Saturday, September 12, 2015

Die Another Day (2002) | Story

Plot Summary

Bond investigates a leak that led to his capture and 14-month torture in North Korea.


Die Another Day is another new story, but it does draw inspiration from a couple of Bond novels and (because it was released on the 40th anniversary of Dr. No) the movie series in general.

One of the books it pulls from isn't even a Fleming one, but the first continuation novel, Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis. Published four years after Fleming's death, just after the You Only Live Twice movie had been released, Colonel Sun has Bond teaming up with a female Soviet agent to track down a Chinese villain who kidnapped M. So it's more of a story influence on The Spy Who Loved Me and The World Is Not Enough than on Die Another Day, which just borrows the villain's name and Bond's being tortured. Even the villain's nationality and name are changed from the Chinese Colonel Sun Liang-tan to the North Korean Colonel Tan-Sun Moon.

There's also a minor influence from another important non-Fleming book when Bond adopts the cover of an ornithologist and has a copy of Birds of the West Indies. The author's name on the book has been scratched out in the movie, probably because it would have confused viewers who didn't know that Fleming stole James Bond's name from the author of the actual version of that field guide. Great homage.

A bigger influence over the plot is Fleming's Moonraker. Colonel Moon undergoes DNA restructuring to disguise himself as a wealthy Englishman named Gustav Graves, but he's secretly still loyal to his original nation. He announces a technological breakthrough that he's philanthropically developed on his own dime and is offering to the world. But his real plan is to use the technology as a weapon against his nation's enemies. There's also a woman British agent embedded in the villain's organization as his assistant whom Bond teams up with. All of that is right out of Moonraker (in fact, the assistant Miranda Frost was originally going to be named Gala Brand) as is the villain's membership in an English club called Blades. Die Another Day puts its own twist on all of it, of course.

From the movies, Die Another Day has all kinds of Easter Eggs. Here are as many as I could find, but let me know in the comments if you've spotted any others.
  • Jinx's intro on the beach and her knife belt are deliberate homages to Ursula Andress in Dr. No. This used to bug me a lot until I realized that it's just one of many homages, but it's certainly one of the most obvious ones.
  • The Chinese Secret Service tries to film Bond's having sex in a hotel, just like SPECTRE does in From Russia with Love. Bond also picks up (and smells?!) Rosa Klebb's shoe knife in Q's lab.
  • Bond bets against Gustav with an irresistible diamond, similar to how he used Nazi gold to get Goldfinger's attention during golf. And Zao straps down Jinx and threatens her with a laser like in Goldfinger, too.
  • The jetpack from Thunderball makes an appearance and Bond uses a re-breather very similar to the one he had in that movie. Bond also steals a grape from the clinic in Die Another Day, just like he did from Angelo's Shrublands room in Thunderball.
  • In You Only Live Twice, Tiger Tanaka mentions that M has a private subway train. We get to see it in Die Another Day.
  • Graves actually says the line, "Diamonds are forever." And his killer satellite is pretty much the same as the one Blofeld created, though not actually created out of diamonds.
  • Sheriff JW Pepper from Live and Let Die makes an appearance. Not really; just seeing if you're paying attention. He wouldn't have been that out of place though.
  • There are some spinning mirrors in the DNA replacement clinic that are similar to Scaramanga's in The Man with the Golden Gun.
  • Graves uses a Union Jack parachute like the one Bond has in The Spy Who Loved Me.
  • The Acrostar and crocodile sub from Octopussy are both in Q's workshop.
  • The way Bond and Jinx escape Graves' cargo plane is similar to the way Bond and Kara escape theirs in The Living Daylights.
  • Bond temporarily goes rogue as he does in License to Kill.
  • He uses his laser watch from GoldenEye (and arguably from Never Say Never Again, if we want to go that far). 
It didn't make it into the movie, but originally the Chinese operative Chang was going to be Wai Lin from Tomorrow Never Dies. Sadly, they couldn't work it out with Michelle Yeoh, but that would've been another one.

How Is the Book Different?

I said I was going to retire this section, but there's enough in common with Moonraker to point out some major tweaks that Die Another Day makes. Hugo Drax's original nationality is German and he remains loyal to the ideas of the Nazis. That's changed to North Korea for Graves. Also, the club Blades is now basically a super fancy fencing gym. And instead of the Moonraker rocket (a fictionalized, upgraded V2) for Britain, Graves has created the Icarus satellite that focuses solar energy year-round to agricultural areas that need it all over the world.

Plotwise, a major difference is that Miranda Frost is actually a triple-agent working for the villain she's supposed to be spying on.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming

In addition to the Moonraker stuff, there's plenty of Blunt Instrument talk in Die Another Day. In fact, it was this movie that put that term on my radar and explicitly stated it as Bond's primary tactic and use in MI6.

Die Another Day gets a lot of crap and a lot of it is deserved, but the script is smarter than we give it credit for. I love the conversation between M and Frost about tactics. Frost has been undercover with Graves for months and hasn't turned up anything incriminating. Of course, we later learn that this is because she's in league with him, but it gives M the chance to explain Bond's methods and why they're valuable in these kinds of situations. Fans poke fun at Bond all the time for being a lousy spy, but that's because he's not that kind of spy. He's not like Frost. But he's extremely useful in certain kinds of missions and Die Another Day makes that clearer than it's ever been before.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming

As smart as the script sometimes is, there's also a huge amount of whackadoo, from ice hotels to invisible cars. And director Lee Tamahori isn't helping with his use of CGI for some of the bigger stunts. Fleming could get pulpy and crazy, but his novels always feel grounded in reality. Die Another Day doesn't; even more so than the nuttiest Roger Moore ones.

Cold Open

We get a sense for how outlandish Die Another Day is going to be right from the gun barrel sequence. The Bond Theme during it is way too busy with excessive percussion and then when Bond fires, we actually see the bullet from his gun shoot at us and into the gun barrel. Like the rest of the movie, there's not a lot of thought about whether something should be done bigger.

The teaser itself is good though. It opens in North Korea with Bond and some other agents surfing into the country. And the surfing is really cool, from the photography to the music to the way the surfers are gradually revealed coming out of enormous waves.

From there, they intercept a helicopter and Bond replaces a diamond courier, planting C4 in the briefcase that holds the jewels. They then go to Colonel Moon's headquarters where we meet the officer and his henchman Zao (who's introduced beating up his anger therapist, speaking of unsubtlety, but it doesn't ruin anything). Moon and Zao receive a message that Bond is a spy, so they kill his associates and try to kill him. He blows up the diamonds though in Zao's face (literally) and steals a hovercraft to escape across the minefield of the DMZ between North and South Korea.

The hovercraft chase is pretty great with the hard-to-control vehicles slipping all over the place and crashing into each other like bumper cars. Bond winds up jumping onto Moon's hovercraft and fighting him, then jumps to safety just as Moon and the hovercraft go over a cliff.

There are no awesome stunts, but it's so far so good until Moon's father shows up. Bond has plenty of warning that General Moon is coming, but doesn't even try to escape. He just stands around waiting to be captured and taken back to the base for some torture. As his head is plunged into icy water, the credits start.

Except for that convenient lack of escape instinct on Bond's part at the end, it's an intriguing teaser with some strong visuals and action. Nothing that's going to push it into the Top Ten, but a good, solid, mid-level teaser.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. GoldenEye
2. The Spy Who Loved Me
3. Moonraker
4. Thunderball
5. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
6. A View to a Kill
7. Goldfinger
8. The Man with the Golden Gun
9. The Living Daylights
10. Licence to Kill

Movie Series Continuity

A lot of the Easter Eggs build on movie continuity, especially in Q's workshop, but that's pretty much it for direct ties to previous films. Chief of Staff Charles Robinson is still around, so that's great, but he has less to do this time than the last couple of films.

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