Look: Die Another Day is a blast fam. It’s a largely joyous and fast-paced ride that takes you all over the globe in a thrilling and stylish way. While absurd and reliant on some dodgy CGI in select scenes I think it holds up great 20 years on from its release and instantly shot up to become one of the most fun of the Brosnan Bond films.
In some ways there’s not even that much more to say. Die Another Day is either a movie that clicks for you or not. While I’ve got a personal connection and soft spot for it, with the movie being one of the very first Bond films I saw in theaters, I also think it stands up as a great enjoyable romp in its own right.
I have also always found many of the arguments against Die Another Day to be pretty flimsy. The movie is nowhere near the levels of absurdity or gadget nonsense as numerous of the Roger Moore era films. While yes, Moonraker is the most glaring and awful case, many of the Bond films from earlier eras had goofy and worse gadgets than anything found here.
The much maligned invisible Aston Martin is a ton of fun, they do more to explain the technology behind it than most Bond gadgets and I find it far more believable than blue space lasers for example. Plus it features in a great, breathtaking car chase where it is able to utilize its gimmick in a way that feels earned and pays off the setup.
Pierce Brosnan is of course fantastic here, particularly in the early half of the movie where he is tasked with being held prisoner or recouping right after. The way he conveys so much with just a single line or look is great work on his part and another reminder that we were lucky to have had him as James Bond.
While it’s a shame he never gets another crack at the bat with the character, particularly in a movie that focuses on him now being an older 007, I think this is still a good send off for him.
Part of what makes it work is Halle Berry’s Jinx. Standing in the footsteps of characters like Anya and Wai Lin, Jinx is a great counter to Bond and crucially for me, unlike those other iconic and great female leads, isn’t captured or cast as a woman in need of being rescued in the film’s climax. She stands toe to toe with James and is given her own climatic final fight to go through as well.
Jinx and Bond have great fun chemistry together and is probably my second favorite pairing of Brosnan’s run.
Elsewhere John Cleese as R turned Q is great and it’s a shame we never got more of him in the role because I actually think he has fun doing something different that still evokes shades of what Desmond Llewelyn was doing with the character in the 60’s.
Judi Dench is of course still great and Rosamund Pike as Miranda Frost is a perfectly sinister femme fatale and gets a good face off with Berry at the end.
I just think Die Another Day is a blast. There are moments that don’t work, or cheesy writing and scenes at times (no one is arguing the hang-gliding surfing scene is good) but on the whole it’s a romp. A fun, nice-to-look-at journey across the globe that is utterly emblematic of who and what James Bond was at the turn of the century. If it’s not for you, fair play, but if like me, you are of the Brosnan generation and grew up playing the video games of the time as well, well then this is a grand Bond story.
I don’t think we have had a single bad pre-title sequence since the Dalton era and that trend unquestionably continues in Die Another Day which features one of the more important and impactful pre-title sequences in the series. Hints of a classic spy story thriller to it, a fun well put together fight and chase sequence and the, at the time, shocking decision to have Bond get captured and subsequently beaten and tortured makes for a startlingly effective start for the film.
Elsewhere while it may go a touch too long for some I have always loved the sword fight between Bond and Graves with it being an absurdist blast, and I think the car chase between Bond and Zhao at the end is honestly one of the very best of the series.
Lots of good moments here.
This is probably one of the weaker parts of Die Another Day. It is not so much that Moon/Graves, Zhao, and Frost are bad, none of them are. It’s more that only really Miranda Frost is allowed the right amount of time to truly shine. Frost’s double cross is well played and her more prickly demeanor towards Bond and the way she is never particularly charmed by him is a great contrast to so many of the various Bond women over the years. Miranda is probably the single strongest villain of the bunch, she’s also only the second henchman though.
Zhao is great and I love everything they do with his character particularly up through the Cuba sequence. A perfectly looking Bond baddie with the scars and diamond face to go with it, I love his energy and the fact that there is this more personal feud and animosity between Zhao and James. I just wish they really explored or did more with it. After largely serving as the main antagonistic force for the first third or half of the movie, Zhao is largey pushed to the sidelines with nothing to do once Graves is introduced.
While Zhao has a great car chase sequence I still think it is a let-down that his death is so quick and impersonal after all they did with James and him. Plus the fact that he is killed off so early deprives us of much time with him on-screen.
Col. Moon/Gustav Graves is almost certainly the weakest of the bunch but even here it’s more complicated. I love everything about Col. Moon and think there was so much potential for that actor and character to be the big bad and play off of Brosnan’s Bond. Even though he is only in the pre-title sequence he is great there and the sense of fury, anger, and intelligence on display would have made him a worthy match for Bond.
Alas after the opening credits we get stuck with Gustav Graves who, while not bad. is such a heightened and larger than life character that it is hard to ever fully invest in him. He is playing a cartoon version of an arrogant British person and it makes him deeply unlikeable but not in a charming way for me. He is still better and more enjoyable than Elliot Carver for me but otherwise is my least favorite of the Brosnan baddies. The trio on the whole shake out to a 7.5 / 10.
Where is the justice for John Cleese? We all seem to just collectively have decided his brief time as R/Q was bad and that the series needed to go in a new direction but honestly…he’s fantastic. An utter blast and very much revives the dynamic and bond that Desmond Llewelyn’s Q and James had back during the Connery era. I love it and no one was done more dirty by the decision to reboot and stay away from gadgets than Cleese.
It’s even more awful because the gadgets on display here aren’t even that fantastical, which is the sword he is forced to fall on. The invisible car is great, I don’t care what anyone says, the watch is nice and ties into the 40th anniversary and 20th Bond film nature of the film. The Q lab sequence is funny with lots of gadgets and homages to prior Bond films. I like it and wish we had gotten more of Cleese. 8/10.
After 40 years and 20 films the original timeline of the James Bond series came to a close with this loud, beautiful, silly, and hell of a lot of fun film. Testing out new things and diving into new areas for the characters, in some ways foreseeing where 007 would go under Daniel Craig, Die Another Day is a joy to watch and unfold.
While this film isn’t in the very top tier of the best Bond films, it absolutely goes near the top of the tier right below it, alongside films like Tomorrow Never Dies, Dr. No, and Licence to Kill. That is a group of films that seem perfectly suited to what Die Another Day is doing and the level of enjoyment on display here. I wish we had gotten more of Cleese as Q, I really think he could have done more with the character, and I will always be bummed out that Pierce Brosnan, the only childhood Bond fan to actually get to play the character, didn’t get to have one more turn as the character and go out on his own terms, but even still Die Another Day is a fun and enjoyable capstone to 40 years of the character. 8/10