This week’s 007(x3) Weeks of 007 features Pierce Brosnan’s much maligned final outing as James Bond, “Die Another Day.” And here’s the thing about the movie – it may be the weakest one Brosnan did but if you look at the ebb and flow of the Bond series, something I’ve been trying to do throughout this series, it pretty much follows the standard “get bigger and bigger until we need to reset” mold and there’s still a lot to enjoy in it.
Back when we were discussing Connery and “You Only Live Twice,” I said that growing up it was always one of my favorites, but that watching it for 007(x3) Weeks of 007 I felt as though it was reusing a lot of the tropes we had seen before. I called it “somewhat more derivative” and “formulaic.” Certain scenes and moments evoked earlier films, and not always to the benefit of “You Only Live Twice.” The week after we discussed that, we got the first Bond reset with “OHMSS.”
So, here we are with “Die Another Day,” and if you want an immediate series of throwbacks to earlier films, you have a plot that revolves around diamonds (“Diamonds are Forever”), and you have Jinx getting out of the water in a style purposefully emblematic of Honey Ryder (“Dr. No”). Then there’s the laser fight sequence and as ridiculous as it is here, you can’t threaten to cut off people’s body parts with a laser in a James Bond movie and not hear in the back of your mind, “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”
If that’s not all enough of an overt throwback, how about when Bond meets John Cleese’s Q in the abandoned tube station and there’s tons of Q gadgetry from previous films lying around. Go back and watch that scene because it’s excellent.
As much fun as it may be, I don’t actually want to focus on the past though. Instead, I want to tie this movie into Craig’s time.
Recently someone said to me that they liked the fact that Craig’s Bond is vulnerable, that we see him get hurt, that it’s made the character more relatable. I was on the verge of yelling out about “OHMSS” or, more to the point this week, “Die Another Day.”
The pre-title sequence ends with James Bond getting captured and we get to witness his torture during the title song. Then, once he’s exchanged for Zao, Bond gets fired from MI-6. M isn’t happy that he’s been traded, wishes they’d left him in North Korea to rot, and then fires him. Naturally, Bond goes off all vendetta-y (again), looking for the mole in the west who betrayed him. Sure, he gets rehired pretty quickly, but it’s clear that he only being brought back because he is once again useful to MI-6, not because M believes she made a mistake in canning him in the first place.
But, yes, “Die Another Day” goes too big, it shows the sort of hubris that becomes a hallmark of almost all the various Bond actors at one point or another. There is always a “Moonraker” out there (yes, I know I said it’s better than “The Spy Who Loved Me” and I stick by that, but it is undeniable that doing James Bond in space means that you’re going to have to reset your pieces next time out). Here we have invisible cars and ice palaces and diamonds to stuck faces and gene therapy to turn North Koreans into westerners. Whether or not Brosnan had stayed, the next film was going to have to be smaller.
And again here I come to the ebb and flow issues as we get towards “Spectre.” “Skyfall” was great, but “Skyfall” was also the biggest Craig Bond film yet and they’re only going bigger with “Spectre.” History of the franchise would indicate the possibility of us looking at another “Die Another Day” or “Moonraker” next month. I don’t have a problem with those two big Bond movies, but a lot of folks feel like they go too far, and it’s quite possible that we’re going to see that reaction again.
As much as I am a defender of Brosnan, I don’t like everything about his movies. For instance, I think the sexual references are far too lewd and, quite frankly, they make me more than a little uncomfortable. Moneypenny refers to him as a “cunning linguist” in “Tomorrow Never Dies,” he says to Dr. Jones in “TWINE” “I thought Christmas only comes once a year,” and at the end of “Die Another Day” there’s the “leave it in” discussion. Call me prudish, call me old-fashioned, call me ridiculous, but eventually these things go to far. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t complain about Moneypenny’s line alone, but it helps push a trajectory on the witty repartee and so if we’re talking about that, the line should be included.
As you know, for weeks I have been saying that I like Brosnan as Bond, that he’s my Bond, and it’s true, he is, and I’ve been looking for ways to explain my affinity with a group of movies that some would argue aren’t the strongest. I have talked about Brosnan getting Bond back on the world stage, about the movies making James Bond a cinematic box office force once again, and I don’t think that happens if they’re devoid of creativity.
What Brosnan does as Bond is to bring together plots on a scale with the bigger Connery movies; the seriousness about love and pain present in Lazenby; and the humor, sans-slapstick, of Moore. And, of course, he’s the anti-Dalton. But, I don’t see a world in which “GoldenEye” follows on the heels of “A View to a Kill.” Dalton, or similar films, have to exist between Moore and Brosnan because the breather in scale and scope is demanded.
It strikes me that it’s worth putting into words what I have been talking about for weeks on end but never succinctly verbalized – while Bond films can be seen as standalone adventures, they speak to one another. Each is a reaction to the previous one(s). Just as you need Dalton’s films between Moore and Brosnan, you would never get Craig’s “Casino Royale” on the heels of “Licence to Kill,” it would hurt the franchise and be seen in a completely different light than we see it now.
So, yes, Brosnan’s time is up with “Die Another Day.” He stepped onto the stage, he saved Bond from the overly gritty interpretation we got from Dalton who saved Bond from the overly comical one we got from Moore and next week Craig will save Bond from the over the top movies of the Brosnan era… and then maybe go over the top himself. 007(x3) Weeks of 007 will return with “Casino Royale.”
photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment