Daniel Craig in No Time to Die. Photograph: Nicola Dove/AP
With its shocking developments, is Daniel Craig’s final outing as James Bond a slap in the face for 007 fans? Will it be an asterisk in the canon or change the franchise for ever?
The Guardian –Jordan Hoffman
Daniel Craig is double-oh done. His services to Her Majesty are complete, and he’s not coming back as anything other than a flashback. Where No Time to Die sits in the grand ranking of James Bond films is now up to the fans to decide, but one thing is for certain: like the non-Eon Sean Connery picture Never Say Never Again or even the jokey 1967 Casino Royale, Craig’s swansong will forever be remembered as something unique, maybe even a franchise asterisk. It colours outside the lines in ways we haven’t seen before, and this may lead to some consternation. Here’s what we couldn’t stop talking about when the picture ended.
Wait, what? Bond is dead?!
We did say “with spoilers” at the top of this article, so you have no one to blame but yourself here.
James Bond is dead, and no, not in a jokey way like in You Only Live Twice. He is blasted to smithereens by missiles on Lyutsifer Safin’s private island, and faces his annihilation with some sadness but also a proper stiff upper lip. He says goodbye to his one true love (more on that in a bit) and to his obligations to Great Britain and the Free World.
It’s undeniably moving. But I question — and perhaps you do, too — whether it is right. What are we as a society losing if we can’t rely on James Bond to get out of any tough situation? Surely Daniel Craig, Cary Joji Fukunaga and the 007 producers wanted to put some punctuation at the end of this, the more serious, post-9/11 era of James Bond. But is fundamentally altering the DNA of their character the way to go? Are there not some lines in the sand you do not cross? This goes beyond “Oh, he doesn’t get the girl” or even “Oh, the villain escapes his clutches”. This is taking a character that has been presented thus far as a god, and therefore a little ridiculous, and making him mortal. It’s a big change, and runs the risk of backlash.
I don’t want to sound too much like Kathy Bates in Misery, but I suspect many will feel this is a slap in the face. Bond needs to escape because these movies are escapism. Let other movies have realism: let Bond be Bond. And let’s make sure the producers of the next Indiana Jones film don’t get any ideas.
Le petit espion
“She’s got my eyes,” Bond says to Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) upon meeting the adorable child Mathilde. She also looks about five, which is when Bond and Swann abruptly parted ways during the film’s pre-title sequence. Could she be …?
No, she’s not yours, Swann assures our secret agent, who has been living in sunny solitude in Jamaica catching fish and drinking Heineken-with-the-label-facing-the-camera all this time. And there’s a weird ambivalence we feel in the audience. It would be nice for James Bond to have a child (and a Craig-Seydoux spawn is guaranteed to have quite a look!) but anyone with as many enemies as 007 can not have familial attachments: too many movies have proven this always leads to sadness.
Later in the film, though, Swann confesses that the child is indeed his, which, of course, he already knew. The image of James Bond running through the baddie’s HQ with a stuffed bunny tucked in his suspenders to bring back to the kid is one of the best things in this whole movie.
It’s just a number
When we first meet Lashana Lynch we think she’s just a typical James Bond hookup. Alas, there’s no time to smooch (surely this is the most sexless in the series so far?) because it turns out she’s not merely an MI6 agent, she’s been assigned the code number 007. “Thought they’d retire the number?” she asks, and Daniel Craig plays it cool.
No, he doesn’t like being replaced, but he also recognises that there are only nine “00” options. (Unless there’s a double-oh zero?) Craig, Lynch and Fukunaga play this development delicately. He’s our hero, but Lynch (a Black woman) is the future. And it is clear that she is more than capable. There’s some light ribbing between the two, then they recognise one another’s strengths. By the end, they are a team, and it seems likely that she’ll be back in the next chapter. What number she’ll have, and whether there will still be a “James Bond” at all, remains to be seen – though reports from those who sat through all the credits confirm the phrase “James Bond Will Return” is displayed. (I personally didn’t see it: with all the action on screen, there was no time to pee.)
What’s the rent on an evil lair?
Rami Malek’s cruel, veiny villain Lyutsifer Safin is one of the more delightfully absurd in the entire series. He and Hugo Drax are hopefully having fun playing backgammon in hell.
But God only knows what his master plan is. At first, it seems he has a vendetta against assassins, which I guess makes sense because his parents were bumped off by Spectre. (He appears, in a frightening mask, in the pre-title sequence, traumatising a young Dr Swann.) Somehow, and I am not sure how, he becomes aware of M’s secret bioweapon, which inserts DNA-specific nanobots into people, which enables them to kill anyone just by touch. And now he wants to wipe out whole populations of the planet for some reason. It’s entirely possible that I was just blown away by the gorgeous cinematography in this film and zoned out when more motivation was given.
What’s never explained, though, is how he’s financed all of this, how he got hold of his own private island, and what he’s done to inspire a legion of henchmen to fight to the death for his cause. Ultimately, this is OK, because it is in the spirit of the dopiest Roger Moore-era Bond flicks. The final battle even resembles the one from The Man With the Golden Gun, only a thousand times more expensive. But even by the loose standards of the franchise I have no clue how any of this is possible. It’s a riot.
When No Time to Die really kicks into gear is when everyone rallies around James Bond to save the day. First it’s Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) recognising that Britain and the world need him, then Q (Ben Whishaw) hacking into databases on his behalf (even if it means delaying dinner), then eventually Lashana Lynch’s 007 joining in, with M (Ralph Fiennes) and his chief of staff Tanner (Rory Kinnear) monitoring on comms and delivering lines such as “Come on, Bond” in close-up.
It works because all of these performers are great. It’s also a little bit new. James Bond is James Bond because he is an army of one who can parachute into any situation, save the world and sail off into victory with a comely young woman by his side. That’s not modern movie-making, especially in a post-Marvel Cinematic Universe world. I would not be surprised if an Avengersification of 007 is what we’ll see in future chapters.
Wait, so James Bond is really dead?
Sorry, don’t mean to repeat myself, but let’s get back to the first one.
Yes, James Bond is really dead, and I can’t quite get over it either. The reason he accepts his fate and lets airstrike missiles blow him to bits is because Rami Malek has poisoned him with those kooky nanobots. If Bond lives, he’ll never be able to touch Léa Seydoux or their daughter again. Q says there is no antidote, but I don’t buy it. If they can make this ludicrous thing in the first place, they can make an antidote.
Call me callous but here goes: Bond only just learnt of the kid 10 minutes ago. He can still love her without touching her. And as far as Seydoux is concerned, he’s James Bond. He has loved and lost before. Every movie, it seems, concludes with him escaping with someone who is a natural fit, a true love. Then she disappears.
No Time to Die asks us to buy that Bond’s romance with Dr Swann from Spectre was so eternal that he simply couldn’t live without it? Spectre definitely has its fans, but there are few who position it as an all-time high. Perhaps you, too, were left wondering if No Time to Die places a little too much faith in the audience’s investment in the Bond-Swann relationship?
I’ll raise my hand and admit that, while Craig and Seydoux certainly make a nice couple, it’s not one of cinema’s iconic pairings. In my opinion, Ana de Armas, who only has a brief appearance in No Time to Die, has 10 times the charisma of Seydoux. I’d be more annoyed if I could never be around her, to be honest. She’s a lot more fun.
Any movie with Louis Armstrong on the soundtrack can’t be all bad
No Time to Die is rife with references to the George Lazenby Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This is smart because it reminds us of the precedent-setting continuity hurdles in this beloved franchise. When Lazenby broke the fourth wall and muttered, “This never happened to the other fellow,” it opened an escape hatch that forever comes in handy.
Hans Zimmer quotes from John Barry’s score in a few places, and there’s the recurring “All the time in the world” line. Finally, at the end, after Bond is dead, Dr Swann is on the road (like Bond was when Diana Rigg’s Tracy met her doom) and we hear those majestic, soaring strings and Louis Armstrong’s inimitable vocals. A nice touch that adds a little honey to the bitter ending.
(Not) seeing red
It’s not just the ending of No Time to Die that breaks tradition. The gun-barrel sequence, arguably the most iconic opening visual in all of cinema, is tweaked for some strange reason. For the first time in 25 films, there is no blood after Bond fires his shot?
Why? I don’t know. I don’t know anything any more. James Bond is dead because he would have poisoned his one true love with nanobots and didn’t even bother to escape. I don’t even know how I got out of bed this morning, let alone why they skipped the blood in the gun-barrel sequence. Someone please get me Cary Joji Fukunaga on the phone.