Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘No Time To Die’
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Very seldom does one character define a subgenre. But that is precisely what James Bond 007 has done with spy/espionage fiction. Since making his film debut in 1962, Bond has appeared in over 20 movies. Moreover, the character has only been portrayed by a mere six actors (officially, anyway). Now that the 25th (official) Bond installment, No Time to Die, is finally in theaters, I think now is a better time than any to look back at 007’s dossier. I’ll be examining the James Bond franchise to see how these pictures evolved over the decades with each new leading actor. Today’s mission: No Time to Die (2021)!
Much like Daniel Craig’s James Bond, the 25th official Bond film, No Time to Die has had a rough road to fruition. First and foremost, producers had to secure Craig for one final outing since the star had fulfilled his four-picture contract with the franchise’s previous entry, Spectre (2015), and publicly expressed his disinterest in reprising the iconic role for a fifth time. In fact, Craig stated in an interview that he would rather slit his wrist than do another Bond film. Craig ultimately agreed to return on the condition that he’d have more creative control in both his position as an actor and as a co-producer on this film. Of course, the actor’s requirement was happily granted by EON Productions, who wanted to close out this era of the franchise in grand fashion.
After Craig was secured, this installment underwent a behind-the-scenes change in director, as is typical for this era of Bond. Danny Boyle (T2: Trainspotting) was initially attached to direct this film. But he left the project just three months before production was set to begin due to creative differences with the producers and writers. Supposedly, the director wanted to make Craig’s final Bond film a very light-hearted and fun affair.
Reportedly, Boyle’s take is said to have been very much in the vein of a Roger Moore era adventure. The other creative parties involved wanted to maintain the balance between fun and drama they had found with Spectre. Thus, Boyle was let go and replaced by Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective: Season 1) shortly after that. As a result, Fukunaga also became the first North American director to work on an official installment of this franchise.
Along with long-running franchise screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, Fukunaga crafted a screenplay that’s very much a direct sequel to Spectre which ties together all of Craig’s films, even if it’s not in the neatest fashion. Alas, this script did not come without its troubles. According to his interview with GQ while promoting the film, Craig stated that “four versions of No Time to Die‘s screenplay came and went during development.” Hence, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) was brought in to do extensive rewrites at one point. As a result, Waller-Bridge became one of only two females to co-write a screenplay in the franchise. The first was Johanna Harwood, who co-wrote Dr. No (1962) and From Russia With Love (1963).
Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, though, it would be a long while before we got to see that story on film. Initially slated for a traditional Fall release on November 8, 2019, No Time to Die was pushed to February and then April of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began oversees early in the year and took hold in the states by March. Alas, the pandemic could not be contained and the film was reschedule throughtout 2020 until a firm Fall 2021 date was agreeed upon. The only upside to the delay was the ample time it gave me to revisit all of 007’s adventures for this column. More importantly, though, watching and reviewing Bond gave me something to focus on outside of an ongoing global pandemic.
Thus, after spending nearly two years waiting and watching every installment in this franchise, I was more than primed for No Time to Die. Of course, I had to work to avoid spoilers circulating about the film actively during that time. In the end, I managed to settle into my theater seat, having remained relatively spoiler-free as the film’s marketing had done a fine job of keeping most of the film’s plot, which is admittedly a bit bloated, under wraps. Right off the bat, Craig’s final outing feels different as we essentially get not one, but two cold opens. The first serves as a prologue, while the second throws us into the story at hand.
No Time to Die finds former MI6 special agent James Bond (Craig) permanently retired from the world of espionage. Bond’s still globe-trotting, except now, he’s doing so for leisure with the love of his life, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). Alas, this new life is short-lived as our hero gets roped into a covert operation with the CIA and his old pal, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). Once the mission becomes more complex, Bond is reinstated at MI6, albeit not as 007 since that designation now belongs to fresh-faced fellow agent Nomi (Lashana Lynch). The path of this mission eventually leads them to a man named Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who has possession of a virus-spreading technology that could destroy the globe. Beyond that, though, Safin has a deep connection to Madeleine’s past…
If the above plot synopsis seems a bit vague, that’s intentional. More so than any Bond picture before it, No Time to Die is sprawling in scope, and delving further into the narrative would begin to spoil things. The scope also means the film is a bit unwieldy in spots. Hence, its 163-minute runtime; a length makes the movie in review the longest Bond entry to date. That unwieldiness is more a result of Craig’s era’s threads being tied up than its nearly epic scale and , as a result, there’s an occasional lag in the pacing of this somewhat convoluted plot.
However, fans wanting an action-pack flick bordering on three hours may be a bit disappointed. See, while No Time to Die features wonderfully extensive action set pieces, there’s a great deal of time between most of them. Keep in mind, though, that these action scenes are expertly designed and executed. Well, except for the forest set piece in which Bond’s wardrobe is a bit distracting since he’s dressed a helluva’ lot like Han Solo on Endor. But, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the length and pacing work here as I was initially dreading it. For me, despite Craig’s iterations being on the longer side, Bond films should not exceed two hours too often. But in the case of No Time to Die, I thought it was necessary as Craig goes out on a more extensive adventure than any of his predecessors who previously held 00 status.
The actor fittingly gives his final turn as Bond everything as opposed to nothing. In No Time to Die, Craig is re-invested in portraying the character one last time. So much so that I felt Craig’s own emotions towards his tenure as Bond mirrored that of his fictional counterpart and vice-versa. The star brings the perfect measure of pain, pleasure, and humor to his final outing as James Bond. You can see in the star’s face and piercing, icy blue eyes everything his time as 007 has given him, good and bad, and all of it transplants to Bond equally as well. Furthermore, Craig gets to do a thing or two that no other actor playing the role has done before, and you can tell he’s reveling in them. Not to mention, he looks better than ever in his Tom Ford-designed wardrobe.
I only wish I could say the same about Bond’s antagonist and his depth. Alas, the villainous Lyutsifer Safin is severely underwritten (plus, that name’s a little on the nose, no?). Don’t get me wrong, Safin’s dastardly plot fittingly hits too close to home in the age of a pandemic, but his motivations are ultimately too broad, and his connection to an obsession with Madeleine is practically undefined. Furthermore, the hero and villain don’t encounter one another until well into the film’s second act, which just felt strange. Luckily though, Academy Award Winner Rami Malek makes the most of his wooly role, even if I didn’t care for the accent he adopted for the part.
The same can be said of the film’s secondary villain, Blofeld, played again by Academy Award Winner Christoph Waltz (Alita: Battle Angel). Heck, Waltz only agreed to return for a cameo role because Craig was reprising his role. Yes, Blofeld plays a role in the plot, but I think the same story points could have been achieved without him. Although, I do love Blofeld’s right-hand henchman, Primo or “Cyclops” (Dali Benssalah) — he’s credited by both names. This guy is the henchman with a silly gimmick that this run of the franchise has needed all along.
Luckily, the Bond girls of this film bring a lot more to the table than its antagonists. First and foremost is returning love interest Madeleine, thus making Seydoux the second Bond girl in franchise history to appear in consecutive installments. The only other actress who can make this claim is Eunice Gayson, who played Sylvia Trench in the first two Bond films. While I am not overly fond of Seydoux’s flat acting style, she brings more personality to her character this time around. Moreover, the on-screen chemistry between her and Craig is even more tangible in this entry. Despite the couple being separated for a significant chunk of the film, you can feel that their relationship has deepened exponentially.
Then, of course, there’s the controversial addition of the new 007 — Nomi. Let me make something very clear: the aforementioned “controversy” over Lynch being a female 007 has been blown out of proportion. Lynch is not playing the new Bond, she’s merely an agent who has taken up the 007 moniker, and she gives a solid performance as Nomi. Although, it’s no different than any other strong female partner throughout this franchise’s history. Despite Hollywood’s current obsession with filmic universes, I would be willing to bet the farm that this new character is not going to get her spinoff, nor will she become the next James Bond.
Last — but certainly not least — there’s Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049) as novice special agent, Paloma. Interestingly, de Armas is the first Cuban actor in history to portray a Bond girl. She was invited to play a role by her co-star Craig after the pair worked together on Knives Out (2019). And as with their previous collaboration, she and Craig make magic on the silver screen together. Thanks to de Armas’ charismatic acting ability and beauty, she steals every scene in which she is featured. So much so that I’d love to see her and Craig do a Bond film in which they’re partnered up (even if it was an unofficial installment).
Lest I forget, the remainder of the supporting cast once again bring their respective A-games as Bond’s support system at MI6. M (Ralph Finnes) is given a new dimension of moral complexity. As is Q (Ben Whishaw), when we’re given a peek inside the character’s personal life. Alas, I do feel Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) is underserved as she’s essentially only present in a cameo capacity due to Harris’ commitment to her roles as Frances Barrison / Shriek in the recently released Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021). However, a cast member who definitely gets his due is Wright, who wonderfully reprises his role as Felix Leiter once again. Bond’s support team is the best in the history of this series, and I hope they are recruited for this next iteration.
All the elements are brought together by director Cary Joji Fukunaga. I was unsure about the filmmaker when I initially heard he would be helming the project. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if Fukunaga’s sensibilities would suit a Bond film based on what I’d seen of his work. Well, much to my surprise, I vastly underestimated his abilities. Fukunaga has delivered one of the best-made Bond films to date.
No Time to Die is also one of the most beautifully shot installments in the franchise, thanks to cinematographer Linus Sandgren (La La Land). It’s also worth noting that the film is the most emotionally resonant of the franchise as well. A quality bolstered by Hans Zimmer’s beautiful score, which utilizes the composer’s style while remaining in the proper tradition of the series. Unfortunately, Billie Ellish‘s title song was not as fitting.
As much as I like No Time to Die, it will most likely remain a divisive installment among the fanbase. The film has a somewhat different tone and makes other decisions than its predecessors. Frankly, many of these narrative choices will not please some audience members, but it worked for me. No Time to Die is a Franchise Expansion that takes the series in a new direction. Moreover, the movie serves as a beautifully fitting end to Craig’s run — an era which was decidedly different from its inception.
James Bond will undoubtedly return as No Time to Die currently stands as the eighth highest-grossing film of the year. Not to mention, MGM and EON Productions have found new distribution partners in Universal Pictures and Amazon. What has yet to be found is the next Bond as that search will begin in 2022, according to producer Michael G. Wilson. No, I don’t think it will be a female James Bond. Nor do I think it should be as the character is inherently masculine and remains so, a sentiment with which Craig agrees. At the same time, I believe Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) or Henry Golding (Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins) are frontrunners — though I hope Golding wins out. No matter what, though, I’ll be there for the next era of this franchise. Bond is one of the things that helped me get through a pandemic with my physical and mental health intact, and I will be forever devoted to this franchise for that!
James Bond Will (eventually) Return For Another Installment of Franchise Expansion or Implosion. For now, his latest adventure No Time to Die (2021), is finally now playing exclusively in theaters!
Read About Bond’s Past Missions:
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Casino Royale (1967)
Casino Royale (2006)