In the interest of full disclosure and ultimate confidence, I’d like to share a little more about myself with you, reader.
I was born in the year 1991, during the deep, dark Bond hibernation that took place from 1989 to 1995, between the end of Timothy Dalton’s and the beginning of Pierce Brosnan’s respective eras as the world’s greatest secret agent.
Why does my age matter and how does it factor into this, my sprawling exploration of the timeless James Bond franchise? Let me explain: Many Bond fans, perhaps most Bond fans, hold in the highest regard, and the tightest nostalgic grip, the Bond they grew up with.
If the indifferent suavity of Sean Connery served as your Bond entry point, the emotional vulnerability of George Lazenby or light-hearted gallivanting of Roger Moore might have rubbed you the wrong way. If Moore was your guy, Timothy Dalton’s intentional redirect back towards Bond’s gritty side probably came as a surprise, may have put you off even.
So on and so forth, round and round we go.
All of this is to say that Pierce Brosnan, our fifth James Bond actor, is the Bond for most in my age group. And as the only Bond actor to play the role in the 90s, Brosnan is technically the Bond that I grew up with, or at least the Bond you’d probably associate me with upon learning my age.
Brosnan was my first active Bond, the first Bond I saw in theaters, and when you factor in the exorbitant amount of hours I sunk into GoldenEye 007 — the legendary Nintendo 64 game prominently featuring Brosnan’s face on the cartridge — Brosnan just might be the Bond I’ve spent the most time with, in a weird, roundabout way.
I’m a child of the 90s steeped in these formative experiences, so you’d think Brosnan would be my Bond, might assume that I look back fondly on Brosnan’s time in the role through rose-colored glasses, but the truth of the matter is that I do not hold Brosnan in the highest regard. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Pierce Brosnan is my least favorite Bond.
First off, please put down your pitchfork and recall my genuine admission that “all Bonds hold a special place in my heart.”
Second, we’re going to go on a bit of a soul search together here as I work my way through the hows and whys of my Brosnan dislike (hate has no place in my Bond fandom), and I hope you’ll maintain an open mind as I cull through these thoughts.
Finally, know that I conflate Bond films with both sex and pizza, in that even at its worst, the potential for pleasure is high.
Per that conflation, however, Brosnan’s four films leave me with much to be desired. They taste of a frozen pizza left frostbit in the recesses of your icebox for far too long, or of an equally-as-cold romantic rendezvous devoid of passion, inventiveness, or proper reciprocation.
Brosnan and his films simply bore me.
But before we dive any deeper, and before those pitchforks reach optimal sharpness, let’s first explore how we got here, and how Brosnan’s time as Bond came to be…
You might not guess it at first glance, but Pierce Brosnan has had a rather challenging life.
Although no doubt fortunate to have established an immensely successful career propelled by his Sexiest Man Alive-winning good looks, Brosnan’s time on Earth has frequently been marred by heartbreak, loss, and adversity.
Brosnan grew up fatherless in the Irish town of Navan, thirty miles northwest of Dublin. His mother left home to pursue a nursing career in London when Brosnan was only four, leaving the young would-be Bond to stay with his maternal grandparents. Shortly thereafter, the grandparents passed away, and Brosnan began a roving tour of Ireland staying with friends, whatever relatives he had left, and the repugnant Christian Brothers group before finally landing in a boarding house living alongside loggers and millworkers.
“It sounds pretty bleak all of this, but that’s what it was. No wonder I’m an actor,” Brosnan solemnly lamented. “But you learn to be happy within all of that; you learn how to create your own happiness. And you learn to forgive. You learn to rise above it.”
Brosnan’s innate ability to press on with positivity would continually prove invaluable as his life presented him with test after test.
Originally pursuing a career as a painter, time spent training in commercial illustration at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London eventually led young Brosnan to the Drama Centre London, where the tendrils of theatre took hold for good.
“When I found acting, or when acting found me, it was a liberation. It was a stepping stone into another life, away from a life that I had, and acting was something I was good at, something which was appreciated. That was a great satisfaction in my life.”
After acting found Brosnan, the newly-minted thespian found success working the London theatre circuit, found his first wife Cassandra Harris, and eventually found his big break in 1982, landing the titular role in NBC’s hit rom-com detective series Remington Steele.
Like Roger Moore in The Saint before him, Brosnan raised eyebrows and became the topic of conversations at EON Productions with his breakthrough television role. Remington Steele, the character, was a comedically charming, suit-clad detective solving crimes and cracking wise.
The 007 comps were inevitable.
An introduction between Brosnan and Bond producer patriarch Albert “Cubby” Broccoli had already been facilitated on the set of For Your Eyes Only by Cassandra Harris, who you’ll recall played the small but impactful role of the tragic Countess Lisl von Schlaff, and it appeared the wheels had become sufficiently greased for Brosnan to take on the Bond mantle once Moore relinquished the role following A View To A Kill in 1985.
After Remington Steele was cancelled by NBC in 1986, Brosnan was freed from his TV shackles and seemed poised to fulfill his destiny as heir apparent to the Bond throne.
But tragedy would strike yet again.
Brosnan was offered the part, the Bond media machine kicked into high gear, and People magazine even announced Brosnan as the next Bond in a four-page cover story. Unfortunately for him, the sudden wave of publicity generated a renewed interest in Remington Steele and NBC producers were quick to capitalize on the attention.
There was a clause in Brosnan’s Remington Steele contract that said if the show was cancelled, NBC had sixty days to try and place it with another network. On the fifty-ninth day, NBC renewed Remington Steele for another series, leaving Brosnan contractually obligated to continue.
Not wanting to dilute the potency of his feature film franchise with network television association, Cubby Broccoli definitively declared: “James Bond will not be Remington Steele, and Remington Steele will not be James Bond.”
Pierce Brosnan was out, Timothy Dalton was in. The ink would dry on Dalton’s Bond contract the very next day.
“Certain things in life are meant to happen — this obviously wasn’t one of them,” Brosnan gracefully conceded after NBC effectively pulled the rug out from under the young actor’s hopes and dreams. Brosnan took the cruel turn of fortune in stride, but would later admit that the decision, of course, left him devastated and heartbroken.
It brings me no joy to say things were about to get much worse.
Remington Steele would end for good after a final abbreviated season consisting of six made-for-television films in 1987. With Bond temporarily in his rearview, Brosnan strung together noteworthy leading roles in the NBC miniseries Noble House, the BBC miniseries Nancy Astor, and co-starred alongside Michael Caine in The Fourth Protocol, ironically a Cold War thriller.
Things were looking ever up for Brosnan and his family as he and his wife traveled to India for the actor’s next role as the lead in The Deceivers, an adventure film adapted from a John Masters novel.
But while under the unrelenting Indian summer sun, Cassandra Harris began to fall ill, citing extreme fatigue and internal pain. When the couple returned to London, doctors delivered a devastating diagnosis: ovarian cancer, the same disease that had claimed her mother’s life.
After a four-year battle, Harris lost her fight in 1991 at the age of only forty-three.
Twenty-six years later, Brosnan’s daughter Charlotte, too, at just forty-one years old, would succumb to the cancer that claimed the lives of both her mother and her grandmother.
“It was and is a terrible loss,” said Brosnan years after his wife’s death. “And I see it reflected, from time to time, in my children. How do you carry on afterwards? Slowly. Very, very, very slowly. It hurts. And you have to sit and endure it. There’s nothing else to do; it won’t go away.”
To Brosnan’s credit, the actor again found a way forward, throwing himself into his work to care for the three children he was now the sole provider for, and returning once again to painting as a way of soothing his fractured soul.
Four years after Cassandra Harris’ death, Brosnan finally landed the role she knew he was destined for. There was no one more upset about Brosnan’s Bond snub than her, and while he winning the role after her death is a bittersweet reminder of life’s impermanence, she would have been so proud of her husband’s achievement.
Everything worked out the way it was meant to, or at least that’s how the perpetually-positive Pierce saw things:
“Bond is a man with a past. He’s seasoned, a man who has loved and lost…Playing Bond at this time in my life is much better than I could have played it in my 30s.”
Now seems like a good time to disclose that even though I don’t like Brosnan as Bond, I genuinely adore him as a man and as a person. No one deserves what he’s had to go through, and the fact he’s built such a fulfilling, lucrative career while lovingly caring for his family throughout personal hardship after personal hardship is a testament to his true character.
However, if we can separate bad people from the good art they make, we can also separate good people from the bad art they make. The truth of the matter is I just don’t care for Brosnan as Bond. I don’t believe he is a very good actor, at least not in his Bond films.
There’s a feeling of “Bond cosplay” to Brosnan’s performances that jumps off the screen in the most insecure of ways. He wanted to carry the gravitas of Connery and inject Moore’s levity at the same time, but he lacked the effectiveness or effortlessness of either, and the results are a total tonal mess.
Brosnan would admit as much nearly a decade after relinquishing the role: “It was one of those things I always struggled with. I never felt that I really nailed it.”
That makes two of us, Brozzo.
Two MI6 agents, Alec Trevelyan (006) and James Bond (007), infiltrate a Soviet chemical weapons facility with orders to blow the whole thing to hell. The mission is a success, but 006 is captured and seemingly killed in the process. Cut to nine years later, where Bond finds himself in the middle of a strange, new world. The Berlin Wall has fallen, the Soviet Union is no more, and Bond’s boss, M, is now a newly-appointed woman, but they say the more things change, the more they stay the same. A stolen attack helicopter, an electro-magnetic orbital weapon, and the return of a familiar face all coalesce into a plot threatening the United Kingdom with economic disaster. James Bond must adapt to a new era, where the stroke of a key has become as deadly as the squeeze of a trigger. Can 007 surmount new enemies and old friends, or has the “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” finally met his day?
Brosnan dislike aside, there’s a lot I actually do like in this film. First and foremost is Martin Campbell, a man rightfully considered as one of the best Bond directors, if not the best, throughout the franchise. Campbell directs the hell out of this movie, incorporating visceral fight choreography and sophisticated composition throughout. John Glen directed the previous five Bond films prior to GoldenEye, and while I’m a big fan of those films, Glen’s directorial style was relatively flat and straightforward, whereas Campbell’s is full of visual flair and flourish. That thrilling cold open, the tank chase set-piece through St. Petersberg, and the unsparing spar between Bond and Trevelyan during the film’s climax are made all the more memorable by Campbell’s remarkable eye for effective action direction.
Campbell also helps to get the most out of a brilliant cast, none more brilliant than the Dame, the icon, the Oscar-winning living legend Judi Dench bringing her considerable talents and magnetic screen presence to the role of M. It’s easy to forget now, but Dench being cast as M was and is a big fucking deal, one that really helped modernize a franchise in dire need of strong female character representation. The scene where M dresses Bond down and accosts him for mistakenly thinking she “doesn’t have the balls” to send him out to die is one of the very best moments between the two classic characters, one where Dench announces with authority her intent to take M somewhere decidedly different than her male predecessors.
Playing a malicious mirror image of Bond, Sean Bean makes for an excellent villain as the evil former 00 agent Alec Trevelyan. Double-O agents without a 7 at the end of their codes had mostly been relegated to doomed plot devices in previous Bond films. In GoldenEye, 006 is surely doomed (it is Sean Bean, after all), but he also steals the show thanks to Bean’s slick, almost serpentine-like, performance that toes the line just so between Shakespearean scene-chewing and overripe indulgence. Izabella Scorupco plays Natalya Simonova with grace and conviction, creating one of the more independent and capable variations on the “Bond Girl” archetype, and while Famke Janssen’s performance as the lustfully sadistic Xenia Onatopp isn’t quite so enlightened or progressive, she definitely carves out a memorable role as the henchwoman that gets off on cold-blooded murder.
GoldenEye is the first Bond film of the 1990s, its ’95 premiere arriving smack dab in the middle of the pre-millennium decade. And boy does it feel as such with its shoddy early CGI, slow-motion dives away from explosions, and enough toothless machine-gun massacre of faceless Soviet redshirts to make even the most seasoned action film fan blush. At times, GoldenEye feels more like a generic 90s action movie, or better yet the videogame it’d go on to inspire, with Brosnan racking up a then-record forty-seven personal Bond kills. He’d go on to kill 135 people throughout his four-film run, averaging out to 33.8 kills per movie. No wonder he made for a good videogame character.
In our scene coming out of the titles sequence, a fairly fun and playful car chase between Bond and Onatopp is completely undercut and overshadowed by what is undoubtedly the worst piece of music ever played in a Bond film, composer Éric Serra’s “Ladies First.” Calling that track a shitty porn song is honestly an insult to shitty porn songs, and the rest of Serra’s composition is no better. Director Martin Campbell would later bemoan Serra’s score and note a difficult relationship with the composer. This famously led to John Altman famously coming in to incorporate more of a classic John Barry feel to replace the technobabble bullshit Serra was laying down. Have you ever subjected yourself to the five minutes and fifty-four excruciating seconds of Serra’s “The Experience Of Love”?!? This song played over the closing credits!
I can put the dated digital effects aside, I can attempt to tune out the sonically offensive soundtrack, but there’s no getting around the introduction of the tonal dissonance, the abundance of melodrama, or the propensity for overacting that would come to define the Brozzo era. Brosnan is at his best when he’s playing it cool, Brosnan is at his worst when he’s getting the shit beat out of him, which uncoincidentally happens quite often in his films. Some call it his “hurt acting,” others refer to it as the Brosnan “pain face,” but absolutely no one should be taking it seriously. Brosnan routinely tenses every single muscle in his face and neck, unhinges his lower jaw like a goddamn moray eel, and exasperatingly grunts as if he’s just reached a particularly strenuous climax. Truthfully, Brosnan’s ridiculous acting has become an ironically enjoyable facet of my viewing experience when I revisit his films.
The all-powerful Bond machine had been threatened with irrelevance and extinction at the end of Dalton’s financially-unsuccessful two-film run, and with Cubby Broccoli’s health rapidly declining, the keys to this Aston Martin of a franchise were officially passed on to Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson as the Brosnan era began. “We’d been away for quite a while and we were introducing a new Bond, so the stakes were high. We were feeling a little more pressure with this one,” Wilson revealed in The James Bond Archives. Cubby sadly passed away less than a year after GoldenEye was released, but the last Bond film of his life would serve as a fitting send-off to a massively successful career and life.
Taking inflation into account, GoldenEye became the most successful Bond film since Moonraker in 1979, earning more than $100M in the US for the first time in franchise history, an 83% revenue increase worldwide over Licence To Kill (the largest of any Bond film over its immediate predecessor), and the fourth-highest worldwide gross of any film released in 1995. The lackluster box office receipts and hushed reactions of the late 80s seemed a distant memory. Bond was back. Brosnan’s objectively best film in his run is revered by fans both old and new, and its estimation in the canon will only continue to rise as the late Millenials and early Gen Zs of the world begin their Bond retrospectives. It’s nowhere near my upper echelon, but I possess considerable respect and admiration for the first Bond film to define my generation.
Brosnan Ranking: 1st of 4
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Elliot Carver, a mass media mogul suffering from an acute case of megalomania, dreams of reaching every person on the planet through his communications empire. When the People’s Republic of China refuses the budding network’s presence in their country, Carver calls upon his band of cyberterrorists and technology-empowered henchmen to turn China and the UK against one another. After Carver’s media group reports on a sunken UK frigate before MI6 learns of the tragedy, James Bond is sent to investigate the treacherous tycoon’s suspicious connections. Bond travels from Hamburg to Hong Kong, joins forces with Chinese secret agent Wai Lin, and pieces together Carver’s ultimate motive. The madman is prepared to start WWIII in the name of ratings and exclusive broadcasting rights in China for the next hundred years. It’s up to two secret agents, one British, one Chinese, to unite their efforts and stop the preposterous plot before the countries they’ve sworn to protect lay waste to one another.
Although outlandish and overblown in its execution, the plot of Tomorrow Never Dies is disturbingly prescient, perhaps perpetually so. The central conceit of a media mogul manipulating misinformation through technology to ignite a war and profit off the mayhem is exponentially more relevant today than it was in 1997. For the second straight film in the Brosnan era, we are treated to another strong female character in Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin. Like Natalya Simonova in the film prior, Lin sets herself apart as intelligent, formidable, and a true equal to Bond. Unfortunately, also like Simonova, Lin inevitably falls into harm’s way, is rendered useless until Bond saves her, and then the two predictably consummate the success of their missions to close out the film.
John Barry was in negotiations to make his grand return to the franchise in Tomorrow Never Dies but couldn’t reach an agreement on his compensation. Before Barry slunk back into his Bond retirement, he made sure to pass on his recommendation for David Arnold. The English composer of Stargate and Independence Day fame grew up a big fan of both Bond and Barry, going so far as to produce an album featuring new arrangements of classic Bond themes titled Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project. Arnold got the job and would stay on to compose the next four Bond films. His score is without question the best thing going on in this film.
Hmm, what else? What else? Well, I will admit the remote-controlled car chase through a Hamburg parking garage is good fun, even if it takes place in the lamest Bond car ever to be featured on-screen (BMW ponied up £80m to become Brosnan’s car of choice for his first three films). There’s also something intoxicating about the mystifyingly bizarre scene with hitman Dr. Kaufman, played quite humorously by Vincent Schiavelli and his stereotypical fake German accent.
That’s all I got. Time to take this turd to task.
Tomorrow Never Dies is bad, boring, and my vote for the absolute nadir of the franchise. I’m doing my best to not come off too snarky or overzealous in my deconstruction on why the Brosnans don’t work for me, but I can only show so much restraint. This movie fucking sucks. It fills me with a poisonous rage I don’t often experience, especially not while interacting with my favorite film franchise.
The most glaring issue with this film is the script. Bruce Feirstein, the same guy who wrote Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche (not a joke), provided the first treatment before passing things off to Roger Spottiswoode, the film’s director. There were a reported seven additional screenwriters brought in for punch ups before the rewrites made their way back to Feirstein for a final review and polish. Despite a writer’s room cramped with too many proverbial monkeys toiling away at too many typewriters, the “final” script wasn’t even ready on the first day of filming.
These script issues would lead to dire consequences for the production of the film and the final product. Anthony Hopkins was originally cast in the Elliot Carver role before dropping out when it became clear no one knew what the fuck they were doing. Constant rewrites during filming frustrated Judi Dench to no end, and even though Brosnan was workman-like in his analysis of the situation (“It is my job, all our jobs, to make it work,” he’d proclaim), he was rightfully perturbed by the amateur display put forth by those helming the follow-up to his massively successful debut.
Adding to the shit show is a MasterClass in overacting instructed by the typically-excellent Jonathan Pryce, magician Ricky Jay unconvincingly playing the role of “techno-terrorist” Henry Gupta, and Stamper the bleached-blonde henchman, blandest of the franchise’s many Aryan, Red Grant-wannabes. A myopic malaise washes over me when the time comes to revisit Tomorrow Never Dies. The film’s visuals are plastic, the story is flaccid, the performances are cringe-worthy, and the action set pieces are impotent. In the film’s rudderless climax, Brosnan’s Bond again sheds his spy skin to reveal his true form: a trigger-happy videogame character.
As the first Bond film released following Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli’s death in 1996, Tomorrow Never Dies pays homage to Cubby and his legacy with the first card in the end credits. Kind of sad in retrospect. He deserved a far better tribute.
Expectations for Brosnan’s second go-round were higher than ever following the breakthrough success of GoldenEye, and the drop in quality was monumental, even if the box office receipts were only nominally diminished. GoldenEye brought Bond back to life and more or less ensured the success of the subsequent film. Indeed, Tomorrow Never Dies performed amiably, bringing in a greater gross at the US box office despite falling short of GoldenEye’s worldwide total. Notably, this film is the only one of Brosnan’s four not to open at #1 in the US. Why you might ask? It has less to do with the film’s quality than it does a case of bad timing. James Cameron’s Titanic would open day and date with Tomorrow Never Dies. Brozza never stood a chance.
Brosnan Ranking: 4th of 4
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
James Bond is assigned to protect oil heiress Elektra King after her magnate father is murdered. The man responsible is a KGB agent-turned-terrorist, known as Renard, who feels no pain as a result of a bullet lodged in his skull. Renard appears to be targeting a new 800-mile pipeline under construction by the King family and it's up to Bond to stop him. Before reaching his destination, Bond uncovers that Elektra was previously kidnapped and abused by Renard, ultimately culminating in the reveal that Elektra seduced Renard to secure her escape and then recruited the terrorist in a coordinated takeover of her father’s empire. With her plan found out, Elektra kidnaps M and sets in motion a plot to detonate a nuclear device, cripple a competing Russian pipeline, and secure sole possession of an untapped natural resource. The threat of nuclear war is no match for 007, but Elektra King just might be…
Something strange happens with the thought of this movie in my head where I remember it being better than it actually is. Although reports are inconclusive, I’m pretty sure this was the first Bond film I saw in theaters. Despite the uncalibrated childhood estimation inflation going on, there are a few things I genuinely enjoy in this film.
First and foremost are the surprisingly sophisticated villainous turns from Sophie Marceau’s Elektra King and Robert Carlyle’s Renard. Both actors are frankly too good to be in this film. The level of nuance and interiority they bring to characters written like cartoons is admirable, stunning even. A bait and switch leading us to believe Renard is the big bad when it was the damsel in distress, King, all along is genuinely exciting. Not since 1962’s From Russia With Love has the main villain in a Bond film been a woman. In Elektra King, the Brosnan run continues its streak of delivering a memorable, modern “Bond Girl.” Is this the most notable legacy of the Brosnan era?
Speaking of memorable women, Judi Dench is given much more to do in this film than her first two appearances as M. Dench was on set for three days during the filming of GoldenEye, five on Tomorrow Never Dies, and fourteen on The World Is Not Enough. The film’s title is also a wonderful little reference to the motto of Bond’s family coat of arms, as we first learned in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. GoldenEye was the first Bond film not based on any Ian Fleming writing, taking only its name from the author’s Jamaican estate, and Tomorrow Never Dies was created completely from scratch. The time had come to start getting crafty, and I quite like the new producer generation of Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson looking back to one of the franchise’s greatest films for inspiration.
The World Is Not Enough is a definite step up from Tomorrow Never Dies, but it’s still another mundane continuation of the blasé Brosnan Bond experience. British writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade make their franchise debut in this film, penning the first of what would be seven scripts co-written by the duo. Purvis and Wade are hard to pin down. They are responsible for some of the very best and very worst Bond storytelling since taking over as consistent scriptwriters. The World Is Not Enough belongs in the latter category with a plot that is utterly confounding, even for a Bond film.
You’ve probably heard that Denise Richards plays an atomic physicist with a doctorate in this film. This is true. There are two more things you should know about Richards and her infamous performance as Dr. Christmas Jones: 1) She is not good in this movie. 2) This movie would be bad even if she was great. There are a handful of good ideas here that just get in their own way. The fourteen-minute cold open featuring a boat chase on the Thames is exciting but overwrought, Bond’s glorious return to ski action isn’t particularly noteworthy, Renard’s impervious condition is a cool idea that never really pays off, and let’s not forget that this film ENDS on “I thought Christmas only comes once a year.” There’s so much, too much, going on in this film and it never culminates in a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
The World Is Not Enough made about the same amount of money as Tomorrow Never Dies, give or take a slight decrease in the US and a slight increase in the worldwide box office. Brosnan’s popular reception always maintained a high level of profitability. It was the Bros-man’s critical reception that was beginning to take a hit. GoldenEye received general praise, but both subsequent films would be met with lukewarm contentment, an unconvincing acceptance that this was the best Bond could offer us as we approached the new millennium. Chances would be taken, swings would be made, and the next Bond film would abruptly close out the Brosnan era in a fashion no one saw coming…
Brosnan Ranking: 3rd of 4
Die Another Day (2002)
James Bond has been captured by the North Koreans after killing their Colonel Tan-Sun Moon. Following a torturous fourteen-month stint in captivity, Bond is traded in a prisoner exchange for Zao, Moon’s right-hand man. Once back home, Bond’s Double-O status is stripped by M under suspicion of revealing British secrets while in containment. Bond knows he didn’t break, and he suspects someone’s setting him up. Bond goes rogue, tracks Zao down in Cuba, and joins forces with an NSA agent named Jinx in the process. A failed attempt at bringing Zao in establishes a connection to Gustav Graves, an ascendent British billionaire businessman who’s ostensibly materialized out of thin air. Except he didn’t, he’s Tan-Sun Moon back from the dead with a new appearance supplied by experimental gene therapy technology. From an Icelandic ice palace, Graves/Moon plans to unleash his Icarus satellite to harness the power of the sun and cut open a path for North Korea to invade the South, strike down their American adversaries, and usher in a new era of North Korean global supremacy.
Die Another Day is objectively terrible, a true piece of shit, but I’m so overwhelmingly bored by the Brosnan Bond run that I’ve come to subjectively cherish the outright insanity of this film, its commitment to the bit if you will. Read a hundred Bond film ranking lists and you’re sure to find Die Another Day circling the drain of damn near every one of them. Those lists aren’t wrong. If you go into this film expecting From Russia With Love or For Your Eyes Only, you’re going to have a bad time. If you mix a strong drink beforehand, dull your snobby senses, and slip back into a Diamonds Are Forever or Moonraker state of mind, you’ll find that Die Another Day is made all the better by its derisive legacy.
A bit of requisite information to benefit your Die Another Day experience: Brosnan’s swansong is the twentieth Bond film marking the franchise’s fortieth anniversary. To honor these landmark achievements, there are dozens upon dozens of references to each of the previous nineteen films hidden throughout. Some are obvious and overt, others are subtle and obscure nods to the past that only someone with an intimate knowledge of Bond’s previous adventures will uncover. Die Another Day is my most rewatched Brosnan due in large part to this grand easter egg hunt. Spotting the cheeky callbacks and bringing out your inner Rick Dalton is the best part of this film, and it’s particularly rewarding for Bond mega dorks like me.
Die Another Day perfectly encapsulates the Brosnan experience. There’s something to the fact that this film, with all its intentional nods to yesteryear, defines a Brosnan era more interested in looking back than it is in taking Bond in new directions. Meta commentary aside, Die Another Day is truthfully pretty good, in an unironic sense, prior to the bonkers third act. The cold open is legitimately tense and compelling, Bond’s stint as a scorpion venom-afflicted prisoner of war is something we’ve never seen before, I thoroughly enjoy Brosnan sauntering through a swanky Hong Kong hotel lobby in an open medical gown, the Bond/Graves swordfight is an over-the-top treat, and every actor is absolutely going for it in this film….even if they don’t know what they’re going for (more on Halle Berry to come). Rosamund Pike is particularly good in her big-screen debut as the icy double agent Miranda Frost.
If you’ve taken nothing else away from my Double-O deep dive, I hope you’ll always remember that a Bond film doesn’t have to be good to be a good time.
You know you’re in trouble when Sir Roger Moore, The Patron Saint of Silly, derides your film for its excess: “I thought it just went too far — and that’s from me, the first Bond in space! Invisible cars and dodgy CGI footage? Please!”
The gift and the curse of this film is its unflinching commitment to going too far. Nearly every single spoken line of dialogue in this thing is a fucking pun. Most aren’t even double entendre, they’re single entendre…half entendre! Take for example the scene in which Bond and Jinx first meet. Every line is labored, languid, and coasting on the belief that the scene’s suggestive nature will come off as titillating to the audience. It’s laughably bad, and Halle Berry’s performance does the garbage script no favors.
Speaking of Berry, did you know she won her Academy Award for Monster’s Ball during the filming of Die Another Day? That’s a fact far more ironic than anything you’ll find in this film. I don’t know if Berry was directed to play the character as such, but each line she utters is delivered as if she’s looking the viewer squarely in the eye, winking compulsively. The script is bad, surely, but her performance drags the shoddy material even further down into a subterranean level that’s so bad it’s mesmerizing. But the one most responsible for this transfixing trash heap is director Lee Tamahori.
Along with editors Andrew MacRitchie and Christian Wagner, the New Zealand director employs several filmmaking tricks that became all the rage in the late 90s into the early 00s. We’re talking speed ramping, super dramatic slo-mo, garish CGI, and an adrenalized, hyperactive visual style that makes this film look and feel like a two-hour block of cheesy music videos on TRL. Not the lasting mark you want to leave with your lone crack at helming a Bond film. You can tell most of the production budget went to the digital effects (how bout that invisible car?), as nearly every interior shot takes place in flat, uninteresting sets propped up with little consideration for dynamic design.
This film is all-encompassing in its lousiness, but you knew that coming in, didn’t you?
An influx of disparaging reviews didn’t seem to matter, Die Another Day was the most massive financial success of the Brosnan run and the most successful film in the series at the time. Ol’ Brozzy Brozz was keen to reprise his record-setting role in a fifth film, and he was supposedly invited back by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson to negotiate a new deal following the conclusion of Brosnan’s original four-film contract. Even though he was right to up his going rate, contract negotiations were slow to get off the ground. Money wasn’t really the issue though, Broccoli and Wilson had a choice to make: run it back with Brosnan, rake in the cash, and ignore the critical lambast, or bet on themselves to find a new Bond capable of pushing the franchise forward.
The latter choice would be chosen, and Brosnan was sent packing, leading Die Another Day to become perhaps the most significant inflection point in the entire franchise. Time and time again we’ve seen intentional pendulum swings back to the grounded stories of old after the latest film pushes the series too far toward the outlandish end of the spectrum. Like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service after You Only Live Twice or For Your Eyes Only after Moonraker, the next film following Die Another Day had to bring Bond back to reality. And it would do so in remarkable fashion with a revolutionary new Bond ushering in a revolutionary new era. But it’s not quite time to tell that story yet…
Brosnan Ranking: 2nd of 4
I really do feel for Pierce Brosnan.
He lands the role of his dreams after it was cruelly snatched away from him nine years earlier. He goes on to revitalize the franchise and help it achieve massive success as the star of four films directed by four different filmmakers helming four mediocre-to-abysmal scripts. Ready and eager to jump back in the ring for another round, the rug is pulled out from underneath Brosnan, the door slammed in his face. Kicked to the kerb is his preferred phrase.
Brosnan never had stability, Brosnan never had a quality foundation, and it seems the production propping Brosnan’s Bond up may have had a wandering eye. But maybe Brosnan never had the tools necessary to overcome the odds.
“I felt I was caught in a time warp between Roger and Sean,” Brosnan told The Telegraph in a particularly illuminating 2014 expose. “It was a very hard one to grasp the meaning of, for me. The violence was never real, the brute force of the man was never palpable. It was quite tame, and the characterization didn’t have a follow-through of reality, it was surface. But then that might have had to do with my own insecurities in playing him as well….I have no desire to watch myself as James Bond. ’Cause it’s just never good enough. It’s a horrible feeling.”
But we shouldn’t feel bad for Pierce Brosnan. He’s long since moved on, pushing ever forward.
Brosnan would remarry and have two more kids in the middle of his Bond run. He then went on to enjoy considerable post-Bond success, receive recognition for his role as an ambassador for UNICEF Ireland, and become an honorary OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his contribution to film.
“There’s no regret,” he’d tell The Guardian nearly two decades after his unceremonious exit. “I do not let regret come into my world. It just leads to more misery and regrets.”
Still, you can feel the weight of the baggage Brosnan must have held for all those years after he lost out to Timothy Dalton, you can feel the sense of importance placed on Brosnan to revitalize a franchise that had been on ice for six long years, and you certainly can feel his deep-seated need to be accepted in the role.
Brosnan needed Bond, but no matter how important he was in bringing the franchise back from the dead, Bond did not need Brosnan.
Although I don’t enjoy Brosnan’s Bond, his time as the character helped usher James Bond into a new modern world, paving the way for his successor to expand the character, deepen his mythos, and send the franchise to soaring new heights.
So to Pierce Brosnan, I say, “Thank you very much. Goodbye.”