There is a telling exchange early on in the 2015 Bond film Spectre. “They say that Mexico was a step too far, that you’re finished,” Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) says to Daniel Craig’s 007. “And what do you think?” he asks. “I think you’re just getting started…” Moneypenny replies.
As the conversation hints, each new Bond movie potentially marks the death of the franchise or its new beginning. There is always someone gunning for the spy both on screen and off. The producers are constantly being challenged to reinvent the character to adapt to changing times.
In any case, Bond is (finally) back. No Time to Die, a direct sequel to Spectre, opens in cinemas next week. The long delay in its release because of Covid has only intensified the speculation about where he goes from here.
Craig is about to stand down after a tour of duty that started 15 years ago with Casino Royale. He is credited with reinvigorating Bond and performing a seemingly utterly contradictory feat: bringing back the rugged machismo that no Bond has possessed since the character was first played by Sean Connery, while at the same time introducing a new emotional depth. George Lazenby’s Bond may have looked cut up when his wife (Diana Rigg) was killed at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), but that was nothing to the monumental grief that Craig showed after the death of his beloved Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Casino Royale.
Author and comedian Charlie Higson, writer of the “Young Bond” novels, claimed this week that Craig has given audiences a “woke” Bond, a version of the spy with new layers of tenderness and emotional intelligence.
But Craig’s Bond is not nearly as woke as Higson suggests. The way he seduces women is still as old-fashioned as ever: witness his aggressive move on Monica Bellucci’s Lucia Sciarra in Spectre, in which he grabs her and pushes her into a full-length mirror hours after the funeral of her husband.
No Time to Die is the first Bond film since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, and the film industry woke up to its own sexism. The producers recruited Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Fleabag and Killing Eve fame to work alongside regular Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and director Cary Joji Fukunaga on the script. Lashana Lynch, who plays new MI6 agent Nomi, has told the press that the new screenwriter has made the female characters more “relatable”. Others have spoken about the “killer sense of humour” she has brought to Bond.
However, you need only watch the No Time to Die trailer to realise that Bond isn’t changing that radically. He is still jumping off bridges, performing skid turns in sports cars, wielding guns, drinking cocktails and having occasional time outs for sex. The only difference from most of his previous outings is that the female co-stars, Lynch and Ana de Armas, aren’t there to be seduced. They’re now doing much of the heavy lifting in the action scenes.
So what next for Bond? Amazon has just bought the James Bond studio, MGM, and one guesses that it will again be a case of back to the future.
Regardless of who now lands the role of Britain’s favourite spy – the brutish Tom Hardy, the “internet’s choice”, Bridgerton’s Regé-Jean Page, the clean-cut James Norton or the brooding Idris Elba – the test will be in delivering a screenplay that reflects the cultural concerns of the times. Then it’s about more of the same: stunts, action, romance, gadgets, foreign travel, dry Martinis, even drier humour and all the other ingredients fans have been lapping up for 60 years now.
No Time to Die is released on Thursday 30 September