Die Another Day was surprisingly impressive considering its terrible reputation first time round but doesn't hold up well to a second viewing for a number of reasons. The pre-title sequence is particularly strong, and the film is plot-led with a good premise that it explores far more effectively than License to Kill - Bond screws up, gets captured and finds his license to kill revoked and has to go it alone. But to many wrong choices are made in the casting of those both in front of and behind the cameras to do it full justice.
Brosnan is certainly a major problem here, getting lazier in the role far sooner than his predecessors. He takes too much for granted and doesn't seem to be putting much effort into it in the assumption that he's got it down pat, when in reality he's starting to go to seed - certainly he must be the only man to come out of 14 months of torture in a Korean prison chubbier than when he went in, something his tendency to spend much of the opening of the film with his shirt off and hidden under a bushy Monty Python castaway beard only exacerbates.
He's not helped much by his co-stars either: Halle Berry, who seems to become a worse actress with each successive film, really can't handle sass or wisecracks, which is a shame since that's almost all her part consists of, and their initial meeting exchange of innuendoes seems more like eavesdropping a married man picking up a hooker to prove he's still got it than anything else. Rosamund Pike's other fatale femme fares a little better purely on he grounds that, while an extremely one-dimensional performer, to least her limited abilities fit the part. Toby Stephens' villain is a bigger problem. While it's a neat touch that he models himself on an unflattering portrait of Bond's vanity, Stephens actually seems to be basing his performance on Rik Mayall's caricatured MP Alan B'stard from sitcom The New Statesman, and the results aren't pretty - a largely ineffectual screen actor, it's no accident that he needs to don an electronic suit of armour to become a credible foe for Bond in the final punch-up. Curiously, two of the better performances on display come from bit-players John Cleese (pleasingly restrained) and Michael Madsen as a distinctly unimpressed company man. Even Madonna's unnecessary cameo as a lesbian fencing instructor is considerably less painful than her terrible title-song, easily the series' worst. Still, the resulting overly enthusiastic swordfight is okay but would probably have been even better had they hired William Hobbs to choreograph it instead of Bob Anderson (Anderson may have coached Errol Flynn, but only in some of his worst films).
The direction adds to the problems. Lee Tamahouri is a maddeningly variable director, and too often its his weaknesses on display here. For a series that prides itself on globe-trotting, he has a very poor sense of place (aside from the Iceland scenes, this is the first Bond film that really looks like they were afraid to leave the studio backlot) and his handling of action isn't always effective - indeed, the car chase actually looks like several shots are missing. Still, at least they manage to just about get away with the science behind the invisible car more effectively than the awful CGI that undermines the series' reputation for doing daring stunts for real: along with the occasionally slo-mo or sped up scene intros, it just seems horribly out of place without ever quite ruining the film.
Another big problem is the tone. As the 20th entry in EON's series, the desire to celebrate its heritage threatens at times to overwhelm the film as it becomes increasingly self-referential. With almost every scene having an homage, a prop or an audio or visual reference to a previous movie, it stops being fun and becomes labored long before the halfway point. Bond is feeding off himself so much here that at times it reminds you of one of those animals that, when caught in a trap, gnaws its own leg off. It just about gets away with it, but it gets messy. There's fun to be had, most of it in the first half before it goes all Diamonds Are Forever, but there's still the feeling that this could and should have been much better.
Even in a world full of hyperbole, calling the frankly rather shoddy downgrade 2-disc reissue release of this title an `Ultimate Edition' is taking liberties with the language that border on the actionable. Whereas the first 2-disc release of the 20th EON Bond film boasted a huge array of extras, the supposedly new and improved version drops nearly all of them and merely throws in a few scraps of filler instead. Gone is the 76-minute documentary `Inside Die Another Day,' replaced by a couple of shorter featurettes and some video footage of the location scout. And while the excellent 51-minute `Script to Screen' documentary on the difficult screenwriting process previously only available on the R2 DVD is retained along with the `Shaken and stirred On Ice' featurette, gone are the storyboard-to-film comparisons, multi-angle action sequences, title design and digital grading featurettes, gadget briefings, music video and featurette and even the 8 TV spots and 3 theatrical trailers from the original issue to be replaced by an exotic locations featurette. With so many of the extras being dumped, it's a wonder that the film itself (in apparently exactly the same transfer as previously available) still contains the same audio commentaries and interactive featurettes it had first time round. Frankly, there's no reason whatever to buy this if you already have the original 2-disc release. And sadly, it's the Ultimate edition extras that have been carried over to the Blu-ray release too.