Much has been said about Eon’s 20th 007 adventure, Die Another Day, and in recent years not much of it has been good. In this article though I’d like to redress the balance and take you on a look back to this celebration of Bond’s 40th anniversary.
Die Another Day saw release in 2002, following a rash of spy movies, such as Goldmember, XXX, The Sum of All Fears, and The Bourne Identity, and save for Goldmember, beat them all at the US box office. XXX in particular was trying to take out 007 as the world’s master spy, even eliminating a man in a tux at the beginning of the movie, and Bond continued to prove that nobody does it better.
Die Another Day grossed $160 million in the US, setting a franchise record at the time and pulled in $431 million worldwide, enhancing Pierce Brosnan’s moniker of being the Billion Dollar Bond if you added up his total gross from all his performances. Adjusting for inflation, Die Another Day comes in at #6 of the 23 current films, just behind Moonraker. So, why the abject loathing?
Die Another Day, in an homage to You Only Live Twice, proudly proclaims that Pierce Brosnan IS James Bond in its final theatrical trailer and it is very apparent in the scene where, having deftly escaped from the clutches of MI6, he confidently swaggers into a luxury hotel attired only in a hospital gown and disheveled from his months of enemy captivity.
He may not be in Brioni, but he BELONGS in that world of high class living and David Arnold’s score accentuates that perfectly. The trick to appreciating Brosnan in Die Another Day is to recognize that it is an homage to all aspects of the franchise, be it literary, films, and games.
This homage does account for the shift in tone throughout the film. We find Bond at the end of the pre-title sequence captured. Bond has many a time been captured, usually followed by the villain “monologuing” about his plot for world domination, but in a departure for the film series, Agent 007 is imprisoned and tortured for months on end.
I was a little taken aback when the subtitle illuminated the scene, stating it was 14 months later. Never before had the cinematic Bond had to endure something that seemed so Flemingesque, reminding me of his torture at the hands of Le Chifre in the novel Casino Royale.
Brosnan had long expressed his desire to push the characterization forward and Die Another Day gives him the opportunity. As in The World Is Not Enough, we see a Bond who can be injured, both physically and emotionally. This is not quite the near superhuman Brosnan of Tomorrow Never Dies. Whilst I enjoy seeing Bond overcome all obstacles, it’s nice to see him work and suffer for it at times.
The Easter Eggs and homages to past adventures gave hard-core fans an appreciation that perhaps a casual moviegoer may have overlooked. Prior to the movie’s release, my best friend and I sat down over the course of several months and watched the prior nineteen together.
Having only seen primarily the Brosnan movies, this enabled him to catch little nods like the musical opening of Dr. No hidden in sick bay, or Q’s callback to his predecessor’s line “I never joke about my work.” A shout out to Birds Of The West Indies honours Bond’s literary origins, whilst a VR sequence pays tribute to 007’s foray into gaming, in a way acknowledging how successful Goldeneye 64 was.
David Arnold was firing on all cylinders with his score. He continued his mixture of blaring horns, drums, and other electronic noises in a fusion all his own. He still makes several melodic tributes to his forerunner, John Barry, and I eat every one of them up!
Madonna’s song has great lyrics, but I didn’t care for her voice being synthesized. Having said that, it did hit number one on several charts around the world. I can understand the divisiveness of it, but when played over the main titles, there is a certain magic there. Bond is being tortured for over a year , but the song tells us it’s not his time to go. Breaking with tradition, the main title sequence continues the story in breathtaking montage, replete with the requisite writhing women. I’ve always wondered what it would’ve been like had “I Will Return” been brought to completion by Arnold and Don Black. What we do get of that melody in the film makes me feel we missed out on something special.
After twenty films, the producers even managed to find new set pieces not yet attempted in the series. The hovercraft chase is one of my favorites, again bolstered by Arnold’s music. Then, the stakes get furthered when Bond’s Aston Martin finds a rival of its own, in Zao’s gadget laden Jaguar. Physics be damned, when the ejector seat is utilized to right Bond’s Vanquish, the audience let out a cheer.
Zao was also a great callback to the more distinctive henchmen of the series, like Jaws and Oddjob. Moon/Graves also had the megalomania required for the job and Miranda Frost was an excellent example of femme fatale as, ahem, ice queen.
All in all Die Another Day is a wonderful celebration of ALL aspects of James Bond. However, there is one thing that I cannot, that I will not, defend; the parasailing sequence. There’s no defense for that.
Javier E. Trujillo is a communications medic and lifelong fan of all things Bond. He can be reached on Twitter at @JaviTru.