A fake Fabergé egg, and a fellow Agent's death, lead James Bond to uncover an international jewel-smuggling operation, headed by the mysterious Octopussy, being used to disguise a nuclear attack on N.A.T.O. forces.
Pierce Brosnan gives one last mission as James Bond. Starting off in North Korea, Bond is betrayed and captured. 14 months later, Bond is set free, but traded for Zao who was captured by MI6. When back in his world, Bond sets off to track down Zao. Bond gets caught up in yet another scheme which sends him to millionaire Gustav Graves. Another MI6 agent known as Miranda Frost is also posing as a friend of Graves. Bond is invited to a presentation held by Graves about a satellite found in space which can project a huge laser beam. Bond must stop this madman with a fellow American agent, known as Jinx. Whilst Bond tries to stop Graves and Zao, will he finally reveal who betrayed him?Written by
After forty years of mostly phenomenal success, the latest James Bond film, Die Another Day, faced a SPECTRE-like challenge to bring something new moving forward, while including essential ingredients from the past. The twentieth official EON-produced James Bond film celebrates its own anniversary with several sly winks to long-time fans of the series, while delivering a solid, if not rollicking, fun adventure in its own right.
Sean Connery has said that the role of James Bond should not be underestimated. Pierce Brosnan, to his considerable credit, does not. He is once again perfectly tough, suave, and witty. That he is able to do so seemingly effortlessly may be a double-edged blade, as it is also likely an explanation as to why he is somewhat under-rated in the role.
Brosnan has attempted, throughout his tenure, to explore the inner workings of the James Bond character, and has consistently presented a decidedly more introspective interpretation than any of his predecessors. In this, his fourth 007 adventure, he has combined that with all of the right moves, and it is a fair statement that he has solidified the role as his own. It is certainly a continuation and outgrowth of what he accomplished in the very good The World Is Not Enough (1999), and had hinted at in 1995's GoldenEye and in the Stoke Poges hotel scene of Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).
That said, never before have we seen James Bond as we see him in Die Another Day, and by that I am not referring to the Hawaiian shirt or cigar. Brosnan's tone and straight-forward approach throughout the film is perfect, and the rest of the film follows suit nicely. No tie-straightening scenes here!
The best James Bond pictures have always followed a formula. One essential component of that formula is that no matter how outlandish the plot, the approach and tone of the film remains serious. So when a mute Korean throws a deadly bowler hat, or a megalomaniacal villain uses a bevy of unsuspecting women armed with cosmetics compacts to carry out his evil plans, or James Bond's car features an ejector seat and smoke screen, the audience simply is pulled along for the glorious ride. Another component is that the villain and his henchman must be memorable as well as dangerous, no easy task in a series that lists Dr. No, Red Grant, Goldfinger, Odd Job, and Blofeld on its baddie roster. Die Another Day delivers on all these counts.
Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have written a very good screenplay that slyly celebrates the series' anniversary, as well as includes all the essential ingredients of the James Bond films. Most (myself included) would have been satisfied with that, and be done with it. Surprisingly, Die Another Day goes the extra length, and includes some elements as non-formulaic as ever seen in the series. The plot is indeed over-the-top, but one would never know it from observing the characters executing it.
There are elements that are today very topical, and interestingly, the twisted motivation of the villain Graves includes paternal approval as well as world domination. He rails against "Western hypocrisy" and the British government as "policeman of the world". He has the chutzpah to parachute into Buckingham Palace. He reads Sun Tzu. It would not be a cliché to say there is more much more to this guy than meets the eye.
Ian Fleming's novel "Moonraker" serves as a touchstone in many ways for this film, and a great one it is. James Bond is up against his fellow countryman and universally respected Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens, who delivers a terrific performance). Graves, the mysterious "industrialist", has developed technology that can be used for human good, or cause great catastrophe. It is up to James Bond to determine which. A nice touch, we even get to see Bond at the private club, "Blades", where the arrogantly snobbish Graves (shades of Hugo Drax!) is also a world-class fencing champion. This sets up a balls-out match between he and Bond that escalates into a full-scale sword fight. Not once played for a laugh, it is a highlight of the film.
The pre-credits and credits sequences depict Bond captured by the villain, I mean seriously captured, and tortured and imprisoned for a considerable time. A haggard James Bond is not something the audience is used to seeing, and it is precisely this kind of touch that separate and elevate the last two Bond pictures this close to the level of the series' glory days. (That would be the 1960's, for those who might consider the arched eyebrow the height of Bondian sophistication.)
During the initial sequence, Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) is seen during an intense work out with a kick-boxing bag. After he finishes his vicious session, the bag is opened to reveal an under-achieving underling. Well done! James Bond, under the guise of selling diamonds for weapons, meets up with Moon in North Korea. Bond is ultimately unveiled as a spy, leading to his capture and imprisonment. But not before a kick-ass hovercraft chase, and an especially witty bon mot. (This is also the only scene where James Bond fires a machine-gun, if that matters.) Zao (Rick Yune) is introduced as a worthy physical adversary for Bond. A well known and effective trademark of all the Bond henchmen is some type of physical exaggeration or deformity, and Zao has a personal score to settle with Bond for causing his own.
This leads right into Danny Kleinman's credit sequence, and it may just be his best, if not the best of the entire series. That is saying quite a lot considering the great talent and legacy of Maurice Binder. Simultaneously stunningly beautiful and achingly disturbing, this sequence is reason enough to see the film, which I also said of Kleinman's work in Tomorrow Never Dies. There is also no denying that Madonna's controversial theme song has a tangible synergy with the credits, and although the song is certainly a departure, I think it will eventually rank with some of the most memorable Bond themes. Overall, the credit sequence is easily one of the highlights of the film.
Bond eventually does get out of North Korea, and finds himself in an MI6 hospital, where he encounters a particularly harsh M concerned with what he might have revealed under torture. She rescinds his "00" status, he escapes, and is off to track tracks Zao (and Graves) to Cuba, London (where his licence to kill is reinstated), Iceland, and eventually back to North Korea, where he ultimately confronts Graves. The plot is nicely straightforward, certainly not so unwieldy as to render itself moot, though there are a couple surprises including a traitor within MI6 that make it all the more a satisfying story.
Bond meets up with the beautiful Jinx (Halle Berry) in Cuba while posing as an ornithologist named James Bond(!) Beautiful and talented, casting Berry was a major coup, though depicting her in the film as 007's equal took some of the essential focus from Bond. This is one of my biggest quibbles with the film. The climactic fight scene at the end between Bond and Graves was intercut with Jinx's own battle. Ironically, I think Jinx's was superior.
The rest of the stellar cast includes Rosamund Pike as "Miranda Frost", and she is a wonderfully pleasant surprise. Judi Dench is as per usual, excellent. Samantha Bond's "Moneypenny" gets to experience some things we've always suspected she has desired, and at least one she probably hasn't. Toby Stephens is very good as already noted, and Rick Yune is more than memorable as the dangerous and lethal henchman, Zao. Michael Madsen isn't given much to do, which is unfortunate as he is a great and interesting actor. Nice touch to again include Colin Salmon as Charles Robinson. Madonna's character is quite unnecessary, although she does get in one good line.
It has been well publicized that Die Another Day contains many references to previous Bond films. Impressively, none of them seem forced, and several are especially well done. One needs to pay attention to catch many of these subtle touches, if one is so inclined. (The fan in me was, and loved every one.) They do not take away from the experience of the film, but add to it. Somewhat similarly, an ongoing criticism of the James Bond films has been "blatant product placement." Even though Die Another Day has one of the biggest marketing campaigns in memory, blatant product placement here is minimal. The Aston-Martin Vanquish gets quite a bit of screen time of course, and the Jaguar XK8 is simply a beautiful car, but besides that, there is but one mention of Bollinger, and just a few unobtrusive shots of well-placed products such as Heineken, Sony, Brioni, and Norelco.
John Cleese as "Q" is inspired casting, and he does the memory of Desmond Llewelyn proud, while still putting his own stamp on the role. The chemistry between Brosnan and Cleese is much more apparent than in The World Is Not Enough, and works as well and is as crisply written as any `Q scene' in the previous films. Bond's invisible Aston Martin sounds particularly unbelievable, but somehow, Q's matter-of-fact and simple explanation makes it work. A brilliant moment during one of their scenes, a subtle film reference had me rolling on the floor in laughter, though it has more to do with John Cleese's history than James Bond's.
The very talented David Arnold delivers a wonderfully Bondian musical score, and occasionally includes a subtle homage to John Barry, which is very much in keeping with the tone and celebration of the rest of the film. In addition, I don't think a James Bond movie has ever included an original song by the original artist to enhance what is depicted on-screen. Nice touch.
New Zealander Lee Tamahori takes the directorial reins, and his approach suits the film and character well. Incorporating several stylistic techniques (slow-motion, black-and-white, flashbacks) could have been a distraction, but they work, and do provide the film a contemporary feel. The staccato action sequences also reminded me somewhat of Peter Hunt's editing work from way back when. Tamahori should also be given credit for maintaining the more serious tone of the film. There has not been much continuity with Bond directors since the 1980's, it would be interesting to see him do another.
Cinematographer David Tattersall has assured that the film looks great and Peter Lamont has again delivered some beautiful sets. The car chase on ice, "Blades" and the Ice Palace are especially memorable. Though most everything looks marvelous, Die Another Day contains a surprising amount of CGI in its second hour. My biggest criticism about the film is its over-reliance on that arcade-game look and feel at times. I would add, a scene where a CGI Bond is "surfing" while holding onto parachutes is a pale reminiscence of a far more exciting scene from earlier in the film which was physically shot in Maui. What is the logical extension of using extensive CGI, an animated Bond film? The films have sometimes been described as "cartoonish". I trust the producers do not interpret that as a preference.
But these are relatively minor quibbles. Overall, Die Another Day works exceedingly well, and is superb entertainment that will also please the long-time fan of the series.
Finally, it might be said that Gustav Graves has no advantage over M and James Bond when it comes to understanding Sun Tzu and his "The Art of War": "It is the wise general who uses the highest intelligence of the army for the purposes of spying, and thereby achieves great results."
Great results indeed. Well done, 007
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