Now There’s A Mouthful (2002)
August 31, 2012 1 Comment
Captured by the North Koreans after his secret identity is betrayed by a member of MI6, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is tortured for fourteen months for his part in the death of Colonel Tan-Sun Moon (Will Yun Lee). Freed only when the British Government trades him for Moon’s assistant Zao (Rick Yun) in a prisoner exchange, Bond finds his 007 status suspended by M (Judi Dench) and is forced to flee in order to complete his original mission and prove his innocence in the process. With the help of NSA agent Giacinta ‘Jinx’ Johnson (Halle Berry), he investigates British billionaire Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) after finding his insignia on an item owned by Zao. Following Graves to a demonstration of his Icarus technology in Iceland, Bond uncovers the truth about his capture in North Korea.
Somewhat of a scapegoat for Bond fans, Die Another Day has been trotted out on innumerable occasions as 007’s darkest days; a supposed new low for the franchise that almost single handedly justified the darker, grittier more realistic turn of Casino Royale. It’s James Bond’s equivalent of Batman and Robin (complete with improbable ice fortress), and just like Batman and Robin, it’s nowhere near as bad as you might remember.
Not to say it isn’t still terrible, of course. It is. While the invisible car is perhaps the most infamous dud note in a film riddled with them, it pales in comparison to each and every time the sun is shot at something which survives, be it a supersonic car, a building made of ice or a crippled plane. There really is no measure of stupidity, whether its the DNA transfusion technology, the sight of a helicopter taking off whilst in free-fall, or Jinx’s survival; first following her attempted drowning in freezing water and then her immediate resuscitation in a tropical outhouse.
Out of context, it’s difficult to get too upset by anything – even Bond’s ludicrously sudden transition from prisoner of war to suave double agent. The only real issue is that it was released after the entire Austin Powers franchise, late to its own lampoon. If Bond can change gear to the far right in pursual of Bourne-level acceptability, then what’s wrong with it taking a quick detour to the left for some prime grooviness first? The twentieth Bond instalment released on the fortieth anniversary of Dr. No, Die Another Day really does feel like a celebration of everything that made the franchise great, or at least so enduringly memorable. All that was missing was some double-taking wildlife. Make it a shark and you’ve killed two pigeons with one stone.
Die Another Day is not without its moments, however, and before the writers gave up and weaponised the sun it was all looking very promising indeed: the pre-titles sequence is dark without being dull, the stunts incredible without being incredulous and the title track by 2002 Madonna rather than 2012 Madonna. The titles sequence itself is similarly impressive, as the ice water Bond is tortured with transforms into the usual silhouettes and feminine figures, while one of the film’s final scenes sees Moneypenny is genuine comedy gold. It is a smaller, starker scene which impresses most, however, in which a dismissed Bond meets his dismisser in an old, disused tube station next to the Thames. Beautifully played, it is easily the equal of any such sequence from the critically acclaimed later instalments.
So, this is it: the end of the fun years. There have been highs, there have been lows, and there has been far more innuendo than you could ever hope to shake a Martini at, but it all ends here. When Bond returns he will be leaner, meaner and significantly less entertaining to watch as the franchise prepares for its biggest low of all: Quantum of Solace. We’ll always have the invisible car, however, and for that we must be eternally grateful.