Justice for Halle Berry’s Die Another Day Spin-Off

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Justice for Halle Berry’s Die Another Day Spin-Off

Fret not, dear readers, you aren’t about to read a dissertation on why Lee Tamahori’s 2002 Bond flick Die Another Day is a misunderstood classic. Not even I—longtime defender of Quantum of Solace—would be bold enough to suggest that. The coffin-nailer in Pierce Brosnan’s run as the man in the tux, Die Another Day is a mystifying concoction stuck in the transition out of 1990s action excess and into serious-minded 2000s genre fare. Its release mere months after the premiere of The Bourne Identity signaled the sea change in what audiences were demanding from their franchise blockbusters, and it’s no surprise that Bond would fully reboot four years later, with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale taking things in that direction.

And yet, despite the invisible car, the atrocious theme song, the bewildering Madonna cameo and Toby Stephens’ dreadfully dull villain, there is one thing about Die Another Day that proves to be an inarguable success: Halle Berry. Arriving in Cuba on the hunt for second-tier adversary Tang Ling Zao (Rick Yune), Bond is immediately transfixed by the sight of NSA agent Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson (Berry) emerging out of the water in an iconic orange bikini, strapped with a large white belt and knife across her hips. Berry gets her own Ursula Andress introduction and she quickly demonstrates why she’s been afforded the pedestal.

Bond begins his usual coy one-liners, mostly puns centered around bird-watching per his ruse for being in the country, and Brosnan’s delivery leaves more than a little to be desired. His first line to her? “Magnificent view,” he says from behind with his eyes darted down at her bottom. The virility of the character seems a bit lost at this point, the charm and smooth seduction tactics struggling to translate from an actor who has maybe worn out his time in the role and is ready to move onto other things. It’d be easy for this to result in a void of chemistry, as it does when we’re later introduced to his secondary love interest, Rosamund Pike, who can’t quite light up the spark with her leading man, but Berry instantly gives Die Another Day the jaws of life.

The actress, fresh off her history-making Oscar win for her searing performance in Monster’s Ball, is somehow able to sell even the lamest of innuendos. When Jinx and Pike’s Miranda Frost first meet later in the film, Jinx introduces herself as a writer for “Space and Technology magazine”, to which Frost responds “I take it Mr. Bond’s been explaining his Big Bang theory?” Without skipping a beat, Jinx hits her with a “Oh yeah, I think I got the thrust of it,” and somehow it actually sounds like a witty barb that is fun, cunning and totally takes the air out of Frost’s sails in one fell swoop. Read that line exchange on paper and it’s pretty lame—practically impossible to sell—and yet Berry has a conviction and a zest to her delivery that makes you believe it entirely.

From the moment she’s introduced, Berry infuses Jinx with a sense of agency and interiority that is beguiling and far beyond what you expect from this character type in this franchise during this era. Once she enters the picture, any time spent away from her feels like a missed opportunity—which is particularly frustrating during a massive middle section, where she’s not around at all, and after she’s re-introduced, when we spend a good 20 minutes with her stuck in an ice room unable to get out. Berry even shows herself a far more physically impressive performer than Brosnan, tearing up several action sequences, including a tense showdown with Pike in the climax vastly more exciting than the Brosnan-Stephens fight it’s cross-cut with.

Revisit Die Another Day now, and it’s no wonder why MGM felt the need to start over from scratch with Craig rebooting Bond, but you’ll also find yourself pining for more time with Jinx. Berry feels like she’s just getting started showing us what she can do with her own action franchise. More Jinx was initially in the cards, as speculation began even before the film’s release of a spin-off centered on Berry’s character. This wasn’t the first time a female-focused Bond spin-off was pursued, as the same had fizzled out not long earlier with Michelle Yeoh’s character in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies.

However, Jinx, as Berry’s film was to be simply called, made it much further along in the development process. Berry was enthusiastically on board, as were keepers of the Bond franchise Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. Large portions of the Jinx script leaked online in February of 2021, revealing the film as an origin story. Written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, the duo who have written every Bond film from The World Is Not Enough through No Time to Die, we would have learned Jinx’s backstory as an orphan whose parents were killed by a bomb, who then opted into the NSA desperate to prove herself and prevent similar tragedies from occurring.

Jinx would have also brought back Michael Madsen’s Die Another Day character Damian Falco as her handler, and the narrative would have naturally escalated to a global terrorist plot with plenty of the usual Bond movie fixins’. In Some Kind of Hero: The Remarkable Story of the James Bond Films, Wade described the film as “a very atmospheric, Euro-thriller, Bourne-style movie,” which speaks to the desire to head towards that trendy territory and away from the pastiche of Die Another Day. Those Euro-centric sensibilities were reflected in the hiring of Stephen Frears to direct, and allegedly the pursuit of Javier Bardem as Jinx’s love interest—a casting choice that would have put the kibosh on his appearance as villainous Raoul Silva in 2012’s Skyfall.

All of this was for naught, however, as the years went on and Jinx never quite materialized. Eventually, MGM pulled the plug on the film, with Purvis and Wade suggesting that MGM balked at the $80 million budget after the financial failures of female-led action films like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider—The Cradle of Life and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. This would be a bit of an odd conclusion to make, as both of those films were sequels to financially successful blockbusters. Franchise-starter Resident Evil, starring Milla Jovovich, released the same year as Die Another Day and more than tripled its $33 million budget.

It’s perhaps more easy to believe Berry, who gives a different reason for the abandoned spin-off. “It was ahead of its time. Nobody was ready to sink that kind of money into a Black female action star. They just weren’t sure of its value. That’s where we were then,” she said. The decision left Broccoli in particular with a sense of deep frustration, as one of her goals as leader of the Bond franchise has been to move away from the rampant misogyny of the character’s history and inject some much-needed female perspective.

Despite plenty of dominating female characters introduced to the franchise in the years since Die Another Day, Jinx was really the last instance of a possible spin-off. That’s surprising, given how much film culture these days has become lynch-pinned on extended universes. It’s especially interesting when you consider the demand for change (from some quarters) to the straight white guy being at the center of this 60-year-old IP. While there are fans out there who want Bond to be gender-swapped now that Craig has hung up his tux and the hunt is on for the next actor to take the mantle, Broccoli insists this will never happen. “I believe we should be creating new characters for women—strong female characters,” she said. “I’m not particularly interested in taking a male character and having a woman play it. I think women are far more interesting than that.”

She’s not wrong. In recent years, we’ve seen plenty of franchises and established titles rebooted with the simple twist of taking male characters and making them women (Ghostbusters, Ocean’s Eight, The Hustle) and while not all bad, per se, the elements of these films that succeed mostly come with the caveat that they’d be better if these women got original stories rather than trying to milk IP while appeasing the increased call for diversity. It feels, more often than not, like pandering, which was a little bit of the vibe coming off the decision to introduce Lashana Lynch as the new 007, taking on the designation after Bond had retired from service at the end of 2015’s Spectre, in 2021’s No Time to Die.

Lynch provides a refreshing element to No Time to Die, a nice new mixture into the Bond cocktail, and it’s a bit irritating that, if she returns, the reality is she’ll still be playing second fiddle to whomever is cast to replace Bond. That’s not to say that Bond should be made a woman, but if Broccoli’s intent is to “create strong new characters for women”, why not start giving those characters a better opportunity to shine than doing what they can with their stretch of minutes opposite one of the most prominent protagonists in the history of film? Lynch could certainly carry her own film, as could Olga Kurylenko who made a formidable pair with Craig in Quantum of Solace, or even Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd, an absolutely crucial ingredient in Casino Royale’s success, who could easily stand a compelling origin story.

If we’re going to be living in this world of spin-offs, why not start making them out of characters who are actually interesting enough to fuel a desire for them, rather than any old Marvel character who pops up for a few scenes in whatever Disney+ show they’re doing now? The most exhilarating section of No Time to Die comes when Bond heads to Cuba (something apparently just works about this franchise heading to Cuba) and teams up with Paloma, a CIA agent played by Ana de Armas. The character is in the film for all of 15 minutes and yet she steals the entire thing, and the most pressing thought in my mind as the end credits rolled nearly two hours after she exited the picture was how badly I wanted to follow more adventures with that character. The John Wick franchise clearly knows there’s something there, as de Armas has just begun shooting Ballerina, a spin-off from the Keanu Reeves series with her in the leading role that was originally played briefly by Unity Phelan in John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum.

Or hell, speaking of John Wick, why not bring Berry back as Jinx for another tale? Audiences were delighted upon seeing her show up as Wick’s old pal and ex-assassin Sofia Al-Azwar in Parabellum and she more than proved herself just as ready to rumble as she was in Die Another Day 20 years ago. It’s always been a shame how Berry’s career hit some major roadblocks just when it felt like she was kicking into high gear. When the Jinx spin-off fizzled out, she took on Catwoman, which put a dent in the willingness of studios to bankroll a major tentpole off her name, but her caliber as a performer never lost a step. Even in that notorious misfire (for which she famously accepted her own Razzie in person, giving more time of day to those zits than they could ever deserve) she has a command over the screen that few actors are able to imitate.

With Oscar plays that didn’t land (Things We Lost in the Fire, which she’s tremendous in), massively ambitious sci-fi spectacles that awed and befuddled audiences in equal measure (Cloud Atlas, which should’ve spawned a whole franchise of Luisa Rey mysteries), and a pair of riveting genre thrillers with her stopping at nothing to get some kidnapped kids (The Call, Kidnap), Berry remains a vital talent worthy of far more recognition than she’s received, and it’s high time Hollywood wake up and recognize that. This isn’t an actor who should be fifth-billed in a Kingsman sequel. Give her a John Wick spin-off. Get Jinx back on the big screen. Do whatever you’ve got to do to remind the world that Halle Berry is a star.

Currently based in Newark, Delaware, Mitchell Beaupre is the Senior Editor at Letterboxd, and a freelance film journalist for sites including The Film Stage, Paste Magazine, and Little White Lies. With every new movie they watch, they’re adding five more to their never-ending Letterboxd watchlist. You can find them on Twitter at @itismitchell.