Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Film Review: Die Another Day

Die Another Day
  • Publisher: MGM 
  • Production Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Director: Lee Tamahori
  • Producers: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson
  • Writers: Neil Purvis, Robert Wade
  • Genre: Action
  • Release: 20 November 2002 (UK), 22 November 2002 (UK)

The Girls: Giacinta "Jinx" Johnson (Halle Berry), NSA agent. Another in a line of Bond Girls who share Bond's field of employment, Berry dodges the problems of this character type by playing Jinx a little more feisty, although prone to bad puns like the man himself. Fun Fact: Plans were made for a spin-off movie starring Jinx, but after the failure of such female-fronted actions films as Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, and Berry's own Catwoman, the concept was scrapped. 3 out of 5. Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), Graves's publicist, and an MI6 agent, but secretly serving Graves. While she generally exhibits a cold personality, ironically enough, she exhibits sparks of brilliance before and after she has her night with Bond. Before, she affirms that she won't fall for his "sex for dinner, death for breakfast" routine (until she does), and the morning after, she taunts him for not being able to turn her to an ally. Oh wait... Stabbed with a throwing knife by Jinx3 out of 5.

Other Allies: Falco (Michael Madsen), Jinx's boss at the NSA and a counterpart to M. After hearing of Bond's unauthorised intervention in the clinic, he threatens M with taking over her office if things get further out of hand. At the end, he also has plans to spearhead a retaliation if Bond and Jinx fail to stop the North Korean advance. Bear in mind that one of the tenents of real-world North Korean propaganda policy is that the USA is fighting them via so-called puppet states including South Korea and Israel. Falco's role of overseeing the South Koreans would not help matters... at least if he had more screen time. 2 out of 5.

The Villains: Colonel Tan-Sun Moon (Will Yun Lee), an officer in the North Korean People's Army. After his introduction, he gets thrown off a cliff by Bond, but survives and adopts the identity of Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), an adventuresome Richard Branson-type philanthropist who allegedly discovered diamonds in Iceland.  This plot twist is thrust upon us with no warning, and the loosest of reasoning on the part of Bond. Specifically, Jinx sees Zao using a sleep-therapy machine as part of his gene conversion, and assumes he brought it from the clinic in Cuba. Then when she next speaks to Bond, he tells her that he couldn't have brought it with him, and it stead it was already there, being used by Graves. Later thrown into a jet engine by Bond. 2 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Zao (Rick Yune), Colonel Moon's right-hand man. For most of the film, he is bald and has a mass of diamonds studded into half of his face, which sounds silly in context, but at least there's an explanation. Take note of how, during Bond's period of torture, he had killed 3 Chinese agents at a peace summit and got caught by the South Koreans, which is how he got traded to bail out Bond. If this wasn't merely provided by an expodump from M, this would be quite intriguing. Fun Fact: His name, Zao, is not directly transcribeable in Korean. For those concerned, Korean lacks a sound the letter "Z" and the vowel pair "ao". ...Maybe he's really Chinese? Crushed by a chandelier dropped by Bond3 out of 5.

The Gadgets: Aston Martin returns to Her Majesty's Secret Service this time around with the Vanquish, featuring an optic camouflage system, motion-tracking shotguns, a heat-sensitive radar, and other accessories. The concept of an invisible car was too much for former Bond Roger Moore, who is well aware that he was the first Bond in space [1], but to its credit, at least they gave it an explanation which was based in scientific developments. Bear in mind that another film came out that year with an invisible car: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, although at least that had the excuse of using actual magic. Speaking of fuzzy science, we also have a pocket rebreather (from Thunderball) and a laser-cutter watch (from Goldeneye). 2 out of 5.

The Locations: North Korea (filmed in Hawaii and England), Hong Kong, Cuba (filmed in Spain), the United Kingdom (England), and Iceland.

The Theme Song: Performed by Madonna. A dance song with lyrics about destroying one's ego, something that James Bond always had trouble with, even in this era of deconstruction. Also, auto-tune. Fun Fact: Madonna also makes a cameo in the film as Verity, 007's fencing instructor, the first theme song performer to do so.  It's about as cringe-inducing as everything else in this movie.  1 out of 5.

The Opening Credits: Depicts scenes of Bond's 14-month period of torture in North Korea, overlaid with silhouette-girls made of fire, ice, and electricity. Also take note of the female officer in some shots, who looks over the "festivities" with disdain, almost as if mocking 007 for the way he's treated women over the years. 5 out of 5.

The Novel: Neither the title nor plot are derived from one of the Ian Fleming novels. The plot deals with two real-world problems: North Korea, and conflict diamonds. "Conflict" diamonds are mined in politically unstable regions, such as in western and southern Africa, and are sold to pay for warring factions, who usually go on to commit crimes against humanity. The trade of conflict diamonds is moderated by United Nations resolutions and the Kimberley Process (established in 2003). Given that North Korea would like nothing to do with the West and any institutions we've set up for the betterment of mankind, it is understandable, if not excusable, that they would prefer to ignore such regulations. For more information, listen to "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" by Kanye West, which samples another James Bond theme song, nonetheless.

The Plot: Our story starts in North Korea, where 007 poses as a conflict-diamond dealer and holds a deal with Colonel Tan-Sun Moon. His right-hand man, Zao, receives a tip via phone, informing him of Bond's real identity. About to be executed, Bond sets off a diversion, impaling Zao's face with diamonds in the process, and leads the colonel on a hovercraft chase. In the end, the colonel dies, but Bond is arrested by the NK troops. Cue opening credits. 14 months later, he is freed in exchange for Zao, who was since re-captured by the South, and MI6 is not pleased. M strips 007 of his licence to kill, but he abandons their custody and, with the help of a Chinese ally, follows Zao to Cuba. After spending a night with the NSA agent "Jinx", they separately investigate a gene-therapy clinic, where Zao is seeking to change his appearance and identity. Bond catches him mid-operation, but he gets away.

Back in Britain, Bond hears about Gustav Graves, who had discovered diamonds in Iceland, and matches wits with him in a fencing duel. Then he gets an invitation from M, who unofficially assigns him to a party held by Graves, at an ice hotel in Iceland, whilst sending agent Miranda Frost to the same. At this party, Graves unveils the Icarus project: a satellite equipped with a mirror to spread the sun's rays for worldwide crop growth and other benevolent purposes. 007 then starts snooping around the diamond mine (which is fake, by the way; the diamonds he "found" are really just conflict diamonds Graves is passing off as original), only to bump into Frost and sleep with her. After they have their fun, Bond heads back to discover that Jinx has broken in, only to get caught and tortured. Once he frees her, and she shares her motives, he does a spat of reasoning, and concludes that Graves is really... Colonel Moon, who had survived his fight with 007 and changed his identity at the Cuban clinic.

Bond goes to confont Graves on this discovery, when along comes Miranda Frost, who reveals herself as the one who warned Zao about him in North Korea. She has him at gunpoint, but he breaks out of there, taking off with Graves's rocket car. Then Graves chases him using the Icarus's secret weapon: a beam of high-intensity sunlight. Meanwhile, Frost traps Jinx in a room at the ice hotel, and uses Icarus to melt the place, flooding the room. Once the coast is clear, Bond returns, engaging in a car-to-car duel with Zao, and freeing Jinx.

Their next stop is the Korean DMZ, from which they steal aboard Graves's cargo plane. It is from there where he launches his plan: use Icarus to detonate the landmines buried along the DMZ, allowing his army to pass through and invade South Korea. His father, General Moon, tries to talk some sense into him, but Graves shoots him and steals his rank. Just then, Bond is discovered and shot at, but the shot misses and breaks a window, decompressing the cabin. Meanwhile, Jinx sends the plane on auto-pilot through the Icarus's beam, but is caught by Frost. They have a catfight with swords; Jinx wins. Meanwhile, Bond manages to toss Graves into one of the plane's turbines, cutting off the Icarus beam. With the plane breaking up in midair, he and Jinx escape in a helicopter, and spend the night at a Buddhist temple on the coast. You are now free to turn off your TV.

This movie has James Bond squaring off against the most evil sovereign state to exist in the post-Cold War period. How on Earth could you mess that up!? I'll tell you: by focusing less on the plot and more on cramming as many throwbacks as possible to every 007 film that came before it, as a "present" for the film franchise's 40th anniversary. Based alone on what I've written thus far, it should be obvious that the plot is copied over from Diamonds Are Forever (read here for a refresher if you don't believe me). But I've saved you countless seconds of reading by not mentioning all the other references, primarily in the department of subtle sight gags. (If you wanted to read them after all, might I suggest IMDB's trivia page.) It's a shame, too; the first half of the film had plenty of promise, what with 007 being captured in action and going vigilante upon release in order to set things right. But all those good ideas are wasted in favour of a big huge anniversary party. For shame. I hope Skyfall celebrates the big 5-0 with some actual dignity. 1 out of 5.

+ Sets up an intriguing plot.
+ Many, many call backs to the other Bond films.
+ The opening credits sequence (theme song notwithstanding).
+ Come on, it's got James Bond fighting the most evil nation since the Cold War ended! How could you mess that up?

How they messed that up:
- The plot is, in execution, a mess cobbled together from the other Bond films.
- The acting and writing is not very subtle, to say the least.
- The theme song is pretty annoying.

The Call: 35% (F)
IchigoRyu will return in
Casino Royale
[1] Moore, Roger. "Bye bye to Ian Fleming's James Bond?". The Times (London). 4 October 2008, retrieved 8 October 2012.

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