New York — This story is about the ending of “No Time to Die,” so if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to know, stop reading now.
That such a spoiler warning is even necessary is rare for a James Bond movie. Doesn’t he save the world and always get his way? Isn’t that one of Agent 007’s immutable laws, like tuxedos, Aston Martins, and scarred villains with seemingly limitless budgets? As surely as his enemies can build a lair in a volcano, Bond has a gadget and a wry joke to deploy at just the right time and rescue humanity. So says the Bond Book.
And yet in “No Time to Die” the unthinkable happens. For the first time in 25 movies — and remember the spoiler warning — James Bond dies. In Cary Joji Fukunaga’s film, Daniel Craig’s fifth and final turn as the British spy, the ending leaves no doubt. He lies on a desert island, with nanobots running for his blood and bombs falling. It is a new purpose for the man with a license to kill, but apparently a revocable license to live.
But his death is only partial. If you thought the explosions at the end of “No Time to Die” spelled the end of a franchise that made billions of dollars, Bond will surely continue. To the consolation of fans, “James Bond will return”, as it says at the end of the credits.
“Bond can go on forever,” Barbara Broccoli, a Bond producer, said in a recent interview. “My father (original Bond producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli) told me that when they were making ‘From Russia With Love,’ (writer) Ian Fleming said to him, ‘You know Cubbie, I think Bond will live a lot longer than I do.’ And Cubbie said, ‘Yeah, and he’s going to live a lot longer than me too.’ He will be here forever.”
This, then, is just the end of Craig’s run as Agent 007, in which he early on brought Bond into a more plausible reality, introducing things that were once anathemas like mourning, grief, and romances that last beyond from a movie. Death was always lurking. In his first Bond film, “Casino Royale”, Bond’s heart stopped briefly. The tropes were not abandoned but deconstructed. When the bartender asks how he wants his Martini in that movie, instead of giving the classic “shaken, not stirred” answer, Bond says, “Do I look like I give a damn?”
After 15 years, Craig has lasted longer in the role than any actor before him, and has evidently grown more tired in that time. In No Time to Die, the most moving of the Bond films, Craig steers the character towards family and love (Léa Seydoux returns as Dr. Madeleine Swann in a prominent role) and deeper emotional terrain than the original. that the globetrotting secret agent has traversed. Death comes not as a shock, but as the natural culmination of a narrative arc that has made the super-spy decidedly mortal.
It’s also an increasingly popular twist in Hollywood, where franchises are timeless and reboots are timeless. When intellectual property can go on forever, death is a novelty. If the fate of the world is always at stake and the future of the protagonist is never in doubt, it is a way of modifying a formula. To some, it looks like meddling with Bond’s primal forces. Film critic Jordan Hoffman called it the “new Coca-Cola syndrome.”
“What kind of world is this?” Hoffman said in a video recorded as he returned home after watching the film. “What’s the point? He is supposed to escape. This movie is escapism. This is not a serious movie. This is not a serious franchise.”
In any case, the sentimentality of such deaths lies not in the fate of the character, but in the departure of an actor. Harrison Ford was ready with “Star Wars” and made a complete departure from it in “The Force Awakens.” Robert Downey Jr.’s 10-year reign as Iron Man was given a long wake in “Avengers: Endgame,” a movie that toyed with the deaths of half of Marvel’s heroes in the opening cliffhanger. Craig, who after “Spectre” (“007: Spectre”) said that he would rather cut his wrists than make another Bond movie, will no doubt shake off rumors of a future 007 return.
It’s not that different from how some authors have felt about the iconic characters that define them. Arthur Conan Doyle threw Sherlock Holmes off a cliff before finally submitting to public pressure for a resurrection. Ian Fleming wrote an obituary for Bond in 1964’s “007: You Only Live Twice” which ultimately turned out to be false (Bond is not dead), but which included a number of details from Bond’s own life. Fleming.
“It’s a very complicated relationship that Fleming had with Bond,” Craig, who has had his own mixed feelings about the character, said in a recent interview. “He didn’t like it. He tried to kill him. There isn’t much in the way of character. Fleming called it, I think, ‘a shadow.’”
Once Craig’s farewell is over, the search for a new Bond will begin. Producers Broccoli and Michael Wilson have said they won’t start until next year. They haven’t put any parameters on who might fit the role, except to say that James Bond is inherently a male character. They also have not said how the franchise will resume after the conclusion of “No Time to Die”, other than that it will be a clean slate. The next installment could pretend that Bond never died, or allude to it in some way. When Craig took on the role, there were plans to do an origin story tracing the formation of James Bond, a possibility this time, if the producers choose to cast a younger actor.
Humor could also bounce back from doom, and perhaps inevitably it will.
“Relax, 007,” suggested Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang, “and for the sake of variety, may your inevitable next incarnation be more lighthearted.”
Wilson once called the James Bond movies not one long series but “a series of series.” With the end of this film a new Bond will be born. Many have hoped to see Idris Elba (now 49) inherit the role, while others are rooting for up-and-coming “Bridgerton” actor Regé-Jean Page. More names will surface, but whatever the future holds for Bond, “No Time to Die” ensured that, perhaps more than ever, it will be a new beginning.
James Bond may perish, but in a blockbuster of this magnitude, tomorrow never dies.
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