For me, this is *the* Brosnan Bond film. This is the movie that cements him as Bond, instead of just another Timothy Dalton on probation. It may not necessarily turn out to be his best, but Die Another Day at last gives Brosnan's Bond a wider context of betrayal, power politics and realistic espionage while at the same time being a farcically over-the-top roller-coaster adventure.
Some of my friends think Die Another Day isn't Bond. I think that it is Bond, at times slavishly so, but it's also a series landmark that hindsight will show to have stretched the boundaries of what Bond movies can do. The glowing reviews are justified... but only up to a point. This film will not change your life. I went in with unrealistic expectations and my viewing experience suffered. It's just another Bond film. It's not Citizen Kane. Die Another Day simply delivers 145 minutes (longer than usual) of innuendo-laden James Bond action and does so with flair and fun.
It's bloody loud, though. Don't sit too near the front.
Die Another Day feels different because it feels like a realistic spy movie. When was the last time we had one of those? Oooooh... From Russia With Love? It's got border tensions, America versus North Korea, actual geopolitical realities instead of the usual cosiness ("I have friends in low places", etc.) and a CIA with its own opinions and agenda instead of being a Bond sidekick machine. And Michael Madsen, of course. All that was cool.
Desmond Llewellyn is sadly missing, of course... which I think is a big plus. Respect to the man, he did sterling service and his final moments in The World Is Not Enough were genuinely emotional, but the fellow was getting on a bit and was basically there for nostalgia value. John Cleese shows respect for his predecessor, but the MI6 crew (M, Q, Charles, Moneypenny) we see here feels fresh, efficient and realistic. I was particularly impressed with Cleese, actually. He has great screen presence and really makes the role his own.
There are other innovations, lots of them. Die Another Day comes packed with little departures from tradition, or cool things that we haven't seen before. I don't remember anything like the car fight, the camera tricks or the way in which the title sequence actually has narrative behind the psychedelic visuals. On the downside, there's also quite a lot of CGI... not always with stunning success, but I think 'twas probably inevitable. Trying to make a modern action film without CGI would be like trying to return to the steam age - and Die Another Day is nothing if not aggressively modern.
This is probably as good a time as any to mention Madonna. I quite liked her cameo appearance and thought her title song worked far better than I'd expected, but I think the final word should go to Radio One's Mark and Lard. "It's like music, but not as good as music."
But at the same time, Die Another Day is also a Bond film to its marrow. It sticks like glue to the formulae, albeit in a combination of early-Connery realism with Moore-era flamboyant camp. It has Halle Berry in a bikini. I liked that bikini. It has Brosnan being super-cool. It has a laser. It has killer satellites. It has really silly Bond gadgets, though I've been told that the car is nearer to reality than you'd believe. It has some really dumb science involving DNA and some timeframes that I'm not sure stand up to scrutiny. And, of course, it has Bond villains. Boy, does it have Bond villains.
Time for a personal digression. I saw Die Another Day with an old school friend, with whom I attended an ancient English fee-paying school (20% boarding), steeped in tradition and privilege. Afterwards, my friend and I agreed that this latest Bond villain was 100% Abingdon School. For seven years we'd sat alongside his clones in class. Toby Stephens's performance is perfect... perhaps this is too subjective, but for me Gustav Graves is the best Bond villain since Jaws. I thought he was a hoot, but he gets emotional depths too.
For trivia buffs only... Die Another Day, being the 20th Bond film on the film's 40th anniversary, apparently included nods to every previous official Bond film. A list of these can be found on the imdb. Not all of them are particularly convincing, but some are clever, e.g. Zao's cars are all updated models of former Bond cars. Eagle-eyed fanboys should also spot some blasts from the past in Q's lab. However the most bizarre is a reference to the World Is Not Enough computer game, the second level of which is apparently duplicated (plausibly) by Bond during this movie.
Die Another Day is great Bond, sometimes silly but an important entry in the series. Suddenly I'm impatient for Brosnan to get a move on with his next one, or else he'll be pushing sixty before he does his seven. And yes, he should have done seven. After this he's up there with Moore and Connery, no question.