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Artillery Row

Goodnight, Mr Bond

It’s time to let the man who saved the world, and the cinema, rest in peace.

So, there it is. James Bond, 007 himself, is no more. Like Monty Python’s parrot, he has ceased to be, kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. After 25 films, even more Fleming and non-Fleming novels and countless entanglements with dastardly villains, Bond has finally met his end. 

In the event, it wasn’t SMERSH, SCEPTRE, Quantum or any of the usual suspects that did away with him, but a controlled missile strike, although the bullet wounds that he sustained from his latest nemesis Lyutsifer Safin were looking fairly fatal, too. But at the conclusion of No Time To Die, Daniel Craig’s Bond stood nobly and sacrificed himself for the sake of humanity, but not before declaring his undying love to Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann and his unexpected daughter Mathilde. It represents, to put it mildly, a turn-up for the books. 

If you had been a close observer of the many to-ings and fro-ings relating to the production of the latest Bond film, his demise may not have been the jaw-dropping surprise that many audiences have taken it to be. The film’s previous director Danny Boyle had apparently suggested that 007 should be killed off, only to be fired for his brazen, franchise-ending idea. The other rumour was that Craig and the film’s all-powerful producer Barbara Broccoli wished to polish Bond off, and that Boyle believed this to be an outlandish solution to ending Craig’s tenure as the character. 

Audiences are spilling out of cinemas, jaws firmly dropped, eyes misty with tears

Either way, he left, citing the old chestnut ‘creative differences’. And now, audiences are spilling out of cinemas, jaws firmly dropped and, in many cases, eyes misty with tears. The producers and cast of the film have succeeded wildly in ensuring that James Bond is all that anyone is talking about at the moment. 

Those of us with longer memories and a tolerance for pop culture in all of its forms may note that the ending of No Time To Die is less innovative than it originally seems. Iconic characters such as Batman, Iron Man and Superman have all been killed off in their starring vehicles of late – as has Black Panther, although this was down to its star Chadwick Boseman’s untimely demise, rather than the machinations of Marvel

And the death of a protagonist in suitably heroic and self-sacrificing fashion is a mainstay of drama and cinema, featuring in everything from Hamlet to Gladiator. If this is to be the farewell to James Bond, it is the send-off that the super-spy deserves. 

 However, I wonder if the short-term advantage –  and undoubted financial success of the film – might end up being a curse rather than a blessing for Broccoli and the other keepers of the 007 flame. During the film’s interminable production and release schedule, its studio MGM was acquired by the ever-rapacious Amazon, and questions were raised about whether No Time To Die would even be released in cinemas, or simply released onto the streaming service. 

What of that Holy Grail of exploitation, the “extended universe”?

Even as a spokesman stated unambiguously that ‘We are committed to continuing to make James Bond films for the worldwide theatrical audience’, the dread words ‘intellectual property’ were whispered. Keep James Bond films in the cinema, by all means. But what of that Holy Grail of exploitation, the ‘extended universe’?

 For the uninitiated, this is a cunning ploy whereby popular but second-tier characters can be resurrected or exploited in other formats. Disney have had enormous success with shows such as The Mandalorian and Loki which have taken this approach, and it seems only a matter of time before the James Bond producers are cajoled into doing something similar. 

The possibilities are literally endless. There could be a ‘young James Bond’ spin-off, origin stories for characters ranging from Bond’s perennial nemesis Blofeld to his superior M, or even Miss Moneypenny. And the introduction of two striking female characters in No Time To Die in the shape of Lashana Lynch’s OO-agent and Ana de Armas’ deliriously ass-kicking Paloma leads to that most seductive, if artistically reductive, of things: a franchise opportunity. 

It will take a masterly feat to satisfy audiences with any future incarnation

Quite where this leaves Bond himself is a mystery. Although bookmakers have reported the usual flurry of interest in youthful and charismatic male stars ranging from James Norton to Bridgerton’s Regé-Jean Page assuming the mantle, it seems unlikely that another film will simply pick up as if nothing has happened. Even as the credits promise that ‘James Bond Will Return’, as per usual, it will take a masterly feat to satisfy audiences with any future incarnation of the character, not least because it seems unlikely that the peerless supporting cast of Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris et al will be assembled once again for future adventures. 

Therefore, it is time for a more radical approach. What is the most likely option? 

 One doesn’t have to take Sir Keir Starmer’s advice to think that it is more likely than not that the next Bond film will revolve around a female, rather than male, protagonist, to satisfy contemporary tastes. Therefore, if one wished to maintain any kind of internal chronology after the conclusion of No Time To Die, rather than simply pretending that the Daniel Craig era was a self-contained narrative, then the obvious direction that the films should follow is to tell the story of Mathilde Bond, beginning with her introduction to the 00 service and dealing with the likes of M, Q, Moneypenny and the rest. 

 This would allow the filmmakers to pay dutiful homage to the idea of James Bond but also to create a new, female-focused series of adventures without the incongruity of casting a woman in a traditionally male role. And this would leave the door ajar, at some point in the future, for a full reboot of the Bond character, too. I have always hoped for faithful, period-set adaptations of the original Fleming novels, although I fear that this is unlikely. But we shall see. 

In the meantime, we can rejoice that the film’s success has answered a question that I asked, in some trepidation, last year. Pandemic or no pandemic, people still want to see a talking-point film in the company of their fellows, on the biggest screen around, rather than streaming it on their television or laptop. This, surely, is the greatest and most heroic act that Daniel Craig’s Bond has accomplished. He may have saved the world, but he has also managed to save cinema in the process. Thank you, Mr Bond. 

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