WORDS: 2,712 — If we presume that movies are a form of escapism entertainment that can be a solace for the soul, reliever of the stresses of reality, as well as carrying a message, an inspiration for action, an impetus for personal change and reflection, and/or a hope for a better, or at least different, future, this last Bond movie didn’t meet that criteria to me. This thing left you glum, sad, and empty. Damn depressing in fact. Exactly what the country, and the world, needs right about now, right? As they say, timing is everything.
WARNING! MOVIE SPOILER ALERT! – This post contains spoiler references to the new James Bond movie, “No Time To Die.” (You will be reminded one more time)
When we go to movies we go for many reasons but generally it’s all about a specific actor or actress we enjoy, and quite possibly him or her performing in a theme in which we’ve enjoyed that performer’s role. I like action films and I will go see an Arnold film without question, Willis, or a Tom Cruise. I also enjoy dramas, courtroom and political, and will go see a Clooney, Morgan Freeman, Hackman, Denzel, Pacino, De Nero, Mel, Cage. By now you will notice that they are males, and old males, which helps to confirm my age. I have in the past gone to “chick flicks” but while that has not generally been always my choice, I have enjoyed many. That brings us to James Bond.
In one way or another I have seen all the Bond movies, the majority on the silver screen. This means I am way older than the Bond movie franchise itself, having traversed time through my wonder years into my formative years and into adulthood with 007 holding my interest all that time for ever-changing reasons, primarily based on my maturity level of the moment. Fact be known, I didn’t see the first two Bonds, “Dr. No” (1962) and “From Russia With Love” (1963) until I watched them on TV into the mid-60’s. My first big screen Bond was “Goldfinger” in 1964. I was turning 13 at the time. The reason for that is rather.. interesting. It’s not that I didn’t like cool things like secret agents and spies and secret intrigue at my early ages and when I was 11 and 12, but the movie advertising for those first two movies had far too much female/romantic looking imagery and Bond himself, even Connery’s name, were not yet huge common iconic spy buzzwords. There wasn’t a lot of peer pressure in the playground world of my friends pushing us to want to see it. Then when we saw a trailer in the theater of Bond strapped to that table with that laser beam headed for the British royal jewels asking Goldfinger “Do you expect me to talk, Goldfinger?”, and Goldfinger replies.. “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”.. followed by Odd Job tossing his hat at that statue’s head… well… that became the talk of the classroom; we had to see that film. The rest was cinematic history, as they say. I suppose it also helps that at 13 I was coming of age when girls were looking a bit more interesting, if not curious. So the more female skin that was revealed in those early Bond films helped in our.. education. I suppose given our current affinity in the #MeToo era and in men endeavoring to fight off urges to objectify women in misogynistic ways, Bond films were just basic training to want to behave just the opposite toward women… simply because Bond did it and the women (on screen) seemed to love it. (“OMG.. they can say Pussy Galore?”) Made sense to us. “When’s the next Bond movie coming out?”
Rather than take you, the reader, down what is likely a very familiar James Bond memory lane already personally familiar to your own life, we can agree that for most of us Baby Boomers Bond movies matured as we did and as our sophistication to what we wanted to visually see in films regarding action, a balance of romance with hot chicks, and at least some attempt to form a believable script. Bond was no comic book super hero. While he was played by a variety of actors, I was ok with all of them, although I leaned heavily toward Connery… I was able to separate the Connery of later years from his 007 role. But the actors themselves didn’t diminish the fantasy of 007 in my early years.. and the pure entertainment value of the action, stunts, stunning scenery and exotic locations, and of course, the tech gadgetry that always got him out of the jams in future years. The original Aston Martin gadgets alone kept us guys entranced for years.
It seemed for a couple decades we were happy watchers in seeing the familiar original characters keep showing up in the films. As the original actors drifted away, “M” tended to change, but “Q” remained into the Brosnan years. Moneypenny changed over time. In fact, if a new actor showed up on screen and Bond called him “Felix”, we knew exactly what that character’s role would be in spite of the actor being unfamiliar.
Then one day, Daniel Craig. Now, I do actually enjoy his Bond.. but more to the point, the Bond he plays in the script being written is indeed a bit more dark and grittier, while being a bit more human with certain foibles. The visuals are great as are the action scenes, especially with the current tech in CG. I can say that along with Craig came the relatively more.. complex plot lines and character development. Good stuff for the advancement in Boomer movie going demand for more sophisticated plot lines. Less camp, more action, more human feeling, expression… and general personal philosophic reflection. Then came “Skyfall” (2012).
I totally enjoyed Judi Dench’s “M” from Brosnan to the end. Especially when she sniped at Brosnan’s male misogyny and “cavalier attitude” in “Goldeneye” (1995), to her demise as “M” in “Skyfall” (2012) (the cameo “flashback” in “Spectre” (2015) was nicely done for continuity). Her character’s death was to me.. sad, given her character’s 17 years (and 7 Bond films) in the franchise, but acceptable for moving on (and Ralph Fiennes has been an excellent replacement). No.. the disconcerting part, which actually was foretelling the future of Bond, was that Bond’s Aston Martin gets blown up in the final battle scene. One had to imagine that the studio was sending a message somehow with this persistence in the Craig era for wanting to “move” Bond into another facet of existence for the franchise. They then let the viewer/Bond people, marinate on that visual and “grieve” the demise of the Aston Martin icon for the next three years on the somewhat message of a passing into a new Bond era by destroying a link to the “old” Bond. I suppose someone made enough of a clamor after “Skyfall” (2012) that “Q” ended up re-building the Aston Martin In “Spectre” (2015)… with improved gadgetry, of course (including the highly desired passenger ejection seat). .
But let’s get to the meat of all this. I recently watched “No Time To Die” (2021) on its release date at a local theater. I rather thought it would be nostalgically cool that my first film after a four years absence from movie theaters in general.. 18 months of that being due to Covid… would be to see a Bond film on the big screen knowing from past history the splendor of the panoramic scenes and in-your-face action. When going to movies, if I arrive early, I will watch the “demographics” of the people walking in. In this case I arrived early enough to see pretty much the only age group coming in were Boomer aged folks like myself… although one might consider this would be the age group to come in at 2:15 in the afternoon. Might be more of an age mix in the movie primetime of 7pm or 8pm. Yet this was a Bond film.. first day showing… and there were empty seats everywhere. Not even a half full theater. One might attribute it to Covid-caution keeping people away, and/or the current pandemic-inspired trend of a social preference in watching movies on cable in the comfort (and viral safety) of one’s big screen at home as soon as it releases to pay-per-view streaming…. likely in another few days, if not already.
Final Warning: SPOILER ALERT! Last chance to avert your eyes!
The reader has to keep in mind here that I am speaking as a fan of Bond for the entire 58 years of the franchise, encompassing the greater portion of my existence on this planet, from childhood through adult, and having raised my own kids, Millennials, through the 007’s of their lifetime. I generally appreciate social change and Hollywood adapting accordingly as times change. In one way it’s amazing James Bond has lasted this long given the many social political incorrectness ingrained in the 007 character. I mentioned earlier the #MeToo movement, of which Bond’s signature philandering seems to be at odds. But while I accept change as inevitable in most things in life, I can’t say I am welcoming a new Bond era personally, as a fan. Frankly, at my age (and the age range of most of us Boomers), there’s not a lot of “our era” left to cater to. So as a business decision a new Bond world is very likely a good business decision for the generations to follow for the Broccoli family. STILL…….. this was a film erasing all Bond vestiges from the face of the planet.
If you can get past all the obvious peripheral signs. Like, the female replacement for Bond who inherits the 007 designation when Bond decided to enter semi-retirement and go off the grid to have a new life with the Bond girl from “Spectre” (2015). Her character is suggestive of a post-Bond world role. Then there’s the near “walk on” cameo of fellow “Knives Out” (2019) actress with Craig, Ana De Armas, who plays a female CIA operative, who shares with Bond a brief kick-and-shoot battle with bad guys then simply walks off. An obvious character intro for a future Bond world. But here’s the “worst” of it all.
Blofeld (Waltz), revealed in “Spectre” (2015) as being Bond’s foster brother, and the central chief provocateur of all of Bond’s encounters with past villains, dies.
Bond’s CIA buddy since “Goldfinger” (1964), Felix Leiter, dies. (I liked this Jeffrey Wright depiction of Leiter.)
SPECTRE is apparently wiped out en masse when their leaders were all invited to a meeting and a viral gas was administered into the bunch. While given they were a criminal organization hell-bent on world domination there is no general mourning over their demise.. but… it was the annihilation of a Bond enemy icon that a post-Bond era had no use for apparently.
Then, at the end, Bond himself, having been infected with a virus that will kill his love interest and his child with her if he touches them (you can watch the movie to see the story of his child), having been shot a couple times by vengeful character played by Rami Malik, gets blown up himself when directing the onslaught of missiles to blow up the island’s secret virus lab. Yep.. Bond dies.
Now.. having lived a life watching TV and movies one sees a hero die and there’s the usual “resurrection” to continue the series. The “resurrection” the result of some last minute move to safety or other situational change. Bond’s death really left no doubt that he was standing there in the open as the missile strike enveloped him. Yet.. as a conditioned viewer of Hollywood, I was already trying to imagine the excuse for bring him back. Nonetheless, given all the other character deaths, it was apparent Bond’s death was final… and by that I mean, not Daniel Craig’s Bond’s death.. I mean.. the death of James Bond… but not necessarily the death of the numbers “007” apparently.
In the end you see Mallory,s “M”, “Q”, the new 007, Moneypenny.. standing in a room drinking a toast to Bond’s demise. No parades. No grand funerals. That’s as it should be one would suppose.
Yeah.. it’s all fantasy, pretend, Hollywood story-telling. But what also makes us the people we become later in life is a culmination of the nature vs. nurture life experiences which include the practical experiences to allow us to survive in our world but also includes those parts of living that give us a measure of appreciation for the arts to divert attention by expressing ourselves through humor, the arts, music, and entertainment, which from there we learn what helps us to manage life’s stresses. While I certainly didn’t go through life wanting to be a secret agent like Bond, Bond was a hero of sorts from which we learned that people who do bad things receive some kind of punishment. He had the “license to kill” as a fictional granting of authority to defend the British Empire yet he never abused it. He constantly risked his life to save the world.. a noble cause far beyond self. He was the “good” to offset the world’s “evils”. He was righteous in his actions, and deeply loyal to his country and humanity. One might give a slight hope, especially if one was young, that such people actually existed in the world. It always gave me the perception that Bond’s traits could be applied to life in smaller ways. He was the average human who had above average skills but had human feelings. Bond was not some comic book hero with super human senses from some freakish experiment gone awry. Yet he was a hero of sorts. But his exploits personified the triumph of good over evil by using human abilities… not super powers.
Of course it was all exaggerated. Even in this film, there was the usual large numbers of “henchmen” willing to die for their evil “master”… bullets flying everywhere that never strike Bond, yet all his shots are perfectly aimed. In the end the villain gets the drop on him when all the henchmen couldn’t. There’s the usual long philosophical meanderings before someone pulls the damn trigger. But that’s a Bond movie.
We are currently in a world… more specifically, in a country… that’s truly struggling with a pandemic, immense political turmoil with very likely future unknown consequences, global weather changes and our inability to respond as the frequency increases, a growing racial and economic disparity, growing international belligerency from autocratic states. Actual heroes of any kind are rare. Many of the past people in our society we held to some esteem have fallen victim to having been simply human after all and fell to imperfect instincts, embarrassing acts, and/or outright illegal activity, as a result of their alleged “bad” outweighing whatever good they accomplished. We just lost a fictional hero of nearly 60 years, largely due to changing political correctness and social mores reflected by a younger generation. In the end, it’s all business… as it should be. Hollywood could have picked a better time to make (some) of us feel that much more grim.
Then to add insult to injury… as I was doing some background for this post I came across a blurb about something at the end of the credits from the movie. I left the theater about halfway through the credits so I never saw it. That was not a movie one would expect an ending gag reel of funny outtakes to get you to watch through. Apparently there was a caption… JAMES BOND WILL RETURN. An assurance in every Bond film since “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971). So, let me get this straight, Broccoli, you dragged me through this emotional wing-ding visually conveying to me James Bond is no more… in NO WAY suggesting this was an end to Daniel Craig’s Bond… but an end to Bond… even the funeral toast by the group… only to suggest Bond will return? Nice mind F**k. No other Bond actor had a funeral to phase their Bond out. The new Bond just showed up in the next film.
I’m reminded of the line from the poem “Casey At the Bat”… “There is no joy in Mudville. Mighty Casey [Hollywood] has struck out.”