Die Another Day

End of the Brosnan era. I have a small confession. I actually liked this film when it came out. I even bought Madonna’s diabolical title track from it. Fuck you, young me. You may be thinner and less cynical, but at least I know a stinker when I see one. Not to mention the fact that I have seen over one real-life naked lady. In your stupid face!

Die Another Day (2002)

Have you noticed all the Bond stuff about lately? There’s at least 5 Bond adverts on regular rotation on the TV, not to mention countless magazine features, radio plays, boxset releases and a whole host of other stuff. Well, back in 2002 it was the same, but less legitimate because it was only the series’ 40th anniversary. The same old media circlejerking was there, but amongst it there were rumblings of continuous problems on Bond 20, rumoured to be called “Beyond the Ice”. Still, I was stoked. I was a hardcore Bondhead at this point and couldn’t wait for the film. Once it was out, I rushed to see it. I genuinely think the film broke my brain for a while. I liked all the action and stuff but I know I was disappointed with it. However, I went into denial, convincing myself it was great. This still happens occasionally now, but I’m more mindful of it. Watching it back with my lovely 2012 eyes I can see everything very clearly. Jesus Christ, is this poor.

“The same person who set me up then has just set me up again, so I’m going after him.”

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) der derp derrr derr Jinx (Halle Berry) blee blah bloo blah waaarrgh Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) hurrr dee durrrrrrr Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike). BLURRRRFF Zao (Rick Yune). Okay, I’m being massively immature, but that’s saved valuable slating space. Whilst the film chose one of the shittiest plots imaginable (there’s a strong story link between this and Diamonds Are Forever) there are some really interesting ideas here. Die Another Day takes some risks. It’s pretty brave in some respects. It’s a pity that few to none of them pay off. Bond getting captured, imprisoned and disavowed is a really strong concept. It’s something audiences haven’t seen before, which is a huge plus when a series has been around for as long as the Bond franchise has. I like little peeks at the chinks in Bond’s armour. We certainly see that when he’s held and tortured in a Korean prison camp. It reminds me of the curveballs that Fleming would throw out sometimes in his books. A villain that models himself on Bond is a good idea too. Graves’ assessment of Bond, calling him out on his “unjustifiable swagger” and his “crass quips” that conceal “such inadequacy” is great. I like the little nods to previous films too, ranging from the subtle (a book concerning birds of the West Indies is seen, the author of which is where Fleming got the name “James Bond” from) to the smack-in-the-face obvious (Halle Berry’s watery entrance in a clingy bikini with a knife on her hip).

Brosnan is still on his game here. Watching his films back, I was reminded how good he was in the role. It’s a crying pity this mess was his swansong, but we’ll always have GoldenEye, dear friends. Halle Berry chews any part of the scenery that hasn’t been exploded. I like her in this. She seems really game and adds a sense of fun to an otherwise deadly serious farce. Toby Stephens joins Berry in the scenery-bothering approach, often biting out lines like a dog snapping at a butterfly in a summer garden. Rosamund Pike is gorgeous, but the “ice queen” thing doesn’t really allow for proper acting. She does get to to have a bit more fun as a baddie later on. I even like Zao, although he’s a really underdeveloped character. His diamond studded face is kinda cool though. Judi Dench is still a badass and Michael Madsen makes his debut and final appearance as M’s American opposite. I get the feeling he was set to become a series regular before the film embarrassed the series so much it necessitated a reboot. He doesn’t get much chance to make an impression, but he’s still a cool customer and I fucking love him in Reservoir Dogs.

Literally from the gunbarrel onwards something has gone terribly wrong here. For some utter arbitrary reason, a CGI bullet now shoots towards the screen down the rifling. Mental. You don’t fuck with the classics. Then, the iris opens on Bond surfing. I realise there are few exciting things we haven’t seen Bond do at this point, but surfing in a combat suit isn’t one I was desperate to see. Plus, it brought back unpleasant memories of A View to a Kill‘s “California Girls” fiasco which I was well on my way to repressing once more. The hovercraft stuff is sound, but having seen TWINE‘s epic intro, even that has lost its lustre. The title song. Oh Jesus, that fucking song. It’s painful to listen to. I like Danny Kleinman’s titles, showing Bond being tortured, but the song is unforgivable. It really is the worst song the Bond series has ever had. Plus, Madonna’s cameo later on is as welcome as a foreskin in my morning Coco Pops.

There are just too many ludicrous elements for it to work. I could buy a space laser/sun mirror thing at a push, but an invisible car? A sequence where Bond is in a rocket car being chased by a huge column of deadly sunrays? A rival gadget car showdown? Gene replacement? A weird insistence on using electric shock effects that look like they’re from the ’80s? It’s just all too silly. It becomes like a parody. The CGI is terrible too. Even in 2002, this looked tacky. There’s an infamous bit where Bond parasurfs away from a tsunami caused by the space laser sun thing burning off a huge cliff of ice. The film is like one giant facepalm. Perhaps because of all this, the film looks fake as shit. It reminded me of the Star Wars prequels, with lovely non-interactive backgrounds and nothing having any weight. Also, director Lee Tamahori keeps doing these weird slow whooshing camera moments. They’re juvenile and really distracting. The jokes are hugely forced and half of them don’t make any sense. There’s a character named Mr. Kil there purely for Bond to make a shit joke about it. Plus, there’s a weird scene where Jinx introduces herself as a science reporter to Miranda. Frost then says as way of conversation something about Bond’s “big bang theory” to which Jinx replies “Yeah, I think I got the thrust of it.” HAHAHA they dun a sex on each other! Firstly, we haven’t heard anything of any big bang theory. What does it relate to? Icarus? If not then what? Secondly, whilst a huge number of Bond jokes are double entendres, this is fucking weaksauce. Urgh. The writing’s pretty bad anyway, but the jokes are the absolute nadir.

I mentioned some of the things I actually appreciate above and that’s basically it for this film. The sword fight between Bond and Graves is pretty entertaining. As naff as it is, I like the car fight between Bond and Zao too. It’s a positive step that Bond is back behind the wheel of an Aston Martin this time. I never liked those BMWs.  That’s it. The ending is one big CGI mess with no tension or anything. Actually, thinking about it, the fight between Frost and Jinx is good too. Nice that it gets the same screen time as the scrap between the hulking great men.

“You know, you’re cleverer than you look.” 
“Still, better than looking cleverer than you are.” 

Die Another Day was, is and will continue to be a real series low point. It’s Moonraker all over again. So many things went wrong with this one it’s hard to pin down just one element as the main cause of it all. What a load of old wank. Tell you what, if I’d have made this film, I’d have put on a dress and asked a cop to fuck me too. It makes perfect sense.

The World Is Not Enough

I believe this was the film Bond film I saw in the cinema. That’s it. That’s all you’re getting from this pre-amble. Fuck off.

The World Is Not Enough (1999)

Going through the series, it’s interesting to see where all the Bond actors hit their strides as 007. Connery hit his with Goldfinger, Lazenby only had the one so doesn’t count, Moore’s was The Spy Who Loved Me, Dalton’s was Licence to Kill and Brosnan’s is definitely The World Is Not Enough. It often means a better film, because if your lead is comfortable in the role, they’re more likely to take a few risks and play around with the character a bit, as Brosnan does here. Whilst GoldenEye is the superior film, TWINE has the superior BrosBond.

“Welcome to my nuclear family.”

After an oil industrialist is murdered, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is tasked to protect his daughter and heiress to the business Elektra King (Sophie Marceau). Meanwhile, Bond uncovers a plot to steal a nuclear bomb by the known terrorist and former King kidnapper Renard (Robert Carlyle), a man who thanks to a botched assassination, feels no pain. Bond gets help from nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) and ex Mafia boss from GoldenEye Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) to stop the nuke going off and killing millions. I think TWINE‘s plot is pretty decent. It doesn’t steal ideas from previous Bonds and actually has some things we haven’t seen in a Bond flick before. I’m going to talk spoilers here, so if you haven’t seen it, skip to the last paragraph, watch the film, come back here and buy me a yacht, since you’re clearly the suggestible type. To have the big baddie turn out to be Elektra, not Renard is a decent twist. All the Bonds up to this point have been without major twists and turns. I like the bluff with Renard and Elektra (the series’ first and to date only female main villain) does the femme fatale thing very well.

As I said, Brosnan really got Bond with this film. He has an interesting urge to protect Elektra in the beginning. It’s the first time we’ve seen BrosBond show a more complex side. I don’t feel they did enough with Robert Carlyle’s Renard. Carlyle is a fantastic actor, but he’s not given too much to actually do. The film can’t make up its mind whether Renard is an evil bastard or a tragic character. It keeps flitting between the two and as a result it gets hard to get a lock on what you should be feeling towards him. When typing the above paragraph’s fourth line, Chrome put a red squiggly line under the whole thing. Even a web browser knows that “Denise Richards” and “nuclear physicist” don’t go together. She’s pretty wretched in the role and whilst she’s just there to be Bond totty, it’s annoying they didn’t cast someone who could actually act. She reminded me quite a bit of Tanya Roberts’ Stacey Sutton from A View to a Kill. Star of the show though is Sophie Marceau. She’s brilliant. Elektra is a complicated character and Marceau covers all her facets expertly. Not to mention she’s breathtakingly gorgeous. I’ve had a soft (read: hard) spot for her since Braveheart. We get to delve into M’s character a bit more this film and it works. She’s very protective over Elektra and there’s a great scene where Bond confronts her about locking King’s file. Dench is the best. Talking of one-letter wonders, this is regrettably Q (Desmond Llewelyn)’s last film. Whilst he was retiring from the series anyway, it was tragic he died in a car accident soon after completing the film. The Q Branch scenes have always been some of my favourite bits in the series and owe that in no small part to Llewelyn’s lovable grouch.

Can you say best pre-credits sequence ever? I sure as hell can. In the longest pre-credits bit of the series (clocking in at about 14 minutes) Bond has an exciting encounter in Bilbao, MI6 HQ gets blown up, Bond chases a suspect in a Q boat on the River Thames which concludes with Bond dangling on a rope hanging from a hot-air balloon high above the Millennium Dome (or “The O2” as I guess it is now). Suspect blows up the balloon, Bond falls and is left hanging and injured on one of the Dome’s wires. Boom! Titles. It’s breathless stuff. One of these setpieces would have sufficed, but it’s like three in one. I’d forgotten how much fun the opening was. The boat chase is Bond magic. Amazing stunts and some really inventive ideas. Part of the fun of the chase is seeing how drenched Brosnan gets during the sequence. It doesn’t hurt that the titles and title song are class to boot. As with all the Bond flicks, the action’s great. There’s a unique skiing bit where Bond and Elektra are attacked by parahawks (military snowmobile things with parachutes) and an amazing sequence at Valentin’s caviar factory where multi-sawblade wielding helicopters cut shit up. The conclusion on the submarine is pretty decent too.

The rest of the film is good, but doesn’t quite deliver on the stonking opening scenes. I really like that with Elektra, we have echoes of Tracy and there’s even a bit in the skiing sequence which is very similar to a bit in OHMSS. It’s clever to remind us of this because we really feel Bond’s betrayal. He let himself care, dammit! Now he’s strapped to a torture chair that’s slowly breaking his neck (a really good scene, by the way). The conclusion to Elektra’s bit is bittersweet and very well handled. As for the bad, there’s not too much. Richards drags the film down occasionally with her leaden acting. Renard ends up being a weaker villain than a character with his gimmick deserved and the film sags in the middle. The “comedy” bits can fuck off. I really don’t like John Cleese as the new Q. The man’s genuinely funny elsewhere, but his lines are dreadful here. Also, can we stop having the scene where Bond’s superiors are shocked to find 007 enjoying a post-successful mission shag? It’s just what he does. The guy just saved the world. Let him get his end away in peace.

“I could have given you the world!”
“The world is not enough”
“Foolish sentiment”
“Family motto.”

So yeah, TWINE is damn good. It’s the second best of the Brosnan era and when the first is GoldenEye, there’s no shame in that. It’s a really satisfying Bond adventure. It’s just a shame we all know what’s coming next…

Tomorrow Never Dies

Brosnan’s second film and my eighteenth review. Surprisingly, I’m not sick of Bond yet. I am looking forward to being able to pick and choose which Bond adventures I relive though. Chronology doesn’t do the Bond series any favours.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

I’d like to start, if I may, with a biting satirical vignette about a fictional conversation between the Bond people. I don’t want to attribute fault to any specific person, so I’ll just call them A and B.

A: Hey B, so glad GoldenEye was a success! We really risked a lot on bringing Bond back.
B: Oh, hi A. Yeah, it’s a load off. Apart from the massive stacks of cash in my pocket, I think the best thing about all this is that we can take Bond to all new places that ’90s audiences haven’t seen before.
A: Speaking of which, you got any ideas for the sequel?
B: (long pause) Nope. (another long pause) We could be in trouble here.
A: Nah- let’s just rip off You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me. Audiences fucking love the same shit they’ve seen before time and time again repackaged in a shinier wrapper.
B: Sweet! So glad we didn’t have to come up with anything original! I’m hungry.
A: Me too. Here’s that plate of dicks I ordered.

END SCENE

“The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success.”

After the H.M.S. Devonshire is attacked and sunk, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is sent to investigate the possible link between the sinking and powerful media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce). Bond encounters an old flame in the form of Carver’s wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher) and gains a new ally, Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh). Bond’s mission then becomes to stop Carver from starting World War III between Britain and China. As you may have picked up from that blisteringly realistic exchange above, TND‘s plot is just a huge rehash of The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond facing off against a Rupert Murdoch type strikes me as one of those ideas that should have stayed on the drawing board. I get what they’re trying to do, but Carver is just too weak a villain to hold the film. I know he’s deranged, but his whole plan is to start a war for TV ratings. I mean, really? Putting aside the ludicrous premise for a moment, let’s dig a little deeper. Why is he doing this? He’s clearly super rich and powerful anyway. He’s just launched a new satellite and now has the potential to reach every single person on Earth. If he was in charge of a media group that had seen a massive fall in viewers and revenue then I’d understand. Constantly getting exclusives about a developing war would be a huge audience-getter and put you ahead of the pack. The man and the network seem at the top of their game though. I may seem like a have a downer on Tomorrow Never Dies, but I don’t. It’s a solid Bond film with some awesome sequences. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination. It just burns my piss that they couldn’t wait to restick themselves to the same old formula. I suppose the argument could be made that all the Bond films are formulaic, but they need to do a better job of hiding it.

Brosnan seems a lot more comfortable in the role this time round. He’s just The Broz- and that’s a damn good thing. Jonathan Pryce does well in what is a very loose and non-threatening role. He takes a camp pleasure in doing “evil” things which makes him entertaining to watch. What isn’t so great is an embarrassing and possibly racist (I still can’t make up my mind) moment where he does mock martial arts complete with silly dancing and kung fu noises. Michelle Yeoh makes a great Bond lass, giving us another female Bond equal. I’ve had a crush on Teri Hatcher since The New Adventures of Superman, so I was already predispositioned to like her. She does a good job as the tragic Paris regardless. I quite like the ‘roided up version of Red Grant, Stamper (Götz Otto), but I feel he could have been used a little better. Man of the film for me is Vincent Schiavelli’s Dr. Kaufman. He’s just a joy and completely steals the scene he shares with Brosnan. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of him.

I love the pre-credits bit of this film. Bond infiltrates (read: “fucking destroys everything at”) a “terrorist supermarket”. There’s plenty of explosions, shouting and and real “fuck, yeah!” moment when the flabbergasted Admiral Roebuck (Geoffrey Palmer, Dench’s on screen husband in sopfest As Time Goes By, fact fans) watching the action on a monitor at MI6 HQ with the campest Minister of Defence ever, asks what the hell Bond thinks he’s doing. Without missing a beat, M snaps back: “his job”. I want to punch the air every time she says that, I swear to God. The titles aren’t bad either, with Daniel Kleinman doing a great job with CGI circuit ladies and TV screens. Shame about Sheryl Crow’s song though. It’s okay, but the fact that far superior “Surrender” by k.d. lang is relegated to the end credits in favour of Crow’s uninspired warblings is annoying.

Tomorrow Never Dies fixes one of my problems with GoldenEye by Bond actually using his gadget-laden car this time, although it’s still a BMW. The car park sequence where Bond literally becomes a back seat driver in his remotely operated car is a hell of a lot of fun. Stand out sequence by far though is the highly inventive and unique chase where Bond and Wai Lin have to negotiate various pitfalls and obstacles on a high speed motorbike whilst handcuffed together. It’s a real highlight of the film and of Brosnan’s stint as Bond. I’m not just an action meathead though. There are several little character moments I enjoyed too. There’s a little bit where Bond is waiting for a Carver sent assassin in his hotel room. He’s slouched in a chair, pouring himself shot after shot of vodka with his gun at the ready. It reminded me of the similar scene in Dr. No where Bond lies in wait for Professor Dent. I also like the alluded to past with Paris that Bond has. Paris grimly assesses that Bond’s job is “murder on relationships” and gives us a deeper connection to her than we get with most of Bond’s squeezes.

“You always were a cunning linguist, James”

Tomorrow Never Dies is a perfectly fine film. It doesn’t shake up the formula or really try for an identity of its own, but that’s alright. It’s not as good as GoldenEye, but it’s a solid effort featuring a great Bond and some seriously exciting action. It also features a young Gerard Butler on the H.M.S. Devonshire. Tune in next time, same Bond time, same Bond channel.

GoldenEye

We’re up to Brosnan, people. Not far to go now.

GoldenEye (1995)

I wasn’t sure if I could give this one a fair analysis. This film was my introduction to James Bond. Like a lot of people my age, I also played the N64 game to death. The film and the game are indelibly linked in my brain. I lived this fucking film as a kid. I approached the task of reviewing with the same mixture of excitement and trepidation one would as if meeting up with an old friend for the first time in years. Yes, I realise normal people are out getting laid instead of getting weirdly emotional over 17 year old blockbusters, but someone has to review these damn films. Just send your oddly father-centric hatespeeches to the usual address.

“If you think for one moment I don’t have the balls to send a man out to die, your instincts are dead wrong. “

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is sent to investigate the firing of a deadly satellite weapon known as”GoldenEye”. He meets survivor and computer programmer Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) and they team up to stop Bond’s former ally, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) and his psychotic partner Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) from using the weapon on London. Stepping outside of all those warm, gooey memories I have associated with this film, I’d still say the story is a solid one. Before GoldenEye came out, many people had their doubts about 007 returning to the big screen after 6 long years. The Cold War was over and as such the main driving force behind the Bond films had been lost. Cleverly, GoldenEye addresses this. It’s quite a smart dissection of Cold War era Bond. It gets a bit too clever-clever later on, but the initial stuff is extremely well thought out.

Brosnan is the crowd-pleaser of the Bonds. He’s a good all-rounder. He doesn’t bring a new spin to the character, but he doesn’t need to. Much in the same way people defend Moore or fawn over Connery, I will stick up for Brosnan. Brosnan is my Bond. He’s the one I grew up believing to completely embody charm and masculinity. Looking back now, Brosnan is more of a catalogue model than a trained killer, but nevertheless, I love the guy. We’ve had dark versions of Bond before, but Trevelyan takes the prize. Something about his age and the betrayal of the Lienz Cossacks doesn’t add up, but he’s still a fantastic villain. Sean Bean does a great job playing a complete nega-Bond. Izabella Scorupco had a lot on her shoulders as the first Bond girl of the ’90s and she does admirably. She isn’t just there for the camera to leer at and her story is quite affecting. The scene where the Severnaya crew are massacred by Xenia is still horrible to this day. Speaking of her, Xenia is probably the most “out there” villainess we’ve seen. She reminds me of Fiona Vulpe in Thunderball. No doubt the producers spooled through older Bond flicks for inspiration as there’s a female assassin who crushes people with her thighs mentioned in The Living Daylights. The one in TLD is a fucking munter though. Give me Famke Janssen any day. Janssen is completely fearless as Xenia. She throws herself into the role and is incredibly memorable. I just love the idea of a villain who literally gets off on murder. Before this paragraph gets too long, I just want to say that casting Judi Dench as M was a stroke of genius. I’m so glad she’s still doing the role to this day.

So that clever-clever stuff I mentioned earlier. Most of it’s fine. I especially love M calling Bond a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War.” The thing is when Trevelyan starts asking Bond whether “all those all those vodka martinis ever silence the screams of all the men you’ve killed” or if he finds “forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women for all the dead ones you failed to protect.” it starts coming across a little like fan-fiction. There are times where GoldenEye reminds me of the first Scream film in the way that it makes a point of outlining the tropes associated with the genre, but does them anyway. As I said, it’s mostly not an issue, I just wish they’d leaned a bit lighter on the post-modern filter.

Do not think for one moment that GoldenEye is some sort of beard-stroking intelliwank for tossers. Plenty of shit gets blown up. Every action bit works and is still impressive whilst viewed through my 2012 eyes. The opening sequence starting with the huge bungee jump and culminating in a physics-defying freefall leap after a nosediving plane is just great. It’s goofy but hey, life’s too damn serious. The tank sequence is classic Bond and my favourite Bond setpiece ever. I had never seen anything like it as a stupid kid and very few things match it now I’m a stupid adult. The final fight between Trevelyan and Bond is also the best fistfight since From Russia With Love. It’s a thumping, brutal, shit-kicking affair which ends with Bond getting some personal vengeance, rather than doing it all for Queen and country. Both the song and the titles are brilliant too. I really like all the Communist iconography falling to the powerhouse voice of Tina Turner. It’s better than fucking Lulu anyway. As for minor complaints, I have one. Why is Bond driving a BMW? Worst of all it’s a metallic blue Z3, which screams “Essex hairdresser” rather than “secret agent”. Also the (actually really good) Q scene takes the time to set up all the car’s gadgets and Bond never uses them. He drives the car for like 5 minutes. If you’re going to put Stinger missiles behind the headlights, at least let us see them being used.

The supporting cast really stood out to me in this film. We have Alan Cumming doing his best powernerd thing as Boris (and having the dubious pleasure of having one of the most ludicrous demises since Kananga went pop in Live and Let Die). Robbie Coltrane pops up as Russian gangster Valentin Zukovsky. Previous Bond villain Joe Don Baker cameos as the American-as-a-Bald Eagle burger Jack Wade. I also think Gottfried John and Tcheky Karyo are brilliant as Ouromov and Mishkin. Samantha Bond makes a great Moneypenny and Q is back- hooray!. Michael Kitchen also briefly appears as Tanner and gets to call M “the evil queen of numbers”.

“For England, James?”

I know the objectively GoldenEye isn’t the best Bond film. It is however, my favourite. I am forever indebted to it for introducing me to the world of 007. Watching it back, I was bracing myself for a moment when it all became shit and a cue to retroactively hate my younger self. I noticed more plot details and found a few flaws, but that dreaded moment never came. I think it’s pretty safe to say GoldenEye is a good film. Take this final rating though as the thick, sticky slice of personal bias it is though. Five stars bitches!