Having let a handful of other guaranteed blockbusters – Black Widow, Venom: Let There Be Carnage – stick their toes in the post-pandemic cinema waters to test the audience temperature, No Time to Die has proven to be a box office smersh. Sorry, smash.
Well, obviously. I mean, it’s James Bond. You know the chap. 007, licence to kill, shaken not stirred.
Ian Fleming wrote his first Bond book Casino Royale in 1952, with the first film Dr No starring Sean Connery released in 1962. Almost seven decades after Bond’s debut, an entire ideology and mythology has sprung up around the character, one that has become so entrenched in pop culture you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of him.
Spoofs, spin-offs and spy movies influenced by the character aside, without Bond there would be no Jason Bourne, Jack Ryan or Indiana Jones, to name but a few.
Reviews for No Time to Die have heaped praise on the film. “With his fifth movie as 007, Craig is so extraordinary he leaves only scorched earth behind. There will be other Bonds for those who want them. For everyone else, there’s Craig,” wrote Time critic Stephanie Zacharek.
But for many who have seen the film and who remained in the cinema long after the lights had come up and the staff had started sweeping up the popcorn, wondering what on earth they had just seen, many questions remain. Not that producers are giving any answers.
So, let’s talk about those bombshells. (Major spoilers ahead...)
Bond is a father
Yes, you read that right, James Bond is a daddy. Five years after 007 puts his love Dr Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) on a train, unsure if she’s a double agent, she re-enters his life when the pair unwittingly team up for a crack at Spectre head honcho Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). Before you can say “product placement”, they’ve gone from the confines of London’s Belmarsh Prison to a glorious advertisement for Range Rover. Sorry, I meant, an SUV chase across a stunning Norwegian landscape in one of the film’s standout scenes.
However, before the baddies turn up, Swann introduces Bond to her daughter Mathilde, immediately insisting as she does: “She’s not yours.”
Naturally, Bond has reservations. Mathilde is around 5. He and Swann parted ways five years ago. You don’t need a PhD in advanced mathematics to figure it out. “She’s got my eyes,” Bond protests, phone in hand, ready to put in a call to The Maury Povich Show for an on-air paternity test.
Later, Swann admits what we already know. Mathilde is indeed Bond’s. Her lie is obviously a narrative device to feed into the “is she or isn’t she who she says she is” sub-plot, but ends up feeling clunky.
Fatherhood emerges as yet another of the ways in which the writers have attempted to humanise Bond, turning him from a cold-hearted blunt instrument into the man-who-cares-about-things-beyond-Queen-and-country. It also gave them the opportunity to go, not quite full, but let’s say quarter Con Air with a whole protect-toy-bunny-at-all-costs-as-metaphor-for-father’s-love scene. You know the one.
Madeleine Swann was the love of his life, apparently
Not to sound like a jealous, embittered ex-girlfriend, but her? Really? Swann first appeared in 2015’s Spectre as the daughter of the mysterious Mr White, the man who had been pulling the strings in Casino Royale, which lead to the death of Vesper Lynd – the woman some insist remains Bond’s real true love.
As strong, intelligent and resourceful as Swann may admirably be, the fact the audience is required to believe this is the woman Bond cannot live without (literally) is a stretch.
Bond has been in love before. In The World Is Not Enough, Pierce Brosnan’s Bond fell harder and more convincingly for Sophie Marceau’s Elektra King than Craig’s 007 does for Swann. Plus, the spy has been married twice, to Tracy Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Kissy Suzuki in You Only Live Twice. That’s before we even get into Lynd. We’ve all seen Bond in love and, sorry, what he and Swann are peddling isn’t it.
James Bond is dead
This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill. The writers and producers kill off James Bond at the end of the film. And not in a “fake death” kind of way as seen in You Only Live Twice when Bond is buried at sea only to be rescued by a submarine. James Bond is dead. Gone. Blown up by British missiles deployed from HMS Dragon to destroy the baddie Safin’s (Rami Malek) private poison island.
I’ll say it again, because it bears repeating: James Bond is dead. He is not coming back. Killed by the very country he has spent his life serving. A slight smile on his face, welcoming the coming oblivion, because in his final villainous act, Safin has infected him with nanobot-infused blood ensuring he can never again touch Swann or his daughter without killing them.
If further proof were needed, M, Q, Tanner, on-off 007 Nomi, and Moneypenny gather in M’s office to toast their fallen colleague. “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist,” intones M, quoting American writer Jack London. “I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
Backlash against the ending has been deafening by its silence as fans strive to not spoil the ending by discussing it too loudly on social media, referring instead to “that ending”.
Certainly, it left me unable to shake the feeling that those who have expressed joy Bond is dead in this age of reboots, only got into the franchise when Craig took over. Because it’s hard to escape the notion Bond was killed off because Daniel Craig was leaving. That this was done for Craig, rather than the fans.
For those who stuck around post-credits, the familiar words “James Bond will return” appeared onscreen the way it always has done. But this time, it felt like crumbs placatingly thrown to fans. A pat on the head. “There, there. Here’s a vague promise, now off you go.”
For those clamouring for a female Bond, it’s time to let go of your hopes, as you did for an Idris Elba Bond. Producer Barbara Broccoli remains adamant the character will not be a woman.
“He can be of any colour, but he is male,” she told Variety. “I believe we should be creating new characters for women – strong female characters. I’m not particularly interested in taking a male character and having a woman play it. I think women are far more interesting than that.”
So, while the designation 007 can be a woman, and is in No Time to Die with Lashana Lynch who steals every scene she’s in, the character James Bond cannot. Which is moot really, because he’s dead.
Or is he?
Naturally, in the wake of No Time to Die, Bond fan canon kicked in, with debate raging online as to whether “James Bond” is, in fact, a code name rather than the spy’s actual name. Digging through the tin foil hat meanderings, two schools of thought emerge: yes, “James Bond” is a codename, and the next 007 will be given the moniker irrespective of his birth name. And no, James Bond the man is dead, so prepare yourself for Malcolm Smith 007 or Hakeem Darnell, licence to kill.
Interestingly, fans on both sides of the argument point to one film, Skyfall, as proving both points.
For the nos, in Skyfall, Bond returns to the family home in Scotland where he visits his parents’ graves. The headstone of which is clearly engraved “Andrew Bond” and “Monique Delacroix Bond”. If James Bond is a codename, does that means his parents had codenames too? And James’s grandfather? It’s unlikely.
For the ayes, fansite What Would Bale Do has an interesting theory.
“The one answer to all the lingering questions regarding 007 is simple: yes, James Bond is a codename, but no, James Bond doesn’t know it’s a codename,” it insists.
Citing Skyfall villain Javier Bardem’s Silva as proof there are several James Bonds, it states: “My interpretation is not that Silva is the literal son of [Judi Dench’s] M, but that he identifies as one of her many sons, as all her agents are her sons. But he is also this: the only other living James Bond.
“Remember that knowing look of his? It’s on full view as he arrives at Skyfall, casually walking out of his helicopter and tossing grenades at the house. He remembers Skyfall well. It’s the place he had been brainwashed into believing was his childhood home. Just as Daniel Craig’s Bond was brainwashed into thinking the same thing.”
Ah, brainwashing as a plot device. It’s right up there with “it was all a dream”. But who knows, I suppose it’s plausible.
After all, they just killed James Bond. Anything can happen.