In many ways, Die Another Day represents James Bond at his stereotypical James Bond-iest: he rattles off corny quips, thwarts a power-hungry supervillain with the help of some clever gadgets, and beds two stunning women along the way. The Bond formula hadn't changed. But the world had.
It was in 2001, of course, that America faced the incomprehensible tragedy of September 11th, but the change in the national mood was only beginning to manifest itself in Hollywood by 2002. Bond's over-the-top exploits in Die Another Day were rendered suddenly, hopelessly anachronistic—an artifact of a more innocent past, chronologically recent, but tonally distant. In contrast to the 007 franchise's old tricks, two aggressively modern new superspies emerged: Jason Bourne of The Bourne Identity, and Jack Bauer of TV's 24 (both of whom—perhaps not coincidentally—share Bond's initials).
Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer were heroes far more in line with the political climate of the 2000s. Each of them operated in a world fraught with moral grays, where the villains were sometimes indistinguishable from the heroes. Each of them was eventually forced to turn against their allies to accomplish their goals. And each of them suffered immense personal consequences because of their actions, no matter how just their motivations. While the Bond franchise had flirted with similar ideas in the past, it had never followed through; no matter what 007 suffered, he was always back in top form by the next film, as competent and unflappable as he'd ever been.
It was time to bring 007 back in line with the rest of the world. After 20 films spanning 4 decades, it took a full reboot of the series, with 2006's Casino Royale, to make the Bond franchise relevant again. Casino Royale depicts a ruthless, unpolished 007 on his inaugural mission, under MI6 boss M's watchful (and occasionally skeptical) eye.
But Casino Royale was more than just a simple reboot; it was an aggressive rejection of the series' best-known conventions. There's no banter with familiar characters like Miss Moneypenny or Q to lighten the mood. Le Chiffre, the film's primary villain, doesn't want to rule the world; he wants money, and he's willing to work with terrorists to gain it. When Bond is captured, Le Chiffre's torture method isn't a laser or a shark tank; it's beating Bond's genitals with a knotted rope. And, most significantly, despite Bond's legendary womanizing, much of the film is devoted to an honest-to-God love story (between James Bond and the enigmatic Vesper Lynd).
Casino Royale's rejection of the series' conventions made it a smash with both critics and audiences, and the franchise drew its then-highest gross ever (and Daniel Craig's second outing as 007, 2008's Quantum of Solace, grossed even more). Given these successes, last week's announcement that Daniel Craig will return to cinemas for his third 007 film (scheduled for release on November 9th, 2012) is no surprise.