James Bond Rides Again

Lashana Lynch, left, Daniel Craig and Naomie Harris in No Time to Die. (Photo MGM / YouTube)



I saw No Time to Die yesterday. The much-publicized Lashana Lynch’s turn as the Black 007 was just a bit of PC tokenism. She was a sidekick, and a second-rate one at that, not even offering the hero a comic foil that might have impressed an audience. (This criticism has nothing to do with her acting skill but with the role.) Her character is, by turns, the Black woman with a chip on her shoulder (when she first encounters Bond), the insecure, self-doubting Black woman (when she thinks she will lose the number 007 and be demoted), the humble Black woman who knows her place (when she offers to give Bond back the number), and the angry Black woman (when she kills the White scientist who threatens to kill Black people). Her character is not at all integral to the plot. In fact, her character is not a role as much as it is a series of impersonations of various stereotypes of Black women. Otherwise, she adds nothing to the film. Everything she did could have been eliminated from the film without, at all, having to alter the film. Here is a case of a film that, in some respects, wants to be taken seriously as some kind of social commentary but is, nonetheless, not serious about committing itself to the social commentary it wants to profit from. Give a woman character a gun and some karate kicks—nothing so thrills the audience as seeing a woman kick a man in his private parts, castration with representation, as it were—and there we all are, nicely liberated from our oppression! Ah, the exploitation of Wokeness can put fannies in the seats!

The film itself was the typical Bond formula of the preposterous and the spectacular. All the elements are there: the megalomaniac villain with untold wealth and countless minions willing to die, and usually doing so, to stop Bond; the confrontation between hero and villain in the villain’s lair in a kind of captivity narrative; the military’s destruction of the villain’s lair in the end. Nothing ends a film like this better than a lot of explosions. Evil is not simply abolished; it is obliterated.

What I have always felt uneasy about with Daniel Craig’s Bond is the fake angst that has burdened the character, which in turn has added a soap opera element to the proceedings. Bond is not a person but a myth. The previous Bond films—with Connery, Moore, Lazenby, Dalton, and Brosnan—did not have this; the filmmakers knowing they were presenting a cardboard character, as Fleming himself saw Bond. The soap opera element made No Time to Die, at times, deadening to watch, as if it had come to a complete halt and the audience is asked to take a bunch of unserious characters seriously as if they are anchored in a reality where actual people live. This is simply pretentiousness.

But I guess some of this business, especially repeating the line, “we have all the time in the world,” was meant to be a tribute to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the only Bond film to closely follow the novel on which it is based and the film where he gets married, albeit briefly. Bond films are exceedingly self-reverential. I suppose there is nothing wrong with that. On the whole, I liked No Time to Die when the actors did not talk too much and got down to the good, old-fashioned task of providing escapism.

On the whole, whenever I see a Bond film, I always go home and read a few chapters of W. S. Maugham’s Ashenden to gain perspective and clear the fumes from the brain a bit. A palate cleanser, you might say.