I spend so much time talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars these days, it could be easy to forget that there are other long running series out there that could make those long running series shake in their boots. Or they could if the James Bond franchise managed to put out a movie more than once every six years.
But that’s neither here nor there. Let’s talk about the 25th film in the Bond franchise: No Time to Die.
The final outing for Daniel Craig as James Bond is one of those movies that feel like it’s been on the verge of coming out for a thousand years thanks to pandemic delays. I feel like it was a movie worth waiting for though, feeling like a real conclusion to the “rebooted” Bond continuity that began with Craig’s portrayal of the character in 2006’s Casino Royale.
For the longest time, the Bond movies existed in this nebulous time warp. Telling stories that heavily relied on tropes and familiar elements while only every changing the actors and the time period in which the story took place. They didn’t really connect to one another or mention events of previous movies. And when they did it was only in the form of reoccurring villains.
Their faces were familiar, but their actions were generally left unmentioned. The only real movie that felt like it swayed from this formula was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a movie that was pretty panned at the time and has only really received recognition from critics much later.
In 2006, Casino Royale changed all that. It acted as a soft reboot of the series. Showing us a rookie James Bond on his first assignment as a 00 agent. The only real remnant of the old continuity being Judi Dench reprising her role as ‘M’ from the Pierce Brosnan years. The movie revised many elements from the books and gave us a much harder, more brutal Bond.
A Bond that gave us a story that continued through the events of the following four films, with Quantum of Solace picking up directly after the ending of Casino Royale. Events that continued to intertwine with future movies right up until this final entry in the series.
Saying that now, in a time of MCU and Star Wars saturation might not seem like a big deal. But coming out of a 20 movie long franchise that seemed very resistant to rock to the boat over all those years is a big risk for the traditionally risk adverse Hollywood machine. It was something both people inside and outside of the protection seemed to be of two minds about.
While the first three movies diverged very heavily from the “traditions” of the original franchise, the fourth movies; Spectre, felt like it was trying to go back and lean back into all those tropes and clichés. The result ended up giving us a relatively uninteresting product. Especially in response to the revitalised Mission Impossible movie franchise that was Ghost Protocol and then Rogue Nation coming out earlier that some year.
Maybe in response to Spectre’s shortcomings, No Time to Die seems like a combination of both aspects of Bond. Leaning into the camp and more tongue in cheek aspects of the “classic” iteration of the franchise while telling a story with the very gritty and much realer James Bond that came with Daniel Craig’s stint as the character.
I mentioned 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service earlier. That was no accident, as this final Bond movie in this continuity makes no bones about how much it uses that movie as inspiration for telling a story about Bond’s real connection to the women he loves and what he’ll ultimately do for them. Both beginning and ending with very clear homages to that movie’s famous ending while also turning the lines from George Lazenby and Diana Rigg to mean something very different in the context of this movie.
While Bond has traditionally been portrayed as a machine. Moving on from one conquest to the next, both in his professional and romantic life, the Bond in this franchise is a much more human character. Still carrying the scars left by the betrayal and love of Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. Even though this movie shows a Bond who has since retired from his work at MI6 and is trying to start a life with Léa Seydoux’s character (Madeleine Swann) from the previous movie.
However the sins of his past catch up to them and leads to Bond sending Madeleine away and living off the grid for five years. Its actually her sins that end up bringing Bond back into the world for one final mission to save the worlds from the potential damage of a catastrophic decision made by M in the past now finding itself in the wrong hands.
There are so many elements and characters that connect to the events of the previous four movies in the franchise. And while they’re not essential viewing to understand and enjoy No Time to Die, they do contribute into making this movie something more satisfying that it may have been otherwise.
But isn’t that just a hallmark of the whole “metaverse” driven entertainment industry we exist in these days. Not only does the movie draw reference to the previous Craig movies, but it nods and shows respect to the older movies in the franchise as well.
In the end, No Time to Die is a great way to finish what has been a pretty imperfect era for Bond under Craig. Don’t get me wrong, these five movies have probably been the best in the franchise over its long existence. Casino Royale and Skyfall are two amazing movies only dragged down by a very ineffectual Spectre and the terrible Quantum.
It’s too early for me to say where this movie rates amongst the others, but it’s one of the better ones no doubt. And ends with a level of finality I would never expected to see from the Bond franchise.
I suppose that just means we exist in uncharted waters right now. Bond has shown that it’s more than willing to blow the established tropes and expectations out of the water. And No Time to Die ends in such a way that I honestly can’t fathom how they move forward from here. Just announcing a new actor and announcing a new movie feels like it would be a little anticlimactic.
This era of Bond really did modernise and reinvent Bond. The only way forward from here is to reboot and reinvent again. But how do you do that without undermining what this series has accomplished, if you continue down the same path of a more realistic, gritty Bond, you end up making the franchise feel like its falling back on the same old tropes that kept the franchise running for those 20 movies before Casino Royale.
Lashana Lynch was introduced in this movie as the new 007 who took on the number after Bond’s retirement. The idea of her continuing on the story as the new lead character isn’t the worst idea in my eyes. Although just thinking about the potential (and inevitable) backlash from an announcement like that makes my head spin.
The same thing happens when I think about the potential of the rumours of Idris Elba coming to fruition as well. Although I don’t know what would be more digestible to the older more… “old school” fandom of the franchise: A 007 spinoff series that doesn’t have a James Bond in it, or a casting a non-white person as James Bond.
Personally, in a franchise as long in the tooth as the Bond franchise is, I would welcome them doing something totally different. When you’ve been going this long, theres nothing stopping you from just going back to formula when/if your experiment doesn’t work.
Either way, I feel like we’re in for another big 5+ year break from the Bond franchise. Not counting that Bond video game project IO Interactive have in the works, whatever that might end up being.