How does a physical James Bond live in a world where terrorism threats are going digital? Where viruses are more dangerous than guns? What is the use of a suit-wearing spy when you have Pegasus? And yet, the magic of 007 lives on, and No Time To Die may be the best of all installments. Cinema is again giving us something that the pandemic had taken away – an escape.
Daniel Craig’s last outing as James Bond and the 25th film in the British franchise has done something no other 007 film has – given its hero an ultimate Achilles Heel, a character arc and closure. So, if you haven’t watched No Time To Die, then avert your eyes, for there will be spoilers. Here, Bond faces his obsolescence, his age, and his emotions beyond a stiff upper lip.
The Anti-Bond is here. It’ll leave you shaken and stirred.
Daniel Craig is the best Bond
Argue with me, but 10 minutes into Casino Royale (2006), I knew Daniel Craig didn’t fit into the Bond formula, and he took the franchise out of its 1990s’ stale pit. Here we were, sitting in our single-screen cinema hall in Kolkata, confused as to whether this was CIA’s rogue Jason Bourne or MI6’s James Bond. The secret agent was no longer fighting with cool gadgets, and seemed hungry for blood and murder. He was also in love – that’s new. Casino Royale is pretty hard to beat, and right up there with Skyfall (2012), From Russia With Love (1963) and Dr. No (1962).
Craig has set his 15-year-era apart from suave Sean Connery, chic Pierce Brosnan and (silly) Roger Moore. For someone who grew up watching the transition from Brosnan to Craig, the deal couldn’t be better. We’ll not talk about Quantum of Solace (2008) and Spectre (2015) – even Craig after Spectre had said he would rather ‘slash his wrist’ than make another Bond movie. Glad he didn’t.
Enter filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga and Fleabag star Phoebe Waller Bridge as a writer, and the Bond world isn’t the same anymore.
The last three films have tried to drag 007 out of its White saviour world. The movies diversified – something even Marvel and DC multiverses are struggling to do – and tried to situate Bond’s fight with his own life and purpose within his fight against multiple villains sitting in their lairs. (In my opinion, Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva in Skyfall is hard to beat, and Rami Malek as Safin in No Time To Die just doesn’t have a nefarious purpose enough). The Bond ‘girls’ are no longer bikini-wearing props; they have lives outside of Bond’s arms (think Vesper Lynd and Dr Madeline Swan played by Lea Seydoux – the two women Bond falls in love with, or even American operative Paloma). After Bond retires from active service, the next 007 is a Black woman, Nomi, played by Lashana Lynch. She isn’t here to flirt or be eye candy, she has a job to do at MI6 (thank you Phoebe Waller Bridge?). Although, it’s time we retire Cuba and ‘disputed waters’ between Russia and Japan as the places where all villains and White heroes meet. That apart, Bond is now also visibly older. He knows that, his bosses know that, his villains know that. And that sets Daniel Craig apart. He was willing to make his Bond more real, more conflicted.
And here I talk about serious spoilers.
For the first time, we have a James Bond ‘mini-series’ – Casino Royale to No Time To Die – that tells a complete Bond story in itself. Here is a reinvented man who started out as a secret agent and then got bitter with every movie – confusing his professional missions with his personal ones. Mind you, reinventions are rather rare in this world that author Ian Fleming created, with Craig’s predecessors sticking to the formula of ‘suave agent saves world’. But Bond lacked a legacy, and No Time To Die gives him one – a woman he loves and a child that he just gets to know about moments before his time’s up.
A nanobot that infects you and your DNA to kill your family – there’s no way to get rid of it, just like the coronavirus. In the end, that nanobot is what Bond is infected with, even if he makes it out, he can’t be with his family. He is, finally, what the franchise wanted him to be for the last 60 years, a weapon. As missiles pour down on him and destroy the villain’s lair and the DNA tech, Bond meets his end willingly.
“The antidote to decades of Bond’s misogyny? Showing us a 007 who would rather die than live without the woman he loves and the daughter they share. It is a brave conclusion to a film which mostly keeps itself preoccupied with Bond’s past instead of facing his future,” wrote Esquire.
The film is a love song to Daniel Craig – his emotional range, his dapper suits and sunglasses in fights, and also to the Aston Martin DB5. (I’ve seen at least six headlines calling the movie a ‘swansong’). It’s the goodbye the blue-eyed Bond deserves.
Do we need another Bond?
As I thought about this question, I saw one more trailer of one more superhero film – the same-old hero saves the world (America) from other-worldly villains. And there’s a reason why that works and mints billions – the world is tired, it needs to feel good for two hours, it needs superheroes that reality doesn’t give us on a mega scale.
You know the Bond tune, you know the circle that he shoots into, you know his flair for the dramatic – the repetition is a comfort in an uncertain reality.
Daniel Craig as Bond had to die, so the franchise can live. He can’t be a Family Man, like Manoj Bajpai was in the Amazon Prime series, a secret agent bullied by his two kids for ice cream.
As the credits roll on after No Time To Die, we see the words ‘James Bond will return’. It’s a confirmation that the spy will not retire from Her Majesty’s service yet. And Daniel Craig’s advice to whoever is the next Bond: ‘Dont be sh*t’. If Idris Elba takes up the role next, I’ll be the last one to complain. Even though no one would fret if Bond was put to rest after No Time To Die.
Bond is dead, long live Bond.
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