Whilst in the contemporary iteration of the character, James Bond conceals his misogyny like a neatly placed exploding pen. However, there was a time when he proudly embroidered this womanising on the lapel of his Ted Baker suit. Apparent throughout the existence of the character’s filmography, from Sean Connery brash sexism through to Pierce Brosnan’s smarmy 21st-century leering, this element of the character evolved from something dark and problematic to a strange piece of ‘endearing’ marketing for MGM.
Pierce Brosnan’s strange outing as the character in 2002s Die Another Day is the perfect example of such twisted behaviour, where invisible cars, glacier-surfing and the appearance of Madonna in a cameo role make it Bond’s most surreal mission. Embracing all the goofy excess of the character’s history, the final film of Pierce Brosnan’s reign marked, in many ways, the departure of the traditional James Bond aesthetic, moving away from wacky gadgets and bombastic storylines as the franchise entered the 21st century.
The first Bond film to be released after 9/11, 007’s strange, whacky outing felt a little outdated in the new landscape of action cinema dominated by Jason Bourne who reflected the morally complex, gritter side to modern conflict. In fact, as uttered in Madonna’s tragically poor theme song that opens the film, ‘I’m gonna suspend my senses’, perhaps the perfect recommendation for the film itself, which offers very little intellectual stimulation.
This wouldn’t be the last time we would see ‘The Queen of Pop’, however, as Madonna is the first-ever singer to perform a Bond films soundtrack whilst also depicting a character in the film, donning a black leather corset to take on the role of Verity, a mysterious fencing instructor. “I see you handle your weapon well,” the singer says to Brosnan’s Bond before he returns a lewd comment, “I have been known to keep my tip up”. It’s a strange, cringey interaction that sees Bond go on to tighten Madonna’s corset whilst she describes a peculiar case of steroid abuse at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
“I don’t like cockfights,” she utters to Bond and newfound nemesis Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) before they engage in fencing combat, leaving the scene never to be seen again. It’s a hasty cameo that, in combination with her strange theme song which has reference to ‘breaking cycles’, ‘shaking up systems’ and ‘destroying egos’, makes for a truly bizarre impact on the history of 007.
Perhaps it was the theme song that sent James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli on a course to shake up the series itself, with Madonna inadvertently inspiring the change with a call for ‘breaking cycles’ and ‘shaking up systems’. As it is, Die Another Day is a strange iced sculpture to the James Bond of old, fit with a diamond-encrusted villain and a scene in which 007 and Bond-girl Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) have sex on a bed of ice carved to look like a swan. In an interview with Total Film, Brosnan even said, “You can really give yourself a massive headache and a great amount of stress trying to wangle some sense of believability into it”.
As such, the appearance of Madonna feels strangely similar to the appearance of Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained, or even David Lynch in Dune, as a winking touchstone to reality in the midst of chaos. Her appearance remains her most notorious film role, and in a strange way, is her very best and enigmatic.
Die Another Day is a strange pandora’s box of surrealism and repressed masculinity. As Madonna whispers in the opening theme, “Sigmund Freud, Analyse this. Analyse this. Analyse this…”