I became a reluctant 007 enthusiast a few years back when my husband bought the 50th anniversary DVD set and we decided to watch all of the movies. Ironically, his appreciation of the series diminished during the course of the project while my morbid fascination increased (as evidenced by the reviews and recaps I did of every single movie and each of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels).
I call my fascination with the series ‘morbid’ because, let’s be honest: there are many, many aspects of the James Bond series that are problematic at best, and let’s be equally honest that most of the movies are arguably garbage. But the series has functioned as a unique sort of time capsule for so many things since its debut: Hollywood, pop culture in general, the patriarchy, etc. How each movie adapts to try to stay relevant is fascinating to me, from The Man with the Golden Gun‘s appropriation of kung fu movie set pieces (and, oddly, a racist Sheriff character straight out of Smokey and the Bandit) to Moonraker‘s desperation to cash in on the success of Star Wars, on to Goldeneye‘s tacit admission that 007 is a Cold War relic best left to the past, and more. I’m fascinated with the James Bond franchise not because of the quality or the pageantry, but because of what it says about the world at large.
No Time to Die is a special entry in a series that continues to grapple with its own relevance. Six 007 movies were released in the 1960s, and ten more were released in the 70s and 80s. The 90s and 00s saw a mere six entries, and with only two Bond releases (Skyfall and Spectre), the 2010s are officially the decade in which James Bond made the fewest trips to movie theaters. In a decade in which franchises, sequels, and existing IP are worth their weight in gold, no less. Shouldn’t James Bond be more omnipresent than ever right now?
But that in and of itself is not why No Time to Die is special. No, this movie is special because it marks the official end of the current 007 era–which is in and of itself unique because Bond eras have a way of changing in between films. We had an inkling that Roger Moore would retire from the series, but nothing was official until after A View to a Kill was already filmed. Timothy Dalton certainly didn’t plan for his second Bond movie, License to Kill, to be his last, and yet it was. Pierce Brosnan even publicly campaigned to continue on as 007 after it was announced that the franchise was going to be retooled and recast in the wake of the execrable Die Another Day. Instead, No Time to Die has been planned as Daniel Craig’s last go-round as James Bond (Craig publicly commented on his frustrations with the series during the press tour of Spectre).
What this means for the future of the franchise is unclear. Craig’s Bond films are unique because they rely rather heavily on continuity–eschewing the episodic structure the series had so steadfastly held to in the past (even when it used the same villain in the early days). Quantum of Solace is very much a continuation of the story from Casino Royale, and Spectre picks up on plot points from all of Craig’s Bond films–especially the one that preceded it, Skyfall. Will Craig’s departure force the series to reboot, or does No Time to Die have a plan for how to move forward that will be revealed? And will the next incarnation of 007 try to take better advantage of how franchises currently rule movie theaters?
Furthermore, the Craig years have given us two of the best Bond films of all time and two painful duds. Which side will No Time to Die fall on?
With that in mind, let’s look at the trailer and see what we can hypothesize.
No Time to Die looks great. Lots of exceptionally filmed action set pieces, pathos, gorgeous locations, badass female characters, and Craig continues to be the most interesting actor ever to don the tuxedo (sorry not sorry to all the Sean Connery fans out there). It appears to be everything a modern Bond film should be.
But then, so did Spectre. And look how that turned out…
Still, there are clever riffs on the “Bond, James Bond” line and the iconic gun-barrel sequence, so hopefully, this movie will be more Skyfall than Spectre.
Most significantly, No Time to Die is the first time a former Bond Girl comes back to be part of the story in a major way. Naomie Harris re-introduced the character of Moneypenny in the form of a Bond Girl in Skyfall, but while No Time to Die will mark her third appearance in the series, Moneypenny relinquished all claims to Bond Girl status when she assumed the more traditional Moneypenny role in Spectre. Maud Adams played a Bond Girl twice, but she played two different characters in The Man With the Golden Gun and Octopussy, which means it doesn’t count. And Sylvia Trench came back for a cameo in From Russia With Love, but the series (and the movie) forgets about her character completely once that scene is over, so it doesn’t get counted on the official record.
I had wondered what producers planned to do with Madeleine Swann (played by Léa Seydoux) when she ended Spectre by literally driving off into the sunset with 007. Bond history would argue that she would never be seen or remarked on again, but would a modern Bond movie follow suit? And when it was announced that Seydoux would, in fact, return, I wondered just how much she would factor in. Would Swann be killed off in the opening scene–a belated climax to recall the character arc of the Bond Girl Swann is clearly modeled after, Tracy di Vicenzo? Would producers refuse to kill her off but have her be left behind while James goes off on another adventure–similar to the awful return engagement for Sylvia Trench?
Honestly, these two scenarios seemed to be the most likely ones to me. Imagine, then, how pleasantly surprised I was to see the trailer for No Time to Die, which reveals that Swann is not only back but somehow integral to the plot. It’s impossible to know just how integral she will be to the plot given how misleading trailers can be about such things, but she definitely won’t be appearing in a token role.
No Time to Die implies a rift between Bond and Swann–it is overtly stated that Bond believes she has betrayed him somehow. Did she? It seems more likely that this is a misunderstanding the two will have to resolve as the movie progresses. The real question is whether or not Bond and Swann will have another happily ever after, and I’m genuinely curious about how this will unfold.
I’m less enthused, however, that Christoph Waltz is returning as Blofeld in a sort of Hannibal Lecter role. It’s understandable that the franchise wanted to revive the Blofeld character once a decades-long legal dispute over the character was resolved, but I’ve always thought the franchise was at its best without him and his criminal organization weighing it down. After the events of Spectre, Blofeld is in custody and sporting a wounded eye reminiscent of the one Donald Pleasance wore as Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, and MI6 apparently trots him out whenever they need intelligence. That would seem to be how he and 007 end up face to face again.
What are Blofeld’s ties to Rami Malek‘s new villain, Safin? Is Safin part of Blofeld’s old criminal network or just someone he is familiar with? All is unknown, and if you ask me, this aspect of No Time to Die is destined to be disappointing.
Also returning is Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter, who has been MIA since Quantum of Solace. He appears here as part of the plot to get Bond back into service, but disappears for the rest of the trailer, so it would seem that Leiter is basically making a cameo and the movie is more concerned with other, mysterious motives for getting 007 back in action.
As for the rest of the returning cast, I don’t think Ralph Fiennes has distinguished his M yet, and I’m not confident this will be the movie to change that. I do, however, adore how Naomie Harris has reinvented the character of Moneypenny, so I’m excited to see her back and to see how her relationship with Bond is complicated by the existence of a new 00 agent (more on her later). Judi Dench’s M evolved into the most significant female relationship in Bond’s life and the one person he trusts, and one of Spectre‘s few good points was how it implied that Moneypenny was shifting into that role. Whether or not Bond’s relationship with Swann complicates that further will also be interesting to tease out–I would hate to see Moneypenny forced into a backseat. Ben Whishaw‘s reinvention of the Q character has been a similar delight. He only briefly appears in the trailer, but his single line of dialogue (and Bond’s reaction) promises more greatness. IMdB has Rory Kinnear‘s oft-overlooked Tanner listed in the credits, but true to form, he fails to appear in the trailer at all (Tanner debuted in Quantum of Solace and has been back in every Bond film since).
There’s a New 00 in Town
There were rumors that incoming Bond Girl Nomi (played by Lashana Lynch) would be the new 007 after Bond stepped down following the events of Spectre. The trailer confirms that she is, in fact, a 00, but neglects to use her full number. Having a female 007–especially one played by a black actress in a franchise that hasn’t been great on race–would be a truly audacious way to end Craig’s tenure as James Bond, but I’ll settle for the fact of her mere existence. Honestly, I worry that if Nomi is the new 007, it would spell doom for her character. Let’s be real, here: what are the odds that the producers would opt to continue the series with a black female 007 after Daniel Craig is officially gone? I’d say slim to none, with an emphasis on the none. Again–this is not a series with a great track record on both race and gender.
To be fair, if we assume that Nomi survives No Time to Die (and let’s remember that this series also has a very poor track record on female agents who survive the movies they appear in), a lot of her character’s trajectory in the franchise may very well depend on how audiences and critics respond to her (and if the movie does well financially). I wonder: could No Time to Die be a stealth test case for how a woman would do as 007?
But again, let’s be real: the odds are slim to none, emphasis on the none. It’s more likely that (again, assuming Nomi survives), she becomes part of the posse within MI6 that Daniel Craig’s Bond has steadily formed since Skyfall.
The fact that the Craig era is coming to an end could mean that all of these storylines are also coming to a close, but if No Time to Die has a plan for how to proceed while keeping continuity intact, there’s a chance for Nomi to appear again in some form. Again, assuming she survives–and again, that would be virtually unprecedented for a female agent in the Bond cinematic universe.
The trailer indicates some delicious chemistry between Nomi and Bond, and I hope the final film honors that. She’s the young agent out to prove herself, threatened by the reappearance of an older (whiter and maler) agent coming back into the fold. And best of all, there’s not a hint of sexual seduction between them. Maybe that’s because Swann is, after all, back, but regardless of the reason, it’s nice to see a Bond Girl that could potentially ignore Bond’s sexuality completely.
I have high hopes for this character, but I’m ready to be disappointed.
A Mysterious Bond Girl
In addition to Swann and Nomi (and let’s not forget Moneypenny), we get fleeting glimpses of Paloma, the new Bond Girl played by Ana de Armas (who also stars with Daniel Craig in Knives Out). But since she gets no dialogue in the trailer and all the clips of her appear to be from a single sequence (she wears the same dress throughout), it remains to be seen what her exact role in all this is and how much of a presence she will have. Based on the trailer, it seems Paloma is more of a traditional Bond Girl who only exists for plot (or sex) purposes. This type of Bond Girl has survived into the Craig era, so it wouldn’t be all that surprising. Think of Lucia in Spectre–who barely has five minutes of screentime and only appears onscreen to have sex with 007 and point him in Blofeld’s direction. Or Severine in Skyfall, who basically only exists to be the plot point that introduces 007 to Silva before dying tragically. Or Casino Royale‘s Camille, who gets seduced by 007 for information before being left to die.
You get the point. There’s a chance Paloma will play a more significant role in No Time to Die than this trailer implies, but based on the history of the franchise, I think it’s safe to assume that she will be a blip on the radar.
But the girl looks good and definitely shows off some action skills despite the briefness of her appearance in this trailer.
A New Villain
Blofeld gets as much screentime as Rami Malek’s Safin (if not more), but I think it’s safe to assume Blofeld is relegated to a single scene in No Time to Die while Safin has much more substantial screen presence to come. This trailer only teases his identity, which is probably smart. All we really know is that he likes masks, has a scarred face (that looks less scarred somehow when we see Malek in his entirety), he’s playing God somehow (hopefully not in a Hugo Drax kind of way), and boy does Rami Malek like to play people with slight speech impediments. Exactly what he’s up to will probably have to wait until the next trailer.
Bond villains can really go either way. Safin appears to strictly adhere to the notion that Bond villains should have some sort of “defect” (mechanical hands, webbed fingers, eyes that weep blood, etc.), which is one of the franchise’s more overlooked problematic areas (to be fair, there’s a lot to take in). It’s a lazy way of denoting villainy that the series has never reckoned with because, frankly, it’s bullshit. And since this is pretty much all we get of Safin at this point, I hope you can understand why I feel like the jury is still out on this character at this point.
And is Safin wearing a cape in his character poster? What is up with that?
Once the Bond series embraced the idea of continuity in the Craig era, it unfortunately decided that the best way to handle the ongoing plot is to constantly infuse it with twists. Quantum of Solace is, after all, an entire movie devoted to adding to the twist of Vesper Lynd’s betrayal at the end of Casino Royale. Spectre‘s entire conceit depends on Judi Dench’s M leaving a secret investigation behind after her death for 007 to unravel (nevermind how nonsensical that conceit is). Spectre goes even further, though–retconning every movie in the Craig era to make Blofeld the secret villain who had never been revealed until then (again, nevermind how nonsensical that conceit is). It’s… a tiresome trend. The best Craig Bond movies, Skyfall and Casino Royale, stood on their own without trying to twist what happened earlier.
Consider it a bad omen, then, that it appears producers are keeping the characters of Swann and Blofeld in the mix by having an old secret of Swann’s come to light somehow–a secret that somehow will lead 007 back to MI6 and, ultimately, to Safin. Does Swann have ties to Safin? Has she been harboring a secret villainous affair of some sort? The only certainty right now is that the answers will most likely be unnecessarily complicated and messy.
Did the trailer for No Time to Die make me excited for this movie? Yup. And while I cautioned earlier that Spectre looked great as a trailer and was awful as a movie, there were already signs that Spectre was going to be problematic before the trailer debuted–least of all Daniel Craig’s enthusiasm to be done with the franchise. I have more hope for No Time to Die because it has an opportunity heretofore unheard of in this series: the chance to see a Bond actor off with a bang.
Will it be great? I don’t know. As with all Bond films, all you can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst.