No Time To Die? Why it probably is time for this iteration of Bond to die, and how future iterations
I’ve always been a bit of a Bond fan. I can remember eagerly awaiting the ITV screenings of the classic Bond adventures as a child. My parents were divorced, and watching the escapades of various old school Bonds, from Connery to Moore to Dalton, was one of the things I most looked forward to when staying with my dad.
We would all sit together on the sofa and enjoy the movie. This is how I first remember watching Live and Let Die, my personal favourite of all the Bond movies. This is how I remember first learning of the ever-changing face of Bond. This is how I grew accustomed to the formula which would both enhance and plague the franchise.
To me, Bond is as much about sitting down with my dad and my brother and enjoying his globe-trotting adventures as it is about the gadgets, the exotic locations, and the bad guys with absurd gimmicks.
It was inevitable, perhaps, that the Bond formula would need an overhaul at some point. Not only was it growing consistently more and more stale, it was also starting to become incredibly silly – we all know about the invisible car, don’t we? - and, more importantly, it was problematic. Its leering male gaze had objectified every “Bond girl”, its casual racism crept its way into the portrayal of side characters and villains, and its continued reliance on these things had made the whole thing outdated and just kind of gross.
Watching old school Bond now has a certain kind of nostalgic charm for me, but that’s more to do with my own personal experiences of watching the movies as a kid, and I have to admit that there are more moments that make me bristle with discomfort than there are moments of enjoyable escapism.
Bond’s golden bullet, as it were, was always its ability to evolve and grow. With the changing of the lead so too came the changing of the style. Connery had his sixties charm and casual cool, Moore brought a kind of over-the-top slapstick with him, Dalton grounded everything in gritty realism, and Brosnan dragged it kicking and screaming into a more digital-orientated world. But all of them, even Lazenby’s single attempt (which now is actually one of the films I enjoy more), suffered from the same built in sexism and pomposity with which the character himself is built from. And none of them seemed to dare to comment on it.
That is until Craig came along and brought with him a Bourne shaped hole with which to squeeze the formula in. At least, at first.
It seemed like Craig would be the saviour of the franchise at one point. When Casino Royale was released and he showed the world that hair colour mattered not, things felt like they were moving in the right direction. This Bond struggled with his identity; he was recognised as a dinosaur in an ever-changing world. He fought to fit in. His outdated attitudes were called out and he felt kind of bad when he killed people.
For all its issues, Quantum of Solace does a relatively good job at keeping this piece of the puzzle going, it’s in almost every other aspect that it collapses in on itself. But then came Skyfall, the one that broke a billion at the box office and tangled itself in the 50th anniversary. Skyfall is a fine film on its own, but as a film that sits within the Craig era, it marks the beginning of a downward spiral.
In Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace Craig’s Bond is a rookie. We see him earn his “00” status in the opening moments of Casino Royale, and Quantum of Solace sees him turn rogue. He’s yet to truly learn the ropes and his arrogance outweighs what little experience he has. Ultimately, he fails at his job in Casino Royale, and it’s a failure that costs him dearly.
Flash forward to Skyfall and he’s an over-the-hill relic who wants to retire. He’s outdated not because of his attitudes so much as his relationship with technology and to those much younger agents around him. He and Judi Dench’s M have a... ahem, "Bond" built on years of working together. But... what years? What are you talking about, Skyfall? Just one movie ago he was a youngster who needed to learn his place!
You see, for all the fun that Skyfall has calling back to and playing homage to the classic adventures, its DB5 complete with gadgets, and its Home Alone style ending, it’s a film that couldn’t give a fuck about the legacy of the story it is actually a part of. Quite clearly there was a desire, whether from the studio, or incoming director Sam Mendes, or even Craig himself, to pull the franchise back and feed on a bit of the nostalgia juice that so many movies and TV shows seem desperate to get on, and to hell with what came before it.
As a series of films, the Craig era of Bond is a disjointed, complicated mess of inconsistencies and nonsense. It goes from looking forward, reinvigorating the franchise with a much-needed sense of modernity, only to immediately revert backwards, looking fondly upon the classic adventures and squashing any work done in the previous entries.
And then there’s the fact that this nostalgic layer of self-gratification that flows its way through both the Mendes films, Skyfall and Spectre, exist in tandem with the growing real-world propensity to look backwards in a nationalistic light at the “Great British Empire”. I mean, it all just becomes a bit yuk. But that’s an essay for another day.
It appears, to me at least, that the filmmakers are aware of this bizarre inconsistency in the narrative too, as they try desperately at the end of Spectre to tie everything that’s happened to Craig’s Bond together in a messy, half-arsed little bow. Of course, it doesn’t work, because the two earlier movies and the two later films are coming at the franchise from distinctly different angles. One is moving forward, the other looking backward, and the whole thing winds up feeling more like a lazily forced attempt at implying some kind of pre-planned continuity than it does actually doing anything to help.
I’m a sucker for a Bond film, and so I’ll be there even when it’s crap, and there is plenty to enjoy about both Skyfall and Spectre (admittedly Skyfall is a far better movie). The action sequences are great, they look beautiful, and Craig is a good presence in the character’s shoes. But really, they both feel like pale imitations of movies that had far more fun creating whacky hijinks for Bond to explore than either Skyfall or Spectre do simply regurgitating them.
What a shame it is that we never got to see the new, younger, more dangerous, more Bourne-like Bond of Casino Royale fully evolve into the character he could have become. It would have been interesting.
See, this is why I’m glad that No Time To Die will be Craig’s final outing. It’s time for the character to take a break and have a bit of a rethink. It seems to me that the new film will be, based on the trailers at least, continuing this trend of wobbly continuity and uninteresting “reimaginings” of iconic characters (why is Blofeld Bond's brother now? Can anyone explain that one to me?)). I really do want to see this iteration go out on a high, but something just feels off to me.
When I sat watching the Bond movies as a kid with my dad, what gripped me was how fresh and exciting it felt, even when it was adhering to the same formula. Say what you like about the likes of Moonraker or, hell, even Die Another Die, but they weren’t focused solely on looking backwards and trying to copy what came before. They suck. But they suck because they tried something a little different and it didn’t work.
I want to see the character succeed in the modern world, but constantly trying to reference back to what came before with a knowing nudge and a wink isn’t the way to do it. Let’s explore the character, let’s scrutinise and develop him. Sure, let's honour his history, but let's not allow that to become the focus. There's so much more to Bond than simply hitting that nostalgia button. What about a Bond film directed by a woman? What about one that takes him back to his 60s origins but tackles the era in a modern context? What about one that does both?
If I wanted to watch something that reminded me of the classics, well, I’d just watch the classics. Let’s have something new, please.