Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Die Another Day

I haven't met anyone yet who likes Die Another Day. Ten years on, my brother-in-law still can't bring himself to call it anything other than 'The Film That Shall Not Be Named' or, perhaps, 'The Shit One'. Long-time Bond fans I know refuse to watch it. Some refuse to have a copy in the house. Before watching it for this, I think I had sat through it only once since its theatrical release.

And the reason is that I have such clear memories of watching it that first time at the cinema. My friend and I exchanged nervous glances as we experienced a series of disquieting lurches, each one more worrying than the last. The excitement and anticipation of a new Bond film became bewilderment and we finally reeled outside and went for a beer, forced to admit that the latest James Bond film was a complete load of rubbish.

That didn't stop it making a huge amount of money and garnering some good reviews. But obviously some other people were worried about the end product. Casino Royale would still have been a savage change of direction even if the entire franchise hadn't been rebooted at the same time. Something, clearly, went very badly wrong with DAD, so wrong that EON threw their hands up in the air and started again from scratch.

So, faced with watching it again, the question has to be: is it as bad as I think it is? And is there anything to like about it at all?

The answers to those questions are, sadly, yes and almost nothing.

Let's get the good bits out of the way first shall we? The PCS is not terribly exciting, but it is an effective action set piece, ably directed by 2nd Unit Director Vic Armstrong. Daniel Kleinman gives the opening credits a fresh twist, making the most out of 007's incarceration. Bond's diversion to Hong Kong has some amusing lines. And there's something satisfying about the Cuba sequence (apart from Jinx) - it's reminiscent of the travelogue section of a Fleming novel, complete with local colour and a 'firm, dry handshake' from sleeper Raoul. Bond even engages in a spot of improvisation to inveigle his way into the clinic, which is nice.

And that's it. Everything else is terrible.

It's interesting that all these bright spots turn up inside the first half-hour, because this is a film that definitely gets worse as it goes along. And watching it again now is a depressingly similar experience to seeing it on the big screen ten years ago. Each new piece of stupidity, crass dialogue, or WTF? moment drives me closer and closer to despair.

I won't list every flaming thing that's wrong with DAD (see the Eh? section, if you must, but I've not been exhaustive there either to be honest), but I did once threaten that I could list twenty for you. I'm not going to do that. I can't face it. But I do have to make some effort to record the awfulness so here are the worst moments.

The 'Magic' Bullet. During the gun barrel sequence, Bond turns and fires as usual - but this time with such skill and accuracy that his bullet whooshes towards us out of the middle of the screen, SOMEHOW fitting perfectly down the barrel of the unknown assailant's gun that we are looking through. Why is it so bad? Throughout DAD we are given surprises and fresh takes on Bond staples - presumably in an attempt to prove that the franchise isn't old, dusty and predictable. Someone obviously thought this was a nifty idea and a cool surprise for the audience. All it proves is that nobody was giving any thought to what we had actually been looking at since DRNO. The spirally outline around Bond is, always has been, the rifling of a gun barrel and our POV is as if we were the bullet ready to be fired down it towards 007. Nobody thought or cared about that and so we end up with this flashy, stupid nonsense on screen that removes all meaning from forty years of Bond iconography.

The Sword Fight at 'Blades'. Whilst on the run from MI6, Bond hangs about a gentlemens fencing club in central London and becomes embroiled in a sword fight with ΓΌber-arsehole Gustav Graves. Why is it so bad? For many reasons. Firstly it's stupid (actually properly stupid, like something out of Austin Powers) and, like nearly all the other fights and chases in DAD, does nothing to advance the plot. It's a runaround where all the characters end up back where they started. Secondly because of Madonna. Thirdly because of the mis-appropriation of Blades from the novels. And fourthly, and most importantly, because it defines the relationship between Graves and Bond. Graves, played by so-so Radio 4 Bond Toby Stephens, is a terribly annoying villain, with his endless awful quips and his suits and his gadgets and his Union Jack parachute... remind you of anyone? Yes, Graves is modelled on James Bond (he'll admit so himself later on in the film) but rather than evoke the hard-as-nails bastardishness of Sean Bean's anti-Bond 006, Graves is wet, sneering and arrogant. Here, at 'Blades', Graves and Bond bring out the worst in each other and the upshot is that, rather than wanting to cheer 007 on against his antagonist, the audience is invited (by Madonna, no less, albeit strangely monotonously) to hate the bloody pair of them.

The CGI Kite Surfing. Forgive me for reminding you, but this sequence sees Bond escape from an orbital space laser weapon and a collapsing glacier by jury-rigging a parachute/surf board. Why is it so bad? The execution is awful. It looks awful now. It looked awful then. But even if the CGI was excellent, it would still be terrible because one of the great strengths of the Bond franchise has been the way in which it strived to make things look real. Even silly YOLT and Moonraker had the decency to try and look convincing and the extraordinary stunts in TMWTGG, TSWLM and GoldenEye were done for real. But everything in DAD is faked. Korea is Aldershot, Hong Kong is a backdrop, Cuba is Cadiz and Iceland is Cornwall: there's no sense, as there was in the '60s, '70s and '80s that the location is an important part of the story. The crappy green-screen here is just the icing on the cake.

The 'Spy Car' Chase. Bond and Zao have at each other in their super-duper motors. Why is it so bad? Because it is sound and fury, signifying nothing. The chase starts at the Ice Hotel and ends, er, back at the Ice Hotel. They literally drive around in circles, shooting and swerving, with no consequences whatsoever. What's worse is that it all takes place on the blank expanse of the glacier: Iceland maybe beautiful but the featureless landscape offers no context for this chase. Without landmarks Bond and Zao are merely fighting in a meaningless void, their actions rendered pointless.

In truth the whole film is a blasted wasteland. Nothing matters here and we care nothing for the people who inhabit it. Bond, Graves, Jinx and Frost - they are all flat, uninteresting copies of human beings. The script has potential but the execution is all wrong. So often the tenor of DAD is badly off, painfully disconnected from the world the audience inhabits. Bond films had always seemed to be set 'five minutes into the future' but this superficial pantomime is firmly stuck in the '90s, unable to absorb developments in the real world. The 'kisses to the past' are overdone and clunky. The 'surprises' (terrorists in M's office! Bond and Moneypenny are shagging!) are the crassest of gimmicks and utterly beneath my contempt.  

The whole thing is irredeemable. Vacuous, smug and rotten. We shall not speak of it again.


* * *

Pre-Credits Sequence: It's sadly lacking TWINE's panache or GoldenEye's bravado, but this PCS is a competent enough affair that, for better or worse, sets up much of the plot for the rest of the film.

Theme: Apparently Madonna's effort is very popular with Bond fans under the age of 25. It's not a bad piece of music, particularly - it just jars with everything else we've heard before and barely fits with what's happening on screen.

Deaths: I make it 28 which feels a little low. There's a lot more knocking people unconscious than in recent outings.

Memorable Deaths: Mr Kil (really?) gets lasered through the back of his head. I say memorable - I didn't remember it either.

Licence to Kill: 12 - very low for Brosnan.

Exploding Helicopters: One, in the PCS.

Shags: 2. For the first time we get to see Bond properly 'at it'. It's a bit of a disappointment.

Crimes Against Women: M sits down one of her agents, Miranda Frost, and berates her for not having shagged her way around MI6. There was more I had to say here but I can't get over that first one. Unbelievable.

Casual Racism: There's a very boorish and unpleasant South African chap at Los Organos. The Americans here are bastards rather than allies. You might not be surprised to learn that the Koreans don't do too well out of this either.

Out of Time: Blah, conflict diamonds, blah, Sierra Leone. DAD happily bandies around such terms but never wants to engage with a world in which these words actually mean something.

Fashion Disasters: Bond more or less gets away with the vest and open shirt in Cuba, but that black turtle-neck sweater makes Brosnan look really rather elderly. The less said about the beard and pyjamas the better.

Most Shameless Advertising: All those three-movie deals have expired so no Smirnoff or BMW. Instead we have Aston Martin, British Airways and, most gratuitously, a razor. The scene where Bond shaves was recorded twice, once each for the US and Europe, because the razor was being marketed under different names in each place (as the Philishave HQ8894 XL Sensotec in Europe and as the Norelco Spectra 8894XL in the USA, if you're interested). No, really.

Eh?: You can tell my heart's not really in it this time round can't you. Oh well, here we go. In the PCS Bond brings diamonds to Moon - what are they for? Surely Moon is buying weapons with diamonds? If Bond is pretending to be Moon's diamonds supplier, how is Moon paying for the diamonds? If Moon has lots of diamonds (enough to buy weapons with, or to fake a diamond mine) then why does he need a supplier? >> Zao is wounded in the explosion in the PCS and gets a face full of diamonds. Fourteen months later, he still has a face full of diamonds. He's been a prisoner of the USA or UK for some of that time; he has also been on the run - did nobody think it was worth their while to remove the VALUABLE PRECIOUS STONES from the terrorist's face? Did the terrorist with DIAMONDS ALL OVER HIS FACE not think to tweezer them out in order to look less conspicuous? >> M says information was leaking from Bond's prison (in North Korea), but later on it is revealed that Frost was the leak (in London). Is she a special ventriloquist mole? >> Bond escapes from MI6 by slowing down his heart rate to the point where a crash team is required. Now, I could spend ages researching this to see if it is actually medically possible, but really, you and I both know this is bollocks. >> And so is all the DNA replacement therapy, of course. Why not just call it plastic surgery? >>  Having found Zao in the clinic, Bond hurts him by clutching at his IV bag. Now, I have checked this out with a medical professional and they assured me this was also bollocks. >> If Jinx is at the clinic to kill the doctor, why allow him to explain his operation first? Why wait until after she has handed over a cheque and left other evidence (like a photo of herself!) at the scene? Why don't the guards shoot Jinx as she dives? Why does Bond just stand there and watch? >> World renowned chemist, James Bond, quickly discovers that Graves' diamonds are "chemically identical" to conflict diamonds. But NOBODY ELSE HAS NOTICED. >> Speaking of which, how do you FAKE a DIAMOND MINE? Is there a verification process? Is it like Twitter and one day a blue tick just appears over your sparkly hole in the ground? >> Where is Bond going when he jumps into the drag ski racer thing? >> Jinx is trapped in a room inside the melting Ice Hotel. The room fills with water. The ice doors don't melt. The ice windows don't melt. The walls or floor or ceiling don't melt. Why not? And where does the water come from then? (Presumably from the all the furniture, seeing as she doesn't smash her way out of the MELTING ICE with a chair leg or anything.) >> M expresses regret that she didn't know that Frost was on Moon's fencing team at Harvard. Sheesh. What with this and Mitchell in QOS, it's clear that Dame Judi is not running a particularly tight ship. Bernard Lee is spinning in his grave I expect. What's she going to do next? Upload the identities of all British agents to YouTube>> Why does Graves have a stupid suit if the controls are either in a box or on his wrist? Why does said stupid suit have a stupid button that electrocutes the wearer?

Worst Line: "I am Zao. You are late." "Saved by the bell!" Not strictly dialogue, but Madonna gasps "Sigmund Freud!" during her theme song for no obvious reason. She also mutters "I see you handle your weapon well," to Bond at Blades but, bless her, she didn't really want to be there, did she.

Best Line: John Cleese (is he R or Q now?) snaps at Bond when he moans about the VR goggles. "It's called the future, so get used to it." There's another one too, but I'm saving it for Best Bond Moment.

Worst Bond Moment: Bond's heart-rate lowering escape. 'London Calling'. The Blades fight. The kite-surfing. The VR scenes. And many more.

Best Bond Moment: Bashed-up, unloved and abandoned by MI6 and with no gadgets or back up, Bond runs into the Chinese secret service in Hong Kong. "Don't worry," he growls. "I'm not here to take it back." And we still believe he could.

Overall: The very worst. At last the Bond series becomes what its detractors have always claimed it was: a stupid action cartoon, devoid of wit, heart or any sympathetic characters.

James Bond Will Return: ...to the beginning.


11 comments:

  1. Actually the fight at Blades does advance the plot, it just doesnt become apparent for 40 minutes - Graves is teasing Bond throughout the scene with his real identity but Bond doesnt see it, thus eventually proving that the DNA therapy works.

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    1. Yes, that's a fair point: there is some foreshadowing there amongst the banter. I'd still argue that it's not advancing the plot particularly, but it is deepening the characterisation and I shouldn't perhaps have overlooked it. I was too cross that day I think! Thanks for reading.

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  2. Maybe it could be called "Shit another shit"? It would then sum up Brosnan's time as Bond quite succinctly.

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    1. Given that Brosnan's Bond often sports the facial expression of a man straining not to poo his pants, I think that would be a wonderful alternative title.

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  3. P.S. It took me a while to summon up the courage to read this one...I read the first paragraph and realised I just can't bring myself to revisit any element of this film - it has no redeemable parts.

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    1. redeeming parts....(sleep depravity)

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    2. I'm very proud of you. I imagine you as Herbert Lom in the Pink Panther, twitching uncontrollably as you read.

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  4. I have to respect you for not mentioning the fact that the Aston Martin was *invisible* this time. Also, I don't want to be cruel, but Brosnan's face was oddly puffed-up and he seemed to have put on a tonne of black hair dye (especially in the infamous escaping-the-glacier CGI spot). And still it made something like $400m at the box office.

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    1. Yes, though it is often derided, the car's invisibility is one of the least ridiculous things in the film. It might even be that similar stealth technology becomes unremarkable at some point soon. Not that this would redeem Die Another Day - as you say, there's still so much else to dislike.

      Thanks for reading!

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