2002’s Die Another Day is the first time we see 007 in a post-9/11 world. While this movie was released about 14 months after the attack, Pierce Brosnan’s 4th and final turn as Bond only hints at the serious world we were living in at the time. The rest of movie comes across as a bonkers Roger Moore-style of Bond flick, mixed with popular action movies of the late 90s and early 2000s.
When I saw this in the theater and witnessed the first ever CGI bullet being shot at an audience during the gunbarrel sequence, I knew this was going to be a Bond flick that stood out. The first half of the film is the best Brosnan-Bond movie since Goldeneye. The second half? Less said the better.
Bond surfs his way into North Korea, because when you think North Korea you think surfing. He has taken the place of a diamond smuggler in order to inflitrate a military base. We meet Colonel Tan-Sun Moon, who is illegally trading weapons for African conflict diamonds. Looking at it now in 2018, the idea of having North Korea as the enemy makes Die Another Day seem accidentally ahead of its time.
Moon’s top henchman Zao soon discovers that Bond is a British spy here to assassinate the Colonel. Apparently, someone at MI6 is working with Moon and snitched on Bond. Bond narrowly escapes by blowing up a briefcase full of diamonds, which become neatly embedded in Zao’s face. Bond chases after Moon in a hovercraft through a minefield. This isn’t the best Bond pre-title action sequence since the hovercraft chase looks like two guys driving a bar of soap. At the end of this, Colonel Moon appears to have died, while Bond gets captured by North Korean soldiers and imprisoned by the Colonel’s father, General Moon.
After the bizarre title sequence filled with scorpions and ice water, and Madonna’s nonsense song, we see a long-haired, bearded Bond after 14 months of captivity and torture in his North Korean prison. Brosnan looks more like a well-fed Robinson Crusoe, than a spy who has been through hell. He is traded for Zao in a prisoner exchange involving the Americans and Brits. He is immediately sedated and taken to meet M, who informs him that his 00-status is suspended under suspicion of having leaked information while being tortured. Bond escapes MI6 custody to go find the double agent in the British government who ratted him out.
He swims to Hong Kong harbor and checks into a fancy hotel in a very amusing scene, where he learns from a Chinese agent that Zao is in Cuba. In Havana, 007 gets help from a Cuban sleeper agent. Then Bond meets NSA agent Jinx (Halle Berry), who enters out of the water Honey Ryder-style. After some poorly-written flirting, Bond and Jinx have wild sex. There are knives and fruit and everything! This is the first time we ever see Bond orgasm! Bond follows her to a gene therapy clinic, where patients can have their appearances altered through DNA restructuring. Your move Face/Off!
Bond locates Zao inside the clinic, where he is attempting to become a German man. Yup, it’s starting to get wacky. After the two fight, Zao leaves behind a pendant which leads Bond to a cache of diamonds, identified as conflict diamonds, which bears the symbol of the company owned by a young, brash billionaire named Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). Graves’ claim to fame and fortune was discovering diamonds in Iceland a year ago.
Back in London, Bond meets Graves and his assistant Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), who is an undercover MI6 agent. After a cool Madonna cameo, Bond and Graves engage in a sword-fight. Graves loses to Bond in the epic fencing match, and to show what a good sport he is, he invites James to Iceland for a scientific demonstration of his new pet project. M tells Bond of MI6’s doubts about Graves, and Bond is suddenly back to 00-status and headed to Iceland with Frost to investigate Graves. Jinx is also hot on the trail, since the Americans also find Graves fishy.
At his ice palace in Iceland, Graves unveils a new orbital mirror satellite called “Icarus”. It focuses solar energy on a small area and provides year-round sunshine for crop development. However, it is also a weapon of mass destruction for Graves. Jinx is captured by Graves and Zao, because she is a horrible spy. We learn that Graves is actually Colonel Moon from the pre-title sequence. Not shocking. Not positively shocking. Moon used the gene therapy technology from Cuba. He changed his appearance, creating the identity of Gustav Graves and amassing his fortune from sale of the conflict diamonds. All in less than 14 months! Bond confronts Graves/Moon, but Frost (who Bond shagged the night before) arrives to reveal herself as the traitor who betrayed Bond in North Korea. Bond escapes in what can only be described as a cartoonish CGI action scene, involving melting ice caps and kitesurfing. Bond then returns to the palace in his invisible Aston Martin to rescue Jinx.
Remember when I wrote the first half of this movie was good? The second half of Die Another Day is way too outlandish. It’s so off-the-wall that A View To A Kill is telling it to take it down a notch. Graves uses Icarus to melt the ice palace, which will drown Jinx inside, all while Zao pursues Bond into the palace in his own suped-up vehicle. This Jaguar vs Aston Martin chase across ice is pretty snazzy I must admit. Bond kills Zao by shooting a giant diamond chandelier to fall onto him (more on this later). Bond saves Jinx from drowning in the melted ice palace.
Bond and Jinx pursue Graves and Frost to the Korean peninsula and stow away on Graves’ cargo plane. Graves reveals his true identity to his General father and his plan for Icarus. He wants to cut a path through the DMZ with concentrated sunlight, allowing North Korean troops to invade South Korea. General Moon tries to stop the plan that would certainly lead to nuclear war, but he is murdered via Graves’ electrocution suit and by gunshot.
Bond attempts to shoot Graves, but he is prevented by one of the soldiers on board. In the struggle, a gunshot goes through the fuselage, causing the plane to descend rapidly. Bond and Graves (still in his Electro-Man suit) fight to the death, while Jinx attempts to regain control of the plane. Frost and Jinx then have their own brawl with swords and knives, which is honestly better than the Bond vs Graves/Moon battle. The plane passes through the Icarus beam and is damaged to the point where it is coming apart. Jinx stabs Frost and Bond opens up Graves’ parachute, causing Graves to be pulled out of the plane and sucked into one of its engines. Bond and Jinx escape from the disintegrating plane in a helicopter from the cargo hold, carrying away Graves’ stash of diamonds in the process. After some sexual innuendo, Bond and Jinx make love in a bed full of those diamonds.
Bond’s coolest moment? Walking into that Hong Kong hotel lobby, not caring how he looks. This could be from any classic Bond movie.
Bond’s most embarrassing moment? Bond kitesurfing away from an avalanche/tidal wave is one of the most embarrassing moments in the entire franchise. Brosnan looked like the only live-action character in an Ice Age or Happy Feet animated film.
Bond’s best line? Bond’s “I’ve missed your sparkling personality.” Followed right by Zao punching him in the stomach and saying “How’s that for a punchline.”
Best acting performance? Rosamund Pike as Frost is terrific in her limited role. You can see the future Oscar-nominee has some real talent.
Bond’s most “sexual predator” moment? Not much to choose from, so I will go with Bond tricking Frost into making out for longer, as if Graves’ goons were still spying on them.
Worst line in the movie? “Yo mama!” should never be uttered in a Bond film. I hope Halle didn’t improvise that.
What I noticed for the first time after watching this for the 89th time? 14 months after 9/11. Bond held captive for 14 months. M saying “the world changed” while Bond was away. All connected.
Best action sequence? I really enjoy the sword fight at the Blades Club. It seems so out of place in a Bond movie, but it’s well choreographed and it never disappoints when I see it.
Who or what is the title song about? Your guess is as good as mine. I’m guessing it has to do with Bond’s survival mentality. But why the hell is Madonna singing “Sigmund Freud…analyze this…analyze this…analyze this…”?!
Best looking cinematic moment? Like I mentioned before, the Jaguar vs Aston Martin car chase on a frozen lake in Iceland is beautiful to watch, even if the action is ridiculous.
How could the villain have succeeded? By not faking his own death. He could have done his entire plan from North Korea. He would still have to kill his father I guess.
Which other Bond actor could have starred in this movie? I guess an in-his-prime Roger Moore makes sense, but this really is perfect for Pierce. He always tried to be a hybrid of Sean and Roger, and you can see it in this movie.
Does Bond ever think he might die? Before the prison exchange with Zao, Bond knows he is about to be shot by the North Korean firing squad. Brosnan does a good job of portraying Bond’s “so this is how it ends” facial expression.
What would have made the movie better? Cut the entire kitesurfing escape and the plane action climax. The movie is too silly for a movie two hours and ten minutes long.
What’s in a name? Bond takes the name (and sunglasses) of diamond smuggler Van Bierk. Notice how Bond is also already dressed like him before taking his identity.
What’s in a title? Die Another Day is one of a handful of Bond titles that has no connection to Ian Fleming or anything related to Bond history. It’s the third and final in the Brosnan-Bond “soap opera” title-sounding flicks: Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day.
Drinking game: Take a sip of your mojito every time a character utters a bad pun. This movie has more bad puns and one-liners than the three previous Brosnan-Bond flicks. #PunAnotherDay
“WTF?!” moment: Bond has the superpower to fake a heart attack! How did he learn this trick? Why did he ever learn how to do this?
Fun fact: Pierce Brosnan suffered a knee injury during the pre-title action sequence, which prompted the production to stop shooting for seven days.
Overall ranking: 19th best Bond movie out of 24 Bond movies.
Review synopsis: This is the 20th official James Bond movie and it came out on the 40th anniversary of Dr. No. They tried to throw everything but the kitchen sink here. The tone shifts, the eyeroll-worthy puns, the embarrassing CGI and an invisible car, didn’t give Pierce Brosnan a proper send-off as Bond. In fact, this movie (despite it being a huge box-office hit) made producers reexamine the franchise. This led to the much needed Daniel Craig era. With all that said, Die Another Day is still highly entertaining in the same ways A View To A Kill and Diamonds Are Forever are.