2012 marked the 50th anniversary of James Bond’s cinematic debut in Dr. No and also saw the release of the 23rd James Bond film, Skyfall. Though the film was meant to have been released earlier, financial trouble led to a delay in filming and it is hard to imagine Skyfall not marking the 50th birthday of the cinematic Bond. It was also ten years since Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan’s final outing as 007 was released. This film, like Skyfall, tried to celebrate the longevity of Bond on the big screen but unfortunately, amongst most of the Bond fandom, it is considered one of the worst films in the franchise and its director Lee Tamahori certainly fails to celebrate Bond in the way Sam Mendes would ten years later.
One thing which Tamahori was praised about was the use of references to previous Bond films in Die Another Day. The most subtle of these was Bond impersonating an Ornithologist to commemorate how Bond creator Ian Fleming took the name from an Ornithological book he had. However, there are some references which aren’t that hard to discover and understand. The use of a Union Jack parachute, the idea of a laser made out of diamonds in the sky and the fight scene with lasers all hark back to The Spy Who Loved Me, Diamonds Are Forever and Goldfinger respectively yet the most obvious reference to the other films is the scene where Bond is taken by Q, played here by John Cleese, to an underground testing facility which includes many items from previous films such as Rosa Klebb’s poison bladed shoe from From Russia With Love and the jet pack from Thunderball.
That scene feels like it was shoehorned into the film just purely for the anniversary aspect as it doesn’t offer anything to the plot. In Skyfall, the most obvious reference is the use of the Aston Martin DB5 though that has been used in several films since Goldfinger. Despite this, Mendes harks back to the history of Bond in a few subtle ways. Bond leaping onto a Komodo dragon to escape is reminiscent of Bond jumping on Alligator’s in The Man with the Golden Gun, the use of a gun with a hand print signature is also present in Licence to Kill, fighting on top of a train is also used in Octopussy. This isn’t the full list of references but it’s clear that Sam Mendes made sure he didn’t go over-the-top with how many he included.
His preferred way of celebrating Bond’s past is by looking at the character of Bond, not previous Bond films. We are taken to see Bond’s childhood home which is also the place in which his parents are buried and this offers more of an insight into the character than ever before. The aim of this for Mendes is to reinforce the moral through the film that Bond is still as relevant today as he has been for the past half a century. The way he constructs this idea is through portraying Bond and MI6 at their nadirs. Bond feels betrayed after the pre-title sequence sees him shot and assumed dead (Again!) and the failure of Bond and Eve to fulfil the mission leaves M facing retirement and the 00 section facing disbandment. Despite failing his tests, Bond rises from the ashes and proves his and MI6’s worth and in doing so, Mendes proves that just as Bond in his world will survive, so will the films.
Die Another Day shares a similar plot to Skyfall. The film opens with Bond kidnapped by a North Korean general before being tortured. When he’s released, he is unfit and out of shape yet we never really see Bond struggle. In Skyfall, we see him fail the tests yet in Die Another Day he just has a shave and seems to be back to normal and though Bond in Skyfall does recover quickly, the question of Bond being dated is better enforced through the linking of Bond’s survival with that of MI6.
In Skyfall, in order for Bond and MI6 to survive, Bond has to defeat the film’s villain, Silva, played by Javier Bardem. Bardem is a tremendous villain and his monologue when he is first introduced is a classic piece of Bond cinema. His appearance is that of a classic Bond villain yet his plot, a cyber-attack on MI6, is very modern and continues the underlying theme of old versus new. In Die Another Day, Bond comes up against Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves. If anything, Graves’ henchman, Zao, is far more memorable as a Bond character and though Stephens does a decent enough job, the sub-plot of Graves actually being Colonel Moon who Bond believes to be dead from the pre-title sequence is made clear to the audience before Bond discovers it which I don’t think should happen; Bond should find out things at the same point the audience does. The same can also be said for Miranda Frost being the person who betrayed Bond in North Korea. Before Bond discovers this, the audience firstly see her with Graves but then we see her being briefed by M which makes it obvious she betrayed Bond.
After Bond finds out Frost betrayed him, he is forced to escape from Graves’ ice palace using Grave’s speed car whilst being chased by the Icarus laser. What comes next is, in my opinion, one of the most cringe-worthy scenes in Bond cinema. Bond kite surfing the tsunami caused by the cliff melting away is just too OTT for 007. I know there’s meant to be a certain element of “Only Bond could do that” to the stunts but this takes that sense of fantasy too far. In the Everything or Nothing documentary released to commemorate 50 years of cinematic Bond, Pierce Brosnan himself mocks this scene in the film, laughing at the absurdity of it. As well as this, it looks very poor on the screen. It is an obvious and poor use of CGI which makes the scene look even more unrealistic. Another aspect of Die Another Day which people claim to be over-the-top is the inclusion of the invisible car, the Aston Martin Vanish. The Vanquish is a gorgeous car and we deserve to see it in all its glory. The invisible aspect of the car helps Bond kill Zao at the end of an awesome car chase but many fans still feel that its use in the film made Bond almost paradoxical. As previously mentioned, Skyfall deals with the past and future in a much better way by looking at cyber-terrorism and making the new Q a computer genius, identifying the new battlefield on which espionage will be acted out. It does not try to make Bond futuristic, Mendes keeps the character and franchise grounded in its past whilst identifying the future they both have.
Skyfall was a box office smash. Taking over a billion pounds it currently stands as the eight highest grossing film of all time, the highest grossing and therefore the most successful Bond film of all time. Though this doesn’t automatically mean it is the best Bond film ever and better than Die Another Day, it shows that a film which set out to prove that after 50 years James Bond is still needed in British Cinema managed to fulfil its aim, creating a buzz around James Bond which arguably hasn’t been seen since the opening few films were released. However, the film wasn’t the only aspect of Skyfall to achieve widespread success. Adele’s title song was just as much of a hit becoming Number 1 in the UK, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song, a Brit Award for Single of the Year and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. Madonna’s title song for Die Another Day also enjoyed some success, reaching Number 3 in the UK and Number 1 in 12 different countries. Despite this, Adele’s song triumphs over it. Whilst Madonna’s song is catchy, Adele’s is classy harking back to the Goldfinger title song by Shirley Bassey. It seems appropriate that Britain’s most iconic film figure should be combined with one of the most musically talented Briton’s and with a Adele return for Bond 24 being rumoured, the films makers were obviously delighted with the job she did.
Die Another Day does have its strengths and in my opinion, it isn’t the worst Bond film ever made. Pierce Brosnan gives another great performance as Bond, there are some nice references to previous films, Halle Berry is a great “Bond Girl” and the hover craft chase in the pre-title sequence as well as the car chase between Bond and Zao is great action. However, Skyfall is far superior in many departments and in doing so marks the 50th Anniversary of Bond in a more suitable way than Die Another Day marked the 40th. Much credit of this should go to director Sam Mendes though the cinematography by Roger Deakins as well as the performances of Craig, Bardem, Marlohe, Harris and Dench all made Skyfall the success it was.
This article was first posted on June 4, 2013