Mini-Review: Die Another Day

Okay, so I finally saw and finished Die Another Day (DAD).  Why is this so moments, you might add in the light of movies such as Thor Ragnarok Justice League releasing this month?  Well, it means that I have see ALL James Bond movies that have been released so far.  And, as expected, it was a slog–that was the reason why I missed this in the theaters and why I didn’t watch it all the other times it had previously been on streaming–it isn’t very good.

00Camp
It is way too campy, but played with a straight face.  It almost wants the audience to laugh AT it rather than WITH it.  Most of the blame for this comes from the story and script.  James Bond, particularly under the Roger Moore era, has some really corny and goofy things happen, but as I mentioned in a previous post, that was reflected in other movies of the era.  Much of the “campiness” of Bond during Roger Moore was a desire to appeal to American audiences who were far more likely to have seen/enjoyed a movie like Smokey and the Bandit–which is mostly campiness with a few places of seriousness.  However, DAD hit all the wrong notes.  Audiences in America  wanted a more realistic treatment of the spy genre–which is where Bourne (Jason Bourne) fits into this equation.  He was hyper resourceful and hyper capable, like Bond, but he was serious–no double-entendre, quips, or gadgets.  The honest-to-goodness down-home appeal and brutal/lethal moves when necessary.

00BadScript
As mentioned before, the script is really what hurt DAD.  From paper then characterization, to dialogue that didn’t work, to relationships that were unnecessarily muddled, etc., this is truly what kept this movie from shining–not necessarily the acting.  This wasn’t new Hollywood with its eye on the future and fingers on the pulse of the movie-goer, this was old Hollywood–you’ll like this movie because it is the next iteration of James Bond, darn it, and we know how much you like James Bond.

00Completionist
Still, for all my griping about the movie, it does feel good to have a complete repertoire of James Bond movies under my belt.  Until now, I’ve always had to put in that except or but when speaking about the franchise.  I really wish this could have been a stronger entry, but even successful teams don’t always get it right: Spectre for James Bond and the appropriately titled Jason Bourne for Jason Bourne.  Neither of these two movies did a great job in returning their characters to audiences in their last outings.  Both seemed to lose the thread of the character based on thrilling, climatic, and revelatory the previous outings before their respective latest movies arrived.

Implications for my own Work
I’m learning that character and story (plot) go hand-in-hand.  You can’t divorce the two.  For my writing, plot is what comes in first (99% of the time), but it is the characters that people fall in love with and invest with and I’m learning that I need to spend as much time developing the characters as I do the plot.  For the makers of Bond and Bourne, they perhaps need to do what I’m doing, but on plot rather than characters, as it is there plots that are hindering their characters.

Overall Grade: D (Below Average)

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Die Another Day (The Farce is Strong With this One)

Having watched half of Die Another Day, I now know why 1) I’ve been so resistant to seeing it and 2) why it is considered such weak entry into the Bond franchise.  I will be honest and say that I haven’t completed it as of yet (I’m about half way through), but even halfway is enough to start to figure out where it went wrong.

Story
To say that the story doesn’t make any sense would be disingenuous because there is sense to be had if you really take the time to follow the convoluted logic of the story, but none of the story scenes really resonate.  There is a tenuous tie through out the first half of the movie of uncovering the identity of spy/source who gave up Bond’s identity and helped to “burn” him (in spy parlance).  Yet, Bond goes from scene to scene without the audience clearly knowing what is driving him.  For instance, a short time after escaping from what we assume is a MI-6 recovery room after being tortured for 14 months in captivity, James is back to his normal “antics” with Jinx.  He is supposed to be consumed with a desire for revenge on the unknown “person” who set him up and a desire to clear his name, but he is back to his old “self” and is as right as rain, even back to the clever quips and ridiculous sword fight that would have (at the very least) sent members of the supposed fencing club running for their phones to call the police or running for their lives..

Too Much Farce
Which brings me to another point.  In DaD, there’s just simply too much farce to take seriously.  In one scene, Bond strolls into a ritzy and glamorous hotel (5 star) in his pajamas completely unshaven.  Now, let’s be real, even the local McDonalds has a no shirt, no shoes, no service policy.  If you or I tried to do what Bond did in real life, we would be turned away.  If we insisted, the police would be called.  Yet none of this happens in this movie.  Bond turns heads, but it is meant to be humorous/funny, but the writers forgot that humor doesn’t come from ignoring the way things work in reality, but highlighting them and pointing out the absurdity.  Guardians of the Galaxy‘s humor works because Rocket the Raccoon knows he is a Raccoon and comments on the fact (& takes umbrage when others belittle him for his origins).  Groot’s humor works because the audience only hears “I am Groot,” but we know based on the others’ responses that he is expressing himself in some manner that we are not privy to and that’s funny.  And so on with each of the characters.  DaD, on the other hand, expects us to laugh when they break the rules of how the world really works, when in fact, they are calling attention to the fact that this is unreal, that this is a “movie.”

Changing Tastes in Realism
M: The world changed while you were away.
B: I didn’t.
This is exchange was meant to emphasize Bond’s dedication to the mission, but what it really did was emphasize how Bond refused to change to be relevant to the change in audience tastes and expectations.  While Goldeneye still maintained much of the Bond tropes, it was actually a “forward-looking” Bond movie that was more realistic in a fun way than the dour realism of the Bond movies under Timothy Dalton’s reign.  Obviously, Ge’s realism was nothing compared to the gritty realism Casino Royal and Skyfall under Daniel Craig’s stewardship, but at the time, and for its time, Ge was fairly well received as a return to form for the Bond franchise.  DaD, so far at least, undermines this.  Yes, I know I like Roger Moore’s Bond and those Bond movies are often as silly as this one, but in the mid to late 70s and very early 80s, you could still get away with that.  Movies like Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run, Silver Streak and even as late as Superman III with Richard Pryor were a lot of what the Roger Moore Bond movies were taping into with their campiness.  However, with the introduction of the Bourne movies with Matt Damon, the world’s taste in spy movies changed, and DaD didn’t change with them.  Audiences craved a more realistic depiction of the clandestine spy hero, but DaD regressed at the very time it should have been more like its more realistic sibling, Ge.

So, I’m going to wrap this up for this week.  If all goes well, I will either finish this up piecemeal over the coming week while I wait for my phone to be repaired or I will finish it next weekend, but unless something major changes, this one is very much neck and neck with the George Lazenby Bond movie for the one I currently dislike the most.  I will, however, reserve judgment until I finish it completely.

Jason Bourne (No Spoilers) Mini-Review and Writing Implications

jason_bourne_movie_poster

Source: JasonBournemovie.com

So, before I start, let me say that I’m a huge Jason Bourne fan.  That wasn’t always the case.  I’m a huge James Bond fan as well, starting with the Roger Moore Bond in the late ’70s and early 80’s.  I’ve seen every Bond movie (except 1) all the way through at least once (including the George Lazenby).  For the longest, I resisted watching the Bourne films, but there was a sale on the 3 movie Bluray boxed set that I couldn’t pass up.  I watched the first one and I’ve been hooked every since.  This one was the one I was most excited about all summer (hoping that it would top Bourne Ultimatum after the disappointing Bourne Legacy.)

Good, but not Excellent

This is a good, strong, solid movie, but it did not surpass Bourne Ultimatum in my opinion.    Rotten Tomatoes (as of current writing gives the score: 57% Critics & 68% Audience.  I would give it a B- (80-83) if I were grading it academically.   That would put it right on the edge of being above average.

It is an above average movie that is hampered by two significant story problems (and several other smaller problems) that I think hold it back from delivering on its promise.  The characters are well done and their lives seem to logically transition from the old Bourne trilogy to where they begin this movie.

Unlike Star Trek Beyond, I saw two glaring problems that were large enough to affect the entire movie (& that’s why I think the review scores are a little on the tepid side.)

Problem 1: Good Beginning, Weak Middle, Strong Ending

The movie starts with a strong beginning.  All the pieces “are in play” to use terminology from the movies.  And it doesn’t take long for the set-up to pay off and for the action and intrigue that are the lifeblood of the Bourne movies to start.  However, after the good beginning, the Middle of the story seems be a series of moves all designed to get all of the relevant players into one city (you know it from the trailers–but I won’t name it less it may be construed as a spoiler) for the Ending.  You can almost “see” all the pieces being moved around on the “board” to get this person to the city, that person to the city, these two people to the city, etc.  There’s also a “ripped from the headlines” subplot that wasn’t very well developed and might have made the story better had the filmmakers not included it.

Problem 2: Deja Vu’

For me, who has watched the boxed set of the Bourne Blurays multiple times, I felt like the filmmakers made Jason Bourne too similar to another movie in the trilogy.  I won’t name which one specifically as I feel that would definitely be too “spoilery.”  My contention is that many of the things that happen between that movie and this one are almost beat for beat identical (story-wise).

While there were similar elements shared by the original trilogy, each movie presented an original idea and expressed it originally.  This film presents an original idea, but presents it derivatively.  

Implications for my Writing

Without spoilers, the resolution of the story was great.  But even better was the denouement, or the wrap-up, of the movie.  That one scene seemed to turn the audience (the ones that I saw it with in my theater, at least) from neutral to somewhat positive about the movie.

What I learned from watching the audience’s reaction to the end of the movie is that a strong denouement can turn the audience to your side even if your overall structure isn’t the strongest (although it really should be).  The movie’s denouement comes directly from who Jason Bourne is as a character.  It might even be the movie’s THEME statement about what Jason stands for as character in that film world.

So, when I’m considering what my character’s inner conflict should be, I might always want to consider deciding at the same time what is my THEME and what might be a really unique and inventive way of showing that through the main character’s action in the denouement of the story.