How ‘Die Another Day’ Catapulted James Bond Into the 21st Century
Eon Productions released Die Another Day, a pivotal moment in the series, to mark the 40th anniversary of James Bond.
The plan seemed to be to celebrate the franchise by including references to every previous film. Along the way, however, Die Another Day somehow managed to predict many of the strange directions the action genre would take in the 21st Century.
Some of those Bond callbacks were visual: Halle Berry is introduced by walking out of the ocean in the same way Ursula Andress did in Dr. No.
Others involved props, such as the shoe with the poison blade in the tip (From Russia With Love) and a deadly laser (Goldfinger). And many involve lines of dialogue, musical references in the score or actual gestures, like Bond climbing into a room and eating a grape (Thunderball).
Most of the nods to 007's history, however, arrived through its story.
Lee Tamahori – then an up-and-comer known for more literary action fare like The Edge and Mulholland Falls – was brought in to direct. He and writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade put together a tale that attempted to incorporate nearly every Bond trope to date. This includes whole sections of sexual innuendo-laced dialogue (rather than a single line here or there), a cameo by the performer of the title song (Madonna, whose theme is a strong candidate for worst in Bond history) and a plot so grandiose it must be seen to be believed.
Watch the Trailer for 'Die Another Day'
Die Another Day begins on the coast of North Korea, where Bond (Pierce Brosnan, in his final turn as the spy) and two other agents then infiltrate a base where Col. Tan-Sun Moon (Will Yun Lee) is selling heavy weaponry in exchange for diamonds smuggled out of Africa. Bond interrupts the sale, causing an explosion which embeds diamonds into the face of Moon's henchman Tang Ling Zao (Rick Yune), then kills Moon after a high-speed chase in heavily armed hovercrafts.
Bond cannot escape, however, because he was betrayed by someone in British intelligence. He's forced to spend 14 months being tortured in a North Korean prison. When he's finally released, Bond finds that his 00 status has been suspended because it's suspected he broke under the torture.
Refusing to take no for an answer, he goes rogue to try to find the identity of the agent who betrayed him. This quest takes him to Cuba, where Bond meets Jinx Johnson (Berry), an American intelligence agent, and sleeps with her. Bond then breaks into a hospital specializing in a DNA-based face-changing technique. This leads him to a mysterious British billionaire named Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), who has apparently made his money by discovering a vein of diamonds in Iceland.
Bond confronts Graves in England, where the duo have a fencing competition after 007 meets Graves' assistant Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), also an undercover British agent.
Watch James Bone Meet Jinx Johnson in 'Die Another Day'
Impressed by Bond's skills with the sword, Graves invites him to his ice palace and shows 007 his new Diamonds Are Forever-ish project: a satellite with a massive mirror that can focus the energy of the sun and shoot a laser down onto the planet.
This leads to the revelation that Frost is the double agent who betrayed Bond back in North Korea and that Graves is actually Moon, who survived the hovercraft fight and switched his identity at the hospital in Cuba.
Jinx Johnson shows up and soon gets captured, so Bond not only has to fight off the villains using an invisible car but also rescue her. As if this weren't enough, Bond saves Jinx and then they have to board a massive airplane and stop Moon/Graves from using his laser-beam satellite to start a war between North and South Korea. They're successful, and Bond hurls his adversary into one of the jet engines while the plane is flying, then escapes via a helicopter inside the plane's cargo hold.
By the time it was over, Die Another Day had become a stupendously large movie. But these exaggerated proportions aside, what's most entertaining about the film is how it manages to so accurately embody where action movie filmmaking would go in the years after its release – for good and bad.
Watch James Bond Rescue Jinx in 'Die Another Day'
Die Another Day was the first Bond made after 9/11, and Bond's torture presages the trend of edgy realism that soon took the action world by storm. The opening of Die Another Day, like the Jason Bourne trilogy and the Daniel Craig-era Bond cycle that kicked off with 2006's Casino Royale, leans into a hard, dark tone in which the world is not a cartoonish place but a stark one where real dangers lurk.
Once Zao shows up with diamonds embedded into his face, though, things rapidly shift into a different mode akin to the contemporary superhero film. Not only does Bond drive an invisible car, but the Moon/Graves character builds a suit that feels like a direct precursor of Iron Man's. It features a breast plate with an electronic gadget embedded in the center, a metal glove with a control panel and an electric zapper that sends deadly voltage through anyone he touches.
Action sequences in the movie's second half are actually so oversized that they seem like a dry run for similar moments in the XXX or Fast and Furious movies. (Tamahori actually went on to direct the second XXX film, State of the Union.)
Still, for all of that, Die Another Day isn't one of the stronger Bond films: In many ways, it's not as good as the far-more-maligned Brosnan entry Tomorrow Never Dies. Instead, Die Another Day is most worthy of re-watching simply for its size, spectacle and predictive qualities.