Friday, May 23, 2014

Double Oh...20: Die Another Day.

2002, d. Lee Tamahori

Die Another Day Preamble:

Like every Bond film since Goldeneye, I saw Die Another Day in theatre, despite my vehement dislike of The World Is Not Enough a few years prior.  I remember liking it.  In the years since, especially recent years with my dramatic upswing in Bond consumption, I've only heard Die Another Day referred to in a negative context.  Surely I couldn't have been that off-base with my enjoyment of it.  I know the "invisible car" seems kind of extreme and the cartoon factor highly elevated, particularly in the wake of the Bourne Identity earlier in the year and it's acceleration as the first viable Bond competitor, but isn't the point of a Bond film to be somewhat surreal, a fantasy?  I have never really defended the film in the past, because I only ever saw it the once, and I always wondered if I would have the same reaction watching it a second time.  I think I kind of avoided watching it a second time for fear that all the negative criticisms of the film were right on the money, and that it was a horrid pile.  I entered into this viewing hesitantly.

Villains:

In the opening sequence, Bond and another pair of agents (infamously) surf into North Korea (insinuating that Bond is a master surfer).  There they hijack a shipment of African conflict diamonds en route to rogue Korean military for a weapons exchange with Colonel Moon and his right-hand, the mercenary/terrorist Zao.  Zao is a master martial artist, with lightning reflexes enabling him to dodge bullets.  When he receives intel that Bond is not the South African blood diamond mogul they believed him to be, Bond triggers a detonator device in the briefcase, peppering Zao's face with diamond shards. 

Moon is the son of a North Korean General, he was western educated in hopes that he would help bridge their country with Western interests, but he instead was interested only in taking for himself. Bond manages to kill him, sending him sailing over a cliff after a pretty spectacular and destructive chase sequence on hovercraft where Bond has virtually every possible weapon thrown at him.  Bond is captured by by NK military and tortured for information


Zao is captured later, and General Moon, upset as much by his son's death as his son's betrayal of his country trades Bond for him.

I found it interesting that men in hazard suits immediately knocked him out upon retrieval to ensure he was carrying no biological agents.  M upset with both having to give up Zao, with Bond not having taken his cyanide capsule, and the intonation that he was "hemorrhaging" intel.  But Bond was set up in North Korea and someone set him up again to get him out and Zao free.

Bond gets a lead on Zao having a connection to Gustav Graves, a self-publicizing adrenaline junkie (doesn't need sleep), a master fencer who is introduced parachuting into Buckingham Palace to get knighted by the Queen.  He seems an exaggerated model after Bond, an Englishman with a cocky swagger and no shortage of fearlessness.  It turns out, in the end, that Graves is actually the thought-deceased Moon, having had a successful DNA transplant (as if that were a thing) that changed his appearance entirely.  The main threat of the film is Graves' Icarus, a second sun that's a giant solar reflector.  He announces it with benevolent intent (helping grow crops etc) but in reality it's weaponized, because of course it is.  I love the visualization of the space lazer decimating the earth below (like from Justice League Unlimited) and the final sequence with the plane flying through it is well visualized.


Bond Girls:

Jinx (Halle Barry) is American CIA, whose investigation into an illegal "DNA transfer" facility in Havana seems to cross paths with Bond's.  Bond is there on the trail of Zao, whose in need a of new face with all those diamonds stuck in his.  Jinx gets introduced with an unfortunately painful display of flirting and innuendo ("Ornithologist, huh?" -glances at his crotch- "Now there's a mouthful").  She's a ruthless assassin with no hesitation in her kills, which, coming from Halle Berry, who kind of looks like sunshine and lollypops incarnate, is never not shocking... thus quite effective.  She turns out to be a useful ally for Bond when they meet up again in Iceland, though, still requires rescuing when she's trapped in the melting ice hotel, leading to the worst on-screen CPR ever.  Jinx really should really have been able to escape herself, not need to be rescued.

Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), Graves' publicist, and an Olympic gold medalist fencer (and Madonna's apprentice, apparently), is also an undercover agent.  She tells M she is totally disinterested in dating anyone in company, Bond especially, whom she seems to find distasteful.  It's one of the angles I like about Brosnan's Bond, that not every woman finds him irresistible.  Only problem, though, is she still sleeps with him, and it becomes rather plain that she's the one who sold him out.


Ugh, Madonna appears, delivering some more bad flirting/innuendo/exposition.. a wholly unnecessary and again unbelievable cameo.. they've got to stop using Americans in Bond films, methinks.


Title/Credits:


The opening credits take up my suggestion from The World Is Not Enough and show Bond's 14 months of captivity and torture, dancing models representing different methods of torture: ice, electricity, fire, hot iron, water torture.  It's all reused from a flashback sequence that appears unnecessarily later in the film.


It's a great opening sequence, but attached to a theme song from Madonna that is not as utterly terrible as everyone makes it out to be, but certainly ruined by all-too-trendy at-the-time vocorder (aka autotune).  It's certainly a departure from previous Bond themes and trying way too hard to be "modern" when I think even by then it felt outdated.

Bond:

Some people think that Pierce Brosnan was phoning this one in, and Brosnan recently came out to say that his Bond "wasn't good enough" and refers to Die Another Day as finishing in "rather shambolic fashion" but I think Brosnan's biggest problem was, sure the scripts weren't good enough, but also he didn't dictate enough of the character he wanted Bond to be (torn between the Connery and Moore).  Plus, at the time of their release, it was Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay making the biggest pictures in the world.  Absurd action movies like Armageddon and Independence Day were suddenly what Bond was competing with in popular culture, and suffering for trying to keep pace, rather than set their own.

But I like Bond in here, I like the things he does.  Like when he is in a secure medical room aboard a British naval ship, he controls his heartrate and escapes diving off the ship and swimming to Hong Kong shores.  From there Bond wanders into an upscale hotel in hospital pyjamas, scraggly hair and beard dripping wet, where he's recognized by the hotel manager and instantly afforded every gratitude much to the dismay of the upper class around him.

Bond is set up with a masseuse at the hotel, Peaceful Mountains of Desire, who works for the Chinese intelligence, as does the hotel manager.  Bond susses them out instantly and makes a deal with them, they help him, he kills Zao for them.  They direct him to Cuba where he gets to use his old Universal Exports cover in a Cuban cigar factory.  Here he has a sleeper agent whom he contacts for local support.  From Korea to HK to Havana, it's very, very, very Bond, with Bond going rogue.

What is most notable is Bond is remarkably in good stamina, health and fitness for having been tortured for over a year.

Bond and M reunite, somewhat bitterly.  Bond thinks he should have been rescued far earlier, but M thinks Bond should have taken the cyanide capsule in his tooth (he removed it long ago, he informs her).  But after it's confirmed that he was set up, that he leaked no real intel and that he has the scent of Zao, both are big enough to get on with the job.  But he's tested first with R's virtual reality training, making an ace run through the exercise. 

Bond is shown as being a tad too-capable at everything in this one, the penultimate being the windsurfing bit that follow the rocket sled/space laser chase and looks utterly terrible.

Movie:

The film is big, excessive even, with ridiculous levels of nonsense technology and a heightened reality that bleeds into absurdity.  The action piles on top of itself with some leaps in logic, but the  effect gives the film a hybrid Moore/Connery feel.  People dig on this film an awful lot, but I find it supremely more watchable than The World Is Not Enough, and a better movie than some of the Moore's.  Anyone who vehemently dislikes the film, I cannot argue with them, as it will be a matter of taste, but I thought that it, like most Bond films, is a product of its time, and this definitely has a coating of 2002 all around it.  Graves isn't the best villain, but I liked Berry enough at the time to be interested in a spin-off (which I think was in the works, though scrapped when her starpower began to fade immediately post-Oscar, I'm sure killed completely by Catwoman).  I think Miranda Frost is a great Bond Girl/Villain, but undeserved by the story (which is never surprising for the female roles in a Bond film) by telegraphing her double-agency so well in advance.. I especially love her attire in her closing fight with Jinx.

The action sequences feature a dueling tricked-out-cars-on-ice that is flagrantly ridiculous but tremendous amounts of fun, with an i"anything you can do..." flair, it just goes on a tad too long.

As far as direction, it waffles between great and bad (mostly the CG moments, but Tamahori's sporadic use of slow mo throughout is annoying).

Q-gadgets:

There's a bit of a tour through Q's dungeon, as R takes Bond through to the new things.  Echoes from the past abound (notable quip regarding the Connery rocket pack).
Bond starts the film with a watch with a detonator, which he uses to explode the diamonds in Zao's face.  R gives him a sonic agitator in a ring (assist in breaking glass), a new laser watch and an invisible car (Aston Martin Vanquish with "adaptive camoflauge")


Graves has his own arsenal, with his shock gloves, elaborate restraint tables, robotic arms with lasers...it almost feels influence by the Star Wars prequels.  The fistfight amidst the robotic laser arms was total silliness though.  He also has Switchblades, which are one-man rocket sleds that he uses to set world speed records.  He also has a high-tech Icarus suit that helps control the space laser which looks mighty 2002 and I'm sure would be more Iron Man if made today.
This film is really sci-fi, the Brosnan era's Moonraker


Classification [out of 01.0]: 00.5 -- It's got its plentiful flaws and vast absurdity but I quite enjoy this one.