This is a post I started not long after seeing NO TIME TO DIE in the theater. Unfortunately, it found itself languishing in my drafts pile as work, life, and other things conspired against me finishing it. I’ve left much of it intact, so if it feels at times more like a “first thoughts” kind of post, that’s because it began life as one…
James Bond is dead; long live James Bond! Or perhaps I should be more accurate and on-brand: “James Bond Will Return.”
Can’t say I saw that coming! I want to first acknowledge the fact that the filmmakers somehow kept Bond’s death under wraps despite having the film delayed more than a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In an age when everyone on social media knows the Big Twist in every film before it comes out, it was nice to be absolutely surprised with where a film ended up.
While I remain vexed as to how EON plans to continue the franchise now that James Bond has been blown to bits (though I have some thoughts that I will get to below), I have no doubt that Bond will indeed survive, even in the face of his own death, in some guise or another. I do wonder, however, if we have witnessed the death of the Bond Film—or at least the Bond Film™(s) I grew up on. If I had to identify where this change started, however, I wouldn’t point to NO TIME TO DIE, but rather 2008’s QUANTUM OF SOLACE.
You only live twice. Once when you are born. And once when you look death in the face.“You Only Live Twice, Chapter 11 by Ian Fleming
Up until 2008, each Bond film existed largely alone within itself. Rarely did events in one movie get mentioned in subsequent stories, let alone affect the plot. Off the top of my head, the following come to mind (and please do comment if I’ve missed an obvious one):
- Tracy Bond’s death is mentioned in passing a few times, notably in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, and LICENCE TO KILL.
- Blofeld is a thread through some of the films, though inconsistently (oddly enough, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, which immediately follows Bond’s wife being killed, makes no mention of this).
- Kronsteen mentions the death of Dr. No in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. Indeed, part of the motivation for the entire plot of that film is revenge for the events of DR. NO.
- DIE ANOTHER DAY contains a bunch of in-jokes and fan service (though whether this is continuity or just meta nonsense is debatable).
- Bond’s winning of the Aston-Martin DB5 in a poker game in CASINO ROYALE is similarly more about fan service vs. plotting.
The episodic nature of the pre-Craig films is largely in keeping with the original Fleming novels, which are also largely self-contained, although there is some connective tissue present across novels:
- René Mathis appears in Casino Royale and From Russia With Love.
- Felix Leiter is a recurring character who appears in Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Diamonds are Forever, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and The Man with the Golden Gun.
- The cliffhanger ending of From Russia With Love is resolved in Doctor No.
- The final three novels—On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, You Only Live Twice, and The Man with the Golden Gun form a sort-of trilogy, as do the “Blofeld Trilogy” novels of Thunderball, OHMSS, and YOLT.
Continuity of Solace
This all changed in 2008 with QUANTUM OF SOLACE, the first direct sequel in the film franchise. Picking up almost immediately where CASINO ROYALE ended, the film shows Bond as a damaged man, profoundly affected by the betrayal and death of Vesper Lynd (though in denial of this throughout). In the novels, we never really see the effect Vesper’s suicide (in this case via overdose) has on Bond aside from his hardening from being desperately in love with her to simply stating, “the bitch is dead now,” when he discovers she had been working for the Russians.
In contrast, it’s the murder of his wife Tracy by Blofeld at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that sends Bond over the proverbial edge. It’s what leads him to become a drunk and make enough mistakes on the job in You Only Live Twice that M contemplates firing him (ironically, it’s the impact of this death that is completely ignored by the film franchise aside from the occasional mention in passing). In QUANTUM, we do get a bit of this You Only Live Twice Bond on occasion, particularly the scene on the plane with Mathis, where he’s drowning his sorrows in a long parade of Vesper martinis. (Side note: no matter how fancy this Virgin Atlantic flight is, I highly doubt they’d have kina lillet on board).
What’s interesting to me is that in both instances, film and book, we see a sequel plot driven, not by Bond’ s reaction to current events, but rather the events of the prior story. Instead of stand-alone, episodic films, we are now in the land of serialization, and in the case of Craig’s Bond, this continues though the entirety of his run. On one hand, it produced some largely unsuccessful (IMHO) plot serialization, particularly in SPECTRE, which featured some extremely ham-fisted attempts to connect the dots across the four films. In fact, it’s a credit to NO TIME TO DIE that it works as well as it does despite relying heavily on the shaky foundation set out by SPECTRE.
On the other hand, the five Craig films do manage to successfully take the character of James Bond on a journey that sees him evolve from the “blunt instrument” we meet in CASINO ROYALE to someone confessing his love for Madeline Swan as he’s sacrificing his life at the end of NO TIME TO DIE. Yet I can’t help but wonder if the decision to make the Craig era a five-film character study was the right one.
I say that because until QUANTUM, each Bond film (or novel) was all about the villainous plot and Bond’s efforts to stop it. Bond himself was fairly incidental as a character: a cipher whose traits primarily came from whomever happened to be inhabiting the role at the time. With the focus now on Bond’s growth, the plots have taken a back seat, to the detriment of the classic Bond formula. Part of the problem for me is that that, and this is just my opinion, James Bond isn’t terribly interesting as a character. Arcs work better for a character like Jason Bourne, who is on a multiple-film quest to discover who he is. Bond falling in love, losing her, recovering, and then falling in love again is…Fine, I guess? But it’s not a story that needs to be told over the course of five films. Again, this is just my opinion, so YMMV.
James Bond Will Return?
This all begs the question of where does the franchise go from here? At the end of the credits for NO TIME TO DIE are those familiar words, “James Bond Will Return.” Of course this overlooks the minor detail that Bond dies at the end of the movie!
From where I sit (which is to say, behind a keyboard offering up yet another Amateur Opinion on the Internet), there are two paths forward for the franchise (or they can ideally do both):
- Lashana Lynch has established herself as a very capable MI6 agent, having assumed the mantle of 007 at the start of NO TIME TO DIE (whether she is still 007 at the end remains a bit of a mystery. James Bond may be dead, but why not have a stand-alone MI6 film with Lynch as the star? Even better would be a way to team her up with Paloma, because that would obviously be amazing.
- If there is to be a new James Bond (and there surely will be), my preference would be a return to the episodic nature of the earlier films. That way, the new actor could simply portray a new mission, with no need for any reboots. I really enjoy the cast that has been assembled around Bond at this point, and it would be a shame to lose them. What I don’t want to see is a new actor meaning the start of a brand new character arc.
Again, it’s entirely feasible that EON could pursue both of these projects. Surely MI6 has other agents, some of whom don’t die to set Bond Plots in motion. It could be interesting to explore that angle before bringing Bond back into the fold.
Do you have a preference for how the franchise continues? Better yet, do you have a different (most likely better) idea for next steps? Feel free to leave a comment!