The new James Bond is playing in cinemas, and leaves lots of things to talk about them – with huge spoilers, here are some thoughts on the last half hour.
This article contains major spoilers for Skyfall and No Time To Die.
A few days out from (finally) getting to watch the new James Bond film, No Time To Die, and my head still has a few questions about where all this goes next. It’s not my place to answer them of course – Eon Productions and presumably the soon-to-be-Amazon-owned MGM have got to get to the bottom of them – but it’s not going to stop me putting a few things down.
Up front, I should state I liked the film. I liked it more at the start than the end: the first half hour in particular I felt was outstanding, the last half hour left me a little more perplexed. And it also had me asking questions as to just what the plan here was. Because inevitably, there’s a whole question of where next for the entire 007 screen saga.
The huge spoilers start here.
There are, then, two films in the Daniel Craig era where the villain enjoys some degree of success. Silva in Skyfall is the notable one. In that movie, he effectively wins and he gets what he wants. I still think of it as the one where Bond loses, and I think it’s a crucial definer in the Daniel Craig era of 007. The more I think about the ending to that film, the bolder it is. Notwithstanding the fact that Judi Dench’s M perishes, it’s also that there’s no real victory for Bond there. He’s a secret agent defeated.
He’s defeated again at the end of No Time To Die too, although it’s not an exact parallel. For a start, when he’s blown to bits – and there’s no doubt that he has been – he’s not ultimately died at the hands of the villain of the piece. Furthermore, the aforementioned villain of the piece is barely in the film anyway. So keen are the storytellers here to hold back the appearance of Rami Malek’s Safin, that no character of note is really built up. We get his motivation up front in a hugely striking sequence, and then we barely hear from him again until he needs to warble on a bit and tend to his crops. He’s the first Bond villain to my knowledge to whom horticulture is an asset.
But my feeling with the way the film ended is one of missed opportunity. Even by the big moment, we’d seen the film do something no Bond movie had done before: give 007 a daughter. Already this was asking sizeable questions. Bringing a child for Bond into the narrative fundamentally was set to alter the path for the character forever more. How, after all, could Bond be the carefree agent, willing to risk everything, when all of a sudden he had a great big vulnerability and responsibility? How could that work, and Bond still be the Bond the stories needed him to be? It’s hard to imagine a film where he saved the world from a huge threat, played with some gadgets, travelled the world, got a frolic or two in there and was still home in time for a bedtime story.
I was wondering where it was going and then almost broke out in applause when they introduced the idea that if he ever hugged or kisses his daughter, he’d kill her. Now that was a way around it all, and a way to have Bond and his child living in the same world. To tax and torture 007 as well. Sure, the character would change, but some kind of evolution is surely no bad thing. He’d be forced to leave her be, and live her life. The biggest threat to her existence, in more than one sense, was him. Now that was interesting.
Just as I was getting used to the idea of that playing out, the whole thing with Bond opening the blast doors came up. A big play made of ordering the missiles and ‘don’t worry chap, I’ll get off the island’. And my head suddenly got where this was going. Instead of in any way letting us see where this change to the character of Bond was going, we got a big kaboom instead. And my problems with No Time To Die are there. That it takes us to the precipice of some very big moments, but pulls back.
There’s another it had in the mix after all: the idea of a new 007. Lashana Lynch’s Nomi, was building up really quite nicely I thought. I enjoyed the toing and froing over who got the iconic number. And then, in a flash, the character of Nomi hands it back over in what felt like a bit of a script conference moment. I never quite got the crumbs leading up to the bit where she gave Bond back the 007 code, and I’d been finding the uneasy cooperation between the two of them was really quite fun. I’m not naïve: the 007 number was always going to end up back with Bond, but I thought we’d get something a little more than ‘nah, you have it’. It felt like a bold idea they lost confidence in, or couldn’t find another way out of. Others, of course, may disagree.
Furthermore, by blitzing Bond though, several interesting ideas have been taken out, and presumably the path is now set for a full-on reboot again. That may have always been the intention, and Bond movies do cheat the rules somewhat when they want to (Judi Dench’s M shouldn’t really have been there for the start of the Craig era, but realistically, who didn’t want to see her again, even though it messed with continuity spectacularly?)
But what they’ve done with the Daniel Craig era of Bond is give it a very definitive beginning, middle and end. It’s now – appreciating the nods to other films in the saga – become a very pronounced five film boxset within the broader Bond canon. And for 007 to carry on, the films have presumably got to ignore these five films altogether, in much the same way that something like Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice ignored Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy.
No problem per se, but this, in theory, wipes out a bunch of people who were really getting into their roles. Ralph Fiennes’ M finally seemed to have found his feet as an interesting character in his own right, making very bad decisions for reasons they at least try to justify. Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny has been established as an independent asskicker with a brain and a half, who just happens to life the office life. Ben Whishaw’s Q has been just brilliant. Also, where does that lead Nomi? Has the series introduced a fresh 00, and then ditched her after one film?
Are all these characters, in those guises, now gone? Does the next Bond have to reboot them all along with the lead character? Presumably so, given they’ve just toasted his demise. It’d be a bit odd if they all rocked up for the next movie and carried on as if nothing had happened.
And as a further aside, does this mean there’s no room for us to meet Ana de Armas’ brilliant Paloma again? I think she was one of the film’s many highlights, and would love to see her becoming a recurring character.
A reboot is most certainly needed to some degree of course, but to what extent? Does it go back to Casino Royale origins again?
For what I couldn’t shake from my head, when the plot of No Time To Die needed Q to explain nanobots and bloodstreams, was we’re heading towards the science fiction fantastical that led them to the reboot button last time anyway even if the last ten minutes of this film hadn’t happened.
Remember that producer Michael G Wilson gave an interview discussing Die Another Day saying “we had to come back to Earth” after the likes of the infamous invisible car? The response to that – and to 2005’s Batman Begins – was a gadget-less, raw Bond film, and the start of the Craig era. No Time To Die didn’t quite go as far as Die Another Day with its sci-fi tech, but it was certainly on that path.
There’s a lot to sort out here, and it seems a little odd that the first time Bond is actually taken out is off the back of the weakest and most uninteresting foe he’s faced. Again, I say that having liked the film a lot for the most part.
Whether the 100% reboot is what Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli are planning for the next 007 adventure remains to be seen. We know that there’ll definitely be another film, and we know that casting is to begin in earnest next year. James Bond will return.
It’s just this time, he’ll need to be jolted back to life in more ways than one…
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