We Defend the Indefensible
007, one character at the centre of a franchise spanning over 60 years. Yet throughout all the rich tapestry that is the James Bond universe, Die Another Day is the one film constantly regarded as the worst. Join me on this review of espionage, witty one-liners and parasailing as I explain why Die Another Day is, in fact, the best James bond movie ever made.
Die Another Day set a franchise record by grossing $431 million worldwide. Combine Pierce Brosnan’s other grossing’s as the character and he became the first Billion Dollar Bond’. Whilst the numbers don’t lie, the reviews have sometimes been slightly less than complimentary. James Berardinelli of Reelviews.net said, “Die Another Day is an exercise in loud explosions and excruciatingly bad special effects.” Whilst Larry Carroll of CountingDown.com praised it for having “magnificently balanced the film so that it keeps true to the Bond legend’.
The film has a 6.1/10 rating on IMDB and 57% on Rotten Tomatoes. This suggests that whilst, this is the lowest ranking Bond film, the majority are still in favour of this cheesy slice of Spy cinema.
The Last Great Bond Film
Die Another Day is a homage to You Only Live Twice, Ian Fleming’s eleventh James Bond novel. Yet almost two decades after Brosnan’s final venture as 007, his tenure as the character is often criticised for having not aged well. This is in part to the juxtaposing revamp of the franchise with Casino Royale in 2006. Rebranded as a more realistic, gritty Bond. This reimagining abandoned all the pomp and theatrics that Bond had built up over 40 years at that point.
Gone were the bombastic Bond-isms that were rife in Die Another Day. No invisible car, no sun laser, no Madonna… well it wasn’t all bad. Whilst a reintroduction to a modern Bond was necessary for the new millennium, it has immortalised Die Another Day as the last great Bond film. A tonged in cheek, wink and a nod to the characters iconic past, with a modern touch.
No Time to Sigh…
If your main issue with Die Another Day is its plot holes or overall ridiculousness, you’re trying too hard. To give credit director Lee Tamahori, this film gives you no time to question anything.
From Bond escaping exile. Then travelling to a luxury hotel. Escaping a murderous masseuse and uncovering Chinese Spies with an ashtray… all this action takes around five minutes.
The frantic nature of Die Another Day doesn’t give you time to stew in the insanity. It’s a steady diet of bizarre characters and a handful of narrative twists. All before throwing it all in the trash and moving on to something else equally exciting. Boredom is not an option here.
Jinx, the Ultimate Bond Girl?
Whether its Barbara Bach in The Spy Who Loved Me or Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies, the bond girl is a staple of the Bond canon. Each character was redefined, but perhaps never quite as much as Halle Berry’s Jinx.
The first heroic African-American Bond girl, and possibly the first that could ever be considered a genuine equal to Bond. So much so that there were genuine plans for a Jinx spin-off movie, however, plans for Daniel Craig’s reboot soon put the nail in that coffin.
Even the obligatory James Bond sex scene takes a different tone. Out is the problematic cohesion where the international man of mystery strings some lies together. With some martini-fueled double-entendres of course. In, is the strong Jinx. Taking charge and established as the new breed of female Spy with enormous sexual prowess.
Is her dialogue corny? Yes. Are there some undeniable iconic moments? Yes. For every yo momma’ line, the is a moment of badassery to compensate. Whether Berry was drawing us into moments of suspense by drowning in the ice place. Or established herself in the zeitgeist in her iconic knife-carrying bikini. Jinx was a huge step forward for a franchise with deep roots in misogyny.
Is the Plot Actually Great?
You might be thinking, this is an easy “ha, no”. But think about it for a second. James Bond has always been a British, post-colonial fever dream. Where this white man can go to these far, exotic lands and do as he pleases with whom he pleases. All with a seance of national pride as he does whatever he does, on behalf of the Queen … to save the world.
Whilst that is obviously no different here, we do have a deeper narrative at play with the villain of Tan-Sun Moon. He states “I studied at Oxford and Harvard. Majored in Western Hypocrisy.” Whilst we could just chalk this up as another cheap Bond line. The theme of Westernization plays not only on the surface of Die Another Day but within James Bond.
Tan-Sun Moon literally becomes a white British man and whilst this is an absurd narrative device, the thematic point is the same. Tan-Sun Moon’s objective is to conquer the western world, yet he must assimilate and become what he hates in order to try and take Bond down. There is a poetic irony at play here not to mention the god-like Gustav Graves who utilizes the power of the sun to try to kill his enemies.
Die Another Day is consistent with its insanity. It harnesses its plot to let you know that these aren’t just villains… it’s Graves the sinister solar-powered demi-god. It’s not just one South Korean murder after Bond, its Tan-Sun Moon the race-shifting reminder of Britain’s colonial history.
Bonds Hidden History
Die Another Day marked the 40th anniversary of the franchise. To mark the occasion there are scatted references throughout as only this cheeky, self-aware film could. The iconic shot of Jinx walking out of the sea in a bikini with the white belt and a diving knife is a. reference to Dr No (1962).
Graves’ engineer holds the Icarus control and petting it like a cat, another iconic image in tribute to From Russia with Love (1963). While Bond fences in a duel with Graves, the villain says, “Well, diamonds are for everyone.” A nod to Diamonds Are Forever (1971).
Madonna’s character is introduced as a few bars of “Nobody Does it Better” is played. The official song of The is “A Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies”, written by James Bond. Ian Fleming, the creator of Bond, famously named Bond after the author as he believed it was the dullest name possible.
Even Q glances at the fourth wall when he hands Bond his new watch. “This is your twentieth, I believe” a direct remark to note that Die Another Day is the twentieth official James Bond film.
Yes, Madonna Is In it
People like to compare Madonna’s musical efforts to the iconic theme song of Paul McCartney & Wings – Live and Let Die or Shirly Bassey’s Goldfinger. But, you could argue that Madonna’s synthesised electro-pop theme song for Die Another Day was the perfect fit.
An artist famous for reinvention, with a new take on the orchestral Bond sound, seems fitting for a film where the main character is regenerated too. Plus, even if you hated the song at least the video was impressive. Shot as almost its own mini-film to accompany the Bond film. Madonna’s character Verity is seen held captive, duelling with herself and fighting her way free with yet more nods to Bonds rich history.
Her cameo was everything it needed to be, brief. A quick one-liner about “cockfights” and done. She slides through her scene as any celebrity cameo should and reaffirms the film’s sense of post – Cool Britannia’ self-awareness.
Die Another Day isn’t Madonna’s only track associated with an International Man of Mystery. She also went on to give us Beautiful Stranger. An awesome tune for the second Austin Powers movie.
The Final Act of Fantasy Before the Era of Realism
Die Another Day was released months after The Borne Identity (2002) began ushering in a new wave of Spy cinema. Much like Casino Royal (2006) the appetite for darker, slightly more believable heroes and situations was needed for a post 9/11 audience.
This is the first film of the franchise released after 11 September 2001. Die Another Day is a film with its head in the sand, looking for one last-ditch effort to give you escapism instead of another grim look into the mirror.
This is clear throughout the film. The longer you watch Die Another Day, the longer you fall down the rabbit hole of Bond. A Bond film tries to adapt with the time, yet pay respect to its history and it all becomes one fantastical implosion. Consider this film as a reflection of its time, like Moonraker.
Whether its overly ambitious CGI or the confident female heroine of Jinx, this Bond represents a changing of the guard. It’s impossible to tell if Die Another Day is a meta take on Bond or if it’s just one big blowout playing all the hits and then some.
That’s why I’m claiming that this is the ultimate Bond film. It encapsulates the whole franchise in 133 minutes and remains a cult classic. Bond is always ridiculous… but it’s far from boring.
And that’s why Die Another Day is the best James Bond movie. Is there anything we missed out that you think could’ve been on this list? Or are we way out of our depth with this argument? If so, leave us a comment below.
We defend more of the indefensible HERE.
Read IMDB information about Die Another Day HERE.
No Time To Die – Review
No Time To Die is the 25th instalment in the official James Bond series. It’s the VERY long-awaited follow-up to 2015’s Spectre. The 6-year gap between the two films is only matched by the same gap between Timothy Dalton’s last outing in 1989’s Licence To Kill and Pierce Brosnan’s debut in 1995’s Goldeneye. Here’s our review of No Time To Die.
SPOILERS: If you’re reading this then you’ve probably seen the film, but if not there are spoilers ahead.
Of course, there are mitigating factors in that enormous gap. Namely COVID. Which made No Time To Die the first major film to delay its release due to the pandemic. Although, this film has had a difficult gestation irrespective of the global situation in the last 18 months. As soon as Spectre was released the speculation over Daniel Craig’s future in the role began. With him initially suggesting he would rather slash his own wrists than play the iconic spy again. He did a mea culpa on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show in August 2017, where he confirmed he would appear as Bond for a fifth and final time. The original director and writer, Danny Boyle and John Hodge, left the project a year later over creative differences. Cory Joji Fukunaga took over as director. While Bond script veterans Robert Wade and Neil Purvis took charge of the screenplay – with a sprinkling of magic from Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Originally slated for release in April 2020, at long last, we finally get to see Daniel Craig’s denouement as 007. His portrayal of Bond has been very much in keeping with the character of Ian Fleming’s original novels. His performances have certainly followed the dramatic lineage of Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton. Rather than the lighter portrayals by Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan. Yet his Bond has displayed a vulnerability only really demonstrated with any plausibility by George Lazenby in his solitary outing as 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
The deference to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is presented in stark relief throughout this 2h43min epic. Making this the longest Bond film in the series. As this was the first film I’ve seen at the cinema since before the pandemic, I was already excited before I even sat down. As a massive James Bond fan as well, I was close to apoplexy! I felt a tangible shiver go down my spine as the iconic gun barrel sequence appeared before we see James cruising around Italy in the classic DB5 with Madeleine Swann at his side. This anticipation was clearly felt by other cinema-goers. They have made No Time To Die break the UK box office record for the biggest opening weekend. It took almost £26m, breaking the record previously held by Skyfall.
I’m not going to spoil the plot for those who’ve not seen it. I had made a conscious decision to avoid spoilers before I went.
A step up?
This film is another shot in the arm for those who see Craig as the definitive Bond. This was aided by a refocusing of the Bond canon after the main tropes of the series were stretched to breaking point by the invisible cars and melting ice palaces of Die Another Day. And then stretched still further by Madonna’s cameo as a fencing instructor. Daniel Craig was given leeway to truly regenerate James Bond for the 21st Century. The stripped-back nature of Casino Royale, without most of the supporting characters that have been a staple of the series like Q and Moneypenny. Gave him licence (pardon the pun) to explore the deepest and darkest recesses of the Bond psyche. Some well-drawn female leads and villains really allowed Craig’s Bond to spar with them with depth and genuine emotion.
That exploration continues and grows in No Time To Die. We get to see an ageing, truly world-weary Bond, whose past he appears unable to escape. This leaves him in a state of almost constant angst. Paradoxically though, we also see him truly relaxed at times. In a way I can’t recall ever seeing James Bond in any of his previous cinematic outings.
The issue with that exploration is that a number of characters then have their screen time cut. Moneypenny is reduced to little more than a cameo. And Remi Malek’s Safin is almost secondary as he features in the opening moments as his story is told, but then disappears for what seemed like an eternity. He of course reappears but he almost seems a mild irritation within the plot and merely a conduit to allow us to see the climax of Daniel Craig’s Bond era. It’s a disappointing underuse of a terrific actor. One with a captivating screen presence, who could have been one of the most menacing Bond villains of all time. That said, the influence of his dastardly but highly sophisticated plan is felt by all of the main protagonists. Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld continues to wreak his havoc with malevolent glee from his cell. He again revels in the chaos of his twisted sibling rivalry with Bond.
Lea Seydoux is wonderful again as Dr Madeleine Swann, picking up where she left off in Spectre and giving Bond as good as he gets in every way imaginable.
There are new characters who definitely cut through. Ana De Armas is utterly charming in her relatively brief time on-screen as Paloma, while Lashana Lynch takes no nonsense from Bond as Nomi. She also gives us a potential indicator as to the future direction of the franchise. Which has been the subject of much discussion in all quarters. That debate has even made its way into the political sphere with even Boris Johnson weighing in on what gender the next actor to play 007 should be.
Hans Zimmer’s score is classic Hans Zimmer, adding power and bombast to the usual mix of stunning scenery and brilliantly choreographed stunts. He brilliantly weaves nods to previous entries in the Bond musical tapestry throughout his score. While his cues are always thunderous, they never overpower the action on screen, but do add a sonic rumble that I don’t think has been heard in a Bond score for quite some time. I found Fukunaga’s direction a bit mixed, with some of the cinematography unnecessarily showy. Some of the tracking shots almost gave me motion sickness while some (admittedly beautifully composed) shots of the scenery seemed to have made the edit purely so as whoever the drone operator was could demonstrate their skills.
The film is much too long, although at no point did I check my watch. It’s not that any of the plot points are superfluous, more that the pacing is a little slow in places. Some of the dialogue feels cliched and clunky, making what is a great story feel a tad generic. Which doesn’t do anyone justice. However, there were some excellent jokes, and I laughed out loud several times. You don’t have to be a 007 super fan to get some of the self-referential humour that they seem to enjoy sprinkling throughout the film.
Billie Eilish’s theme song is a worthy addition to the collection and certainly sits comfortably within the top half of the ‘Bond Theme Chart’. It’s definitely more memorable and evocative than Sam Smith’s ‘Writing On The Wall’ for Spectre. Her voice trembles at times as you can almost feel she recognises the significance of singing the theme for Daniel Craig’s final appearance in the franchise.
It was also very pleasing to see that this film has moved with the times and reflects the world of 2021 with its portrayal of women. Every single female character had a genuine purpose and important role within the plot. While of course, the female actors playing those roles are all irrefutably glamorous and attractive. There was genuine respect and no objectification of women.
I came out of the screening with mixed emotions. Glad to be back in the cinema on one hand, sad that Daniel Craig’s stint ordering Martini’s was over on the other. I was pleased that such a good climax had been created to bring this era of Bond to a close, and all its story arcs had been brought to conclusions. I’m also excited and apprehensive in equal measure for the future of such an iconic film series. But I was disappointed with some of the characters not getting the necessary screen-time to truly develop their characters. Surprisingly, I was almost tearful at the final few moments, especially as the credits rolled.
Overall, this is a loving homage to the James Bond series, past and present. It’s a solid if unspectacular film in its own right, but the performances of Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux, as well as the Bond history it wraps itself in, elevate it beyond that.
It’s not Craig’s best Bond film, as Skyfall is almost untouchable in my opinion, but it does bring closure to his tenure in the tuxedo in a manner that should please Bond fans across the board. It also tantalises us as to what the 6th age of Bond will look like. Let the intense speculation begin!
CULTURE CROSSING SCORE 7/10
Thank you for reading our review of James Bond No Time To Die. Do you agree or disagree with our points or have anything to add? If so, leave us a comment below.
Check out who we think could be the next James Bond and why HERE.
Read IMDB information about No Time To Die HERE.
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