A Woman Watches Bond: Die Another Day

Intriguingly this Bond adventure starts with Bond at his weakest and most lone ranger-est. He is somewhere in North Korea, getting the son of a General to show his weapons (Colonel Tao-Sun Moon). Which risibly turn out to be **gasp** hovercraft. Snigger ye not tho, for then a fantastic action sequence with a chase by hovercraft across boggy mud with everything going KABOOM ensues. (Zao, Moon’s comrade has uncovered Bond’s real identity — he’s no African conflict diamond trader or supplier of military hovercraft). Unfortunately, this also ends in the apparent death of one of the General’s sons, tumbling over a waterfall and Bond being captured in revenge.

Bond in North Korea

Bond then undergoes 14 months of torture by General Moon’s assciates before being exchanged for Zao in a snarling exchange on a mist-laden bridge. It’s an intriguing premise — a Bond mission gone wrong….and the consequences. The opening credits are something — but are they glamourising torture sort of?

Bond As Thor

Looking more like Thor than Bond, Bond escapes his hospital care in Hong Kong to find a hotel and Bollinger. He’s also had his double 00 status suspended through being perceived a possible traitor. Who can you trust is is a big theme here. As well as getting a shave and haircut, he somehow gets a sneaky chest wax — next scene we see a considerably less hairy Bond. Maybe it was a Q-branch gadget? M is also being told off by the Americans. The world has changed, M hints, but can and has Bond? Should Bond change?

Peaceful Fountains of Desire

Cringe worthy is Peaceful Fountains of Desire. Just the name alone. Dragon lady trope, sigh. But the masseuse who isn’t that kind of masseuse, thank you very much. Awkwardly Bond ignores a woman who says ‘no’ (and personally gropes her to find her hidden gun holster). Then reveals the spies behind the mirror. All of which gets him a ticket to Cuba, where Zao apparently is. The diverse casting of Halle Berry and Rachel Grant is excellent, but this feels more like a Roger Moore moment, (all it needs is a magnetic zip) and is uncomfortable as essentially a customer is treating staff like merchandise — although this is ok because ‘evil’.

Cuban Cigar Factory

The Cuban sets scenes are great. I want to see more of woman in a headscarf who comes to the counter in the tobacco factory. In the few moments she’s on screen, she lights it up — even though this involves a small task. Bonus points for Bond name dropping ‘International Exports’.

Jinx: Bond Girl Throwback or Empowered Female Bond?

Bond is full on out to get the North Koreans who got him. This involves him meeting Halle Berry impersonating Ursula Andress along the way as Giacinta ‘Jinx’ Johnson. (As well as some truly excruciating predator dialogue and slurpy friskiness). Not sure that this is Halle Berry’s fault, but the chemistry seems missing and the dialogue hits gravitational pull from the binoculars and ornithologist gag onwards. Like a difficult birth, it’s too long and too laboured — just make it stop and get it over with! But atleast this is vaguely more age-appropriate relationship than Dr Christmas Jones. I do buy Halle Berry as a fellow spy, however; although strangely her gun seems mightier than a machine gun spraying bullets (and the bad guys kindly stop shooting to let her pop away at them and just fly off).

At the end of the day, the bikini reveal is mightier yet and Jinx gets to do a magnificent dive into the sea to literally die another day. Strangely, although Madonna delivers her lines in a wooden manner, she and Bond have heaps of chemistry going on in the few moments that they’re on screen together. What a world this is!

Bond is in a gene therapy clinic (as is Jinx) using a boorish man, (whom his drapey companion is happy to have bopped over the head), placed in a wheelchair as a disguise/distraction prop. Words fail me. More fun is the smooth drop down into a patient’s room, sneaking a family supplied grape along the way and Bond’s one stock Cuban phrase! All of this leads him to the Zao, who is having strange surgery done on him and yet can wake up to have a massive fight, run away and live to strangle Bond another day…Jinx has dealt with a doctor overseeing the process.

Gustav Graves and Miranda Frost

Cue fencing! Bond is now on the trail of very rich man and cultivator of diamonds Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) which have the same quality as ‘blood diamonds’, but aren’t…Is he as ethical as he seems? He’s just found them in Iceland and is now super rich and famous. Oozing cool Britannia, parachuting out of a plane with an England flag emblem and accompanied by a woman whose mouth does not move, the press are both baffled and frustrated. Toby Stephens and Pierce Brosnan are now involved in a sneer and quiff off! Bond has also said the words ‘Bond, James Bond!’ Love too Toby Stephens character being goaded by Bond, losing it and going for the old ways being the best — first blood from the torso…. Miranda Frost puts an end to the trashing of a heritage private club and with a nice touch we see all the damaged items being removed for repair (and conservation!) later on. These boys with toys have to make up and play nice (or will they?…) as well as throwing shade on Bond’s creepy innuendo. She burned him real good, inducing wincing! In a funny touch, Bond’s disrespect of old establishments is joked about and he gets a mysterious key — Bond’s lack of appreciation of historical buildings will be further shown in The Spy Who Loved Me and ultimately in Skyfall.

M: Give Her More Scenes

The key leads to M, who wants an update. Bond is clearly feeling aggrieved at being abandoned by M for 14 months and lets her know by shooting her avatar in a training session later on. A tension mirrored much by Craig’s Bond in Casino Royale and Skyfall. But M knows that Bond will come up with the goods and track Graves and the diamonds to Iceland. Fabulous disused railway station setting; a place of relics and perhaps the end of the line for agents.

Immense fun is to be had among other relics — past Bond gadgets and the backdrop distractions keep Cleese from being as annoying as normal. Per usual Bond can’t resist poking and prodding and setting off all the gadgets. Though much hated — there’s an ‘invisible’ Aston Martin — tah dah! It’s sleek, silver and the ultimate product placement (plus Bond jokes!)

Writer Distracted by Action Scenes!

More Bond jokes in Iceland — a pun worth of Roger Moore himself, without the eyebrows. Random henchmen with interesting lewks — including a pudding basin cut worthy of 1970s rockstars. Super-fast Thunderbird gadgety type things. An ice palace! (The ultimate villain lair)…Some fabulously smooth chat about how record and speed obsessed the rich villain is, who also gets the best line with you can have “plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead”. Though does his under the skin comment hint at some diabolical plan? Does this link him to the gene therapy clinic? And what is with his strangely immobile, yet perfect face? Whilst Miranda Frost channels her best Lady Penelope and Bond checks out the one night only ice palace, Jinx has also arrived….(although there is more excruciating banter, even Bond is beginning to look pained now). Could it be that Bond is developing insecurities — things have changed in the new world order and society in more ways than one?

Meanwhile….nothing to see here just one North Korean man with a diamond studded face courtesy of Bond and…. and his associate, who now looks European not Korean, and as a result of the side effect of these treatments cannot sleep. (So more time for taking over the world, really?) More cringe banter in the battle of the ladies (Bond looks embarrassed or is perhaps worrying about the name, persona and action Jinx will get up to next, and if she’ll stay around). Halle Berry finally comes alive when she says ‘I’ll always be a Jinx to you” as a snappy aside to Bond. Not sure why but her lines are delivered in a really strange way, meant to be humourous but coming out as stiff and awkward, the verbal equivalent of ACME anvils. Or perhaps her terrible double entendres are even skipping into my writing now! Not sure if it’s Berry’s Pinter pause laden delivery or the script itself that’s causing the issues. The fierce ladies quit scrapping over Bond with constant and ongoing double entendre verbal bombs. Will hair get pulled next a la Dynasty? No — off we go to hear the duplicitous party host make a speech — he’s dazzling!

Graves appears to be bringing good things with a satellite mimicking a second sun, but may also have a worrying god complex…. (Especially as it’s named Icarus and he’s clearly watched Diamonds Are Forever) —will this lead to world peace or the world in pieces? Yay, Bond is using the invisible car to sneak up on the base (and see where the mysterious silver vanity case is going) …I know, like Quantum of Solace, the invisible car has its haters — but I think it’s brilliant! Equally brilliant is Pierce Brosnan’s on the prowl Bond, stealthily sleuthing out the plot.

Now it’s all gone a bit random with a mash up between Doc from Back to the Future in the lab, Iron Man (rich men like electric volt delivering gloves apparently) and a thermal spa day, which ends badly for henchmen.

Frosty Reception (and Other Terrible Bond Puns)

Smoothly escaping arrest and entering the base, stylish henchmen act on the INTRUDER ALERT! Only to be saved by a snog with undercover MI6 agent Miranda Frost, who has a great line to Bond — “you’re even worse than your file says!” Bond is enjoying the cover plot too much. Miranda Frost has undergone a wild character change, potentially blowing open wide her cover story and position of trust with her boss. But is this one way that spies on the same side to make themselves known to each other? (and to continue the ruse literally go undercover?) In a hint of Craig to come, Bond says that his 00 status really is “only a number”. Their scene crackles, whilst Jinx goes full cat woman and abseils into the building, on a breaking and entering mission.

The Ethics of Showing Torture Scenes

Jinx is similarly mirroring Bond’s sizzling and crackling; only she’s been captured and is being tortured. This film does seem to like its torture scenes and in Jinx’s case is disturbingly sexualised. Whilst a grim prospect anyway, this element of the film is grimmer. (Not on a Gray Man scale, but still). Even in vulnerability, Jinx can still banter through the pain, (clearly giving Bond a run for his money, which may explain why he looks quite so worried), and now, in true Bond style, they’ve switched from Guantanamo to “lasers”.

As a woman I am deeply uncomfortable though — I can’t help but make parallels to the way that rape and sexual assault/threat is used in conflict; the way female prisoners were horribly abused in cases such as former Yugoslavia, the brutality to Yazidis and Uyghurs, not to mention Iran and Ukraine. An uneven element in the film is that the script can’t make up its mind whether it’s gritty or a Roger Moore follow-up, and in more serious scenes like this, the uncertain tone grates. Halle Berry appears to be being shocked on specific anatomy parts — the torture is sexual assault. It’s a vile scene, but being delivered as a jokey aside? In all of this Jinx does have a funny line — like the invisible car, Halle Berry’s self-penned joke “your momma” is good. (Though it too has its detractors!) As before you can see where she is comfortable with the script, because she delivers it well and sparkily.

My main issue with this scene is that it’s throwaway. We see it, Bond enters the scene, eventual rescue (after lasers, transformers and robots) - what happened is never mentioned again. On one level they are professional agents, doing what needs to be done and this is an ‘occupational hazard’. However, what was being done to Jinx was specifically against her — as a woman, as a female agent, as an embodied female. Rather than playing with this theme, it could have been a powerful moment to either show the person behind the persona, or to honour female agents such as Noor Inayat Khan who did endure torture in their service to protect democracy and freedom. As well as all the women who have had (and are battling) rape and assault unleashed against them as a tactic of war/political control. It’s intriguing that she’s treated just like Bond — she suffers, bounces back, goes straight to it. The only time we see a hint of the real Jinx is in not knowing how to get out of a disintegrating, flaming plane later on. But more of this later….At the same time we are seeing a weak and vulnerable Bond at several points during this film, how about the same courtesy for this female version of Bond?

Just as Jinx faces death by “laser” from a too cheerful stylish henchmen, so Bond lasers his way into the thermal spa. With a nice touch of Timothy Dalton and naval Bond, he swims under the ice and sneaks his way into… the Eden Project (or perhaps a Centre Park!)

Jinx and Miranda Frost — Seriously Cat Fights in the 20th Century?

In an absolutely thrilling set piece, Jinx is threatened by death by laser a la Sean Connery. Bond arrives to rescue and sets off lasers and robots plus a fight with the stylish henchman, which ends nastily (for him). Bond is furious at Jinx trying to work out exactly what her game is — and then realises that his betrayer is in the house. There’s a terrific standoff between Graves and Bond, leading Bond to literally smash his way out of there (going full Craig on the ice palace) and to also realise that the impeccable Miranda Frost is his betrayer (and a mole). Whoops. Meanwhile Jinx is trapped inside the ice palace and about to be submerged, after a rather sneering and catty war of words between Frost and herself. Very curious delivery, over mannered, as they both fight about who slept with Bond best. Again, a prime example of where the film is tying itself in knots trying to look forward and back — doing both gritty and yet Roger Moore at the same time. I don’t like the tendency of the Bond films to set women against each other — Casino Royale, No Time To Die and Octopussy are stand outs for not doing this.

All The Action (There’s a Lot!)

But the action is terrific! as is the pace. There are SO many plots in this movie, gotta keep moving to keep up! Graves decides to use Bond as a demo of how the satellite works — literally trying to melt Bond with the harnessed energy of a second sun!!! Bond escapes, steals the speedy gadget and whizzes across the ice trying to avoid getting fried/melted. We’re also seeing a more vulnerable Bond — he’s been lasered in the previous fight and now falls off the end of an ice cliff and struggles to avoid a plunge into icy depths. Now comes the CGI-heavy surfing across the artic waves — for many risible or excremental. However, this is a typical Bond stunt (think Roger Moore’s Bond jumping off of a mountain in skis with a Union Jack parachute). I think it’s the rendering of the icebergs that’s the issue — they just look naff — rather than the stunt itself. Amazing what you can engineer in a life-or-death situation! Bond parachutes neatly into the vicinity of his invisible car, which is now malfunctioning and there’s a chase across the ice…with guns. The car chase is somewhat more risible — however Bond proves that the ejector button has more than one use, flipping his beautiful Aston back on its wheels again in a neat maneuver.

Guns! Extremely heavily weaponised cars — just check out Bond’s dashboard. How many buttons? Er drowning…if Jinx doesn’t get herself out of there. Superbly Bond has now crashed the ice palace (again) and in a tremendous Craig style car chase — is literally infiltrating the enemy from within. The Aston attractively regains its invisibility function just in the nick of time causing Bond’s opponent to miss, ram the edge of a balcony and plummet. Yet he’s still alive, (but is not to die another day — as he gets skewered by a sparkling chandelier shot down by Bond).

A deeply risible moment is Bond’s smashing into Jinx’s waterlogged room; rescuing her on the bonnet of the Aston, smashing the windscreen to get her into the car ….and flooding his car (and the electrics presumably). But no matter, cos she is very unconscious — he then smashes out of the palace, leaps out into the freezing cold in suit trousers and shirt, and plunges into a thermal pool to perform some dubious CPR…and she’s back…. I am concerned at how Bond has been often inappropriately dressed in such freezing conditions, often applying bare hands (!) to outside probably below freezing temperature pipes. Like Craig’s Bond without a standard issue flak jacket in No Time To Die, Brosnan’s Bond should definitely be suing M for lack of standard issue PPE and equipment suitable for his working conditions. Unless winter wear is for wimps! Atleast Jinx is trying — perhaps the Avengers style leather cat suit is secretly thermal?

As we cut to the next location, I’m still wondering why the ice palace was completely deserted, apart from two guards. Was it left as a folly? Or literally created as a one-night marquee? Somehow Bond and Jinx are rescued, given a change of clothes and no doubt a warming drink or two, and now America and the UK are having a fight about who didn’t tell whom what! M is visibly cheesed off. Anyhow back to North Korea for Bond (probably where it all started in fact) for a Graves, Bond, Jinx, Frost show- down!

Gliders, torpedoes and a very big plane — oh my! Like Dalton, Bond is a gentleman and won’t shoot women, (especially when they’re next to an evil genius with a giant mirror in the sky). Instead, very slowly cutting the fence, they will try to get on the plane! Bizarrely no-one notices two people running up the airstrip and getting onto the plane!

In a poignant moment Graves’ General father is brought up to be impressed by an attempt to restart the Korean War. Toby Stephens is a spectacular villain at this point — somehow, he makes it believable rather than hokum, even dressed as a Power Ranger/Iron Man. It’s all an anti-colonial reaction. In another poignant and yet tense moment, the General realises that his son has become a world destroying terrorist, attempts to take him down and is instead killed by his vengeful son, repeating the words formerly said to him by his father. The actor playing the General is superb. Bond disapproves of this way of handling family relations and starts a fight back, sucking the bowl hair styled creator of Icarus out of the plane (along with most of the cast).

Before Nomi, There Was…Jinx

Jinx, I realise, is one of the first Bond women I’ve seen who can calmly navigate a plane without flapping for ‘James’. It is noticeable that Halle Berry is much stronger in the action sequences, almost like a completely different actor — losing the weird mannered jaw and pronunciation and being much more natural and impressive. Jinx is a sort of proto-type Nomi — a Bond equal, a female Bond, but much more wonkily written.

Jinx wrestles the plane and imminent death, as Bond and Graves fight each other — everyone else conveniently flying out of the rapidly depressurising plane. Jinx saves the plane from crashing — the first woman in a Bond movie I’ve ever heard celebrating their own achievement under pressure, ‘I got it!’ The first Bond woman to affirm their own skills, abilities and achievement. We won’t see this again until Nomi. No moment of applause for Jinx though as Miranda Frost is running around the plane with a sword and about to take Jinx’s head, though she too appreciates Jinx’s piloting skills!

Icarus continues to KABOOM the mine field between North and South Korea…and maybe soon the Americans, leading to WORLD WAR 3. Bond continues to wrestle Graves — why doesn’t he just use the electrified power ranger glove on Bond? Wow, Frost and Jinx are fighting unequally — Frost definitely looks set to win. Pierce Brosnan’s Bond is always being strangled — particularly in this film. The plane has shot into the range of Icarus which has messed everything up and is proceeding dangerously close to M! Finally, Graves remembers the glove, Bond is down and appears weak and feeble as Graves gloats — triumphant. (I’m trying to stop myself sniggering — here and in the action a while ago, I wanted to shout out ‘judo chop’. The film does love a laughable slow mo punch frame!)

Bond sends Graves into a horrible death by parachute — going where no parachute should ever go in a plane, diced and exploded. Not sure why anyone would have a convenient power suit button which allows an assailant to electrocute them, but anyhow…. Pulling the chute cord is more plausible…M has a delightfully smug glow as Bond’s actions stop the satellite nuking the US and instigating a world engulfing nuclear war…just in time. Now, having saved the world, Jinx and Bond need to attempt to save themselves from the inferno engulfing the plane. Bond is horrified to find Miranda Frost impaled, Jinx just has one more joke in her repertoire (and it’s bad). And a backwards move because here Bond is clearly stupid and one woman is as good as another — dead to living, women are replaceable and interchangeable. Thank goodness Craig’s Bond tenure changed this!

There are impressive sparks. It’s all gone Con Air. Two delightful sports cars tumble from the sky. The plane is aflame, full of holes, the back is now open creating an even bigger hole, and Bond and Jinx are in a helicopter slowly sliding out the back as bits start to ping off the plane (essential, important parts)…Wow, they are plummeting in a malfunctioning helicopter full of diamonds to their doom, fighting to get it to work. And at the last minute, it does — scaring peaceful Korean farmers and their livestock — the scene with the helicopter overhead is horribly reminiscent of the Vietnam War. (Ignoring the super cars which have fallen from the sky). Who will deal with the embedded cars ruining their livelihoods?

Why Has No-one Mentioned Moneypenny’s Sexism?

Cheeky old Moneypenny is testing out Virtual Reality, courtesy of Q branch. Bond is finally kissing someone his own age! But to be fair, just as I point out the inconsistencies against women, I should object to the fetishisation of Bond here in a female focused Mills and Boon moment (or perhaps an extended Wonder Bra ad!). How boring, how po faced you may think — and yet here is the sexism — we cheer Moneypenny on, making like Destiny’s Child’s independent woman, whilst objecting to Bond’s cringe jokes (and in the old school, bottom slapping). Pause: Think on your sins.

To Conclude….

And it’s all gone Roger Moore at the end… but on diamonds… Surely, they’d lacerate? Bits of Bond watching brain exploding as there was so much in this film, I feel like I’ve watched atleast 3 Bond films — plots, action sequences and all. As a woman watching Bond, this isn’t what I expected typically to focus on. I wanted to write primarily about the Bond women, but the plot intrigued — there was literally so much action! (which was amazing). The movie, I feel, gets a bad rap — its main mistake is wobbling between Roger Moore euphemisms and contemporary relationships. There is much wider and diverse casting; M is given little to do (which is a shame, but even with the scraps, flames the scenes she’s in) and I feel like both Halle Berry and to an extent, Rosamund Pike are struggling with a script in which they are expected to trade barbs about who slept with Bond best, hang their mouths open as they manner their lines in an alluring (or odd) way, snarl and snap at each other and yet also be intelligent, independent, semi-Lara Crofts at the same time. (They even both go into vest tops for their final fight scene!) Make up your mind Bond. (Though Craig’s Bond era proved that both could co-exist, only better).

As an action film and a narrative, it’s terrific fun; for Bond women, it’s an uneven step — though Jinx is definitely a Nomi in the making. There’s even a return to women not quite having proper names again. And I haven’t even mentioned the eugenics sub-plot with what ‘Graves’ is doing to himself…. or whether Die Another Day is a Christmas movie?!



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Susan Tailby

By Susan Tailby. Appreciator of arts and culture; things I've seen and enjoyed and you might too! Reviews all my own opinion....