[Editor’s note: The following post contains extensive spoilers for “No Time to Die.”]
What an exit! Daniel Craig literally went out with a bang as James Bond in “No Time to Die.” And he made us cry as never before. But his shocking death was necessary in completing his character arc and providing closure after all the heartbreak he endured. It was also important for the franchise to have a clean break before introducing the seventh 007.
But Craig’s tortured Bond finally found salvation at the end of his five-film journey. He saved the world from Safin’s (Rami Malek) targeted DNA bio-weapon, especially those closest to him: lover Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and their young daughter, Mathilde (Lisa-Dorah Sonnet).
Craig’s unique run as Bond has been like watching one continuous movie: the “Casino Royale” origin story established him as a newbie 007, who was extremely rough around the edges; the “Quantum of Solace” sequel tied up the emotional loose ends associated with deceased lover Vesper Lynd (Eva Green); the near-death/resurrection in “Skyfall” completed his rite of passage; “Spectre” reunited Bond with adopted brother-turned nemesis Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) — the author of his pain — and introduced Madeleine as his second chance at love; and “No Time to Die” completed Bond’s love story with Madeleine, who helped him find his place in the world and a legacy.
What made Craig’s Bond different was that he explored his conflicted inner life on screen for the first time. He was a far cry from the cruel, sardonic, and effortless Bond created by Sean Connery. Craig’s Bond was a sensitive blunt instrument, who often felt trapped as 007. That’s because of all the emotional baggage. Everything was personal. Yet, after experiencing love, loss, and betrayal with Vesper, Bond’s inability to trust became his Achilles heel.
But he wasn’t alone. M (Judi Dench) always had trouble trusting Bond, and her bad judgment at the beginning of “Skyfall” (“Take the bloody shot!”) nearly killed him. And that betrayal tested Bond’s loyalty when vengeful baddie Silva (Javier Bardem) returned to kill her. It wasn’t until M died in Bond’s arms that she finally acknowledged her maternal bond. Ironically, in “Spectre,” fate drew Bond closer to enemy Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), who’s dying wish was that he find and protect his daughter, Madeleine. They turned out to be kindred spirits — both damaged goods — who fell in love.
The catalyst for completing Bond’s story in “No Time to Die” was having it come full circle with “Casino Royale.” For director Cary Joji Fukunaga, that meant linking Madeleine to Vesper. This occurs early on when Madeleine forces Bond to visit Vesper’s grave in Italy to bury the past, which violently blows up in his face. Bond blames Madeleine and the betrayal seems like Vesper all over again. How could their love survive?
Crucially, Fukunaga found another ghost from the past to tap into with his favorite pre-Craig Bond film, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” the franchise’s first tragic love story, in which Blofeld (Telly Savalas) guns down Bond’s (George Lazenby) new bride, Tracy (Diana Rigg), at the start of their honeymoon. The first foreshadowing occurs early on when Bond and Madeleine drive to the ancient city of Matera, Italy, in the Aston Martin DB5. He utters, “We have all the time in the world,” which Lazenby’s Bond said just before Tracy’s murder. This is immediately underscored by composer Hans Zimmer incorporating John Barry’s eponymous love theme in the score.
There are other nods: Barry’s “On Her Majesty’s” main title instrumental softly plays in the background when M (Ralph Fiennes) uncharacteristically lets his guard down with Bond; and Safin’s bio-weapon finds its roots in Blofeld’s toxic virus from the earlier film. But the most powerful echoing occurs with the tragic death reversal and Bond leaving Madeleine with: “You have all the time in the world.” The mother-daughter tag then lovingly evokes how the story of “Bond, James Bond” gets passed from one generation to the next. The perfect cue for Louis Armstrong singing the mournful “We Have All the Time in the World” over the end credits.
What’s fascinating is how hard the filmmakers worked throughout the Craig era to flip Bond on its head while still maintaining links to the past. The highlights being the MI6 extended family, of course, and Bond’s ongoing relationships with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and Blofeld. However, the wisest move was the return of the famed DB5 (introduced in “Goldfinger”), which Bond wins in a poker game in “Casino Royale.” But after being tricked out for “Skyfall” and rebuilt for its final mission in “No Time to Die,” the old warrior has outlived its usefulness.
But credit Fukunaga for smartly making Bond’s swan song a classical romantic adventure. He completed his arc by continuing to humanize him. And he made sure there was always an emotional connection to the visceral action (shot for the first time with the IMAX camera). This was especially true during the climactic battle in Safin’s exotic underground lair, which resembled a cross between Ken Adam’s legendary “Dr. No” and “You Only Live Twice” sets.
Overall, though, the tone was light as well as dark. Yet, for the first time, Bond displayed more confidence and humor. He was also in command throughout, and actually had fun teaming up with the two female newbies: Nomi/007 (Lashana Lynch) and the CIA’s Paloma (Ana de Armas). But the film was driven by Craig’s deeply moving performance. How he’s progressed since “Casino Royale,” where he was so tender with Vesper and prickly with Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). Yet his defining moment came when consoling Vesper during her emotional breakdown in the shower. That’s when they both fell in love.
Nicole Dove / © 2019 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Part of the greatness of the Craig era was how Bond’s interactions with other characters reflected his own demons: Vesper, Madeleine, Camille (“Quantum of Solace’s” Olga Kurylenko), and Safin as psychologically-scarred orphans; and Camille, Silva, Blofeld, and Safin as vengeance seekers. In wrapping up Craig’s Bond story, however, Fukunaga honed in on the theme of family, allowing Bond to fleetingly experience what might have been while validating his importance as 007.
Whatever direction the franchise takes next, it will be emboldened by Craig’s gravitas. This was underscored by M’s heartfelt eulogy (courtesy of Jack London): “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”