Bond. James Bond. We've been hearing that name for nearly half a century, and it has consistently provided good entertainment to several generations. There is a reason why people keep coming back to him, even though the plot lines have generally been repeated several times within the series, and that reason is that Bond is just plain fun. The movies are entertaining, exciting, and darkly funny. Even the bad ones are good.
That last sentence sums up Die Another Day pretty damn good. Even though it has several exciting action scenes and two beautiful Bond girls - basically the formula for every Bond movie - it is not a very good James Bond movie at all. The critics will surely say that it is not a very good movie overall. I'll let you decide, but if you like realism as much as I do, then Die Another Day may just be a little too much for you.
Sure, James Bond movies have never been completely realistic. He has a watch with a little laser beam. He can scale buildings with a rope the thickness of a string. His cars have torpedoes in them. Die Another Day goes way beyond these little gadgets and loses a lot of credibility.
When it comes to action movies, I don't mind simple plots. Die Another Day's is pretty simple: Bond is captured, tortured, and he wants revenge. Unfortunately, the screenwriters decided that was a little too basic, so they threw in yet another insane villain that has a satellite that can shoot giant laser beams at the Earth. Yes, it sounds like something Austin Powers spoofed. You would have thought the Bond writers would have gotten the clue.
The first half of the movie is excellent. In the opening scene - which is an awesome opening scene, by the way - Bond kills a bunch of corrupt North Korean soldiers, but before he can get away, he is captured. As the Madonna-sung techno theme song goes along, we are given images of Bond being tortured for over 14 months. Bond being tortured? Is it even possible? He is finally released in exchange for the freedom of a terrorist, and then escapes from his confines in Hong Kong to go on a revenge mission. It's dark, it's gritty, it's a James Bond we have yet to see (the closest may be Timothy Dalton's License to Kill), but it's a refreshing James Bond, a nice change of pace.
Obviously, the studio got worried that this might be a little too different from the normal Bond formula (even though it really isn't), and so they did the worst possible thing... MGM decided to super-modernize Bond for the 21st century. It might just be me, but Bond tends to modernize himself as the years go on. Considering Pierce Brosnan has done a Bond movie every two or three years since 1995, there really shouldn't be a problem. Nevertheless, I guess those other Bond movies are out-of-date, and fearing that younger generations might not find James Bond as interesting as XXX (even though that movie was essentially a low-brow copy of the Bond formula), MGM decided to throw in lasers, surfing, and even an invisible car.
The invisible car was the turning point for the film. The first half was incredibly well done and suspenseful, indicating that Die Another Day may be a more character-driven action film instead of him saving the world yet again. Instead, Q (now John Cleese) gives Bond a car that can turn itself invisible. Yes, this is so God-damned unrealistic I couldn't believe it. It only gets worse.
It turns out that the main bad guy has devised a satellite that can reflect the sun's light onto areas of the Earth's surface, enough so that he can destroy everything in its past. I think they tried something like that in Batman and Robin, didn't they? The satellite, first off, would have to be gigantic to reflect enough sunlight to even give somebody a sunburn, let alone blow anything up. Second, even though it does destroy one missile the United States fires at it, if it weren't for the sake of the plot, it could easily be destroyed. Oh, and the main bad guy even has an exo-suit to control it better.
The formula is not much different than in many other Bond films, but this one just goes over the edge in terms of believability. I thought movies, aside from spoofs, were past the point of killer laser beams and so forth. If homage to past movies is the excuse, I don't want to hear it - I don't want to see it. Die Another Day could have been perfectly fine had it removed some of these elements (by the way, look at Goldeneye. The bad guy in that movie has a satellite that can blow things up, but it uses a realistic method - electromagnetic waves - to do damage. Did the studio think that allowing us to actually see the beam is better?). Oh, and what's with that glove that shoots out 10,000 volts of energy? It looks like something out of Star Wars, and James Bond should definitely not be like Star Wars.
Also, the graphics are downright lousy. For a blockbuster film like this, these graphics are nearly unacceptable. There is one scene where Bond falls off the cliff but is able to parachute and surf (at the same time) his way to freedom. Not only was this scene really stupid and cheesy, but the graphics looked like something you'd see on a TV movie.
When all is said and done, Die Another Day had great potential and just blew it. It is still entertaining and still worth seeing if you are a Bond fan, because, after all, even a bad Bond film is better than ninety percent of action movies these days. I enjoyed myself moderately, but was just disturbed by how cheesy and unrealistic this film was.
The problem is that MGM thinks that it needs to put Bond into the future to stay in front of the pack. It thinks that Bond will lose way to the likes of XXX and other films of that nature. They are wrong. XXX and other action movies of a similar nature are trying to reach the benchmark and consistency that Bond films have established time and time again; Bond films set the benchmark. There is no reason for Bond to have to resort to the little tricks and effects-heavy plots of its losing competition; it's a bad strategy.
Die Another Day isn't necessarily a terrible movie, but it could have been so much better had it done away with its reliance on special effects.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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