What do I get for predicting that James Bond would still be looking over his shoulder in retirement, and despite his heroic adventures would feel only fatigue and purposelessness? None of that was hard, but what about my prediction that he would be “bombing-around in a vintage Land Rover, then cleaning it to military standards in his garage”; that he would have to admit to himself he had ruined parts of his body; and that he woud have no one and nothing, really, because he had “never [been] shown enjoying a book, a play, a film, the theater, dance, visual art, nature, a garden, children, or pets”?
I even predicted his conspicuous use of a knife for domestic purposes instead of murder. (Ok, I said he would be cutting leeks, but it turned out to be an apple.)
Predictably, Bond has retired to Jamaica in No Time to Die, the latest in the franchise, where he can swim in the sea, slum it, and not have to speak to the Black locals until he thinks one woman is demanding sex. (She turns out to be his replacement and tells him he has no reason to live.)
The palette for the cinematography has been toned down to grays and muted blues in this final outing for actor Daniel Craig, though depending on your view of the film it may be more commonly funereal than heroically elegiac. I did wonder if, in the desperation of theaters due to COVID, my local theater had turned down the projection lights to save money. It is not that the movie is grim, really; it just lacks glamor, which was always one of the draws of the franchise.
Think how audiences have changed since Dr. No, in 1962. We went through all of Sean Connery, the one turn of George Lazenby, all of Roger Moore, both Timothy Daltons, and had started in on Pierce Brosnan before the Internet was a thing and showed us “anything and everything all of the time.” Lake Palace, in Udaipur, might have seemed exotic to many Americans when they watched Octopussy in 1983, but we are a much more jaded, if not worldly, audience now due to the Internet and travel TV.
We are also jaded (and, I would say, fatigued) by onscreen murder. A site that counts killings in movies has not yet listed No Time to Die, but I doubt that it will break any records. It is just that many of the kills are concentrated in comic-book fashion near the end, as if to remind us that Bond, as I said before, personifies “wrath and vengeance, which he prides himself on executing as coldly (sociopathically) as a god.”
How could that man care for a family? He cannot even bring himself to say the word properly in this movie—more melodrama, and one of the reasons of the plot.
My younger son went with me to the show and afterward said Bond was “peak testosterone,” but we agreed someone like Mike Tyson was more like that. He said if Bond was meant to be the ideal of a man, no one would want to be that thing, because it was utterly toxic. We discussed how both The Bourne Identity (in which a young woman makes the first advance on the somewhat-confused title character) and 2011’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (in which a young rape victim seduces Daniel Craig) are responses to the general rapeyness of the Bond franchise.
(This was built in by Fleming himself. As I wrote when Craig’s Casino Royale came out, “Fleming’s prose is often the equivalent of the true-crime mags my state trooper uncle used to leave lying around, front covers showing women being strangled out of their torpedo-shaped bras. Bond thinks, of his female co-worker, that ‘the conquest of her body, because of the central privacy in her, would each time have the tang of rape.’”)
When the idea of manliness comes up in books and films, I sometimes think of Roseanne Barr’s old standup joke that a real man is the one who sticks around to help pay the mortgage. In No Time to Die, Bond cannot even take a few seconds to tell M to make sure his retirement and effects will go to his survivors, if need be.
No Time to Die seems to be an attempt to say that if James Bond has no reason to live, at least he still has a cause worth dying for, but even the need for that is debatable in this plot.
I told you: “Either way, live by the sword, die by the sword.”
We need better heroes. Somebody cue up Babette’s Feast.