Looking back and moving forward: Thoughts on James Bond’s latest outing, ‘No Time to Die’

Although many different actors have played the role of British super spy James Bond over the years, Daniel Craig is my personal favorite. Daniel Craig is “my Bond” in the same way that David Tennant is “my Doctor.” Craig was my gateway into the Bond franchise. And even though I’ve seen other Bond movies and can appreciate their significance in the history of cinema, I never quite managed to connect to the other Bonds in the same way that I connected to Craig’s version of the character. 2006’s Casino Royale is my all-time favorite spy film, and one of my favorite films, period. 

So obviously, watching No Time to Die was a bittersweet experience for me. It’s been widely publicized as Craig’s final outing as Bond, and while I’m excited about what a new actor could bring to the franchise in the future, it’s always a little sad to say goodbye. 

The Daniel Craig films helped to bring Bond into the modern era, working in elements from the classic Bond films while also updating them for our current world. While there’s a lot to love about the older Bond films, there’s also parts that haven’t aged as well, particularly when it comes to the way female characters are treated (both by the scripts and by Bond himself). The Bond girls sometimes seemed more like objectified, disposable eye candy, and Bond’s behavior towards women wasn’t always, well, great. 

Craig’s “Bond girls” are, for the most part, a nuanced bunch, and the franchise is better for it. Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd is a magnificent foil for Craig’s Bond in Casino Royale, and their verbal repartee is sizzling with chemistry and wit. She’s more than a pretty face; she’s a partner and an equal, and when she betrays him, she breaks his heart (and yes, Daniel Craig’s Bond does have a heart, however much he might like to convince you otherwise).

Bond’s heartbreak over Vesper echoes throughout all his other films, and that’s an element I really, really appreciate. Their relationship receives a poignant bit of closure in No Time to Die, which really helps tie all five of Craig’s Bond films together. 

No Time to Die nails the technical ingredients of a Bond film: exotic locations; stylish, perfectly tailored clothes; action scenes and car chases; and a great score (courtesy of Hans Zimmer). I wasn’t a huge fan of Billie Eilish’s new Bond theme song when I listened to it on its own, but it actually works really well within the context of the film and with the visuals in the opening credits. Also, no Bond film is complete without colorful side characters, and Ana de Armas is a delight in her too-brief scenes as a contact Bond meets in Cuba. 

However, what really sold me was this film’s surprisingly moving emotional core. ***Warning: Spoilers ahead!*** We get to see Bond working through the challenges of a real, authentic relationship with psychiatrist Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), with whom it’s later revealed that he has a daughter. I don’t know about you, but in the film’s finale, when Bond tells Madeleine that he loves her and that their daughter is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen, I was getting really misty eyed in the theater (I’m sure it was just fall allergies, of course). 

No Time to Die allows Bond to be emotionally vulnerable in a way that’s still authentic to the character. While Bond isn’t exactly known for his sensitive soul, he is still human, and beneath that tough, steely-eyed exterior, he has struggles just like the rest of us. You feel his grief when he loses his friend Felix Leiter in action (played by the always wonderful Jeffrey Wright). He tries to get over Madeleine after he (mistakenly) believes she betrayed him, but that’s easier said than done. 

Is it possible for a character like Bond, whose career comes with a license to kill and a rogue’s gallery of villains, to have a happily ever after? Can you live that kind of life and then just disappear off the grid to enjoy retirement in peace? For Craig’s Bond, the answer is no. Yet while he doesn’t get a “happily ever after,” the character does receive a good ending, at least in my opinion. 

Despite the film having a title like No Time to Die, I didn’t actually expect them to kill off Bond in this film. The fact that they do kill him in the film’s final scenes could have come across as a gimmick, but it works for me because A) the character makes a conscious choice to sacrifice himself to save the people he loves and B) Daniel Craig really sells the scene with his acting. Bond’s death isn’t about shock value; the scene is handled with the emotion and weight it deserves. It’s like Iron Man’s death in Endgame and Han Solo’s death in The Force Awakens; these death scenes feel earned because the story preceding them was carefully crafted to lead to that particular moment. 

As for where the Bond franchise goes from here, well, that’s anyone’s guess. I do like that in No Time to Die, the film makers introduced the concept of other characters taking on the designation 007 (I’d like to see more of Lashana Lynch’s secret agent Nomi in the future, please). As with any franchise, the Bond films will need to continue adapting and evolving in order to remain relevant to modern audiences. Due to technology, the Internet/social media, and now the coronavirus pandemic, our world is rapidly changing, and certain elements that worked in classic Bond films may not work as well now. 

That being said, I feel like period dramas are definitely having a moment, and I wouldn’t mind watching a new Bond movie that was set in the 1960s but told through a modern lens. I would love to see a retro Bond story from a female director/female writing team, because I think that would bring a fresh perspective to the franchise. 

Similar to the rumors about who will play the next Doctor on “Doctor Who,” speculation about who will play the next Bond is ongoing and ever-changing. A recent shortlist I saw included “Bridgerton” star Regé-Jean Page as a possibility and words cannot express how much I would LOVE this. He’s got a great sense of smoldering swagger, while also displaying a nice emotional range as an actor. If Page is picked as the next Bond I can guarantee that wherever you live, you’ll be hearing my fangirl squeal from over here in the Midwest. 

I also most certainly wouldn’t mind seeing the oh-so-charming Henry Golding as the next Bond, or the immensely talented Daniel Kaluuya. Of course, the franchise could pick a complete unknown but I think the franchise would get a nice boost from casting a young, up-and-coming actor who has some buzz behind them. 

While there are some long-running franchises out there that I feel need to wrap up and ride off into the sunset, I think there’s still a lot of life to be had in the Bond experience on the big screen, or even a miniseries on a streaming service. I’m still game for many more martinis shaken, not stirred.

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