There are a lot of reasons to be excited about No Time to Die, the 25th canonical James Bond film that arrives in cinemas April 2020.
It is directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, one of the most interesting directors working today. Fukunaga possesses a unique stylistic sensibility, whether expressed through television series like the first season of True Detective and Maniac, or in films like Jane Eyre and Beasts of No Nation. It also features Rami Malek, fresh from career-making turns in Mr. Robot and Bohemian Rhapsody.
However, there are also reasons to worry. Fukunaga was a last-minute replacement on a project that seems to have been deeply troubled. Skyfall and Spectre director Sam Mendes passed on the project, and 28 Days Later and Trainspotting director Danny Boyle left after creative differences with the producers. The production was reportedly rushed and beset by injuries and incidents.
The first trailer for No Time to Die refuses to clarify whether audiences should be excited or terrified at the prospect of Daniel Craig’s final outing as the iconic superspy. It is a fairly standard blockbuster trailer, which seems to exist to assure audience members that they will be seeing a James Bond movie in a few months composed of all the typical elements associated therein.
There are glamorous locations, including Italy, Jamaica, and Norway. There are beautiful Bond girls, including Ana de Armas in striking evening wear. Perhaps most interestingly, there is also heavy continuity. Not only do familiar faces like Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw show up, but Léa Seydoux and Christoph Waltz also get heavy play, reprising their roles from the polarizing Spectre.
There is an aspect of “greatest hits” to all of this. The villainous Safin (Malek) remains mysterious, although he clearly has the sort of disfigurement that serves as the price of admission to Bond’s rogues’ gallery. The trailer’s big moment hinges on the reveal that Bond’s Aston Martin contains miniguns. To be honest, it would be more surprising if it didn’t.
The trailer has been calibrated in order to maximize online discussion. Actor Lashana Lynch receives considerable attention in her role as Nomi, the agent who is replacing the recently retired James Bond as the designated “007.” This announcement caused no shortage of online panic in all the usual places, stoking up controversy that James Bond was about to be played by a black woman.
Of course, James Bond is still a white guy and 007 is an official title. Over the course of the franchise, there have been quite a few 006s. However, the first trailer for No Time to Die seems designed to tease the sorts of voices that get angered by these sorts of things, with Nomi even stating that “The world’s moved on, Mister Bond,” before warning Bond to “stay in [his] lane.”
It’s deliberately provocative, but not too provocative. It lacks the sort of impact that, say, casting Idris Elba, Daniel Kaluuya, or even Gillian Anderson as Craig’s replacement would generate. It generates some easy chatter and some free publicity, akin to the cynicism of an “exclusively gay moment.” When M (Fiennes) asks “Where’s 007?” the trailer still cuts to a retired James Bond.
Otherwise, the trailer is a mess of familiar James Bond clichés. It opens with the suggestion that Madeleine Swann (Seydoux) is a Bond girl with a secret, which plays into the long history of Bond girls with their own agendas. Even Bond himself seems somewhat underwhelmed by the revelation, remarking, “We all have our secrets. We just didn’t get to yours yet.”
M complains that “the world is arming faster than we can respond,” a recurring motif of recent films like Casino Royale and Spectre. Nomi’s implied criticism of Bond as an outdated archetype is just a reheat of GoldenEye’s description of him as “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur.” As if a Bond film would ever be too critical of Bond. At best, it might accept that he’s a bit of a bastard, but he’s our bastard.
The Bond franchise has long used trailers as statements of intent, but the No Time to Die trailer offers none of that. The trailer for GoldenEye spends 30 seconds building to Bond’s appearance as it promises the audience that they “can still depend on one man.” The trailer for Casino Royale opens similarly to the film, emphasizing the film’s heightened brutality and back-to-basics aesthetic. The trailer for Skyfall centers on Judi Dench’s M and the “resurrection“ of old elements like Q and Moneypenny.
There are a number of obvious angles to play with when it comes to No Time to Die. Daniel Craig has been quite explicit that this will be his last appearance in the title role. Films in similar positions have built their marketing campaigns around the idea of closure. Even this December, the idea of resolution is a huge selling point for The Rise of Skywalker.
The reluctance of No Time to Die to make a statement about finality is interesting, given rumors that the cause of Danny Boyle’s departure from the project was his intent to kill off Daniel Craig’s version of James Bond. This would have been a very bold step, giving the audience a “final” James Bond story before the role was inevitably recast and the series retooled yet again. It is easy to see why the producers might have been anxious about this.
Before Casino Royale was released, the idea of providing an “origin” for James Bond was just as radical a thought. Craig played the first version of James Bond to have a clear beginning, with the other iterations of the character emerging fully formed. It would be fitting if he were also the first version of the character to have an actual ending, to draw a line under this version of the character.
After all, the best of the Daniel Craig films (which rank highly among the best of the James Bond franchise) are notable for their acknowledgement of concepts like mortality and the passage of time. Craig’s Bond grew into the role in Casino Royale. Dench’s M faced her own death — and explored her own relationship with Bond — in Skyfall. The franchise should not be afraid of such radical notions.
Of course, all of this is speculation. It is impossible to say what No Time to Die is actually about at this point, beyond the trailer’s strained insistence that this is all business as usual. Maybe it is a red herring, but it might also serve as a statement of intent. But it would be a shame if Daniel Craig were to wrap up his time in that iconic tuxedo treating it like any other adventure.