Revisiting the Reviled – Pierce Brosnan Never Had a Chance to ‘Die Another Day’

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die-another-2Ian Fleming’s James Bond has become a cinematic institution over the past 50 years. Ignoring the 1967 comedy, if you can call it that, Casino Royale, there have been 23 Bond films (the 24th comes out this year) with 6 actors playing the role of 007. Due to the character’s long history, it’s all but impossible to find a consensus among fans, whether about the individual movies or the actors playing Bond. Some prefer Sean Connery. Other prefer Roger Moore. The younger generation today is likely to have a preference for Daniel Craig’s grim and gritty take on the character. There are even defenders of George Lazenby’s brief turn. Pierce Brosnan’s tenure as 007 was a rocky one for the venerable franchise. Sure, each of the films were financially successful, but most of the films are forgettable from their soundtracks to their villains. While you could find defenders for most of Brosnan’s Bond films, it is quite difficult to find defenders of Die Another Day, Brosnan’s final turn as Bond and the nadir of his run as 007.

For Pierce Brosnan it was a long road before he could even put on the tuxedo. Originally slated to take on the role after Remington Steele was canceled, Brosnan would have to turn the role down due to contractual obligations after Remington Steele was suddenly resurrected. But the series’ revival was short lived. The decade wait for Brosnan was worth it if only because with his suave demeanor and understated delivery of witty quips, it’s almost as if Brosnan were genetically modified to be the physical embodiment of Bond. Sadly, none of the Bond films Brosnan stars in were up to the quality of his performance.

die-another-1Somehow, Die Another Day is worse than The World is Not Enough, the prior Bond film which featured Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist named Christmas Jones. The film opens with James Bond and a couple of nameless Korean helpers surfing onto the shores of North Korea. From there Bond impersonates an arms and diamond dealer. Bond’s true identity is discovered and after scarring Zao (Rick Yune) and killing the nefarious Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee), Bond is captured and held prisoner by the North Koreans for 14 months. Bond is freed in a prisoner exchange which saw the release of Zao. Back in the world, Bond is shocked to learn from M (Judy Dench) that he is suspected of giving information which led to the death of an American spy. Eventually, Bond makes his way to Havana where he meets Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry), a sexy and mysterious spy. After an attempt to capture Zao goes awry, Bond travels to England to learn more about the engraved diamonds he was able to swipe off of Zao. In England, Bond makes aquantences with Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), the world’s leading diamond merchant, and his assistant Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), once a gold-winning Olympic fencer. After a contentious fencing match with Graves, Bond follows the aristocrat to his ice fortress in Iceland, after, of course, securing some new gadgets from M (John Cleese), including an invisible car. In Iceland, Graves presents a new invention which will harness the power of the Sun. Knowing that Graves is in league with Zao and willing to use the new invention for devious means, Bond must team with Jinx and stop Graves before it’s too late.

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Nobody goes to a James Bond flick for stark realism. There’s an inherent absurdity in many of the trademarks of the series. Where even the worst Bond film can wow audiences with amazing practical effects and stunt work, Die Another Day is so reliant on green screen backgrounds that these moments feel antithetical to 007. It makes the film look the opposite of what a Bond film should – small. Now it certainly doesn’t help that film puts Bond in some ridiculous situations, even ridiculous for Bond. Not only does the opening surf sequence feel entirely out place – who knew North Korea had such killer waves? – it only gets more absurd when Bond has to kitesurf through an obstacle course of waves and glaciers. The dodgy CG effects only make the sequence weaker, making the absurdity all the more noticeable. That’s just an example of numerous questionable CGI shots throughout the entirety of Die Another Day.

But the film’s aesthetic isn’t the only reason the film is all but forgettable and regrettable. The film’s plot is too convoluted for its own good. It takes too long to get to the villain’s master plan, and even then it’s still not particularly coherent. As the film’s main bad guy, Gustav Graves isn’t menacing or remotely interesting, that’s even taking into consideration the character’s ridiculous twist. As the co-villain, Zao is a bit more interesting. His face is scarred by Bond, diamonds embedded in his skin. Later in the film he’s attempting a form of cosmetic surgery which leaves him as an albino Asian. He’s still not an effective character, but he’s by far the most interesting of the villains. Watching Halle Berry as Jinx in this film serves as a reminder that she’s not a good actress, or at the very least should be forcibly kept away from action films. And that’s not all! The film’s opening song by Madonna is probably the worst title song in Bond history. The song plays with Madonna’s auto-tuned voice while James Bond is tortured at the hands of the North Koreans. It’s a fascinating sequence because it’s a rare moment when the audience and the character onscreen are going through the same situation. For reasons unclear, Madonna appears later as a dominatrix fencing instructor.

die-another-4Even though Die Another Day was the highest grossing Bond film before Daniel Craig would take on the role, it was a key factor in the motivation to update Bond. Brosnan wanted to do one more Bond film but it never came to pass. Plans to have a Berry-led spinoff for Jinx were also quickly scrapped. Die Another Day was an earnest attempt to capture the old, absurd Bond, but it fell short. Due to that, Bond became grim and serious. Colorful villains and unabashed fun were sidelined in favor of trying to make Bond more like Bourne. There was a time a when Bond set the standard for the spy genre. Following Die Another Day, Bond was playing catch up. How ungentlemanlike.

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