No Time To Die? No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die. And here’s why

“Never say No to adventures. Always say Yes, otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.” 

Ian Fleming

Daniel Craig’s fifth outing in the franchise looks to tie the mythology together for a grand finale that gives this iteration of Bond a sense of closure never seen before in the 007 films. There’s no going back from this one.

Like most English boys, I wanted to be James Bond growing up. The ultimate British icon and for boys and toys, he was smart, sexy, suave and deadly. The perfect universal export for UK PLC. Actually he’s still pretty ruthless now, and that’s despite dear old Roger Moore taking the role to Comedy Central in the Seventies and Eighties. 

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Daniel Craig has done wonders for Bond box office since he assumed the role as the iconic secret agent in 2006’s Casino Royale, despite a couple of less than exemplary efforts in the script and directing department. But that’s OK because Bond films have often followed a ‘good Bond, bad Bond’ routine in their long and legendary chronology.

Leaving Sean Connery’s movies out (who on earth would be foolish enough to pick a fight with anything Connery?), and casting George Lazenby’s sole effort aside for obvious reasons, the 007 film series seems to tread a well-worn path.

The Fly Who Loved Me

Roger Moore

Live And Let Die: Good

The Man With The Golden Gun: Bad

The Spy Who Loved Me: Good

Moonraker: Bad

For Your Eyes Only: Good

Octopussy: Bad

A View To A Kill: Ugly

Licence To Chill

Timothy Dalton

The Living Daylights: Good

Licence To Kill: Bad (actually it wasn’t too bad, just more Spy Hard Die Hard than Bond)

GoldenTry

Pierce Brosnan

GoldenEye: Good

Tomorrow Never Dies: Bad

The World Is Not Enough: Good

Die Another Day: Bad, very bad

Tryall

Daniel Craig

Casino Royale: Good

Quantum Of Solace: Bad

Skyfall: Good

Spectre: Bad-ish (wasn’t it just too bloody dark and slow?)

So, convention indicates the 25th 007 film, based on Ian Fleming’s hit novels and directed by True Detective alum Cary Fukunaga, is on course to be one of the good ones. And if Casino Royale and Skyfall are anything to go by, it may indeed be one of the very best.

Another way to die, rear?

Mind you, when I first saw the announcement of the title I don’t mind telling you I groaned. Loudly. 

For a while Bond 25 was variously rumoured to be called Eclipse (too generic), A Reason To Die (too much like low-hanging fruit for bored critics) and, most tellingly, Shatterhand, which although I liked the conceptually minimalist idea of a trilogy of 007 movies using a single, slinky S-word as the title, in the cold light of day it sounded too much like a worryingly graphic description of someone trying to manually catch their own diarrhoea. 

I do hope he washed them

Earlier this year the title was changed to match Bond’s more dramatic film titles. This is No Time To Die.

On first look, it smacked of typically cliched action allusion, following in the footsteps of the similarly sounding You Only Live Twice, Live And Let Die, A View To A Kill, Licence To Kill, Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day. The singular experience of Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service excepted, Craig had been the only 007 to evade the oh-so predictable references to mortality and death – Live, Kill, Die – in his film titles. Until now.

Then again, in a way it’s hard to imagine a more Bondian title than this one. Especially when a little bit of research reveals that, in cinematic terms, it dates all the way back to 1958 and two very notable figures in 007 history. Starring Victor Mature, Anthony Newley and future 007 stuntman Bob Simmons, No Time To Die was the title of a black and white war movie by the franchise’s original producer Cubby Broccoli and his long-term screenwriter Richard Maibaum, four years before they gave the world the first James Bond film, Dr No.

The more you look into the behind the scenes revelations on this once “troubled” production, the more you realise the word “die” hangs over the new title like an axe, especially if you consider one of the reasons given for previous director Danny Boyle departing from the project. 

Depending on who you believe, Boyle wanted Bond to die at the end, completing Daniel Craig’s cycle. Then again, don’t shoot me, but it was also reported in The Sun that Daniel Craig himself – along with current producer Barbara Broccoli (Cubby’s filthy rich daughter) – wanted to go out with the biggest of bangs, demanding Bond die in a “spectacular finale” to bring Craig’s stint as the spy to an end. A source close to the production allegedly told the “news”paper that Boyle thought the idea was “ridiculous”.

“There were discussions about killing off Bond in dramatic fashion at the end. It would also leave it open for a twist in the next instalment — either he hadn’t really died or there could be a Doctor Who-esque regeneration with a new actor.”

Don’t hold your breath

Of course the idea of an on-screen metamorphosis, with a new actor immediately picking up where Craig left off, is an utterly preposterous proposition that I don’t believe for one minute would ever be seriously entertained. James Bond can’t suddenly regenerate into a younger actor for the simple reason that, unlike The Doctor, he’s human. A minor detail perhaps, but nevertheless…

Perhaps Bond really will die in No Time To Die. You know, just like he did in You Only Live Twice or Die Another Day or Casino Royale or Skyfall. But hang on a minute, is James Bond dying really such a crazy idea? In the past, the actors playing Bond, M, Felix Leiter et al were replaced with no reference to the substitutions on screen, the premise being that no actor was bigger than James Bond. The closest anyone got to acknowledging a change of performer was in the Connery era, when it was explained Blofeld had undergone plastic surgery to change his appearance and evade capture.

It’s a completely different scenario with Craig at the helm though, one rooted in the real world. For a series that has traditionally shown little investment in continuity or over-arching story arcs, Craig’s series has favoured the character development that relying on the previous instalment can provide. To everyone’s surprise they killed off Judi Dench’s M. So if you tie Craig’s relinquishing of the role with the culmination off Bond’s personal journey as a double-0 who’s about to become expendable age-wise, then no, not at all. It all makes perfect sense.

It feels like discussions of who will be the next James Bond have been going on forever, but officially, they were all a bit premature. Until now. When asked by German publication Express whether he was done with the part, Daniel Craig has confirmed that he was, adding that “someone else needs to have a go.” 

Craig’s announcement comes a just a month after he officially became the longest serving 007 ever, holding the celebrated role for 14 years and surpassing the former titleholder, Roger Moore.

It’s no secret that almost everyone that has an opinion on Bond felt Moore hung up his holster a film or two too late. Shorty after its creaky run at the box office, a 58-year-old Moore announced that A View To A Kill was his seventh and final time as 007. He was past it and he knew it, but one wonders if the desire to surpass Connery’s six (official) turns as the sexed up spy was a factor.

Daniel Craig is a fine dramatic artist, and certainly the most accomplished actor to play 007, but he’s also smart enough to know not to outstay his welcome. He doesn’t look anywhere near it, but come the release of No Time To Die in April 2020, Craig will be 52. Between his age, various on-set accidents, and the amount of time he is forced to spend getting into shape for the part, Craig is almost certainly genuine this time when he says he’s finally retiring from the role that made him a movie megastar.

James Bond is more than a movie character – he’s the cornerstone of a pop culture franchise that includes video-games, comics, merchandise, DVDs (yes, some people still buy them), streaming services, and other highly profitable items. Author Ian Fleming stopped writing the 007 books just prior to his death in 1964 – but there have been dozens of new novels and short stories sold since.

The death of the main character doesn’t mean the end of the franchise: for example, the demise of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker hasn’t slowed Star Wars much. But suggesting Bond is failible or even absent in stories about him and his mythology would have a marked impact on sales, which is why fan forum suggestions that Bond may be seen to retire from active service and take a desk job, perhaps as the next M or Q are way off the mark.

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A new 007 has been cast in No Time to Die, and it’s not Tom Hardy or Idris Elba. According to various reports, actress Lashana Lynch has been given the role of agent 007, displacing James Bond while he was away from MI6.  The replacement of double-0 agents in certainly in keeping with the novels – and more importantly the movies – because they often expired on the job.

However, the money’s on Lynch’s character having to relinquish her 007 codename once Bond reappears on the scene. Whether she lives to tell the tale, I don’t know, but just the fact that she’s black and female and a double-0 is a pretty clever way of addressing the politically correct chitter chatter that it’s time for James Bond to be non-white and non-male. 

It could also be a great way of introducing a potential spin-off character to the regular series, especially since Phoebe Waller-Bridge has been brought onto the Bond board to sprinkle her particular brand of #MeToo magic.

Bond’s unique place in the cinema firmament has been slowly eroding for decades, and the producers may want to make room for future, unconventional stars after No Time to Die. For example, Halle Berry was once considered to star in a spinoff based on her Tomorrow Never Dies character Jinx.

When James Bond rolled into theatres in the early 1960s, the alpha-male daredevil spy was fairly new to moviegoers. But in 2019, cinemas are littered with action super-spies, in movie franchises such as Mission Impossible, Jason Bourne.

But the keyword in all of this is “reboot”.

Reimagine, remake, reboot.

Whether we like or not, rebooting film franchises has become the norm in mainstream 21st Century cinema. Eon Productions, the Broccoli-helmed company who own the Bond series have done it once already, with spectacular results.

The idea of taking it all back to the beginning with Casino Royale was a huge gamble. But Eon had the guts to do it, and completely restarted the chronology of Bond, separate from the previous timeline while staying true to the backstory Ian Fleming created in the 1950s. 

Despite the longer than usual breaks between each of his outings, the Daniel Craig movies are unique in not being standalone stories but have a consistent narrative arc across the films.

OK, I’m going to call it. A real bums on seats plot device if ever there was one, James Bond gets killed off at the end of No Time To Die.

Bond’s not going to hobble on into retirement and live happily ever after with the woman he loves, he is going out with the biggest bang of them all. That gives Eon free reign to restart the series at some point in the future. One thing’s for certain, it won’t be with Idris Elba because he’d be in his fifties by the time Bond 26 is ready to go, though I’m sure Elba’s agent loved all the publicity their boy was garnering. After all, much of the speculation was planted by them in the first place to raise his acting profile.

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On the other hand, cinematic James Bond has made millions, even billions for producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson, and for United Artists and later MGM, Sony Pictures, Columbia, etc. To “kill the goose that laid the golden age”, no matter how aged he/she is, is a financial risk to both the producers and all the down-stream providers that rely on revenue from other areas.

Perhaps they’ll really go for the youth market and cast the youngest actor ever to play Bond, possibly giving moviegoers more of an insight into the rookie Commander Bond of the Royal Naval Reserve before he achieves his 007 status than they did in Casino Royale. Maybe they’ll even “reimagine” the films they’ve already made and start with a 21st Century Dr No.

Oh, yes, Dr No. Some of you have been expecting him.

In No Time To Die, the main villain is played by Rami Malek, who you’ve probably read a zillion times won an Oscar for playing Freddie Mercury in the Queen movie Bohemian Rhapsody. In the early publicity for the film Malek’s character has been given the name of Safin, “the one that really gets under Bond’s skin. He’s a nasty piece of work.”

Much has been made of the first trailer and movie poster not showing his hands, though you certainly can see a little knuckle in the poster. No matter, coupled with a couple of scenes in the trailer where Safin appears to be wearing a broken Noh mask (barely concealing a scarred visage), that one of the key film locations is Jamaica, there appears to be an underwater lair, and that the shadowy Spectre organisation again figures in the storyline, the internet is ablaze with chatter that the Bond baddie is actually Dr No, and that Eon have brought it full circle back to the very first Bond movie for Daniel Craig’s last, and thereby completing all the timelines of the Bond films.

In the above interview with Good Morning Britain last week, Malek was keen to shoot down the rumours. “It’s not as if I’m going back to play an exact character. I wasn’t playing Dr No again.” At this juncture, I should remind you that in an interview with GQ magazine in April 2015, Christoph Waltz stated that his character in Spectre was “definitely not” Ernst Stavro Blofeld in any form. This turned out to be a ruse devised by the studio to maintain an air of mystery surrounding the film.

in 1964’s You Only Live Twice, the last Fleming novel published in his lifetime, Blofeld returns and Bond finds him hiding in Japan under the alias Dr. Guntram Shatterhand.

However, Eon have not been averse to purloining names and plot devices from Bond novels that don’t share the same title as the film in question. Cuckoo. Does the name of Franz Oberhauser ring a bell? Oberhauser was a name referenced in the Octopussy short story, and finally made it to cinema screens half a century later in Spectre.

So even though we can clearly see from the trailer that Walt is resuming the role of Blofeld, there’s no guarantee it’s him who’ll be using the Shatterhand alias.

Dr Julius No*, of course, is a criminal scientist with metal pincer-like prosthetic hands that shatter and destroy anything they come into contact with. So perhaps that includes the life of the most celebrated movie spy in history. “I think this one might be a bit more emotional. A really extraordinary film for Daniel to end on,” says Rami Malek.

The mantra of #MeToo is ‘I believe’, and this is what I believe is going to happen to James Bond and the film franchise in general. 

No, Time To Die, Mr Bond. And not a minute too soon.

Steve Pafford

*In the dinner table clip from Dr No you may notice the squat, meat headed guard, played by Milton Reid, who later had a word or one with Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me. Around the time Rog finally hung up his Walther PPK, my mother was working for Milton and his wife Bertha, who lived in the same village as us, on the edge of the new town of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire. It was an unconventional marriage, let’s put it that way.

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