Die Another Day: overloaded plot, silly science fantasy and variable acting turn early darkness into cartoon frivolity

Lee Tamahori, “Die Another Day” (2002)

For the twentieth movie in a film franchise celebrating 40 years, the scriptwriters were tasked to come up with a story that pays tribute to as many films in that franchise as was possible, blending the toughness and danger of the classic Sean Connery films, the light-hearted comedy of the Roger Moore films and the grit of the Timothy Dalton films. The result is enjoyable hokum that shouldn’t be taken too seriously with silly science fiction elements and impossible action and chase scenes that characters barely manage to survive, against all the odds. Our hero James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is on a spy mission in North Korea when his cover is blown, and he ends up arrested by the authorities and thrown into a prison where he is subjected to torture and neglect for 14 months. He is released back to the British by General Moon (whose colonel son Bond might have killed in an early chase scene) in a prisoner swap with North Korean agent Zao (Rick Yune) and discovers his “00” licence has been revoked by his boss M (Judi Dench) as he is suspected of having divulged secrets under duress to his captors. Bond suspects his cover must have been leaked to the North Koreans by a double agent working in MI6. He escapes MI6 custody and makes his way to Hong Kong, where he is told by agent Chang there that Zao is currently in Cuba.

Bond travels to Cuba and meets NSA agent Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson (Halle Berry) and they go to a specialist medical clinic where apparently patients can receive gene therapy that permanently alters their appearance. Jinx kills the head of the clinic and Bond discovers that Zao is undergoing gene therapy. Bond disrupts Zao’s treatment and the two fight (well, wouldn’t you if your appearance is only halfway done and the therapy is stopped?) and before you know it, the whole place gets blown up and Bond, Jinx and Zao barely escape with their lives. Bond discovers that Zao has left behind a cache of conflict diamonds bearing the crest of a company owned by new British billionaire Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens).

Bond meets Graves at an exclusive gentleman’s club and after a friendly fencing duel (that turns into an ugly brawl, this being a James Bond flick), Graves invites him to his Ice Palace in Iceland, where Graves originally made his wealth, to show him a scientific demonstration. Having his “00” licence restored, and equipped with new expensive gadgets that include an Aston Martin with active camouflage (that is, it blends with its surroundings) technology, Bond travels to Iceland where he reconnects with Jinx and, among other things, seduces Graves’s assistant (and undercover MI6 agent) Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike). He views also the scientific demonstration of Icarus, a new orbital satellite that focuses solar energy onto a small area and can provide enough sunlight and energy for agriculture all year around in Iceland. In the meantime, Jinx infiltrates Graves’s command centre but is caught and imprisoned. Bond saves Jinx from being executed by a laser beam weapon and later discovers Graves’s true identity and connection to Colonel Moon, previously thought dead. Bond also discovers the identity of the MI6 agent who betrayed him to Colonel Moon.

From here on, it’s one action scene or chase scene after another, of which nearly each and every one references a previous Bond film: the most obvious comparison is with “Diamonds Are Forever” because of the diamonds Graves discovers in Iceland that make his fortune; but there are also many references to “Goldfinger” and “The Man With The Golden Gun” among others. The science fiction fantasy elements like the Aston Martin turn out quite useless: Zao is able to track the car using thermal imaging in his own souped-up vehicle. And what’s the point of having DNA engineering therapy to change your appearance completely if you want dear old dad back in North Korea to recognise you before you die of early onset turbo cancer caused by the therapy? The CGI technology used in the film looks cartoonish and does the film no credit at all. Too much of the plot forces James Bond to whiz around the planet needlessly from London to Hong Kong to Cuba with barely enough time to get over jet lag before he has to leg it to Iceland and then back to North Korea. With all that breathless travel going on, it’s no wonder the plot becomes tired, with too many references to past James Bond films at the expense of originality and the dialogue going into cartoon smut territory as well.

While Pierce Brosnan manages well in his last outing as James Bond, Rosamund Pike shows early promise as an actor of substance in her ice-maiden Miranda Frost role and Rick Yune is a very chilling henchman foil, the other major actors vary from average to atrocious, with Toby Stephens not very convincing as Gustav Graves / Colonel Moon – well heck, the whole character is not convincing – and Berry looks and acts very out of place as a supposedly experienced and tough spy. Other actors put in cameo appearances that are completely unnecessary and which, along with the plot and its silly science fiction fantasy elements, turn early dark and menacing scenes into later cartoon frivolity.

With a title like “Die Another Day”, a reference to a stanza in a poem “The Day of Battle” by A E Housman – “… But since the man that runs away / Lives to die another day, / And cowards’ funerals, when they come / Are not wept so well at home …” – it seems ironic that while Bond and Zao are allowed to live, to fight again another day, Pierce Brosnan himself was dropped as James Bond after this film, that failed to live up to his interpretation of the spy character. It is a pity that Brosnan’s attempts to explore a darker side of James Bond and the world he inhabits, where black is white, white is black and everything ends up various shades of grey, are lost in a never-ending parade of bombastic and unbelievable action chase scenes.