British agent James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is on an assignment in North Korea, which shores he reaches using a surfboard along with his accomplices, then breaks into a military base to begin the mission. Which is to replace a diamond smuggler who is offering the gemstones to the North Koreans, but Bond plans to put a stop to all that, and he does successfully take the criminal's identity, handing over a case of diamonds which they don't know has been boobytrapped. However, Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) is too clever for him, and susses that he is not who he claims to be: Bond may almost successfully escape by hovercraft, but in this world, almost is not good enough...
Pierce Brosnan's final outing as 007 may have been a hit, but it looked something of a dinosaur a mere four years later when Daniel Craig showed up to take on the celebrated role. In fact, less than Brosnan's Goldfinger or The Spy Who Loved Me, it was more his A View to a Kill, with the bloated excesses of a past it-looking franchise reminiscent of Roger Moore's final, underwhelming goodbye to the part. But the Bond movies have always been about reinventing themselves for the era they were produced in, and if nothing else Die Another Day did us the favour of proving that a change was needed, one that most were satisfied with in the long run.
But all that said, we are still left wondering what to make of this instalment. It's not that it's terrible, it simply leaves one feeling, after all its sound and fury, like shrugging. It begins with Bond looking to be in one of his worst scrapes when he is captured by the enemy and spends the next fourteen months, or the space of the title sequence anyway, being tortured (some would say Madonna's anaemic theme was torture enough). One big beard and shoulder length hair later, and he is being released, but not for the reasons he would have wanted. It seems there is a spy in the midst of this conspiracy, er, well, obviously there are a few, but someone has made it seem as if Bond has cracked and given away state secrets.
To make the character look appropriately rebellious, often the screenwriters of this series will have him set out on his own, a maverick who plays by his own rules and does a better job than the institution he represents could ever do, you know the type of thing. So it is with the Craig debut, and so it was here when Brosnan escapes his masters' clutches to head first to Hong Kong, then on a lead he gets there to Cuba where he meets his Bond Girl. She was Halle Berry as Jinx, fresh from her Oscar win and lending the movie a bit of class as consequence. And yet, for all the publicity's bold boasts that Jinx was every bit Bond's equal in this adventure, it played out as if she was strictly the second banana, there to look good, thrown a few action sops, and hired mainly for her marquee value.
As far as the action goes, it is imaginative, but carried out in an atmosphere of anything goes, so that by the time you've seen the umpteenth impossible stunt you're left more than a little jaded by the whole affair. The more fanciful the plotline becomes, the more likely you are to roll your eyes, so the big twist as to the true identity of chief baddie Gustav Graves (British theatre star Toby Stephens having fun) is not likely something you're going to go along with as convincing. But no wonder, what with an Aston Martin that can magically turn invisible, a machine that gives you the ultimate makeover to look entirely different, and a huge death ray beaming down from outer space, genuine believability is not really on the agenda. Yet Die Another Day strives to have us thinking, yeah, that makes perfect sense, when it's on the level of a Bond spoof with weaker gags. As the closing chapter on one style of the classic hero's exploits, it is at least diverting, but nothing more than that. Music by David Arnold.