The 20th Bond film in Eon Productions franchise is Pierce Brosnan’s 4th and final outing as 007. It is also the 40th anniversary film in the franchise too, making it easily the longest running continuing series of films featuring repeated characters. Released in 2002 and with a runtime of 133 minutes, this 12-rated film packs a lot into it -but also had mixed reviews on its release. Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson installed New Zealander, Lee Tamahori, as director, while Neal Purvis and Robert Wade return as writers having penned the last film in the series. David Arnold also makes a return to compose the music on this. With a budget of $142 million, this became a box office success, grossing $431.9 million world-wide.
In a nutshell: Tortured and bruised, Bond is on a mission that sees travel to North Korea to investigate a diamond mogul who is secretly building a space weapon that could have troubling consequences for the world.
Gimme some more: While on a mission to infiltrate a North Korean/African weapons for diamonds exchange, things do not go as planned. One of his targets, Colonel Tan-Sun Moon is killed, and Bond is captured. After being tortured by the North Korean People’s Army for over a year Bond is traded back to MI6 in exchange for Colonel Sun’s old right-hand man, Tang Lin Zao. Bond is stripped of his double-o ‘license to kill’ status on the grounds of leaking information during his torture – he’s convinced however that he didn’t and that he’s been set up. He escapes MI6 and begins his search for information to clear himself, which he might get by hunting down Zao. While tracking him, Bond crosses paths with an American agent, Jinx Johnson who happens to be following a similar path to what Bond is on. Together they discover a gene therapy clinic that can alter people’s appearance using DNA restructuring. It is here, while confronting Zao that Bond finds evidence linking him to a new wealthy diamond mogul called Gustav Graves. Graves already happens to be under investigation by Miranda Frost, who is posing as his assistant. Bond gets himself an invite to Graves’ Icelandic facility. While he is ‘pumping’ Miranda Frost for information, Jinx gets herself captured. Bond learns some startling truths about Frost and Graves to suggest that they aren’t all who they appear to be. Bond also learns of the existence of a space laser, which he must elude if he is going to continue his mission. Thus, begins the race to stop Graves from using his space laser and starting World War 3.
Cast: This is Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as James Bond and for me it comes with mixed feelings. I have enjoyed his turn as 007, but this film does not do Brosnan or the Bond franchise much justice. In fact, this film makes Brosnan feel old which is odd because I have seen him in films after this and he has still got ‘it’. While Brosnan was able to project the different portrayals of Bond in his previous performances, in this film it doesn’t work as much – I think the plot and script were too busy and let Brosnan down by giving him poor dialogue. This felt like the “007: Moonraker” (1979) of the Brosnan films, there were too many unfeasible antics going on to the point that it becomes a bit cheesy. To add to this, there was some really poor CGI scenes which really didn’t help to make Brosnan stand out as credible – sure there are stunts he can’t perform for safety and insurance purposes, but some of the things in this really didn’t do him any favours.
Oscar winning Halle Berry comes in as Jinx Johnson, a role that she probably will not look back on with pride in years to come. I am not sure many people could have done a better job here because I think the writing was flawed with her. It feels like a tick box exercise to satisfy politically correctness and to show diversity, someone suggested adding a black female that occasionally talked ‘ghetto trash’ and Berry was the poor soul cast in the role. With “XxX” (2002) being released the same year, it felt like a female version of the titular character ‘Xander Cage’ had been cast to make this film as cool as “XxX” had been. By the end of the film Berry has spent as much time as a damsel in distress as other Bond girls have, so having her as a deadly female agent did not really work. While trying to modernize the franchise and using a strong black woman for this, something got lost in translation, especially when Berry emerges from the water wearing a bikini, the modernization has gone full circle to objectifying women again.
Toby Stephens plays Gustav Graves. I like Stephens as an actor, but believe me, I laughed at the reveal of who he was supposed to be later in the film. What were they thinking?? Stephens does a good job with what he is given, but like most in the film, more attention is has obviously been spent on the action and aesthetics rather than the plot and script. As a result, he comes across as camp and cheesy, when in fact he’s probably supposed to be angry and menacing. The same thing happens with Zao, but maybe to a lesser extent because he is intended to be more action than dialogue. Rick Yune plays Tang Ling Zao well. He was a convincing menace and always appears to be a nasty piece of work in his scenes. It is a pity that it is this film he got his Bond ride in, given a better film I think the Zao character could have been amazing.
Rosamund Pike is Miranda Frost. Far from being just a sexual plaything for Bond she is a double agent working for MI6. She does well and fits in, but I did not believe that she posed much of a threat. She also does not command much screen time or character development, so by the end of the film I did not care what happened to her.
Judi Dench is M, Samantha Bond is Moneypenny, John Cleese takes over the responsibility of Q after Desmond Llewelyn died. Michael Madsen comes in as the American equivalent of M from the NSA, Damien Falco – but in truth though it’s just Michael Madsen playing the same role he does in countless numbers of films. Oh, yeah, Madonna is in the film too, it’s probably a good idea not to say much about her performance other than the award she won for worst supporting character – she deserved it.
Music: The theme song for this Bond film was “Die Another Day”. Performed by Madonna and written by David Arnold and Mirwais Ahmaszai. In the long running world of Bond films, this song causes much divided opinion. It was nominated for a Golden Globe as the Best Original Song for 2004 at the Grammys, but equally it was nominated for a Golden Raspberry for the Worst Original Song too. Personally, it is not one that I enjoy.
The musical score in the film was composed by David Arnold. It is very synth heavy and has now become a long way removed from the fine orchestral scores of John Barry.
Wrap it up: Kiwi, Lee Tamahori comes to this film with titles like “Once Were Warriors” (1994), “Mulholland Falls” (1996), and “Along Came a Spider” (2001) under his belt. He was given a large budget to work with and plenty of top talent who had already cut themselves in the Bond franchise world. Unfortunately, this is one of the less memorable Bond films or at worst, memorable for the wrong reasons. I do not blame the director completely, I think there is some blame that he needs accountable for, but it’s mainly for not stopping some ideas to be included. With this being a 40th anniversary, somebody, probably the producers, thought it would be a good idea to pay homage to every Bond film that went before it. Therefore, references to all the films, gadgets, and vehicles feature throughout the runtime this film brings. I found that the more they were shoehorned in – the cringier this film became. The director, the writers, production staff – somebody should have stood up and said, “this may be nostalgic, but let’s look forward instead of swoon for what went before this”. Sadly, nobody did.
Rather than it just being the shoehorned relics that let this film down, there are other factors too. The plot and the villain were unoriginal… I mean, come on… a giant space laser??? That might as well be straight from an Austin Powers movie. The script was poor with terrible dialogue scattered throughout. Hearing Halle Berry say “Yo Mamma!” or “Read this, bitch!” was supposed to be edgy and cool, it ended up being embarrassing. Speaking of embarrassing, let us consider the CGI for a moment because there is an awful lot in this, and only a little bit of it is credible. The CGI in this film has been voted the worst CGI in some of the circles that I am part of as a film fan and reviewer. Not the worst in a Bond film… the worst CGI in blockbuster films. If you thought that the “Scorpion King” (2002) was a bad example of CGI, take a look at Bond tsunami surfing after a giant laser burned off some of Iceland. From the moment Graves is in his lair planning to press the fire button on his laser, to the moment Bond lands completely dry and stress-free – the whole thig looks like it was done on a computer in the 80’s. In addition, there are scenes that are supposed to be outdoors, but clearly look like they are created in a studio – what happened to the money?? Where did the additional money from the vast amount of product placement go?? Something else that crosses into the realm of CGI in this film are Bond’s gadgets, in particularly the invisible car – yes, you did read that right – there is an invisible car. The Bond films which were closer to realism were the ones which were better received by fans and critics – whoever decided to add an invisible car obviously did not take this into consideration. The idea is stupid, and the delivery of it… well the effects used make it turn invisible look like a cross between the fighting forcefields in “Dune” (1984) and “Tron” (1982).
At times this film becomes a tick box exercise trying to cram in as many things that ‘fans’ would expect to see in a Bond film – despite researching what fans have actually claimed to want from previous films. It could have been so much more original using the 40th anniversary as an excuse to reinvent some new traditions rather than focus on old ones.
Despite my feelings on this film (if they aren’t clear; I was not that impressed with the film and consider this to be one of my least favourite ones in the franchise), this 12 -rated film is at least a little fun and mostly watchable. It does not have much of a brain and does not treat it’s audience like they have much of one either so do not expect to feel engaged or affected – it’s more so a lot of loud noises and big explosions. You do not need to have seen the entire franchise to watch this film. It is not too complex; the themes and content are not too adult that I could not put younger viewers in front of it. With a decent amount of action and plenty of nostalgia it should be good for the older audience members too.
Title Song: Die Another Day – Madonna
In terms of Bond films this is a 6 out of 10.
In terms of movies in the long and illustrious history of film I would give this a 5 out of 10.
Bond, James Bond, 007 – Ranking
|1||007: Goldfinger (1964) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: Goldeneye (1995) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|2||007: The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: License to Kill (1989) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: A View to a Kill (1985) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: Dr. No (1962) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: The Living Daylights (1987) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: The World is Not Enough (1999) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: From Russia with Love (1963) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|3||007: Thunderball (1965) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: Moonraker (1979) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|4||007: You only live twice (1967) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: Diamonds are Forever (1971) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: For Your Eyes Only (1981) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: Octopussy (1983) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|007: Die Another Day (2002) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|007 (Unofficial): Never Say Never Again (1983) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|5||007: Live and Let Die (1973) ⭐⭐⭐⭐|