‘No Time to Die’: What the Ending Means For the Future of the Franchise
The following post contains major SPOILERS for No Time to Die.
After saving the world countless times, defeating dozens of evil villains bent on global domination, after bedding who knows how many gorgeous women, James Bond does something he has never done before at the end of his latest film: He dies.
(Okay, so, in hindsight the title No Time to Die was kind of ironic.)
[And yeah if you want to get really technically, Bond “dies” in the aptly-named You Only Live Twice. But in that case he faked his own death. This is the real deal.]
Of course, Bond’s death comes as a noble sacrifice, engineered by the screenplay for maximum melodrama. Bond (Daniel Craig) has pursued the evil Safin (Rami Malek) to his island lair, where this latest Bond mega-villain plans to distribute a highly advanced, programmable virus that could wipe out huge swaths of the world’s population. Supposedly, once you get this virus stuff in your body, there’s no getting it out. If you touch the intended target, you pass the virus to them and they die instantly. And in their final battle, Safin infects Bond with a virus specifically programmed to kill 007’s one true love, Madeleine Swann. If he ever sees her again, he would kill her.
Even worse, Bond has just learned that since the last time he saw Madeleine, she gave birth to a daughter — who turns out to be his child. And the virus is transmitted through DNA. (or something? It’s honestly kind of unclear precisely how this made up and very convenient superbug works.) So Bond could kill his own child with a single hug. Even if Bond lives, he is doomed.
And so he willingly remains behind on the island to ensure that the blast doors on Safin’s facility remains open when British Navy bombs it into oblivion. Bond gets one final phone call with Swann, and then is killed in a massive missile strike. RIP James Bond.
It’s a moment that will surely baffle a lot of viewers. James Bond never loses, never dies. It’s right up there in many of his titles. He dies another day! And his tomorrows never die! He is supposed to have no time to die! What happened to all of that? Plus, the franchise has already churned through six different actors in the lead role across 25 movies. Is this really the end of James Bond?
Of course not. In fact, if you sit through the entire closing credits, the very last words onscreen before the corporate logos are “James Bond Will Return,” a refrain that has appeared in the end titles of almost every single James Bond movie dating back to 1963’s From Russia With Love, which concluded with the announcement “James Bond Will Return In the Next Ian Fleming Thriller, Goldfinger.”
The franchise kept announcing each new Bond movie in the credits of the previous one until they ran out of Ian Fleming titles to adapt, at which point the tease was shortened to the open-ended “James Bond Will Return.” And sure enough No Time to Die includes the phrase too. James Bond will return, which should be impossible unless he’s been a Highlander this whole time and didn’t tell anyone. (Maybe he is; he’s a very secretive fellow.)
That announcement sort of kills any suspense about whether the series would continue, but then again the producers have already talked about beginning the search for the next actor to play James Bond in 2022. Bond is one of the most lucrative film franchises in history, and it’s proven durable enough to endure the departure of a seemingly irreplaceable star and the end of the Cold War whose politics and tension inspired it in the first place. You think a little thing like the death of its hero will stop it? You have a better shot of seeing James Bond drinking a White Claw than of retiring for good.
To understand No Time to Die’s ending, you have to understand Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond in the context of the 40+ years of Bond movies that preceded him. The earlier Bonds were basically an anthology of adventure stories. The lead actors changed, the stories got lighter or darker, but essentially each new film was a piece of entertainment entirely unto itself. There were occasional references to previous installments — as when Bond married and then his wife was murdered by Blofeld, which served as his motivation for a movie or two before that plot point was largely forgotten — but those were the exception not the rule.
Daniel Craig’s five Bond films, in contrast, tell a long serialized story from beginning to end. It might not have always been the most satisfying or entertaining story — Damn you, Quantum of Solace! — but it took viewers through this particular Bond’s entire career, from his first kill as a 00 agent to his own heroic death. It charted his evolution from energetic but naive new recruit to battle-hardened cynic. We’ll see a James Bond again for sure. But we’ll never see Daniel Craig’s James Bond. That Bond is deader than disco.
As for where the franchise goes next, there are a few options. They could start the whole saga over again, introducing a new Bond and giving him his own origin story, the way Casino Royale did for Daniel Craig’s 007. Or they could bring in a new actor and simply have him play the role as if his Bond has always been around and will always be around, the way Roger Moore or Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan did when they joined the series.
Given that this new Bond has the opportunity for a truly clean slate though, I hope the filmmakers go a bit bolder than that. They could do focus more on small-scale espionage instead of action and gadgets. Or they could give Bond a real partner for the first time. They could even go in a really new direction and make a movie about James Bond’s grown-up daughter from No Time To Die — although I think that’s highly unlikely. (For one thing, producer Barbara Broccoli has said that she thinks James Bond should be played by a man.)
Or they could finally do what filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino have advocated for in the past and make a period James Bond film that’s set in the 1950s or ’60s and is closer in tone and style to the original Ian Fleming books. It’s never been done before, and it would simultaneously bring something new and old to the series.
However he comes back, Bond won’t be gone for long. He has to come back. In Hollywood, diamonds aren’t the only things that are forever.