Celebrating the 40th anniversary and the 20th film of the 007 series, Die Another Day is one of the best Bonds ever. There are also some surprises and a few changes to the formula, but the essence of Bond remains and, to borrow from the song for the 10th in the series, nobody does it better. As is traditional, the movie begins with a pre-credit sequence. In the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, Bond (Pierce Brosnan), poses as an arms dealer about to exchange a case of diamonds (rigged with a bomb) for high-tech hovercraft weapons supplied by North Korean, Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee), but Bonds real identity is uncovered by Lees offsider, Zao (Rick Yune). In the sensational sequence that follows, the bomb explodes leaving Zaos face permanently pockmarked with diamond chips, while Bond is pursued by Moon and his men in a explosive hovercraft chase. The sequence climaxes with Moon plunging to his death and Bonds capture by the colonels father, General Moon (Kenneth Tsang).
What is unusual about this prologue is that it ends badly for Bond who is imprisoned and tortured by the North Koreans for 14 months. This occurs behind Danny Kleinmans dazzling main title sequence - a montage whose theme of fire and ice - and a few scorpions thrown in for good measure - is much edgier than usual. Bearded, hairy and dishevelled, 007 survives only because he is exchanged for the captured Zao. But Bonds actions have resulted in catastrophe and he is out of favour with his boss, M (Judi Dench - more imposing in the role with each film) who informs him that his services are no longer required. Bond is held incommunicado, but he escapes in order to recapture Zao and to track down the informer who jeopardised his mission.
At breakneck speed, Die Another Day zaps across the globe. Information he gains in Hong Kong leads Bond to Zao whom he finds in an island clinic in Cuba where DNA transplants completely transform appearances, but again Zao escapes. Also searching for him is Jinx (Halle Berry), an American agent Bond has met the previous day. Jinxs entry into the movie nostalgically recalls Ursula Andresss sexy emerging from the ocean in Dr. No, the first of the series. 007 is reinstated when his attention focuses on entrepreneur Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), who appears to be financing Zao. Gravess publicist, Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) also becomes a key player in the story. Bond and Jinx end up in Greenland where Graves launches Icarus, a satellite whose true purpose is camouflaged when Graves presents it to a crowd of invitees.
Directed by Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors) and with second unit direction by supreme stunt coordinator, Vic Armstrong, this is a Bond with bite. As mentioned, it has some plot surprises in store, and, in the action arena, Die Another Day outdoes itself. Aside from the opener there is also a sensational ice chase between a Jaguar and Aston Martin that ends with a terrifically improbable escape by Mr Bond. The script is peppered with one-liners and double entendres delivered by a terrific cast that now also includes John Cleese as dry witted gadget man, Q. In that department the movie excels again and Bonds accoutrements even include an invisible car! (Just how does Q know what 007 will need for his assignments?) This Bond crosses the sci-fi border more than any other and a couple of sequences would not be out of place on the Starship Enterprise.
Die Another Day is dynamite.