Do you remember Die Another Day? Most people would rather not.
Before I even knew who Sean Connery was, I associated the character of James Bond with Pierce Brosnan and Pierce Brosnan alone. Everything about him screamed "This is James Bond": good looks, cool style, toughness, attitude. His likeness graced the first get-three-friends-to-come-over-and-kill-each-other console game (GoldenEye 007). And he had the rare gift of a British accent that I didn't think sounded silly.
His life as 007 came to an end with 2002's Die Another Day, which most critics lampooned for its overzealous use of CGI, its constant self-referential (and self-deprecating) sexual puns, and the fact that Bond had an invisible car.
Four years later, the series got a fantastic reboot in the form of the more grounded Casino Royale. Since the movie was so great, we considered its thematic departure from Die Another Day a welcome change, and people still do today. But despite Die Another Day's obvious flaws, it isn't nearly the catastrophe that the world has made it out to be.
For starters, there's that amazing opening sequence in North Korea, where Bond is undercover (one of the film's more acceptable jumps of logic: How the James Bond could ever do an undercover mission without being recognized). Bond's suitcase of diamonds explodes, a gunfight ensues, and a sweet hovercraft chase leads to Colonel Moon hurtling to his (apparent) death. It's one of the best opening scenes to a Bond movie, even rivaling the amazing parkour chase in Casino Royale.
Then we have the plot: Um, Bond gets tortured? Bond goes rogue to get revenge? A North Korean colonel using gene therapy to become a British socialite? How could anybody not want to see this?
The flaws of the movie are blatant but not necessarily fatal. The CGI isn't great, and some of the scenes it "enhances" are admittedly ridiculous, particularly the climax on the plane. The dialogue ranges from pleasantly amusing to eyeroll-warranting. And it is stupid that Bond's car can turn invisible.
But Die Another Day manages to be more entertaining than not, which had been its point at the time. Until Casino Royale, had anybody really considered the James Bond series to be a serious entity? They had always been lighthearted fare, with the campiness being part of most Bond movies' aesthetic. With Casino Royale and the concurrent era of super-serious, existential action movies like The Dark Knight, we've (for the most part) traded camp for grit, a decision which has yielded more benefits than losses. But honestly, which film was more entertaining: Die Another Day or Quantum of Solace?
Trust me, I'd rather have more films like Casino Royale than Die Another Day -- but that doesn't mean we should extinguish the Die Another Day types completely. They still have value, cheap laughs or no cheap laughs. One of these days, we won't have any more action movies with heroes that are capable of taking a joke. And on that day... well, I probably won't watch Die Another Day. But I'll pick it out from Netflix before Quantum of Solace.
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