Thursday, November 29, 2012

Die Another Day

I think I have to start with a plot summary first, because there are a lot of details in there that I have to use as jumping off points.  So, we start with Bond on some sort of an infiltration mission in North Korea.  Colonel Moon is the key figure Bond is after here, and after seemingly killing him, he is captured by Moon's father and subjected to 14 months of interrogation and torture in a North Korean prison.

M springs Bond in exchange for MI6 releasing Moon's right-hand man, Zao.  Bond is suspended from MI6, but decides to track Zao anyway, and ends up on the trail of a British billionaire named Gustav Graves.  Graves has an assistant, Miranda Frost, who is an MI6 spy in her own right.

The plot moves to Iceland, where Graves is debuting a new satellite that focuses the sun's energy into a tight beam that can be used to create artificial daylight.  Around here are revealed two twists - Frost is actually a double agent who is working for Graves, and Graves is none other than Colonel Moon himself, back from the dead and sporting a new face.  Graves/Moon plans to use his solar satellite to destroy the mines in the Korean DMZ, allowing the North Koreans to invade the South and reunite the peninsula.  Bond, along with NSA agent Giacinta "Jinx" Johnson, infiltrate this plan and stop Graves/Moon, before flying off into the sunset (and the traditional post-climax screw.)

So I did that whole thing relatively straight and it took all of my willpower because this movie floats upon a vast, vast ocean of serious stupid.  The plot moves along at a reasonably brisk pace so it's not a difficult film in the series (Bond films aren't difficult, per se, but some of them slow to a complete crawl, really trying my patience; Die Another Day does not), but just about everything that happens in this movie carries some degree of stupid along with it.  There's a legitimate argument that this movie is the stupidest film in the series so far, and that is a tough list to crack indeed.  As per usual, here is a list of things.

The opening scene brings together two of the world's most uncool things: hovercrafts, and North Koreans.

The film, to its credit, goes way off model after that scene, with Bond's captivity forming the basis of the opening credits sequence (and Bond himself going all beardy/long hair during his time in prison).  The fatal flaw here, of course, is that it's scored to Madonna's execrable theme song, which is just as off-model but in the wrong direction.  One thing that probably isn't her fault is the lyrics, which are quite possibly the worst in the entire franchise (although I bet the thing about Sigmund Freud was her adlib, because she is a dumb person who thinks she's smart, and that's the sort of thing a person like that would come up with.)

In the first post-credits scene, Brosnan's Irish accent starts to really peek out.  Chalk it up to laziness, I guess?  I'm not sure.

There's a swordfight between Bond and Graves that is actually a really great action setpiece and both actors acquit themselves well but it also makes them both seem like crazy people, with the two of them going at it with maximum violence despite the fact that none of the proper stakes of the movie have been revealed yet, and the stakes of the swordfight were set up as a simple wager.  They break the everloving shit out of a ton of stuff at Graves' fencing club despite the fact that they are supposed to have never met each other (and Bond, at this point, hasn't the faintest clue who Graves actually is - he just knows he's up to no good, and that he has a sneer-y, punchable face.)

Die Another Day was filmed in 2002, and it is implied by M that Bond was in captivity through 9/11.  The bad guys in the movie are the North Koreans, which is immediately a really terrible choice.  You've got the shadow of 9/11 hanging over the film (Bond is almost entirely dedicated to fighting terrorists, going way back), and granted that the film couldn't (and shouldn't) make a bunch of middle Easterners the bad guy, but they eschew terrorism entirely for the stupid North Koreans.  There's a reason they were the bad guy in that Trey Parker/Matt Stone puppet movie, and that is because they are not really a threatening country, they are just silly and deeply weird.

The twist in The World Is Not Enough made a certain degree of sense, because it upended our expectations about what a woman is capable of in a Bond film.  The twist in this film, where Colonel Moon becomes a sneering white person out of nowhere, is absolutely awful.  Leaving aside the continuity issues that it obliquely dicks around with (I will touch on continuity when we get to the next film), given that we are now told for absolute fact that in the James Bond universe a person can completely change their appearance and voice (a popular fan theory about why Bond/Blofeld/Moneypenny/Leiter constantly change appearances), the twist does nothing plotwise except remove one (Asian) actor to bring in another (white) actor.  It's a twist which introduces magical science that completely breaks suspension of disbelief for the purpose of stalling the villain's reveal for about 30 extra minutes.  And Toby Stephens' performance as Graves is way over-the-top obnoxious.  Your best Bond villains have a real charm to them, slowly luring you into their web (to borrow a phrase), and Stephens spends the whole movie begging for a good solid cock-punching.

This was both the 40th anniversary of the franchise and the 20th Bond film, so they took the opportunity to lard the film up with callbacks to previous films.  There's a single scene in Q labs that is a treasure trove of callbacks (and here is John Cleese as our full-time Q; Desmond Llewelyn, like Bernard Lee before him, doesn't seem to have received any sort of in-film memorial, despite the fact that he died between films.)  Here's a very partial list of some of the callbacks I noticed throughout the film.

Breathing apparatus (Thunderball)
Laser trap for Jinx (Goldfinger)
Jinx emerging from the water (Dr. No)
Union Jack parachute (The Spy Who Loved Me)
"Diamonds are forever" quote in magazine
Mirror room (The Man With The Golden Gun)
Rosa Klebb's knife shoe from From Russia With Love
Jetpack from Thunderball
The autogyro from You Only Live Twice

I don't want to get too deep in the weeds about the virtues of practical vs. computer generated effects, because CGI has in fact given us plenty of great scenes in a wide variety of movies and it is, quite frankly, here to stay whether anyone wants it to be or not.  But this movie really makes the case that the entire concept of CGI should be nuked from orbit with one of those highly radioactive nukes that keeps anything from growing there for thousands of years.  There is a scene where Bond escapes from the space laser on a makeshift kiteboard and it would have looked more realistic if it had been done in stop-motion, Clash of the Titans style.

The one thing everyone probably knows about this film is that there is an invisible car in it.  What's there to say that hasn't already been said?  It represents the absolute rock-bottom of Bond gadgetry, and it would probably single-handedly ruin the film if there weren't about two dozen other things that could easily make the same claim.

I don't know anything about director Lee Tamahori but I know he is really fond of those "fast, then slow" camera swoops that were all the rage in the early-00's.

There was serious talk during/after the release of this film about making a spinoff film featuring Halle Berry's Jinx.  Here's the part where I confess that I don't really like Halle Berry.  I guess I liked her well enough back when she was just a minor star with a cute girl-next-door thing going on, but then everyone got obsessed with telling her how sexy she is all the time, and she won an Oscar for that godawful Billy Bob Thornton movie, and by that point she had become a Really Huge Star without any of the requisite charisma to pull it off.  So I don't particularly like Jinx as a character or a Bond girl, but I am biased against her.  She also has to deliver some atrocious lines, both a "yo mama" crack and also the line, "Read this, bitch!"

That being said, she is still significantly better and more interesting than Miranda Frost.  The less said about her, the better.  It is exposited that the reason she turns double agent is because she was in the same fencing class as Colonel Moon in college.

The geopolitics of this movie posit that the only reason the North Koreans don't invade South Korea is because of the minefield in the DMZ, and that by destroying the mines with the giant space laser, South Korea is basically a sitting duck to the mighty North Korean army.

The British/American alliance (basically M and a very distracting Michael Madsen as some higher-up at the CIA I guess) shoots one missile directly at the heart of the laser satellite.  It is easily destroyed, because it is a laser satellite, and no one thinks to just launch a bunch of missiles on different trajectories at the stupid thing, since it can only shoot in one direction at a time.

Bond sleeps with both Jinx and Miranda Frost.  He fake sleeps with Moneypenny in a virtual reality simulation that Moneypenny has using a pair of dumbass training glasses that easily make the list of the aforementioned two dozen other things that also ruin this awful movie.

1 comment:

  1. The CGI kiteboard scene is, for my money, the worst effect I've ever seen in a Bond movie. And I've seen the Moonraker finale.