Celebrate National Trivia Day With The Actors Who Could Have Been James Bond!


 

Today is National Trivia Day so I thought why not share some trivia?  I love film trivia.  I especially love trivia about who was considered for certain films.  Hell, one of my most popular posts on the Shattered Lens dealt with all of the actors who were considered for the Godfather!

(I even came up with an alternative cast for The Godfather, even though I consider the actual film to be the best cast film in history.)

I also happen to love the James Bond films.  (Well, not so much the recent Bond films.  I’ve made my feelings on SPECTRE clear.)  As a franchise, I absolutely love them.  So, with all that in mind, here is a look at the actors who could have been Bond.  I’ve compiled this article from many sources.  And yes, you could probably just find a lot of the information on Wikipedia but then you’d miss out on my editorial commentary.

Hoagy Carmichael

Ian Fleming himself always said that his pick for Bond would have been the musician, Hoagy Carmichael.  He even made a point, in Casino Royale, of having Vesper Lynd exclaim that Bond looked like Hoagy Carmichael.  Of course, the first actor to actually play Bond was Barry Nelson in a 1954 television adaptation of Casino Royale.  Nelson is probably best remembered for playing Mr. Ullman in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Barry Nelson, the first James Bond

When Dr. No went into production in 1961, many actors were considered for the role before Sean Connery was eventually cast.  Many of them were very well-known actors and, had they been cast, Dr. No would not have been remembered as a Bond movie.  Instead, it would be remembered as a star vehicle for … well, let’s take a look at some of the better-known possibilities:

Among the famous actors who were mentioned for Bond in 1961: Cary Grant, Richard Burton, James Mason, Trevor Howard, Stanley Baker, George Baker, Jimmy Stewart, Rex Harrison, and David Niven.  (Of that list, I think Burton would have made for an interesting Bond.  If the Bond films had been made in the 1940s, Grant would have been my first choice.  Trying to imagine Jimmy Stewart as a British secret agent is … interesting.)

Once it became obvious that a star was not going to play Bond, the role was offered to Patrick McGoohan and Rod Taylor.  McGoohan had moral objections to the character.  Rod Taylor reportedly felt that the film would flop.  Steve Reeves, the American body builder who became famous for playing Hercules in Italy, was reportedly strongly considered.  At one point, director Terrence Young wanted to offer the role to Richard Johnson, who later played Dr. Menard in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2.

Of course, the role went to Sean Connery and made Connery a huge star.  In 1967, after Connery announced that he would no longer play the world’s most famous secret agent, there was a huge and widely publicized search for his replacement.  Some of the names that were considered are intriguing.  Others are just bizarre.

Oliver Reed

To me, perhaps the most intriguing name mentioned was that of Oliver Reed.  Reed definitely would have brought a rougher edge of the role than some of the other actors considered.  However, that’s one reason why Reed wasn’t picked.  Apparently, it was felt that he did not have the right public image to play the suave Mr. Bond.

Somewhat inevitably, Michael Caine was sought out for the role.  Caine, however, refused to consider it because he had already starred in three back-to-back spy thrillers and didn’t want to get typecast.  Caine’s former roommate, Terrence Stamp, was another possibility but wanted too much control over the future direction of the Bond films.  Future Bond Timothy Dalton was considered to be too young.  Another future Bond, Roger Moore, didn’t want to give up his television career.  Eric Braeden has the right look for Bond but was German.  Rumor has it that producer Cubby Broccoli even considered Dick Van Dyke for the role, though I find that hard to believe.  An even more surprising possibility was the nobleman Lord Lucan, who was offered a screen test in 1967 and who, ten years later, would vanish after being accused of murdering his children’s nanny.

Lord Lucan

Among the actors who auditioned before George Lazenby was cast in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Michael Billington, Jeremy Brett, Peter Purves, Robert Campbell, Patrick Mower, Daniel Pilon, John Richardson, Anthony Rogers, Hans De Vries, and Peter Snow.

After the mixed reception of both Lazenby’s performance and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Lazenby was soon out as James Bond.  Even today, there’s a lot of controversy about what led to Lazenby being dismissed from the role.  Some say Lazenby demanded too much money.  Some say that Lazenby was merely used a pawn to try to get Sean Connery to return to the role.  Regardless, Lazenby only made one film as Bond.  (Of course, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has retroactively been recognized as being one of the best of the series.)

With Connery still claiming that he would never return to the role, the film’s producers went through the motions of looking for a new Bond.  Once again, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton were considered.  Connery suggested that a talk show host named Simon Dee should play the role.  An actor named Roger Green auditioned.  So did Michael Gambon, though he later said he was turned down because, in his own words, he “had tits like a woman.”  Interestingly, several Americans were mentioned.  Clint Eastwood as James Bond?  Burt Reynolds?  Adam “Batman” West? The mind boggles but their names were mentioned.

John Gavin

And interestingly enough, an American was cast.  John Gavin is best known for playing Sam Loomis in Psycho but he was also, briefly, James Bond.  After Gavin accepted he role and signed a contract, Sean Connery announced that he would be willing to return to the role.  Gavin was paid off and Connery went on to star in Diamonds are Forever.

After Diamonds, Connery left the role for a second time and, once again, Bond was recast.  This time, Roger Moore would finally accept the role.  However, before Moore was cast, several other actors were considered.  Some of the regular possibilities were mentioned again: John Gavin, Simon Oates, Timothy Dalton, and Michael Billington.  Others considered included Jon Finch, Ranulph Fiennes, Peter Laughton, and Guy Peters.  Some of those names are probably as unknown to you as they are to me but it’s intriguing to think that Guy Peters may not be a well-known name but, at one time, there was a possibility that he could suddenly become one of the biggest stars in the world.

Looking over the history of the Bond franchise, it’s interesting to see the number of times that Moore tried to leave the role, just to be talked into returning.  Every time that Moore considered quitting, a new group of actors would be considered for the role of Bond.  In 1979, when Moore said he might not return after Moonraker, Timothy Dalton, Michael Jayston, Patrick Mower (who was also considered for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), and Michael Billington were all considered as replacements.  So was Julian Glover.  Ironically, when Moore did agree to return to the role, Glover was cast as the villain in For Your Eyes Only.

David Warbeck

To me, the most intriguing actor mentioned as a replacement for Roger Moore was David Warbeck.  Warbeck was a television actor and model who subsequently had a nearly legendary film career in Italy.  Not only did he play a key role in Sergio Leone’s Duck You Sucker!, but he also starred in Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat and The Beyond.  He also appeared in the best of Italian Apocalypse Now rip-offs, The Last Hunter.  In interviews, Warbeck claimed that he was under contract to Cubby Broccoli to step into the role in case Roger Moore ever walked off the set.  The likable and rugged Warbeck would have been an interesting Bond.

In 1983, when Moore again said he might not return to the role, Michael Billington (who actually did appear in a Bond film when he played a KGB agent killed at the start of The Spy Who Loved Me) would be once more considered as a replacement.  British TV actors Lewis Collins and Ian Ogilvy were also considered for the role.  In a repeat of what happened with John Gavin in Diamonds are Forever, American actor James Brolin was actually put under contract until Moore agreed to play the role in Octopussy.

James Brolin, in a screen test for Octopussy

After A View To A Kill, Moore left the role for the final time.  Famously, future Bond Pierce Brosnan was actually cast as his replacement until the surge of interest created by his casting led to the renewal of Remington Steele, the American television show in which Brosnan was starring.  Once the show was renewed, Brosnan could no longer work the Bond films into his schedule.

Among the other names mentioned: Sean Bean, Simon MacCorkindale, Andrew Clarke, Finlay Light, Mark Greenstreet, Neil Dickson, Christopher Lambert, Mel Gibson, and Antony Hamilton.  Sam Neill was another possibility and reportedly came very close to getting the role.  Watch any of the films that Neill made when he was younger and you can definitely see hints of Bond.

Sam Neill

In the end, Timothy Dalton finally accepted the role.  Ironically, for an actor who spent 20 years being courted for the role, Dalton turned out to be a bit of a flop as Bond.  He made two movies (both of which were considered to be disappointing when compared to the previous Bond films) and then left the role.

Looking over the contemporary reviews of Dalton as Bond, one thing that comes through clearly is that a lot of people resented him for taking a role that they felt should have gone to Pierce Brosnan.  When the Bond films resumed production with Goldeneye in 1994, Brosnan finally stepped into the role.  Reportedly, if Brosnan had turned down the role, the second choice was Sean Bean.  Much like Julian Glover, Bean may have lost out on 007 but he did end up playing the villain.

Sean Bean

Among the other actors who were reportedly considered before Brosnan accepted the role: Mark Frankel, Paul McGann, Liam Neeson, Russell Crowe, and Lambert Wilson.  Ralph Fiennes, who has been M since Skyfall, was also considered.

As opposed to his predecessors, Brosnan seemed to be very comfortable with the idea of playing Bond and never threatened to leave the role.  Looking over the Bond-related articles that were published from 1995 to 2004, I found the occasional speculation about whether Rupert Everett would be the first gay James Bond or if Sharon Stone would be the first female James Bond but I found very little speculation about Brosnan actually leaving the role.  Indeed, when Brosnan officially retired as Bond in 2004, it was less his decision and more at the prodding of the franchise’s producers, who felt that the series needed to be rejuvenated with a new (and younger) actor.  After Brosnan left, the series was rebooted and Daniel Craig played the role in Casino Royale.

In the past, I’ve made it clear that Daniel Craig is hardly my favorite Bond.  I loved Skyfall (and I consider it to the 2nd best Bond film, after From Russia With Love) but, even in that case, I felt that the film succeeded despite Craig instead of because of him.  With Casino Royale, we were supposed to be seeing a young and inexperienced Bond.  That’s never come through to me, probably because Craig looked like he was nearly 50 years old when he made Casino Royale.

Among the actors who were mentioned for the role before Craig received the role: Ralph Fiennes (again), Colin Salmon, Ewan McGregor, Henry Cavill, Rupert Friend, Julian McMahon, Alex O’Laughlin, Clive Owen, Dougray Scott, and Goran Visjnic.  Dominic West, who I think would have been great in the role, reportedly ruled himself out because he heard a rumor that Brosnan would be returning to the role.

Dominic West

Daniel Craig, of course, has been talking about leaving the role ever since he was first cast.  I think Skyfall would have been a perfect movie for him to leave on.  (It would have saved the world from SPECTRE.)  However, Craig has apparently agreed to do at least one more Bond film.  Maybe two.

When Craig does leave, who will replace him?  Idris Elba, of course, is probably the most widely discussed possibility.  James Norton has also been named as a possibility.  Others that I’ve seen mentioned: Tom Hardy, Jack Huston, Aidan Turner, Tom Hiddleston, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, and Henry Cavill (again).

My personal choice?  Dominic Cooper.  He’d be an off-center Bond but I think it would still be an intriguing pick.

Dominic Cooper

Who knows what the future may hold for 007?  All I know is that I look forward to the speculation.

Happy National Trivia Day, everyone!

A Movie A Day #220: Entangled (1993, directed by Max Fischer)


There has been a car crash in Paris and now, David (Judd Nelson) is in the hospital, slowly recovering.  In flashbacks, it is revealed that David is an American writer who came to France after his first novel flopped.  He came to see his best friend, a womanizing photographer (Roy Dupuis), and ended up meeting and falling in love with the beautiful model, Annabelle (Laurence Treil).  Even as he worked on his second novel, he was consumed with jealousy over Annabelle.  Why was she sneaking off to a château owned by a mysterious and decadent businessman named Garavan (Piece Brosnan)?  Any why, while he is in the hospital, is his second novel published and credited to someone else?

Entangled is yet another 90s neo-noir starring Judd Nelson.  Laurence Treil was beautiful and often naked, which made it perfect for showings on Skinemax but the movie fails because, like so many others, it requires the audience to believe that Judd Nelson could not only write a book but get a model girlfriend as well.  That takes much more work than is portrayed in Entangled.  Early on in Entangled, Judd Nelson gropes a cardboard cut-out of George H.W. Bush and it is pretty much all downhill from there.  Not even Brosnan doing a good job as a sinister character can do much to save Entangled.

What could have saved Entangled?  Like so many of Judd Nelson’s direct-to-video movies, Entangled needed the calming hand of Judd’s co-star from Shattered If Your Kid’s On Drugs, Burt Reynolds!

Am I saying that Entangled would have been a better movie if Burt Reynolds had been given a role?

It couldn’t have hurt.

Shattered Politics #87: The Ghost Writer (dir by Roman Polanski)


GhostwriterlargeIn the 2010 film The Ghost Writer, Ewan McGregor plays a character known as the Ghost. We never actually learn the name of his character and that’s perhaps appropriate.  The Ghost has made his living by being anonymous.  He’s a ghost writer.  He’s the guy who is hired to help inarticulate and occasionally illiterate celebrities write best-selling biographies.

The Ghost has been given a new assignment.  He is to ghost write the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan).  Despite the fact that Adam is one of the most famous men in the world, the Ghost is not initially enthusiastic about working with him.

First off, there’s the fact that Adam and his wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams), are currently hiding out in America because America is one of the few countries that will not extradite him to be prosecuted for war crimes at the International Criminal Court.  It seems that Adam (much like Tony Blair) is a controversial figure because of some of the actions he may have authorized as a part of the war on terror.  Not only does the Ghost have political objections to working with Adam but he has to leave his London home and go to Massachusetts in order to do so.

Secondly, there’s the fact that, once the Ghost arrives in America, he discovers that — for such a controversial figure — Adam is actually rather boring and seems to have very little knowledge about anything that he did while he was prime minister.  Instead, he seems to be more interested in spending time with his mistress (Kim Cattrall, giving the film’s one bad performance).  Ruth seems to be the political (and smart) one in the marriage.

And finally, there’s the fact that the Ghost is actually the second writer to have worked with Adam.  The previous writer mysteriously drowned.  While that death was ruled to be an accident, the Ghost comes to suspect that it was murder and that the motive is hidden in the first writer’s manuscript…

The Ghost Writer is a favorite of mine, a smart and witty political thriller that features great performances from Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams, and Pierce Brosnan.  Brosnan especially seems to be having a lot of fun sending up his dashing, James Bond image.  Roman Polanski directs at a fast pace and maintains a perfect atmosphere of growing paranoia throughout the entire film. In the end, The Ghost Writer proudly continues the tradition of such superior paranoia films as The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, and the Parallax View.

Incidentally, I have a theory that Adam Lang was also the unseen Prime Minister who was featured in Into the Loop.  Watching The Ghost Writer, it’s hard not to feel that Adam really feel apart without Malcolm around to help him out.

 

Lisa 6 Favorite 2015 Super Bowl Commercials!


While I did watch the Super Bowl tonight, I have to admit that I only watched it for the commercials.  Back in 2013, I did a post on my favorite super bowl commercials and I meant to do the same thing for 2014 but, for whatever reason, I never got around to doing so.  So, I was definitely not going to miss out this year!

Unfortunately, the commercials really weren’t that great this year.  Perhaps if I was looking for a new car, the constant barrage of car commercials would have been more interesting.  I found a lot of the so-called “empowering” commercials to be condescending.  (To be honest, I always resent the idea that I need a commercial to make me feel good about myself.  I’m stronger than that.)  The McDonald’s commercial where people got free food for telling their mom that they loved them upset me because my mom’s not here for me to tell her how much I love her.  And then there were all the commercials about fathers bonding with their sons (never their daughters, interestingly enough) and those made me want to throw stuff as well.

In fact, when all is said and done, my favorite part of the Super Bowl was not watching that commercials.  Instead, it was watching the dancing sharks.

Dance, Shark, dance!

Dance, Shark, dance!

But there were a few commercials that stood out.  For example, there was the Nationwide dead kid commercial, which made me feel like a terrible person because I started giggling as soon as I saw that the TV had fallen over.  And then there was that GoDaddy commercial that was so offensive that it didn’t even make it to air.  (The commercial featured a lost puppy who, upon finally making his way back home, discovers that he’s being sold online.  Dear GoDaddy, I hate you and your asinine commercials.  Stop trying to be edgy, ‘kay?  Okay.)

Oh!  And don’t forget the Nissan commercial about the NASCAR driver who is a crappy father but then makes up for it by showing up at his son’s school in a new car.

My boyfriend actually paid more attention to the game than the commercials, which is like totally the wrong way to do the Super Bowl if you ask me.  But, for the record, his favorite ad was the Victoria’s Secret Super Bowl commercial.  I’m just happy that he got something out of the game.

Anyway, here are my 6 top Super Bowl commercials.

6) Liam Neeson for Clash of Clans

I really don’t know much about Clash of Clans but this commercial made me laugh because this is how I’ve always imagined Liam Neeson passes the time between Taken movies.

5) Pierce Brosnan for Kia

This is actually one of the few car commercials that I actually enjoyed.  Pierce is aging well and appears to have a pretty good sense of humor about how his career will always be defined by James Bond.

4) Nationwide — Invisible Mindy

Everyone was so traumatized by the Nationwide Dead Kid commercial that the Invisible Mindy commercial kinda got lost in the shuffle.  That’s a shame because it’s actually pretty clever.  What really made the commercial, for me, was the Matt Damon cameo at the end.  It was appropriate because Mindy first came to prominence when she and a friend wrote and performed a play called “Ben and Matt,” which told the story of Matt’s bromance with Ben Affleck.

3) The Snickers Machete Bunch Commercial

Danny Trejo and Steve Buscemi!  Need I say more?

2) The Budweiser Puppy Commercial!

This one made me cry.

1) NO MORE’s Official Super Bowl Ad

And finally, here’s my top ad.  This one was powerful and important and all it was selling was hope for a better future.

The Daily Grindhouse: The Long Good Friday (dir by John MacKenzie)


Long Good Friday 1

Today, the film community woke up to the news that British actor Bob Hoskins passed away on the 29th.  He was 71 years old.  Over the course of his career, he appeared in over 100 films and is well-remembered for performances in everything from Brazil to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to Spiceworld to Felecia’s Journey to Made in Dagenham.  However, perhaps his best performance is to be found in a film that’s still not very well-known here in the States.

In 1980’s The Long Good Friday, Bob Hoskins plays Harold Shand.  Harold is a crude, violent, and ruthless London gangster who, at the same time, remains oddly likable.  Perhaps his likability is due to the fact that, for all of his sociopathic tendencies, Harold does seem to be genuinely devoted to his girlfriend Victoria (Helen Mirren).  Or perhaps it’s because Harold is a fighter, a man who refuses to surrender and, as a result, has managed to make something of himself in one of the most rigidly class-conscious countries in the world.  Say what you will about his methods, gangster Harold is still more honest than your typical businessman.

However, ultimately, the main reason we root for Harold is because he’s played by Bob Hoskins.  Hoskins turns Harold into a true force of a nature, playing him as manic, charismatic, and — as the film progresses — more and more desperate.  The genius of Hoskins performance isn’t that he suggests that Harold isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.  The genius is that Hoskins lets us know that, despite all of his bluster, Harold understands that he’s not as smart as he’s pretending to be.

As the film opens, Harold is the most powerful man in the London underworld and is on the verge of staking his claim on the legitimate world as well.  All he has to do is convince an American gangster (played by Eddie Constantine) to agree to partner with him on a real estate deal.

Pierce Brosnan

However, two assassins (one of whom is played by a silent and devilishly handsome Pierce Brosnan) are killing his associates.  Somebody is blowing up his businesses.  Even as Harold desperately tries to impress his American guests, he finds himself under siege by an unknown enemy.  At first, Harold assumes that a rival gangster is coming after him but, as the day progresses, it becomes evident that there’s a new threat to Harold’s power.

Long Good Friday2

Without Bob Hoskins’ performance, The Long Good Friday is an entertaining gangster film, one that is distinguished by John MacKenzie’s sure direction, Francis Monkman’s energetic and powerful score, and an absolutely perfect final scene.  With Hoskins’ performance, The Long Good Friday is one of the best gangster films ever made.

And, as today, it’s a tribute to a truly talented actor.

Long Good Friday

Bob Hoskins, R.I.P.

Quick Review: The World’s End (dir. by Edgar Wright)


the_worlds_end_12-620x918A strange thing happened on the way to seeing The World’s End. With the audience seated for the film, we all watched as the credits began. When I saw that Constantin Film was involved, I thought to myself, “Wait, wasn’t Edgar Wright’s films mostly Working Title Productions? This is different.” Turns out the movie that started playing was The Mortal Instruments, the result of which had a few moviegoers groaning and actively talking about the film. Someone actually cried out “It’s the King of the North!” after seeing Lena Headey and her co-star who barely resembled Robb Stark. After about 5 minutes of this, the film was shut down, the reel replaced and The World’s End was ready to begin.

The World’s End marks the final film in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Flavors Trilogy. The Cornetto (which look like King Cones here in the states) was something of a joke in Shawn of the Dead with the color red, and then had a return appearance in Hot Fuzz with the color blue. The World’s End has a connection with green when it comes to Cornettos.

The film reunites Wright with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and in a twist from the previous films together, it’s Pegg whose character is the over the top one with Frost as the straight man. I’ll admit that I walked in this actually expecting the opposite, and found myself chuckling when it didn’t turn out that way.  Surrounded by a cast made up of Wright regulars like Paddy Considine (Hot Fuzz, The Bourne Ultimatum) and Martin Freeman (Love Actually, The Hobbit), along with some new faces in Pierce Brosnan and Rosamund Pike, there isn’t a cast member that feels out of place here. Even when the story feels like it’s about to lull, there’s some weird quip or moment that invoked a laugh or chuckle in the audience.

The World’s End is the story of Gary King (Pegg), who as a teen growing up in small town, dared to do the impossible with his friends. The plan was to make a run to 12 different pubs in the town, have a pint of beer in each one, leading up to the final pub called The World’s End. In the initial attempt, they managed to get about 3/4ths of the way through before getting so smashed that they had to bail out. Time passes, as it always does and the old gang has grown up, moved on to different lifestyles and in some cases, built families. King, on the other hand, is very much stuck in his own time period spending the bulk of his time reliving his glory days. He’s that guy that talks about his High School Football days as if  they were yesterday, some 20 odd years later. This is a running theme through the film – the notion that being caught up in nostalgia is not as great as it ever appears, and that being too nostalgic – living too much in the past –  could possibly suggest that one isn’t appreciating what they have right now, nor are they looking forward to anything. Sometimes, you just can’t go home…or can you?

King decides to get his friends together for one last run on The Golden Mile. As they go from pub to pub, they go over various events in their lives and start to notice (in true Wright fashion) that something really weird seems to be going on in the town. As things begin to unravel, they come to find that actually are in real danger and need to get past all of their issues if they’ll get through it. Just like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the second half of film becomes something of a horror thriller with comedy throughout. Elements of The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers become noticeable as the team tries to survive. That’s pretty much it. Take the recent This is the End, add a few beers and a tighter script and you have The World’s End. The first half of the movie may seem slow, but it does pick up, and pick up well.

Pegg and Frost are the grounding forces to The World’s End. Their performances (particularly Pegg’s) are what keeps it all afloat when it seems like the story might unravel. If the film suffers from any problems, is that it’s something of a downshift for Wright compared to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There are a number of action moments in The World’s End, but at the same time, they don’t quite have the umph factor of Wright’s other films. By the time you reach the end, you may actually find yourself scratching your head over what you’ve seen, but then again, the ending of Shaun of the Dead didn’t quite make sense to me either. Not saying that it could have all been better (as I may see it again before the weekend is out), it’s just different.

Overall, The World’s End is a fun ride into the past of a series of characters that will remind you to focus on the present, and laugh while doing so. It’s a fitting close to these films, even if it isn’t the sharpest film in the set (for me that remains Hot Fuzz). If only they served beers at the movie theatres, that would be perfect.

James Bond Review: Die Another Day


Leading up to the North American release of the latest James Bond feature film, Skyfall, The Shattered Lens is reviewing each and every James Bond film in the history of the franchise. Today’s film is the controversial Die Another Day, the twentieth film in the James Bond franchise, and the final such film to feature Pierce Brosnan in the titular role as 00-agent James Bond. Despite launching to mixed reviews – particularly overseas, where it generated significantly negative reaction in North and South Korea – it was at the time the highest grossing Bond film of all time.

Our cold open for this film has us in North Korea. There, 007 is assuming the identity of a diamond smuggler who is assisting a North Korean Colonel, Tan-Sun Moon, in laundering blood diamonds as part of an ongoing search for advanced military hardware. In order to bypass the landmines of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, the good Colonel has constructed an entire army of hover vehicles which can cross the region without triggering the mines, allowing for a land invasion of South Korea. Bond proceeds with the exchange, but is identified by Zao (Rick Yune), Colonel Moon’s right hand man. Bond triggers an explosion which badly disfigures Zao’s face, which becomes embedded with dozens of diamonds. Colonel Moon attempts to escape on a hovercraft, and Bond pursues him, eventually chasing the Colonel off the edge of a waterfall, apparently killing him. Afterward, Bond is captured by General Moon, the Colonel’s father, and is imprisoned.

After over a year of imprisonment and torture, Bond is traded during a prisoner exchange for Zao. Upon returning to MI6, M (Dame Judi Dench) tells Bond that his 00-status has been suspended. Both she and the Americans believe that Bond cracked under torture and revealed classified information, necessitating the prisoner exchange that brought him back. However, the release of Zao leaves both M and Bond extremely bitter. Determined to recapture Zao, Bond evades MI6’s security and disappears. He travels to Hong Kong, seeking a way back into North Korea, but his contact there informs him that Zao has attempted to disappear in Cuba and provides him with the necessaries to travel there instead.

After he arrives in Havana, Cuba, Bond investigates a clinic there which specializes in gene therapy that is virtually unknown in the first world. Bond’s local contact describes it as prolonging the lives of their leading citizens, and the richest folks in the West, but Bond also learns that the gene therapy would allow a person to totally restructure their appearance and assume a whole new identity. During his investigation, he meets a woman who introduces herself as Jinx (Halle Berry) who, initially unknown to Bond, is an NSA agent on a similar investigation, albeit one with presumably very different goals. Bond locates Zao inside the clinic, and a chase ensues. Although Zao ultimately manages to escape by helicopter (and Jinx in dramatic fashion by diving off the sea wall and boarding a waiting boat which drives her off), Bond recovers a pendant left behind by Zao. Upon unscrewing it, Bond discovers a cache of diamonds. Upon inspection, the diamonds are chemically identical to diamonds found in Sierra Leone, but they bear the identifying mark of a diamond mine owned by a British billionaire and thrill seeker, Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). Bond is determined to investigate.

This forms the basis of the remaining plot. Our set pieces this time aren’t quite so varied, as much of the remaining story plays out in Iceland, where Graves’ diamond mine is situated, and where he has constructed a special ice hotel for the purpose of a technology convention. Eventually, we return to Korea, for a final showdown that seems somehow empty, despite the increasingly high stakes in terms of both explosions and technology.

The truth, ultimately, is that Die Another Day is a bit of a mess. It has a seemingly incessant procession of action sequences, but they raise the stakes primarily through CGI and improbable wizardry, in a way that threatens our suspend disbelief. I know that this is Bond, and that in 80s-early 00s Bond very much fell into the trap (who didn’t?) of ‘bigger and better’. However, this film takes things a bit too far in my estimation. Its villains aren’t quite as fun as the ones in the past two films (well, Mr. Stamper is kind of a drag I suppose), and don’t really fit the Bond mold. The story is pretty straightforward, but probably doesn’t receive quite the treatment that it deserves to get us established in it. The interactions between Bond and M are a bit too stiff, and I say that even keeping in mind tomorrow’s review piece, Casino Royale. There’s something about Die Another Day that made me think everyone involved was just going through the motions, like a sense of fatigue just hung over the proceedings. It was a bit of a bummer.

As for the women of Bond, Die Another Day actually has a lot to recommend. Breaking convention, this section is heavy with spoilers, but I’m going to risk it just this once. Don’t read on if you’re new to this film and planning to watch it!

Die Another Day continues to feature Dame Judi Dench as a pleasantly strong and uncompromising intelligence chief (I probably haven’t made enough of how much I enjoy her in the role of M in my reviews up to this point). In addition, we’re treated to Halle Berry as Jinx, an ass-kicking NSA agent who seems to do a lot of getting outmaneuvered and captured for being so adept. I didn’t care for Berry’s performance in this film, and I’d be lying if I said she stacked up well against Tomorrow Never Dies’ Michelle Yeoh as a Chinese intelligence agent. Still, compared to some of the other Bond girls, Berry is definitely a warrior. The other major female character, however, is Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), a frigid and beautiful MI6 agent… actually, a double agent, who betrayed Bond in the cold open. Pike’s character definitely gives off the edge of competence and deadliness that I, for one, am rooting for in female characters in any Bond movie, and she sells it well. Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as fun as Elektra King, as her motivations are completely unexplored and she just feels like an add-on to the existing plot surrounding some dangerous North Koreans.

Overall, this is probably not one of the better Bond films, though I’d argue that it doesn’t deserve the bad rap that some have given it either. It’s not a terrible film, just overwrought in a kind of Michael Bay way that undermines the characters and concepts. This is a common complaint of all four Pierce Brosnan films, especially, as well as some of the Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton efforts. However, this is the one that I most agree with that assessment of. This film really gets out of control with effects and gadgetry.

That’s it for today’s review. I leave you with the theme from Die Another Day, performed by Madonna. Tomorrow’s review will be of 2006’s Casino Royale.