘GoldenEye’ is a great relaunch for Bond in the 1990s, that tonally feels a little flat, but redeemed by Brosnan and Bean and of course Famke Janssen. ‘Die Another Day’ is nowhere near as good as those two films, but at least it feels more enthusiastic than ‘The World is Not Enough’, which I think is now my least favourite of the Brosnan era.

And after all that, I sit back and consider the arrival of Daniel Craig and ‘Casino Royale’. Before I do though, another sudden thought occurs to me: Hang on, wasn’t that Michael Madsen?

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