While the 50th anniversary buzz clams down, it may be right to focus our attention briefly back to another important anniversary happening this year. As it has been 10 years since Die Another Day graced this earth.
I recently went back to re-watch the film to celebrate its birthday. The film has a special place in my heart, as I was 12 when I first saw it and was a rather excited. It had it all; the Aston chase on the ice, the opening action scene, Halle Berry in a bikini, etc. It’s safe to say my 12 year old self was deeply satisfied. But how in a post-reboot Bond world would the film sit?
What is most interesting to me about DAD is that the film really retreats into the fantasy after a very promising opening act. Here the story throws all the elements at Bond and really forces the character to his knees. He’s given a real bashing and the initial revenge thriller seems like fresh ground. But the film begins to deter from this path and slowly begins to become more fantastical. The first signs that the film has lost its way come when Berry comes into the movie. Bond and Jinx’s meeting is a strange scene, it seems that the pair are simply using each other for sex, and for that purpose the scene works. The problem is thought the movie wants to use Jinx as a lead character and effectively her opening doesn’t successfully allude to that. So Halle Berry seems to just turn up wearing pretty outfits until about 3/4th of the way through when the story decides to deal with her.
Soon after this the slow hints that the film has left any real world issues or character development begin the come through. The clinic is an odd touch but not entirely unforgivable, the sword fight is also too long and slightly out-of-place, but its pleasant spectacle, so we forgive it. The M and Q scenes in the abandoned station are also great, and seem to put the move right back on course. However, the Frost/M scene is the last moment it would seem before the film deters fully into the path of fantasy.
Here’s the issue: DAD is far too fantastical, we seem to depart fully from the real world and into something more pronounced than anything close to escapism. The film literally becomes one set piece upon another. We have the laser fight, the ice dragster chase, the silly cgi surfing, the car chase and the final plane scene. In the most part its’ all rather well done, and only occasionally dripping into the ridiculous (enough has been written about the dodgy cgi surfing, however I think the stupid Mr. Kil laser fight hasn’t been given nearly as tough a time as it deserves). It’s even more of shame because the first 30-40 minutes of DAD are really rather good and set up the promise of a great movie. Bond’s capture and torture is a truly brave move. Furthermore the scene with M on the boat is fantastic; the idea that she was happy for him to die in N.Korea, but had to pull him out because they thought he had cracked under torture is a great concept. Furthermore, I’d love to know if Bond did crack under torture, M seems to think he may have, (“With the drugs they were giving you, you wouldn’t know what you were saying.”) it’s a great premise, pure espionage if you will. But the film forgets to explore this. It’s made even more interesting thanks to Pierce Brosnan’s performance, who is a real revelation in the first half of the movie. He gives a great turn, those moments where we see Bond in his cell are rather harrowing, but never milked. I think in these opening moments his Bond has never been better, he even makes good of Bond’s Russell Brand makeover.
It’s because of this that it seems such a shame that DAD retreats so fully into the fantasy. A more delicate balancing act should have been conducted, and maybe Lee Tamahori wasn’t the right match for that. As the 2nd half of the film plays out, we are greeted with awful dialogue, dodgy character development all equalling a generally poorly executed piece of work. In particular the film has several unintentional laugh-out-loud moments (Bond and Graves fight on the Antavov, the odd Korean generals who keep turning up and serving no purpose, Graves turning dramatically to confront his father wearing RoboCop’s suit, etc).
Moreover, the performances are not just bad, there awful. Halle Berry and Toby Stephens are hammy to the point of distraction. Stephen’s is particularly cringe-worthy, he is up against the walk though; playing a genetically deformed Korean Colonel would have been a difficult part for any actor to pull off, not to mention the terrible dialogue that seems to be reserved exclusively for him (“Global warming, such a terrible thing”). Furthermore when Stephens stops being Graves and plays Moon, he gets worse, sneering and taking awkward unnecessary beats.
Berry is just as bad and equally unconvincing, two moments that hit this point: the scene where Graves electrocutes her (her face is gold here) and the scene where she realises she is locked in the ice palace (slamming her hands on the door to really cement that point). Rick Yune is no better, Rosamund Pike is the only member of the secondary cast on form. The film is saved by Brosnan’s sure-footed turn in the character, but he never really gets the materially he serves after the first half of the film; nevertheless he is still solid throughout. His Bond, for me, will always be the most charismatic and suave version of the character we have had. The saving grace for Berry is that through her chemistry with Pierce she is saved slightly, but this is more a testament to Pierce than her, who just seems to be a terrible likable bloke. His scenes with Judi Dench particularly sparkle.
DAD is pure spectacle-driven fantasy. However, despite my rather condemning (and lengthy...sorry about that) analysis the film sorta works. The action is great to witness (hovercraft chase/car chase/ finale), even if the editing is trying its best to tarnish this, but that’s all you do; witness it. You don’t really engage with the action, you don’t care about the character or relate to the villain’s plot. But a lot of the time that’s exactly what you need, a check-brain-in-at-the-door action film and DAD delivers it. Not every film needs to be a ‘Skyfall’ or a Nolan Batman film, DAD serves a purpose. It’s fun, the Marvel movies these day seems to be doing effectively what DAD does well, which is to provide pure spectacle, who cares about the characters and their ‘journeys’? Save that for the auters, this is a fun film. The only reason the film disappoints is that in its opening it seems to be promising to be something different in its attempts to humanize Bond. If anything DAD is very similar to last year’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, it’s a silly action movie, and if anything DAD is better than that film. At least it actually has a villain, even if he is Gustav Graves. Furthermore DAD ’s pacing zips back so quickly that you don’t really get the opportunity to feel any real great loss.
So there you have it: DAD never really lives up to promise it establishes for itself, but is nevertheless a distracting enough spectacle. The acting’s bad, the directing’s weak, but it has enough bang-for-your-buck to keep you entertained. Maybe I’m just sympathetic because I can still remember how excited that 12 year old boy was when he saw it at that day. I’m possibly being to easy on it, and forgiving it too readily. So if you’re been able to keep with me this long enough, I’d encourage all of you to seek out for copies of DAD on DVD and give it another watch, it’s time to celebrate another anniversary.