I will say this about Pierce Brosnan as Bond. Aside from George Lazenby, whose first Bond film was also his last, Brosnan went out on a higher note in his last film than any of his other predecessors. Die Another Day is a stronger swan song than Diamonds Are Forever (Sean Connery), A View to a Kill (Roger Moore) and Licence To Kill (Timothy Dalton), however it’s still only an average Bond film at best, and is probably the weakest of Brosnan’s films. As has been the trend in some of the immediate predecessors to this film, Die Another Day suffers from missed opportunities and unrealized potential.
In a way this film is emblematic of Pierce Brosnan’s tenure as James Bond. He had a promising start with GoldenEye, but an ultimately weak finish with Die Another Day. I had never seen this film before, and I was excited by the way it started with Bond getting captured by the North Koreans and spending 14 months being interrogated and tortured. It started out as one of the darker Bond films, perhaps the darkest since Live and Let Die and the edgiest since The Living Daylights. Like we’ve seen a couple of times, Bond goes rogue in order to settle a score as well as saving the world. Bond actually has an edge to him in this film that has not been seen in any of the previous Brosnan films. Unfortunately the second half of the film is plagued with an invisible car, a plot that is filled with holes and characters that we ultimately don’t care enough about.
That leads me to the most obvious piece of unrealized potential in this film and that is with the Bond girl. Halle Barry plays Jinx, an NSA agent who allies with Bond to stop Gustav Graves and Zao from accomplishing their plan of harnessing the sun’s energy through the Icarus satellite to use as a laser that can be used to destroy entire regions on Earth. Halle Berry is a good actress. She won an Oscar for Best Actress for her role in Monster’s Ball and she won a Golden Globe for her performance in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. She’s been nominated for several other awards, and has had a successful enough career to show that that she knows how to act, and is much more than a sex symbol. Casting Halle Berry as Jinx was as close to a no-brainer as there could have been. And yet, she falls flat. When we first see her emerging from the ocean in her red bikini, it brings back memories of Honey Ryder in her white bikini in Dr. No. We quickly learn that she’s a spy like Bond, and the potential is there for her to be one of the great Bond girls. Only she isn’t. Her acting is subpar at best, and she proves to be incapable of taking care of herself. Other than killing an unarmed doctor at the genetics clinic in Cuba, the only fight she wins is against another woman, and she needs Bond to rescue her on multiple occasions. The filmmakers gave her a strong facade, but ultimately she’s a weak character who doesn’t carry effectively carry the torch left behind by the likes of Pussy Galore, Domino, Anya Amasova, or Melina Havelock. That’s not to say that she’s a bad Bond girl, because she’s not nearly as weak as Dr. Holly Goodhead or Stacey Sutton. She’s just average, but she should have been so much more.
The villains in Die Another Day are very solid. Bond has three adversaries in this film and each presents unique challenges for 007. They all are literal or figurative shapeshifters as archetypes, as Zao and Gustav Graves literally switch bodies through genetic engineering. Miranda Frost us an archetypal shapeshifter in that she appears to be an ally at first, but turns out to be the enemy that betrayed Bond to the Koreans initially and then ultimately to Zao and Graves. They’re plot of the Icarus machine and using the sun’s energy to create the ultimate weapon is classic Bond. It uses elements of world domination sought by the best Bond villains as well as elements of Sci-Fi to give it the plausible threat of being able to really destroy the world. They’re not the most memorable villains in the series, but they work well in this film, and are among its strongest aspects.
As this was Brosnan’s swan song in the role, I think it’s worthy to look at it with the passage of time and come to the conclusion that Brosnan was not a bad Bond. None of his films reached the iconic status of those of his predecessors, but that wasn’t entirely his fault. Brosnan played the role well and brought a certain panache to it that no one had before. Not Connery, not Lazenby, not Dalton, and certainly not Moore. Pierce Brosnan played Bond with style, but without the silliness of Moore, the edge of Dalton and the wit of Connery. Other than Lazenby, Pierce Brosnan was probably the flattest of Bonds but he still brought great personality and sophistication to the role. I think ultimately the problem with Brosnan’s Bond was that he didn’t have the material that the others had. Other than GoldenEye which did 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, none of his other films did better than 57%, with The World is not Enough bottoming out at 51%.
No, Brosnan’s main sin was his timing. He became Bond when action films were heavy on explosions and light on story. The great Bond films of yore had intriguing stories that kept the audience interested between action sequences, and the Brosnan films lacked that. You can’t blame Brosnan for that, however. The blame for that should be focused on directors Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies), Michael Apted (The World is not Enough) and Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day). One other thing to consider is that Albert Brocolli died after the release of GoldenEye. He had produced every Eon Productions Bond film up to that point, and it’s possible that the franchise was slightly rudderless without his leadership.
There would be a 4-year hiatus between Die Another Day and the next Bond film with the next Bond. That would be a total reboot, and the franchise would once again find its way.