Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Die Another Day’
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Very seldom does one character define a subgenre. But that is precisely what James Bond 007 has done with spy/espionage fiction. Since making his film debut in 1962, Bond has appeared in over 20 movies. Moreover, the character has only been portrayed by a mere six actors (officially, anyway). Now that the 25th (official) Bond installment, No Time to Die, is finally slated for release on
November 20th April 2nd, 2021, I think now is a better time than any to look back at 007’s dossier. I’ll be examining the James Bond franchise to see how these pictures evolved over the decades with each new leading actor. Today’s mission: Die Another Day (2002)!
Believe it or not, the film in review seemed much more significant at the time of its release than it does today — not to mention its now faded reputation in the overall cinematic history of 007. As the 20th installment in the series, Die Another Day was a big deal at the time. Not the least of which was because 2002 marked the 40th anniversary of James Bond in film. From the outset, it seemed that EON Productions and crew were going to pull out all the stops with this one, making Die Another Day a love letter to the fans and a pat on the back to its own filmic legacy as a series. Unfortunately, what the filmmakers accomplished was to imply repeat their history of chasing genre trends of the time.
The time was the early aughts and action movies were all about high-octane stunts which incorporated ever-growing power of computer-generated imagery. More importantly, though, the cinematic spy game Bond helped create now had a decent amount of competition. The Bourne Identity (2002) opened in June of that year and proved not only to be a massive hit, but a breath of fresh air for spy-thrillers. A couple of months later, in August ’02, xXx, a movie that touted itself as a spy flick for the younger set, was released. Part of this movie’s promotion was claiming, “James Bond is your grandpa’s spy movie!” With shots fired, it seems clear that the Bond franchise felt the need to ride the trend train more than ever.
Wanting to remain atop the espionage heap, EON Productions wished to give their new competitors a real run for the box-office buck. To truly bring Bond into the 21st century as fueled by octane, producers wanted to bring in fresh talent. Enter a director out of New Zealand, Lee Tamahori. After years of working as a technician and photographer in the film industry, he made a splash with his directorial debut, the crime-drama Once Were Warriors (1994). Despite stumbling with his sophomore effort, Mulholland Falls (1996), Tamahori still managed to transition into the action genre with The Edge (1997); and then moved into thriller territory in the new millennium by directing the second Alex Cross film, Along Came a Spider (2001). Having gained necessary genre experience, he appeared to be a fitting-enough choice to helm Bond. But fresh screenwriters were not brought in to help Tamahori and the world’s greatest spy catch up to the trends.
On the contrary, the task of penning Bond’s latest mission went again to The World is Not Enough writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Together, Purvis and Wade scripted a Bond adventure that feels more like a Roger Moore outing for the early 2000s than a hip competitor to Jason Bourne or Xander Cage.
Die Another Day finds a somewhat rusty James Bond 007 (Pierce Brosnan) infiltrating the organization of diamond industry tycoon, Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). According to MI6 and CIA intelligence, Graves is most likely in cahoots with the North Korean military to develop and fund a deadly satellite system. Now, Bond must collaborate with CIA agent Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry), as well as MI6 mole Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), to stop Gustav and his allies before their weaponized satellite becomes fully operational!
If that plot synopsis strikes you as familiar 007 territory, that’s because it well should. Die Another Day marks the fourth time the series utilized a weaponized satellite as a significant plot point. Before this, the concept was used in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), again in Moonraker (1978), and once again in Brosnan’s era with GoldenEye (1995)! As such, I think returning to such well-tread territory is just lazy. Then again, Die Another Day‘s weaponized satellite doesn’t come into play until the second half, which is where things truly begin to go downhill. Though it becomes a frantic early 21st Century action flick in all the worst ways, the first half of the screenplay — and, thus, the film — works quite well and offers some things we’ve never seen from a Bond picture.
At the same time, the dichotomy of the two halves reflects the film’s overall problem. Tonally, Die Another Day is generally lighter with an adventure clearly meant to be more of a treat for fans. Yet, at the same time, the movie vacillates between being fun and quite somber. Sadly, except for the opening act, the shifts don’t quite work. With every tonal shift, it becomes clear that this is one of the weakest in the series from a filmmaking standpoint.
Sure, there’s standout work on display from franchise veterans, like composer David Arnold and production designer Peter Lamont. Alas, this art direction is pushed too far. The prime example of such, of course, is the ice hotel. Worse yet, any achievement in production design cannot be fully appreciated as Die Another Die is, quite frankly, shoddily shot by director of photography David Tattersall (the Star Wars prequels).
Of course, the most glaringly painful aspect of the movie is all its CGI effects. In my estimation, the utilization of CGI here almost overwhelms the film, making it a very tough watch these days. Then again, I don’t remember them being all that impressive back when I watched it in the theater.
Of course, all these choices on how to execute an uneven script fall on the director’s shoulders. Tamahori is talented, but his decision making here seems questionable. His instincts are absolutely on point when it comes to the action sequences, though. (Well, except speed ramping camera moves, which are a relic of the early aughts.) At the same time, I feel the director fails to guide the performances due to that uneven tone. As much as it pains me to say it, most of the prominent cast members’ performances in this film are awful.
Granted, there are exceptions when it comes to our hero and villain, respectively. Unlike the previous entry, Brosnan seems to be reinvested in his character and is seemingly having a good time on-screen despite not caring for this film’s general approach. Had Brosnan had his way, the franchise would have abandoned the abundance of CGI effects and overblown action in favor of taking Bond’s character and the films back to the darker tone of Ian Fleming’s novels. Then there’s Toby Stephens, who chews the scenery and is loving his role. As a result, I enjoyed watching him. Interestingly though, Die Another Day was not Stephens’ final foray in the world of 007. Following this film, Stephens portrayed James Bond himself in seven different BBC Radio adaptations of Fleming’s novels.
But now, let’s address the elephant in the room, shall we? At the height of her career and popularity — and with an impending Academy Award for Best Actress for Monster’s Ball (2001) — Halle Berry was considered an absolute get for the franchise. After all, she’s beautiful and seemed to bring an undeniable screen charisma in her various roles. Alas, Berry’s turn as Jinx here makes you wonder if her previous performances were merely a string of miraculous flukes. She’s so bad that she seems more of an amatuer than an Oscar-caliber actor! Sadly, Berry is undoubtedly just as weak a Bond girl as Denise Richards was previously, if not worse. In comparison, Rosamund Pike’s overly-stiff take on Miranda Frost makes her feel downright Shakespearian.
Now, I know it seems like I’ve largely trashed this movie, but I must admit something: while Die Another Day is most certainly a bad movie, it’s also entertaining. Though, admittedly, I’m sure that this entertainment factor is fueled by nostalgia. After all, at thirteen, I loved this kind of action flick — plus, this was the first Bond picture I saw in theaters.
Still, my nostalgia is not strong enough to change the fact that Die Another Day is perhaps the most egregious Franchise Implosion of all! Like many of its predecessors, this film is uneven and ultimately silly. More importantly, though, it’s a film concerned with being a product of its time instead of a proper Bond adventure. (Complete with an absolutely dreadful techno theme song by Madonna.) And despite the film’s financial success, EON Productions knew they had made a misstep. Furthermore, the film’s producers and writers later admitted that they misunderstood what the fanbase wanted from the franchise at the time. As such, they would choose to go back to franchise’s more somber, novelistic roots and essentially reboot the series the next time around.
In closing, I would like to note something many fans forget. It was a shame to see Brosnan go out on such a low-note. But Die Another Day is not the actor’s final appearance as 007. On the contrary, an orginal video game, James Bond 007: Nightfire, used Brosnan’s visage that same year. The following year, Brosnan made his final appearance as Bond, lending his voice to the character for another original video game — James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (2003). For me, Brosnan is still my favorite 007, but he suffered from a devolution in quality during his run.
Die Another Day is Available on All Home Video Formats!
James Bond Will Return For Another Installment of Franchise Expansion or Implosion with Casino Royale (2006)!
007’s Newest Mission, No Time to Die, Will Be in Theaters on April 2nd!
Read About Bond’s Past Franchise Endeavors-
From Russia with Love:
You Only Live Twice:
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service:
Diamonds Are Forever:
Live and Let Die:
The Man with The Golden Gun:
The Spy Who Loved Me:
For Your Eyes Only:
A View to a Kill:
The Living Daylights:
Licence to Kill:
Casino Royale (1967):
Never Say Never Again:
Tomorrow Never Dies:
The World Is Not Enough: