Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"50 Years of Bond" Retrospective - #20: Die Another Day

I don’t want to go so far as to say everyone hates Die Another Day. I’m sure it has its fan, every Bond film does, but of all the films I had to watch this month, this was the one I was looking the least forward to reviewing. I was hoping for a pleasant surprise, as I’d come across several during this retrospective... sadly, there were no surprises to be had. Good god, I hate this movie! This is up there with A View to a Kill as one of the most uninspired, unproductive, and all around clunky James Bond films ever made.

One thing that everyone seems to agree in criticizing is the over abundance of CGI. This film was released in 2002 (the franchises 40th anniversary), and it was at a time between here and the mid-90’s when CG was all the rage. Movies like The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean used it to inspired effect, but most others were exploiting it to cut corners. Comedian and online critic Doug Walker described this period of movies best, stating “Mostly, [CGI] was just used as a dodge, a way to save money on much bigger effects. And the filmmakers seemed to think ‘If we have CG, we don’t need to try that hard on the stories, either.” Sad to say this is the exact pitfall Die Another Day suffers from: Preferring to value flashy visuals as opposed to good storytelling.

After a somewhat entertaining, but still jumbled opening, we find out that Bond has spent over a year in the captivity of North Korean soldiers. These soldiers are trading illegally harvested diamonds in exchange for weaponry. Bond teams up with an NSA agent named Jinx Johnson (an actual curse on this movie) in tracking down and arresting the culprits: A Korean terrorist who was scarred after the events at the beginning of the film, and a British entrepreneur who seeks world domination by using a laser that use solar power.

This had some strange choices in its production, in just a sort of total mash-up of ideas. The film was to be directed by Lee Tamahori, who had directed Once Were Warriors. Alright. The Bond girl was gonna be played by Halle Berry, who had just won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball. Makes sense, I guess? The villain’s motivation was that he wants to gain his father’s respect. Wait, what? And the title song was gonna be performed by... Madonna. Oh, crap!

This movie takes every bad element of the franchise and enhances them to the max. First and foremost lies with presentation, where the characters are as interesting as paint, the structure lacks any rhythm, the twists are confusing, and then there are narratives thrown in only for convenience. As for humor, the movie lacks any good sense of it. On top of not making John Cleese funny AGAIN (that’s one of the seven deadly movie sins, guys), it wastes all potential on absurd sight gags and non-stop innuendos. Well, there is one really funny scene involving Moneypenny near the end of the film, but that’s about it.

Pierce Brosnan seems to have finally hit that point where he simply can’t make Bond work anymore. Any sense of charm has been evaporated, and his sense of humor is terribly misguided. Halle Berry’s character will probably give viewers nightmares of horrific Catwoman memories. The villains didn’t register to me at all, and even the side cast felt wasted here.

Nothing against the director, but the style here is HORRIBLE. Again, the potential this movie could have had is wasted on way too much CGI. Like The World Is Not Enough, the best moments that I remember from this movie are the ones that use little to no digital manipulation at all. Maybe if there had been more practical effects, this could have been better, but the CG is way too tacky, forced, and obvious. I might have preferred more subtlety, but this movie’s flair is about as subtle as Zack Snyder. The fluctuating slow-motion and fast-motion shots are distracting, and the shaky cam would make even Michael Bay nauseous.

So now that all of that’s out of the way, I’ll address the elephant in the room. The title song that Madona performs is HIDEOUS. Her style of music does not fit with the James Bond universe in any way, shape, or form, and the music and lyrics are beyond generic, set to one terrible title sequence. It’s hands down the worst Bond song ever. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she even has a distracting cameo in the film. Because isn’t that what you want? The performer of your title song to take attention away from your story, even if the story sucks? I know that’s exactly what I’d do, too.

In short: THE MOVIE’S AWFUL! Once again, reception of the film was mixed. Some of the critics really loved what Lee Tamahori did with the movie, but most everyone criticized it’s over excessive use of CGI and poor plotting. Bond fans were less than pleased, a lot of them even going so far as to call it the worst Bond film ever made (Can’t say I disagree with them), but the movie still did well at the box office. It outsold GoldenEye in its worldwide gross, but with a budget of 142 million dollars compared to GoldenEye’s 58 million, it was a conditional victory. It was a poor end to the fifth generation of Bond. EON weren’t exactly pleased with how the movie turned out, and with Brosnan’s contract up, they decided to take the series down brand new roads. Little did we know that it was not only gonna be good, but it was gonna be the best.

* / *****

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