Madeline Swan Song

I grew up with James Bond movies. But I became a man during Daniel Craig’s run of Bond films. I think back to where I was in my life 15 years ago when Casino Royale came out. Like Bond, I was a scrappy upstart coming up in the world with everything to prove and nothing to lose. I wrote and starred in a James Bond musical entitled Nobody Does it Better. For the story, I mined certain elements from the novel You Only Live Twice that hadn’t made it into the movie version, including my favorite villain’s lair of all the books: the poisonous suicide garden of Dr. Shatterhand. I had a lot of fun and didn’t get sued by the Fleming estate so it was a good time.

Bond and the V8 Vantage in NO TIME TO DIE (New Image): JamesBond

I met my wife for the first time at the midnight matinee of Quantum of Solace, so no matter what shit people sling at that flick it will always have a special place in my heart. We wouldn’t have an actual conversation for another four years, but that night was the beginning of my destiny.

Skyfall came out the year I got my first big boy job. It seemed as though the weight of the world was on my shoulders. The starving artist standing on the stage in a tux with a fake Walther PPK in his hand and an arrogant smirk on his face from five years ago seemed like another person. I realized that the other person was me and I sought to find him again. My journey took me all the way to New York City and my future wife and I finally had that conversation. We walked through central park with our arms linked together and part of us are still walking in that park today. A year later we were living together. A year after that we saw Spectre opening night in Time Square. There was a wonderful symmetry to our second James Bond midnight matinee and it felt like a private valentine’s day of sorts. When No Time to Die’s release date in November of 2019 was pushed back the first time, it felt like someone was teasing our little holiday away from us. A lot happened while we waited for that movie. A pandemic, our first house, our first car, a new job. Our son.

I said I grew up with James Bond. It would be more accurate to say I was raised by him. One of my earliest memories is my father reading Dr. No to me. I didn’t quite understand it but it seemed dangerous and intoxicating. I wanted my son’s first movie to be a James Bond picture.

But the pandemic is scary. I wouldn’t want to expose my kid or his mother to any danger. I thought of going by myself, but I knew I would hate myself, miss them and ultimately not enjoy it anyway. I’d been seeing these James Bond movies opening night for over 20 years. My parents, my friends, my sister, now my wife. I couldn’t leave my son out of it. I found a showing with reserved seats that had zero tickets on opening night. We had the theater almost completely to ourselves except for one other couple in the back. The boy was enthralled for the entire cold open and fell asleep by the time we got to the opening credits set to a Billie Eilish tune. Baby’s aren’t supposed to watch movies so it’s all for the better and we still get to say his first movie was James Bond. It just so happens my boy’s first Bond is this Bond’s last.

The final film of an actor’s run as 007 is rarely known his best and often ranked among the worst of the series. There is a logic to it I suppose. By the time a Bond reaches the end of his run, perhaps his particular interpretation of the character is no longer relevant. Sean Connery lost interest in the character, Roger Moore aged out, and Pierce Brosnan surfed the shark. Craig was in danger of doing all three after Spectre. But Daniel Craig’s final fling with a Walther PPK No Time to Die is a strong entry in the series. It also smooths the faults of its predecessor and resolves the emotional arc of the character thoughtfully and respectfully. For that alone, most will probably herald it as the greatest Bond swan song. 

Daniel Craig himself seems to be having a little more fun this time. He’s invested in the character and he seems to be telling the story he wants to tell. There are plenty of nods to fans, but unlike the recent Star Wars films or Die Another Day, this one doesn’t pistol whip you with it. There’s even a reference to Die Another Day in No Time to Day by way of a delectados cigar. 

The plot mirrors the story of the best Hitman mission in the series, The World of Tomorrow Scientists are making a assassation weapon that can kill targets based on their DNA, intended to avoid collateral damage but clearly a recipe for genocide. It’s no mistake that the makers of that game are currently working on the next 007 video game, appropriately titled Project 007.

No Time to Die occasionally stops to acknowledge its moment. I’m not the person to address if the film’s representation of gender, sex, orientation and race are meaningful examples of equality or if the producers are just desperate to avoid scrutiny for a series that has a long history of racism, sexism, homophobia and misogyny.

It sounds like a strange detail, but I appreciate the way this film does dots. The worst sin of the Craig Bond films is their needless constant monkeying with the gun-barrel sequence. It still doesn’t look quite right, but I’m not going to let it bother me. And the title designer immediately makes up for it in the title sequences when he pulls up the original multi-colored polka dots from Dr. No. It takes us back to the beginning with a subtle visual queue. You don’t even have to notice it, you just have to feel it.

The locations echo previous Bond adventures and the world that influenced him. His retirement pad in Jamaica looks more than a little like the Goldeneye Estate, the house where James Bond creator Ian Fleming wrote the original 007 novels. The remnants of the Cold War that forged his character crumble around him in this film. From the dusty streets of Havana, to the austere Soviet sub pen hidden on an island of doom, the forgotten sins of Bond’s war loom large. 

I had to smile when I realized they were going to do the poisonous garden in the last act. It made me feel like that smug young buck on stage opening night 15 years ago who had no idea where life would take him but knew it would be good. Like Bond, I’ve changed since then. Now I’m a family man. And in this movie, so is he. The producers wisely and respectfully dust off the most poignant motif in the Bond saga. It’s a little bit of poetry and a few strains of strings that accompanied Bond the last time tried to settle down. “We have all the time in the world,” James Bond assures the woman he loves. The music lilts and fate demonstrates it has other ideas. 

With No Time to Die, Daniel Craig become the first James Bond to have a full arc as 007. We follow our man in the tux from the moment he get his Double O to the moment he finally…well…he either dies or she does right? You can’t invoke the cruel irony of “all the time in the world” and not go through with it. For me, that’s really the reason why No Time to Die is probably the best Bond send-off. But before we go I’m going to go to bat for them the other Bond swan songs.

Die Another Die is an easy target. It goes completely off the rails rather quickly. And it’s a shame, because the first half of this movie has a lot of cool scenes and I’m finally starting to buy Pierce Brosnan as a dangerous Bond. The Hong Kong and Cuba stuff are a lot of fun, and I even enjoy the ridiculous sword fight scene. People say it’s when the invisible car shows up that the movie loses it. I think it’s actually when Bond smells Rosa Klebb’s shoe. I guess Brosnan’s shoulder-biting Bond always was a little kinky. And yet, I can’t really blame this movie for being exactly what it wants to be, and it’s trying very hard to make me like it. Almost too hard. 

View to a Kill I will defend to the end. I totally understand why people make fun of this movie, I do too. But once you realize Grace Jones is actually James Bond in this movie, not Roger Moore this movie is off to the races. Grace Jones is the one skydiving off the Eiffel Tower. She’s the one that stops the bad guy’s bomb from going off at the end. Grace Jones literally makes Roger Moore her bottom in this movie. Roger Moore makes quiche. Who do you think is the real Bond? The fact that we have a photographic record of Christopher Walken as a Bond villain is a thing to treasure, and for that alone I’m glad this movie was made. 

Sean Connery holds the record for most “last” Bond movie. Having quit the role three separate times, Connery officially has three final Bond movies. His first last is You Only Live Twice, based on the last Bond novel his creator Ian Fleming wrote. I love this movie and this book, even though they have nothing to do with one another. I always disappointed that they never filmed Blofeld’s Garden of Death, a terrifying suicide garden within the gates of a forboding castle. But Blofeld’s Monorail outfitted spaceship-launching volcano base is always pretty awesome.

Connery’s second final Bond is in my opinion the worst James Bond movie of all time. It’s certainly the tackiest, and it’s where the series starts to learn a lot of bad habits that lingered around for decades. Sean is out of shape and out to lunch, the film is rip-roaringly homophobic and mysonistic and Blofeld dresses like an old lady. But as horrible as Diamonds are Forever is and as terrible as Sean Connery is in it, I respect the fact that he’s basically just fleecing the producers of this movie and us for money. Plays us all for saps, gets the girl, takes the money and runs. It’s a pretty James Bond stunt to pull. 

Not only is Connery’s final final final Bond regarded as one of the worst, some don’t even acknowledge it as an official Bond at all. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Never Say Never Again is never as bad as they say it is. It peters out and meanders around but despite its campiness and tackiness it does feel more adult than the Roger Moore Bonds. Sean Connery is here to play this time. He’s making good money and hanging out with beautiful women. He also has something to prove this time. He wants to remind us that he’s not only a good James Bond, he is James Bond. And honestly, I think Klaus Maria Brandauer is great in this movie. I will never say Never Say Never Again is among the best Bond films, but now and again I think I can say Brandauer’s Largo might be one of the best villains.

Timothy Dalton’s brief tenure as Bond is often overlooked and certainly underrated. The first of the Dalton Duology is probably his best but his second and last License to Kill isn’t bad either. Dalton is probably the best actor who’s played Bond. He and Roger Moore both attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and yet their respective takes on the superspy couldn’t be any different, which makes we question what the hell they are teaching there. Dalton’s Bond is deadly and willful but still sophisticated and intelligent. License to Kill fleshes out Bond’s friendship with Felix Leiter and makes it central to his character’s motivations, foreshadowing the events of No Time to Die. The final film of the Dalton Duology may look more like Lethal Weapon than a 007 picture, but at the heart of it is a story true to Bond’s character and a performance that does it justice.

We’ll see how the years treat No Time to Die and how long it holds the mantle of best Bond swan song. Sometimes movies like this make a good first impression on audiences and then opinion sours as the years go on. For me it was a truly moving and thrilling moviegoing experience that I will treasure for a long time. It will be a while before I’m the headspace to watch this movie from start to finish and it’s not exactly the kind of Bond film that you just put on in the background during the holidays. But there are a couple of scenes I anticipate rewatching multiple times. My son won’t remember his first movie, but I’ll always remember him cradled in my wife’s arms, awakening with a smile as the screen reminds us James Bond Will Return. We may not have all the time in the world, but we have each other and we have this time. Movies are just movies. Sound and fury signifying nothing. But we grow up with them, we use them to mark different times in our life. No matter what the future holds, No Time to Die will always remind me of what might end up being the best time in my life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s