This generation of James Bond fans looks back at the Pierce Brosnan Era with a certain snide superiority, dismissing it as commercial trash and excessive, similar to Joel Schumacher's Batman films. Its funny. As Batman Begins rebooted its titular hero to gritty realism, so did the Bond series with Casino Royale. People just wanted to wash the taste of the previous Bond films away. Why? They were hugely successful, if critically despised. Perhaps because the world was a much more bleak and uncertain place post-9/11. And then Jason Bourne provided the first successful alternative to spy filmgoers. James Bond was aging and needed a facelift. It got one. The Daniel Craig Era films are very polished, intelligent and brilliantly produced. But were the Pierce Brosnan films so bad?
Die Another Day was Brosnan's last film and it feels like it. Brosnan plays everything with a fading enthusiasm, perhaps signaling his feeling unappreciated as the man who had brought so much life back to the series, only to be criticized and given little to work with for most of his tenure. I must say that Brosnan is really a fantastic Bond, much better than Daniel Craig in every way except athleticism and unconventional looks. Brosnan is much cooler, charming, imposing physically and a more diverse actor. Craig is intense, but thats about all he is. Also he is small in stature, only protected better in photography. But unarguably Craig was given the much better scripts, directors, casts and crews. There's so much luck involved with Craig's winning over Bond fans that Brosnan simply missed out on. Shame because Pierce is the perfect Bond. He combines the strengths of all previous Bond actors and none of the weaknesses, while also evoking Ian Fleming's description of his character in all ways. Brosnan never got to show what he was made of except in Goldeneye (a series highlight) and bits of DAD prove that perhaps he had more to offer had he be kept on. But sadly Brosnan is tired here. Never phoning it in, but never being psyched up enough to create any OO7 magic. Its unfortunate that Roger Moore and Sean Connery both left the series in similar fashion. Hopefully, Craig will leave before he's bitter and withered. Reviews of Spectre suggest otherwise. Who knows? Maybe Brosnan will get some way to redeem himself the way Connery did with Never Say Never Again.
There are many ways in which DAD sets the table for Craig's success. For one, the film starts off almost identically to Skyfall: Bond loses. He is caught and brutally tortured for the first time in the series. Fans praised all of this in Casino as if it was that film's invention. Immediately following all of this, DAD lets James go rogue from M and MI6, as he would do again in Craig's Quantum of Solace. To be fair, Bond did this once before in License to Kill and abandoned MI6 in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. DAD is following the lead of those two films closely. The tone of the first hour is very dark, serious and Cold War. Really some of the best Brosnan material and, lets face it, better than a lot of what Roger Moore was in. And on a related note, are we really going to pretend that Brosnan didn't do the whole Vesper angle in The World Is Not Enough with Sophie Marceau? The Bond screenwriters fine-tuned all of this stuff into gold by the time Craig was ready, but they used Brosnan as the guinea pig and trailblazer. Think I'm lying? The DAD writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade went on to write every James Bond script since, starting their careers with TWINE. They've been plagiarizing themselves for over a decade. Unfortunately, the rehashed nature of things and the amateurishness isn't only in the writing for Die Another Day.
Producer Barbara Broccoli has really gotten a hold on the series lately, but in 2002 it she was still learning how to produce these movies. Nothing comes off as well as when her father produced them. Picking Lee Tamahori as director was a weird decision. His style clashes so much with the Bond canon, even if little flairs would be absorbed for later films. Overall the film looks dull. I forgot how flat and unspectacular late 90s/early 00s cinematography was. The use of digital cameras was still primitive. And everything that was cutting edge then (and praised even by the film's haters) is now dated and ugly: cheesy digital editing tricks, unimpressive technology and unconvincing CGI all hurt the film. Also, the second unit direction is not matching the primary stuff at all. Moments of the film score are also very Y2K and just ... no. Worst of all, the script just doesn't remind you of OO7 outside of the cliche plot points and nostalgic winks. This is still a problem with the series in the Craig Era, but its worse because here is a truly perfectly casted Bond in a non-Bond film. Bond is usually given a female sidekick who is adversarial, but DAD never lets Bond show her up. He's made to look old and weak next to her in a strained attempt to create a spinoff action character. Also, the plot chugs along like a hybrid of The Spy Who Loved Me, Thunderball and Goldeneye, offering almost nothing new. But it feels like another film studio trying to ape Bond, not EON. I blame the competition of Vin Diesel's XXX film and the total cramping of style done by the Austin Powers series for EON going so wildly out of Bond character. All the Bond filmmakers could do was up the CGI, up the kitsch and hire bigger stars like Halle Barry, John Cleese, Madonna and Michael Madsen. If Craig's films are a facelift, Brosnan's were the mid life crisis, obsessed with sports cars and wacky cyber toys that the kids were into.
But DAD is still superior to some other Bond films. Halle Barry is gorgeous and fun, even given a played character begging and screaming, "How about my own movie?!". She's so much better than Denise Richards, so lets savor that. The film looks mostly bland, but the experimentation with CGI and LED lights made the look of the recent Bonds possible. This film is still cooler than most 2002 popcorn movies. Critics hate the admittedly lifeless and brainless 3rd act, with its lasers, invisible car and palace made of ice. I love that stuff. Its the most distinguishing and visually beautiful stuff in the film. It at least sets this film apart from movies from the time. Its over the top, but thats the only stuff that feels like Bond.
DAD is as cliche and conventional as Bond gets, but its also shockingly original and experimental. Its more bad than good, but essential. Maybe its not as respectable as other Brosnan films, but its certainly the most interesting. It ultimately fails because you can't cast a star like Pierce Brosnan to play an iconic character like James Bond and then make the film about everything except Brosnan and Bond.