Bond 26: Where the 007 Franchise Should Go After Shocking ‘No Time to Die’ End

Twenty-five films in, the beloved spy franchise is still ripe for reinvention. But what could, and maybe even should, come next?
B25_25594_RJames Bond (Daniel Craig) prepares to shoot in NO TIME TO DIE, a DANJAQ and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film.Credit: Nicola Dove© 2019 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Daniel Craig in "No Time to Die"

[Editor’s note: The following post contains light spoilers for the ending of “No Time to Die.”]

Let’s not mince words: the Daniel Craig era of James Bond is over. The star of five Bond films of varying success and tone, Craig has long made it plain that “No Time to Die” was going to be his last outing as the super-suave 007. As the Cary Fukunaga-directed feature finally (finally!) makes it way into theaters around the globe, any lingering questions about the possibility of Craig returning to the role, well, let’s just say they can finally be put to bed.

And that’s just fine, because the revered MI6 agent has always been the product of massive reinvention. Played by a variety of actors (Sean Connery, David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Craig) over the course of nearly six decades, “James Bond” has never been beholden to just one performer or even one idea of a performer. As Craig exits, the possibilities for what’s next for Bond, James Bond are endless as ever. The Craig-starring series certainly put its own stamp on the Bond concept, opting to use serialized storytelling instead of the usual episodic arrangements, leaning into the emotion and pain of the UK’s best spy, and even considering what happens when Bond falls in love (the kind strong enough to carry through, gasp, multiple movies). Anything goes, really.

So what’s next for Bond? We’ve got some ideas.

Anne Thompson, Christian Blauvelt, Chris O’Falt, and Bill Desowitz contributed to this article.

007 Shouldn’t Try to Recapture Past Highs

Callbacks to iconic moments of Bond past have popped up throughout the 21st century 007 movies: Pierce Brosnan randomly plays with Rosa Klebb’s dagger shoe in “Die Another Day”; Daniel Craig in “Skyfall” runs across the backs of Komodo dragons, a la Roger Moore and alligators in “Live and Let Die.” But regurgitating the past rarely works: just look at, well, everything with Blofeld and Spectre in “Spectre.”

Bond is at its best when it derives its action, emotion, and humor from original scenarios untethered from the past. But if you had to look to any previous Bond for a template about what to do next, you could do worse than look at Roger Moore. In fact, what he accomplished with his debut, “Live and Let Die,” is something all franchises could draw inspiration from. He threw out the playbook for previous Bonds and tried to do something completely different from what Connery did. The expectation of Moore to just do a Connery impersonation must have been overwhelming, yet he made 007 his own: suave and smirking where Connery was alpha-male blunt. And with his more comedic take on Bond, Moore found a whole new audience for the franchise (something even Connery acknowledged while also expressing that Moore’s movies weren’t for him) and ended up making seven movies — the most of any 007.

MOONRAKER, Roger Moore, Richard Kiel, Lois Chiles, 1979. (c) United Artists/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.
“Moonraker”©United Artists/Courtesy Everett Collection

Yes, a couple of those movies are really bad. And no, in no way should the new Bond try to replicate Roger Moore’s performance. The point is that, like Moore, they shouldn’t try to replicate any actor’s previous Bond performance. And that’s going to be tough considering the long shadow Craig’s Bond is going to cast. Doing something completely original is the only way to escape from it. —CB

But Still Needs to Stick to What Makes It Unique at the Multiplex

There’s an interesting discussion of if the franchise can live beyond James, but I think what’s important is if the next iteration of films can live beyond our 21st century corporate model of a franchise. Bond is obviously valuable IP, to be handled with extreme care by a committee making decisions driven by the need keep its cash cow healthy. It is also practically its own genre, complete with expectations of ingredients and tropes that have bound the first 25 editions across different leading men, eras, and cultural progression. But it has continued to take an old school, late twentieth century approach of making blockbusters one at a time, which stands in sharp contrast to the Marvel model that has become dominant.

The focus of each Bond scene is how it will put you on the edge of your seat, rather than how it fits into a larger serialized story. It’s in this sense that Bond is like a genre, where a collection of artists come together to play in a sandbox and reimagine how to deliver on those audience expectations, versus a TV-like approach of how to deliver multiple editions that are cut from the same cloth.

B25_39456_RC2James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Paloma (Ana de Armas) inNO TIME TO DIE, an EON Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios filmCredit: Nicola Dove© 2020 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
“No Time to Die”Nicola Dove

Bond still depends on the magnetism and sex appeal of actual movie stars. Its visual effects and stunts are still storytelling tools of very different directors, not powerful independent units in charge of “spectacle delivery” across films. The pyrotechnics are an incorporated part of the composition — its candy-colored surfaces are rooted in the other-worldly beauty of that edition’s locations and performers, both dressed with unattainable glamour by best-in-the-business designers. And it’s thickest layer of allure comes from the very different lensing of cinematographers like Roger Deakins, Hoyte van Hoytema (the Roger to Hoyte juxtaposition being example number one of Bond’s palette flexibility), Linus Sandgren, all of whom wouldn’t step foot on the Marvel factory floor.

It’s the difference between film and television, and if our big theatrical movies continue to take a franchise-as-showrunner approach it becomes harder to defend the primacy of the big screen, for which 007 remains one of its last remaining Avengers. —CO

A Return to Retro

Where should the Bond franchise go after the Daniel Craig saga? For starters, back to standalone missions that are more fun and not personal. Let’s face it: Craig brilliantly rode the origin story/character arc for all it was worth, exploring Bond’s inner turmoil yet reaching emotional closure. It was a long time coming, but it’s time for a significant course correction. While there’s certainly no turning back to a completely traditional, misbehaving Bond in the 21st century, the producers could take a page out of Bond novelist Anthony Horowitz (“Trigger Mortis,” “Forever and a Day”) and do a retro cycle of 007 movies set during the Cold War of the ’50s or ’60s.

GOLDFINGER, Sean Connery, Shirley Eaton, 1964
“Goldfinger”Courtesy Everett Collection

Henry Cavill, who auditioned for “Casino Royale,” is just the right age (38) and type, having already distinguished himself as Napoleon Solo in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and the baddie from “Mission: Impossible — Fallout.” Another possibility is Irishman Aidan Turner (“Poldark”), who’s the same age as Cavill, and would also fit in nicely with his looks, manner, and period acting chops. Going period would liberate Bond from contemporary constraints while redefining his personality. He could be more Fleming than Connery, while still conveying a sense of danger, wit, and unpredictability. And the plots could evoke Fleming while re-introducing retro glam, along with some inventive gadgets and espionage plot twists. This would provide an unusual direction while also allowing Bond to enjoy being Bond again. —BD

Finding the Fun Again

Over the course of five films, Craig and his various directors and screenwriters spun out a massive, emotional epic that dared to consider James Bond as a flawed, damaged, and very human character. It didn’t always work — we’re looking at you, “Spectre” — but it’s tough not to admire the truly daring, franchise-upending choices that inspired it. Maybe you never wondered about James Bond’s childhood or what would happen if the guy really did fall in love with one woman (long-time fans will, of course, remember that one time Bond got married at the end of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” only for Mrs. Tracy Bond to be killed off and to resurface as a headstone), but at least we know what that all looks like.

And, yes, mostly it looked, well, kind of sad.

Casino Royale
“Casino Royale”Columbia Pictures

That’s not to say there hasn’t been fun in these films, from the giddy, get-the-ball-rolling zip of Craig’s debut in “Casino Royale” and even the first half or so of “No Time to Die,” which cleverly threads both Craig-centric drama and grumpiness with the sort of nifty intrigue audiences probably associate with the non-Craig films. Sure, the heart of James Bond’s existence is fundamentally not “fun” — even in his wackiest of adventures, he’s still a spy trying to save the world, or at least a whole bunch of people; one time, Roger Moore even had to save a circus, for goodness’ sakes! — but the best of the bunch are always entertaining, zippy, and feel damn good to watch.

That’s not exactly the sort of thing most franchises are into these days, though. Even the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe mostly hinge on problems like, hey, how do we save half the universe from being destroyed? And, no, that doesn’t always make for a rollicking time at the multiplex. Which is why James Bond should do just that, returning the franchise both to its own unique DNA and rebuffing a movie world gone mad with constantly upped-consequences. We’ve seen the darker, deeper Bond, and now it’s time to flip that on its head: let’s have some fun. —KE

But Don’t Forget the Emotion

My father loved James Bond. Every new opening, from “Dr. No” to “From Russia with Love,” “Goldfinger” and onward was an event. But he was loyal to Sean Connery: they were born the same year, 1930. Connery will always be the best Bond, for me. He was a terrific actor in Hitchcock’s “Marnie” and “Robin and Marian” and “The Man Who Would Be King,” among other films, but it’s telling that he saw nothing wrong with slapping a woman, “if it would merit it, if you have tried everything else…you give them the last word.” Yes, Connery was a man of his time, like Ian Fleming’s cold killer 007.

My second favorite Bond, Daniel Craig, put his soul into turning Bond from a shallow ’60s male archetype into a more complicated 21st century human with awesome physical and mental acuity — Bond must be dangerous — but with warm blood flowing in his veins. The Craig Bond series of five films built toward a more psychological, dimensional, and vulnerable modern Bond, who respects the power of women. Craig gave Bond a heart. That should be a requisite going forward.

No Time to Die Daniel Craig
“No Time to Die”MGM

Casting the new Bond is a challenge, as will keeping the franchise fresh and alive. The producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson know how to hang on to the core of the Bond formula while mixing things up. Bond will always be a British male. But he can be any color, any class. Idris Elba and Clive Owen are now too old to carry the franchise for another decade. My vote goes to another beloved UK star, Tom Hardy, 44, who more than any actor working today has the ability to share his darkness and his light: he is scary and powerful, soulful and joyful. He knows how to fight, sulk, weep, and love. —AT

An MGM release, “No Time to Die” is in theaters now.

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