No Time to Die not only serves as the conclusion to Craig’s run as Bond, but similarly raises questions about where the franchise will go next.
An air of finality and gravitas hangs over No Time To Die (2021), which is the twenty-sixth instalment in what is one of the longest-running, most culturally ubiquitous film franchises of all time. This is due to a number of reasons. It’s been through seemingly countless delays due to a fraught production as well as a global pandemic, it’s the end of lead actor Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond (the longest of any actor, with him having been playing the character since 2006’s Casino Royale) and, arguably most significantly, it very definitively closes the book on a multi-film story arc which began in the aforementioned 2006 film. In fact, without getting into spoilers, the film ends in such a way that prevents this particular iteration of everyone’s favourite hyper-competent superspy from feasibly having any sort of continuation. This poses a very pertinent question; where does the Bond franchise go from here?
The answer seems obvious, with series producer Barbara Broccoli having already announced that the search for a new actor to fill Craig’s shoes will begin in 2022. This makes total sense, given that this has been the way the Bond series has operated since Sean Connery first opted out of the franchise with You Only Live Twice (1967). He was replaced with Australian model George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and, when fans didn’t take particularly kindly to this, a reluctant Connery was brought back for Diamonds Are Forever (1971). However, he definitively bowed out after this and was replaced with Roger Moore for Live and Let Die (1973). This firmly established the Bond franchise as being a revolving door for British actors who look good in tuxedos. As such, it’s been understood that once an actor was done with their run as Bond, another would inevitably take their place and that, barring a potential shift in tone, the status quo of the franchise would largely remain the same.
Things are different now. This is because Daniel Craig’s run as 007 does something unprecedented that cements it as wholly distinct from his predecessors; it features a consistent narrative throughline. Prior to the Craig era, the franchise was cavalier in its approach to continuity. Bond films would feel like wholly self-contained adventures for the most part, with the character himself typically being unchanged by the end.
This has led some fans to speculate that James Bond is simply a codename, and that the different actors are all playing different characters to have been assigned the moniker over the years. This theory is shaky at best to put it mildly, due in no small part to the fact that there can’t be that many promiscuous British men with a penchant for vodka martinis and bad puns. It similarly disregards recurring characters, including his cat-stroking arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who has been portrayed by six different actors over the course of the official series. There are also moments which function as an exception to the rule, as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service features a famously sombre ending in which Bond’s love interest is killed in a drive-by shooting shortly after the two are married. This moment is referenced in several subsequent films including The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), in which Roger Moore played the character, and Licence to Kill (1989), which saw him portrayed by Timothy Dalton. Moments such as these served to remind audiences that they were, in fact, always watching the same character despite him being constantly replaced with a different actor every several years, despite the film’s narratives being largely self-contained affairs that were meant to be enjoyed entirely on their own individual merit.
That all changed in 2006. After Die Another Day (2002) was derided by many as being too over-the-top even by Bond standards, it was clear that a new direction was necessary, especially in the wake of the successful Bourne films, which were a grittier approach to the spy formula. The result was Craig’s first outing as Bond, Casino Royale. An adaptation of the very first of Ian Fleming’s novels in the series, it features a more hot-headed, less experienced 007 on one of his very first assignments. This effectively meant that the series had been rebooted, with the only holdover from the prior films being Judi Dench as M. It was a fresh start for Bond and, for the first time since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it features a narrative in which he undergoes clear development. Unlike that film, however, it would prove to be the rule as opposed to the exception.
Quantum of Solace (2008) continued where Casino Royale left off, with it attempting to tie up whatever loose ends that film had left and with it focusing primarily on a rogue Bond seeking revenge on the people responsible for the death of love interest Vesper Lynd. While it wasn’t particularly well-received, it would nevertheless set a precedent for the Bond films in its wake. Its follow-up, Skyfall (2012) would more firmly establish the Craig films as being an entirely distinct, consistent continuity, doing so by shaking up the status quo in a way which is entirely acknowledged by the two subsequent entries in the franchise.
It introduces new iterations of Moneypenny and Q, who had been recurring characters in the pre-Craig films and, most shockingly, killed off Judi Dench’s M. Like the aforementioned death of Vesper, this would leave an indelible mark on Bond in the next instalment, Spectre (2015). Naturally, it features developments which carry over into the recently released No Time To Die, including the introduction of new love interest Madeline Swan as well as the re-introduction of Blofeld. Over the course of these five films, Bond undergoes a clear trajectory. He begins Casino Royale as a reckless greenhorn with a chip on his shoulder and, without getting into any major spoilers, is a man who, despite his hardened exterior, has finally made peace with himself and has learnt to care for and properly trust others by the end of No Time To Die. Over the course of five films, he experiences love, loss, victory and failure, all of which lead him up to this point.
And now it’s over. No Time To Die ends in a fashion that concludes this James Bond’s story in no uncertain terms. Craig’s tenure as James Bond is finished. The series obviously isn’t, but an unprecedented chapter in its history is. As such, I’m left wondering what Eon Productions are going to do with the character next. They’re more than likely going to have to create a new continuity for Bond, and I’m both assuming as well as hoping that they’ll hold onto Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris and Ben Whishaw as M, Moneypenny and Q respectively. However, I’m curious as to how they’ll go about doing this. They could return to the episodic approach that has traditionally been associated with the Bond series, or they could give the next Bond his own overarching narrative like Craig.
Both, however, would feel strange if the franchise were to resume any time in the near future. Craig’s Bond is still fresh in the minds of fans and casual filmgoers alike, and No Time To Die’s utterly unexpected conclusion will more than likely leave a strong impact on both. To continue as if this take on Bond which has become so synonymous with the character to an entire generation hadn’t happened would feel quite jarring, especially since they’ll have to entirely re-introduce the character. No matter how good the next actor to play the role is, Craig’s Bond will hang over future entries like a ghost due to the strength of his performance coupled with the entirely new direction the franchise took with his run.
In spite of this, I am looking forward to seeing what Eon does with Bond next and am more than certain that it will be successful. But more than anything I’m glad that this most recent run ended on as high of a note as it did. Good luck Eon, you’ve got a tough act to follow.