Can We Live Without James Bond?

(Possible Spoilers to Follow – You might want to skip the final section.)

After all, he has saved the world so many times: from space weapons, from nuclear weapons, from Communism and Blofeld, from SMERSH and SPECTRE, and from a weapon that uses your DNA to target you, among others. We need him, right? Or we’re doomed.

Bond movies, sometimes with the only thing in common with the Ian Fleming books being the titles, range from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the plausible to the impossible, from complex villains to caricatures, from wonderfully wrought plots to adolescent boy soft porn. And, yes, I’ve seen them all. Trust me, for a farm kid in the 1960s, Dr. No was eye opening, the Ian Fleming books just racy enough you had to had to hide their covers behind the remnants of a brown paper bag.

The Actors

When Daniel Craig first appeared in the Casino Royale remake, I thought, yes, this is the Bond from the books–dedicated but snarky, courageous but vulnerable; he understood the mission even if he had little use for protocol and hierarchy. He was attractive and compelling but not pretty. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pierce Brosnan, but he was too gorgeous to match the description of Bond in the Fleming books.

My favorite portrayers of Bond? Connery, Craig, Dalton, and Lazenby, in that order. And if you thought Lazenby was a joke, a stunt to get Connery to return, watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. You’ll change your mind.

No Time to Die

Yet, in the latest Bond film and Daniel Craig’s last, No Time to Die, we see a jaded, weary Bond. Convinced a woman he loves has betrayed him, he leaves the spy game, only to be drawn back in by his CIA buddy, Felix Leiter. The jadedness, the weariness are to be expected. I mean, he’s been at this a long time, but Craig shows how the right mission for the right reason can make even a retired spy step up his game.

But No Time to Die has changed what audiences expect of James Bond. There is the standard formula plus homages to Bond movies past, but when M agrees to reactivate Bond, he gets a single gadget from Q. Unheard of! And if you watch Bond movies to see him bed all those beautiful Bond girls, you’ll be disappointed. Not a single one, and, indeed, the only sex hinted at is between Bond and the woman he’s involved with early in the movie.

So, you actually have a Bond movie with a plot, one that doesn’t rely on outlandish gadgets and gratuitous sex. Imagine that.

However, I miss Dame Judy Dench as M. Ralph Fiennes is an incredible actor who really brings gravitas, lots and lots of gravitas, to the role of M. But every time he’s on screen, I can only see “He Who Shall Not Be Named” from Harry Potter.

And the villain, Safin, played by Rami Malek, had promise, but he’s not developed well enough to be a believable bad guy. Bad guys work well when they have dimension. We’re kind of promised dimension for him in the beginning, but it devolves to “I want kill bad guys.”

But. . . it’s a bloody good movie. Again, the homages to past movies from Dr. No to Thunderball to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, among others, are sublime. It’s a long movie–two hours and 45 minutes–but the action is well-paced. It keeps the movie moving along but with sufficient breaks you don’t feel as if you’ve been in battle along with Bond.

The ending?

Let’s put it this way. It appears not to leave anything in question. It does have Bond display ultimate heroism at the end, something that pleased me. All the negativity about the character is blown away in that moment, and he’s a man, as he’s always been, willing to sacrifice his life to save the lives of millions.

The end of No Time to Die made me think of the end of Blade Runner, where the replicant Roy Batty accepts his fate and says, “Time to die.” We may have wanted for Bond that there be no time to die, but I can see him, at the end, uttering, “It’s time.”

And, of course, it is the end for Daniel Craig as Bond, but, as usual after an actor leaves that role, we speculate on who will be the next James Bond–if there is a next James Bond.

I live for your constructive comments.

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