Die Another Day hails from the unapologetically vulgar end of the James Bond spectrum. It's an arrogant, swaggering dickhead of a picture that has a lot in common with Moonraker, only with sludgier special effects. Die moves on hyper-caffeinated reflection, marking several notable milestones with a last case built out of fracturing identities. As well as arriving just in time for the 40th anniversary of Dr. No's release, Lee Tamahori's film was also the twentieth entry in Eon's Bond series. Drunk on its own sense of history, Die doesn't avoid the tropes that Austin Powers had rendered radioactive, instead it embraces them, arriving at a film so exhausting it's no wonder the producers scrapped the entire, unwieldy idea of continuity when devising the following instalment.
Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade start with an imprisoned and potentially brainwashed Bond, one of the few Fleming plot points that hadn't already been cannibalised for sequels. Although we don't get anything as electrifying as 007 acting out The Manchurian Candidate, Die does at least proceed from something rooted in a primary text. Tamahori and his crew even devise a couple of shots that directly reference the strange functionality of the dust jacket illustrations wrapped around latter Bond novels. Die takes the self-regarding autosarcophagy that has driven the last thirty years of Bond and makes it text. Rather than mask its intentions, the film actually invites the viewer to tick off the call-backs and visual quotes. Tomorrow Never Dies revolved around a Bond that was designed to simultaneously embody the best elements of every previous 007 actor. Since Die is already doing something similar structurally, it takes a different tact with its hero.
In deference to The Matrix's martial arts metaphysics, James Bond becomes a cosmic guru able to stop and start his heart at will. Somewhere in North Korea, between the endless poisonings and water torture, Bond concentrated hard enough to achieve a state of awareness that rendered his ego effectively null. 007 has literally been given power over life and death, he has himself become the ultimate gadget. Bond's existence is no longer defined by moment-to-moment aggressions, he's above that now. Pierce Brosnan instead embodies the genre equivalent of a grey man, able to mount and conquer dangers born from of an entire, idiosyncratic, continuity screaming in at him from every direction.
The unflappable, self-important Bond has evolved. His practised numbness making him the perfect passenger for a film built entirely out of reconfiguration. The self-immolation trend continues with an enemy willing to destroy his own face to win. Will Yun Lee's Moon is a North Korean colonel who has undergone radical gene therapy, transforming himself into Toby Stephens' Gustav Graves, a white entrepreneur who makes a tabloid splash by staging the kind of daredevil publicity stunts that Eon uses to promote its films in real life. Moon explicitly states that he's based his Seconds identity (there's John Frankenheimer again) on James Bond, meaning 007's final on-screen enemy is a rotting, augmented, doppelgänger who sneers when he tries to smile. Die Another Day is the Bond concept imploding, a film series struggling with CG modernity, unable to find a workable hook outside of self-assessment.