Serial, Super Serial: Die Another Day

Die Another Day

Super Serial aims to dissect series of pop art — be it a filmography, discography or run of comics — by looking at its individual components.

Die Another Day (Bond #20) is a Bond film of these times — mostly because it has an obvious ADD problem. There are too many characters, too many twists and WAY too much CGI. I have often complained about the obvious fakeness to action sequences throughout this series, but Die Another Day is the first film to obviously use a lot of computer graphics within the action. I can’t say whether the effects were realistic at the time, but they certainly look dated now! Director Lee Tamahori tries to bring a dynamic style to the film, with lots of slow-motion action scenes and swooping cinematography. While the more memorable Bond films have been made by more sure-handed filmmakers, Tamahori’s style feels inauthentic. He’s made other slick films in his career, but the stamps on Die Another Day seem to reach for being “cool.”

One thing that I feel I haven’t given the series enough credit for is how racially diverse these films are. Sure, many of the minority folks end up being the bad guys, but a majority of these films give big chances to non-white actors — something you can’t say for many big time, big-budget blockbusters. We’ve also seen a black CIA agent, a number of positive Asian and Asian-American portrayals, and even someone I’m still pretty sure is an actual alien. Die Another Day is a particularly diverse film, with a black Bond Girl and Asian villains. Let’s take a second and salute the casting department

Bond, James Bond

After the very, very lengthy pre-credits sequence, we see Bond gallivanting around North Korea before being taken captive. During the horrendous title sequence (more on that later…), we see a montage of Bond getting tortured by water, electric shock and overall beating. When we come back from this sequence, Brosnan is sporting a giant beard and long hair, my guess is in an attempt to give him a more rugged allure. We haven’t quite seen a sequence where Bond is tortured — and, truly, we don’t see much of one here — which is an insight to his toughness and dedication to his work as a spy.

In his fourth film, this would be Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as Bond. Simply put, I was expecting more out of him and these films. Perhaps this is just an unfair nostalgic wish, as these films were a part of the social consciousness that I grew up in, but these last four films were overall less in quality, even when the technology and budgets were rapidly increasing. Die Another Day is the campiest of the Brosnan Bond films, much closer to the style of Roger Moore’s work. Although it is hard for me to praise Moore over Brosnan, the biggest difference here is that Brosnan doesn’t seem to know the type of film he is in. Even with all this wild stuff going on around him, he doesn’t seem to be having any fun — something Die Another Day could have sorely gained from.

The Mission

I was hoping to come here today and talk to you about James Bond in a post-9/11 world. Unfortunately, though, the film doesn’t have any responsible way of talking about terrorism, even though it seems to use all the right buzz words and talk about terrorism more than the usual Bond film does.

There is also a small insight in Bond’s recovery that could have been really interesting, but was undeveloped. In order to rescue Bond from North Korea, MI-6 exchanged him for Zao, one of the film’s many baddies and a well-known terrorist. In the film’s scene between Bond and M, she expresses remorse for turning over a terrorist who quickly goes on to bomb and murder again. The the film quickly moves on and this idea isn’t expressed again. Bond doesn’t show any contemplation over his role in the unseen deaths of many, which could have certainly added an emotional depth to the character — is that too much to ask? I certainly don’t think Bond (and possibly not the government) has any responsibility in releasing a known terrorist, but it is a complicated issue that the film has very little actual concern in.

The Villains

Die Another Day tries an interesting strategy through the first half of the film by introducing a number of potential or pseudo-villains. I suppose this is a more realistic look at evil in the world, but it’s not compelling in terms of a Bond film. Added on to that are an extraordinarily large amount of twists that happen — good guys turn out to be bad, bad guys turn out to be REALLY bad, bad guys turn out to be someone else entirely, etc. When all the dust settles and we know who are the major villains, they turn out to be incredibly over-the-top. Many Bond villains could be described that way, but most all of them have been interesting — the major players in Die Another Day are crazy and kooky, but not fun to watch.

First we have Zao, the North Korean terrorist who is traded for Bond at the beginning of the film. During the opening action scene, an action scene causes Zao’s face has forever become imprinted with diamonds (and his eyes turn steely blue for either the same or a different reason). Because of this, he looks like a Batman villain. At the beginning of the film, Zao is the assistant to a character named Colonel Moon, who is seemingly killed during the pre-credit sequence. I was strangely excited that a henchman (who are usually more interesting than their bosses) was going to be promoted to the main baddie, but instead….

We have Gustav Graves, a young British entrepreneur who will most likely remind audiences of the actor who plays the captain of the football team in every 1980’s film. On the surface he is very much like a young-gun version of the archetypal Bond villain — he is smart, wealthy, has good tastes, is suave and displays interest in satellite technology. It is fairly impossible to fully talk about his character without some spoilers, though, so I apologize. Graves has gone through some sort of DNA replacement transformation, and is actually Colonol Sun, who we briefly met before we saw him fall off of a cliff. So, Graves went from being an unlikable tool to being an unrealistic, unlikable tool.

During the final showdown between Graves and Bond, our antagonist employs the use of a robotic suit that enables him to use electroshock as a defense mechanism. Basically, he’s turned into a C-level supervillain. Although it doesn’t work at all in this film, I kind of like the idea of Bond fighting someone with actual super powers.

The Bond Girls

Like most films, Die Another Day gives us two more Bond Girls — ‘Jinx’ Johnson and Miranda Frost.

I remember a lot of hubub with the casting of Halle Berry as Jinx — probably coming from her previous two films, Monster’s Ball (for which she won the Oscar) and Swordfish (for which she went topless — could she do either here?!). In an otherwise dull and ridiculous (ridiculously dull?) film, Jinx is a stand-out. She’s not a particularly memorable Bond Girl for any specific character trait or anything she does in the film, but mostly because of this particular actress coming into the film at the peak of her career as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Still, Jinx is pretty kick-ass, and Berry is believably sexy and strong. She almost feels too good for Bond — I’m not sure why she’s so into a “honkey” like him.

Jinx is also known for her entrance into the film, which is one of the all-time great character entrances. Coming out of the ocean almost directly mirrors the first Bond Girl’s introductory scene, Honey Ryder in Dr. No. Jinx’s bathing suit is even slightly updated. While the film tries to make an obvious homage to her predecessor, the similarities between Jinx and Honey Ryder end there — Jinx is action-oriented and has way more agency than Ryder. I’m actually pretty shocked that MGM didn’t try to create a spin-off for Jinx. While it certainly wouldn’t have been good, a female version James Bond film with Berry could have been pretty interesting.

On the other hand, we have Miranda Frost, who unlike Jinx is a complete amalgam of almost every Bond Girl type. She is first a passive-yet-skilled woman close to a potential bad guy (she is Graves’s publicist or something), then we know she is actually an MI6 agent who swears she won’t get too close to Bond (and then quickly does), but then we find out that she is REALLY a double agent, working for the baddies all along. The results are pretty confusing. Frost is played by Rosamund Pike, an actress I generally like, but there is something in the character that doesn’t quite work for her. Pike is classically beautiful in a way that fits the series, but she looks a little too young, naive, and bland for the role.

The Gadgets

In holding with the new world of CGI, Die Another Day’s gadgets employ a high level of technology. First is a new training tool we see Bond use — a virtual reality game that envisions a terrorist break-in to MI-6 headquarters. In the hands of Miss Monneypenny, though, it is a soft-core sexual wish fulfillment device.

The VR is all well-and-good, but it’s no invisible car. My question: does an invisible car really need automatic turrets? Isn’t that a little too much overkill? Anyway, the invisible car works and looks just as you would expect, with the Predator blur. Though I personally didn’t find the car overly objectionable, it is a pretty good symbol for the technology displayed in the film. Sadly, the car really never gets a lot of time on screen during an actual chase. In the end, it’s pretty much used like any other Bond gadget — as a way to get Bond out of a particularly random, yet specific, situation.

The Song

If you had to think about singers and bands that would work for a Bond theme, Madonna might not be the first person you would think of, but she would seem to fit the bill. Then “Die Another Day” happened, where Madonna tries to be a hip-hop star and repeats “Guess I’ll Die Another Day” over and over again. I don’t know if this is simply just the most recent bad Bond theme, but if I had to note the worst, this would be it.

“I’m gonna wake up, yes and no
I’m gonna kiss some part of
I’m gonna keep this secret
I’m gonna close my body now

I guess, die another day
I guess, die another day
I guess, die another day
I guess, die another day
I guess I’ll die another day
(Another day)
I guess I’ll die another day
(Another day)
I guess I’ll die another day
(Another day)
I guess I’ll die another day”

There is also a lyric that says “Sigmund Freud, Analyse This.” The tactic employed during the credits scene seemed interesting, but also doesn’t quite work. Instead of the usual silhouettes or bouncing ladies, we have a montage of Bond getting tortured. The violence we’re seeing on the screen further marks the awful song, which holds nothing of the tone we need for the images to work.

Random Thoughts

- Apparently, ‘Zao’ is a name that literally can’t exist in the Korean language, because there is no similar ‘Z’ sound. Way to fact check, Bond!

- Fun Bond Fact: This is the first Bond film where a CGI bullet comes through the chamber of the opening images.

- I know we’re supposed to detest the evildom of Colonel Moon, but tying up your enemies in a duffle bag and using it like a heavy bag is pretty cool.

- There’s no need for bad stereotypes, but giving Moon and Zao ANY semblance of an accent would have been good. They sounded like that kid from San Francisco who keeps schooling me on Modern Warfare online.

- The opening chase managed to blend two of my favorite things: Flamethrowers and hovercrafts.

- I have a theory that post-tortured Bond, with Brosnan sporting a healthy beard and long hair, came after a failed audition for Castaway.

- I don’t think the film specifically tells us how long Bond was away being tortured, but once he comes back everyone talks about how it’s a “different world.” Based on the beard: 3 days. Based on the technology: 30 years.

- Has it really taken us this long for a fencing scene in one of these films?

- Why do fencing matches in films ALWAYS escalate to bloodshed?

- Everyone is always hard on Madonna’s cameo in the film, but I don’t actually think it’s that bad. It’s surprisingly slight given all the hate. If it was just a random actor, no one would ever notice. And, if anything, it’s WAY better than her theme song.

- In the Bond world, getting into North Korea is as easy as snipping a wire fence.

- Being a post 9/11 Bond film, I was hoping Bond would apologize for his aid of the Mujahideen.

SERIAL, SUPER SERIAL will return in CASINO ROYALE

tags: die another day, james bond, lee tamahori, super serial

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