"Vodka martini". "Shaken or stirred?" "Do I look like I give a damn?" That repartee in his first movie, Casino Royale (2006) was a harbinger of the zero-fucks-given, break-all-the-previous-iconography, slaughter-all-sacred-cows style that Daniel Craig brought to the reboot of the storied James Bond franchise.
It had been 44 years, 20 films and 5 actors since the very first one, Dr. No (1962) had hit the silver screen. From everyone's sentimental favorite Sean Connery (6 movies), the ill-fated George Lazenby (1), the snarky but funny Roger Moore (7), the expressionless wonder Timothy Dalton (2), to the steely Pierce Brosnan (4) - each one brought something to the character, but they were all essentially playing a slight variant of the same template. Their movies were stand alone, each one could be viewed without any real narrative connection to ones before or after, except the presence of regular characters like Moneypenny, M and Q. The villains, and the women, (or Bond Girls to use the anachronistic politically incorrect term) never repeated. (One notable exception was Maud Adams who appeared in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and the hilariously named Octopussy (1983), but she didn't play the same character in both).
The Daniel Craig era threw all that out and created an arc running across all 5 movies - Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace (2008), Skyfall (2012), Spectre (2015) and finally, No Time to Die (2021). It created the Bond/Craig Cinematic Universe (BCCU) much before Marvel did the same with its much ballyhooed Marvel Cinematic Universe starting with Iron Man (2008). In fact, the opening of Quantum of Solace literally took off from where the final scene of Casino Royale ended. The seeds sown by Vesper Lynd's betrayal and death in Casino Royale, the origin story of the BCCU, resonate throughout the 5 movies. They form the emotional underpinnings of why Bond becomes the man and the secret agent that he goes on to be. That experience goes on to forge his relationship with M until her death in Skyfall, which then sets the stage for the last 2 movies. The audacity to kill off major characters was also a variation from the norm at the time till TV series like Game of Thrones made it par for the course. This strong emotional angle, and connective tissue was a radical departure from the movies that preceded the BCCU. There are folks who think this makes Bond too woke, but in fact it only tends to humanize him and make him more real. The cold-hearted capability of the license to kill does not diminish an iota.
No Time to Die begins where Spectre left off with Bond and his lady love Dr Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) enjoying an idyllic vacation in the picturesque Italian countryside. That calm is soon shattered causing Bond to suspect Swann's motives and they separate. He goes off the grid for 5 years until he is brought in from the cold by his friend, CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). The ensuing events that unfold bring him face to face once again with Swann and Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), haunted as he always is by the ghosts of the past. A new villain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) is the glue holding all of the pieces of the puzzle together. Thrown in the mix are the usual suspects - the enigmatic M (Ralph Fiennes), the harried Q (Ben Whishaw) and the flirty Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). Added to this are US agents Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen) and Paloma (a delightful and sexy cameo by Ana de Armas, who played the key role of the hilariously regurgitative nurse in Knives Out (2019), a movie that had Daniel Craig playing a Southern gentleman detective). And there's Nomi (Latasha Lynch) who has taken over the 007 mantle during Bond's sabbatical in a delicious nod to gender-blindness and race-blindness.
For the avid Bond fanatic, there are plenty of Easter eggs and references sprinkled throughout to earlier Bond movies, from the colored dots in the opening credits montage that recall the one from Dr. No to the prophetically foreshadowing line "We have all the time in the world" from On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). In another departure from the usual, the song of the same name, "We Have All the Time in the World" sung by the inimitable Louis Armstrong that played in the end credits of the 1969 movie also plays over the end credits of this one. To the average viewer, the above paragraph will register as a throwaway, but diehard fans of the franchise will have gleaned enough clues about the climax without me revealing any spoilers.
Craig's Bond had all the required ingredients. The flint, glint and glamour were all there. The line "women want to be with him, and men want to be like him" still applied. The hi-tech gadgets, the fancy cars, the martinis were all there. He still wore a mean tailored tuxedo like no other man could as an epitome of cool. What Craig brought to his version of Bond that was unique however was the courage to be vulnerable. The scene in Casino Royale in which he is sitting stark naked in a chair with its seat cut out, being whipped from below by a wet hard rope, made every man in the audience clench his nether muscles in empathetic agony. The heartbreak of Vesper's and M's deaths was palpable. Blasphemous as it may seem to some, and comparisons from different eras are always fraught, for me he is right up there with Connery. Even though this was his swan song in the franchise, Craig's Bond will live forever, with never a time to die.
October 15, 2021