I went to see the James Bond flick No Time to Die last night, my first visit to a movie theater in well over a year (not only directly because of COVID – indirectly, COVID lead to the closest theater to me being torn down. I had to drive farther to see an in-person movie)
The theater section I saw it in was about half full, but it was a tiny theater. The complex as a whole felt deserted – all the people were in the movie sections. till, with the reclining seats and the big screen and sound it was a much more satisfying experience than watching it at home. My wife Pepper Mill didn’t go “I’m not into Bondage,” she explained. And our daughter, MilliCal, wasn’t interested. I suspect she wonders why her liberal father wants to see such a Neanderthal flick.
It was very good, and satisfying to a Bond fan. There is a hint of unnecessary surrealism and coincidence to the whole Daniel Craig series, which I could do without. I prefer my outrageous stunts and spy flummery to be more straightforward. But this one hit all the right buttons for a fan of both the books and the movies. The classic Bond opening of the sight-through-the-rifled-gun-barrel (but without the blood), dialogue invoking On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (a constant through this film), including a musical lick taken from that film and a long shot of Bond and his woman in a car driving over an exotic European countryside. a sly reference to both Craig’s first outing in Casino Royale and For Your Eyes Only, followed by lots of wonderfully outrageous action, the Aston Martin with its gimmicks, the opening cedits in neo-Maurice Binder style, referencing both Dr. No and OHMSS, lots of references to prior films (including paintings of Judi Dench and Robert Brown as previous M’s). Bill Tanner showing up, and Jeffrey Wright again as Felix Leiter (for record-breaking third time). An invocation of Dr. Shatterhand’s Garden of Death from the novel (but not the movie) You Only Live Twice. Much more that I won’t speak of so that I don’t give away too much.
It was a Revisitation of the Series Past. Lots of other franchises have done this – the Fantastic Four comic has done it more than once. The Bond films did it at least twice before – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service did it in both the opening credit montage and i the scene in Bond’s office, Die Another Day did it throughout the movie, with more “Easter egg” references to previous films than even this film has. They usually do it at a “changing of the Guard” moment – George Lazenby’s first Bond film (who knew it would also be his last?), Pierce Brosnan’s last Bond film. And we already know that this is Daniel Craig’s last outing – they’ve already said so. As with Brosnan’s leaving, it looks as if there will be a big change and maybe reboot coming. The last end credit said “James Bond Will Return”, but with a new Bond, and at least two actors said they won’t be returning. It’ll be interesting to see what they do next.
Bond is, as the movies themselves said a few films ago, a dinosaur. He was a Cold War creature and a manifestation of Britain’s neuroses in a post-colonial world. His foes are transparently a colonialist’s nightmares. His attitude and actions toward women was long sexist and condescending and wish-fulfilling. His legendary love of hard drink and tobacco is out-of-step with the times. It was hilarious when they first put up a disclaimer about not promoting tobacco use in the end credits during the Brosnan era. It’s standard practice now.
But poeople still go to see them. The action and stunts still thrill, even if you don’t like the subtext. Bond has kept up with his imitators, even the Indiana Joneses and the Kingsmen and Jason Bourne s and Ethan Hunts. New credible threats keep appearing. There’s no shortage of potential conflicts. the exotic music and scenery and the Fleming Sweep never go out of style.
All they have to do is keep re-inventing Bond to keep him somehow relevant and a commentary on current times.
It’s ironic, because Fleming chose the name “James Bond” precisely because it was so bland (He got it from the cover of a book on Jamaican birds) He envisioned Bond as a featureless and characterless nobody who was borne along by his adventures, rather the way Kubrick treated all the humans in 2001. But, of course, he didn’t stay that way. even the first 1954 TV broadcast of Casino Royale gave him character and quirks – you nee that for people to be attracted to the character in something as short as a TV show, or even an almost 3-hour movie (NTTD is the longest Bond film ever made). Today we know his quirks , his likes and dislikes, too well. His not-bland character has flash and style and tosses off one-liners – something the book version didn’t do. Bond stayed in luxury hotels and lived high because he saw no point in saving his money in such a dangerous career – he expected to, as the saying goes, “Live Fast, Die Young, and Leave a Good-Looking Corpse”. But the movie Bond has outlasted most of his creators and several of his portrayers. He’s a rotten role model (Ian Fleming supposedly started living a Bondian life of smoking and drinking and indulgence, and it caught up with him pretty quick – he died of heart disease at 56), but he’s a great symbol to live a vicarious existence through. Not only do the movies keep coming, but so do the novels. Anthony Horowitz, who has already written two official Bond novels, has another coming out next year.