“Yes, Time To Spoil.” The Bond obsessives’ roundtable. Spoiler Alert!!!!!!!!

I am excited to share the following discussion of the 25th James Bond Movie “No Time To Die.” However, as noted below by Mike Weatherford.

PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS IS YOU HAVENT SEEN THE MOVIE. MAJOR SPOILER ALERT.

“Yes, Time to Spoil”

The Bond obsessives’ roundtable

The bland poster. The generic title. The tight-lipped interviews with Daniel Craig and the creative team. The new James Bond movie No Time to Die doesn’t spill the beans on how different it really is, and no one can talk about what they really want to talk about. Until, of course, they see it. Then they demand, “Can everyone else just see the dang thing so we can talk about it?”

Three of us Bond obsessives gave you a whole week. And now, we give you a spoiler warning or three. 

If you don’t care about James Bond at all, please don’t read this. Because we really embarrass ourselves.

If you plan to see the movie and haven’t, please don’t read this until you do. With major secrets just a few keystrokes away, the collective pop-culture media has done a pretty good job of not spoiling things, and we don’t want to be the first.

But for fellow fans who have let James Bond consume much of their lives since childhood, help yourself to a discussion from:

 

– Nick Lewin, venerable comedy-magician who is actually British, and has traveled the world over with a tricked-out briefcase; as close to Bond as he figures he can get without knowing how to fly a plane. At a very early age, Nick made his own From Russia With Love briefcase out of cardboard. It scared no one.

 

 

 

– Mike Weatherford, who arrived in Las Vegas in time to see Licence to Kill at the movie theater on Charleston and Decatur that’s long since bulldozed, and went on to write about shows until well after Spectre came out. (He also saw Die Another Day and Quantum of Solace with Nick.)

 

 

– Steve Bornfeld, who has written for every publication in town, some twice, and some, thrice. A lifelong   Bond-phile, his life is often shaken,  never stirring.  He can only fantasize about having pussy galore, and he looks awful in a tux (white, black or even that crushed velvet raspberry monstrosity Daniel Craig wore at the No Time to Die premiere). 

 

 

Mike: So this movie put a longtime critic (or at least a reviewer of acrobat shows) into an ironic position: Combing through the reviews, reading the opinions of others, to try to make sense of my mixed emotions about this one. 

Thinking about this  movie, I remember something once said about  the romantic misadventures of someone (ahem) in our circle of friends: “He tried too hard and not hard enough, all at the same time.” In this case, I feel like the movie obviously made an extremely radical decision. On the other hand — maybe to justify said decision? — I think it fell back on ‘callbacks’ and too much rehash of the other movies in the Craig cycle, all to convince us of what we know wasn’t true: that all five of his movies were a grand design from the beginning.

I’m not sure I felt the way I was supposed to at the end. So my question to you two: Do you feel like the ending was earned? Or contrived?

 

Nick: Well, I am still processing the movie. Having seen every Bond movie in the cinema since Dr. No, my commitment is very strong. I have also read every book, including each of the post- Fleming books. My days have been liberally sprinkled with comments that sound like I consider Bond a flesh-and-blood character. I am of course fully aware that this affectation is exactly that, an affectation.

Now to the movies. I totally agree that the decision to make a separate arc for the Daniel Craig movie cycle was piecemeal and random. It really wasn’t in the least bit convincing or logical. However, I never really looked for the series to be convincing  (on the conceptual level) or, least of all, logical! I did look for a continuation of the specific qualities I found so irresistible in the Bond character. This was largely achieved over the course of 25 movies and six Bonds; ups and downs, but overall it has been a good ride.

I thought that after a smashing start with Casino Royale the franchise had some fairly spotty moments that were totally redeemed by Daniel Craig’s performance. I thought that Quantum of Solace was rather underrated and Skyfall a little overrated.  Spectre was dwarfed by its opening Day of the Dead sequence and the rest was kinda flat. Bond and Blofeld are half-brothers? This didn’t play even if you saw a glancing sly reference to Star Wars! I have watched it another time on DVD, but it really didn’t stay in my mind or give me as much enjoyment as even low-level (Man With The Golden Gun)  Bond movies. I didn’t even remember the Madeleine Swan character.

Now on to, No Time To Die. It was a good movie and well made. I was enjoying it as we watched it, with the Cuba sequence a highlight. I was deeply surprised when Felix died. However, no one viewed the Bond movies to watch Felix Leiter! Many critics found the movie too long, which I personally didn’t, as the half-thought-out plot was popping along fast enough to keep me totally involved. I would have cut the last 20 minutes though. I really did not want to see the character killed because the actor playing him was leaving the franchise. It is like a sheet of glass, once broken it will never be put back together again. Whoever comes up next in the part has lost the continuity needed to retain my previous level of complicity with the series. I felt sad and somewhat betrayed by the end of the movie. They have lost my commitment and interest in the franchise.

To answer your question Commander Weatherford, I think it was totally contrived and absolutely not earned. This was the ending of 25 that Danny Boyle proposed, and had his screenwriter put on paper. The entire creative team thought it was a bad idea then, and I still do. A good part of the Bond mythos has been fractured. Bond does not die no matter what the odds, Michael and Barbara (the producers) confused the actor and the role. The actors are interchangeable but the character and qualities of Bond are carved in stone. If Lashana Lynch was an indication of where the franchise is heading then count me out. I would have been more forgiving if they had just let 007 retire to his Jamaican paradise. I lost John Prine last year and didn’t need to lose another hero this year. Since the franchise seems to be looking towards a more woke sensibility, maybe they should have let Bond die of COVID, dying of  ‘Freddie Mercury poisoning’  didn’t cut it for me. Over and out, other than to say I watched From Russia With Love again last night to see if it could still cast its spell and it did.

 

Steve: If you can’t stretch logic and flip the bird to continuity for 007, then what is the world coming to? There is enough emotionally overwrought entertainment in pop culture to get heart-invested in. I never needed Bond for that.  What I need him for is the absurd wow factor and the fantasy, even at my age as an old, decrepit but still childlike 64. (In that way, I’m still the kid whose parents once bought me a toy suitcase from From Russia with Love, complete with a slide-out rubber knife, but alas, no gold coins or capacity to explode. No gypsy babes, either). My main complaint from the start of Craig’s run is that it had no interest in good old fashioned,  no-strings adventure, with the possible exception of Skyfall, which seemed great until it wallowed in his oh-so-terrible upbringing in its 3rd act (only his under-the-ice fight scene redeemed all that). Craig was,  all in all, a good Bond, but saddled with too much backstory, which is perhaps why the death of his Bond, though it did originally shock me for its novelty and frankly, ballsiness, doesn’t now leave me shaken or stirred. 

To answer the question: Yes, within the needlessly emotional bubble they created in the Craig-verse, the death was earned.  It closes the self-contained arc it committed itself to and frankly,  makes it easier for the next series of films to pretend it didn’t happen and start again. With the death,  it feels like it validates the Craig era as an outlier, and as such, to exist separate from the bigger Bond-verse, without having to torture ourselves to square it within the larger ouevre. I am grateful, though,  that Craig kind of validated my favorite Bond actor after Connery, the criminally under-appreciated Timothy Dalton, who made the character grounded and serious — and really shined in small moments of genuine regret and rage, particularly in Licence to Kill —  but not so emotionally tumultuous that I had to give a damn about the operatic toll on his inner life.  Just save the day,  Jimbo. And have a little drink and a screw or two while you do it. James Bond will return.   

 

Mike: Thanks to Nick for giving the world the phrase “Freddie Mercury poisoning.” I think that’s going to catch on. The more I let the movie sink in — versus watching the credits slack-jawed, annoyingly repeating “The rumors were true!” over and over again — the more I agree with Steve that it worked, more or less, given the road they forced themselves to travel by making the Craig-verse a self-contained arc. Sounds like we all three agree that was forced and unnecessary, especially because it meant making this one a direct sequel to Spectre, which did a better job leaving a thread for ‘more Blofeld’ than it did for ‘more Madeleine.’ But if only because they talked Craig into doing another one, I think they had to go big or go home. Driving the DB5 into the sunset with the girl is the ending they already used in Spectre. Once the rumors that Danny Boyle bailed over the decision to kill off Bond (there seems to be confusion about whether he left because he did or didn’t agree), I spent too much pandemic time wondering, “Hmm. If that were to happen, what would be a satisfying way for that to happen?”

And that’s where all this still bothers me. You guys don’t pay as much attention to the Star Wars or Marvel movies as I do, but some people are pointing out the parallels to Robert Downey’s send-off in Infinity Wars. My favorite of the new Star Wars movies is the stand-alone entry, Rogue One, for which there will be no sequel because the heroine bravely stands on the beach facing her destiny, waiting for the final explosion. Sound familiar? If you’re going to do something like this, don’t do it just because two other hugely commercial franchises gave them a … license to kill.

I am, however, all for giving Craig the swansong he deserved. One thing I’m sure all three of us like to do is endlessly reshuffle our list ranking the movies in order. Mine changes every time, but I do know Casino Royale and Skyfall will always be in the top third of it — and that Craig’s other three — hmm, well, they will never fall into the bottom third. 

So, what now? Nick has already weighed in at least in part on this, but one more round from each of you (and we all three know it doesn’t have to be a martini). Is as Nick suggests, the franchise irreparably broken? And if so, was it broken on purpose? And is it time for us old guys to say goodbye and let that happen? Here’s what I mean by that: My main concern is that Jeff Bezos and others who stand to make money from these movies will try to reinvent him (or Lynch as ‘007’ but not Bond) in a way that appeals to young people for whom martinis and tuxes are no longer touchstones of sophistication. There’s a reason why those Fast and Furious movies are so popular, and one of them is that young people see themselves in the multicultural cast, the tattoos, and shaved heads.

Nick and I didn’t get a chance to discuss this, but Steve has heard my theory that perhaps No Time might be the swansong for producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson as well; that they may cash the check, surrender their role as caretakers of Bond as we’ve known him and let Bezos and Co. go hog wild and make Ariana Grande the next James Bond or whatever else they want to do.

Assuming that’s *not* the case though, they certainly seem to have painted themselves into a corner. It’s one thing to make Natalie Portman the new Thor – who wouldn’t want to see that? But reinventing Bond while still retaining the decades-long appeal of Bond? Hmm. As part of your thoughts on the future of the franchise, let me run these possibilities past you for comment and to see if you have any others.

— A transitional/stop-gap or spinoff series starring Lynch as the new 007, perhaps in a buddy team with Ana De Armas’ character. I don’t see this as replacing the Bond character as much as I see it testing the waters and buying the main series time. It was hard to give Lynch enough screen time in this one to make a fair decision, given the twin tasks of properly introducing Nomi (unfortunate name-share with Showgirls there)  while giving Bond himself a proper sendoff. But a huge strength of it would be retaining the continuity of Ralph Fiennes, Ben Wishaw, and Naomi Harris. Which would be hard to do if …

— They tried to pair a new Bond with that supporting cast. Just not sure how that would work, except for the popular fan theory that likens Bond to Dr. Who: M would tell the newcomer, “Using your real name would threaten your family, so you inherit the name and honorary title, James Bond.”

— They start all over, including a new supporting cast. (Ralph Fiennes is expensive, after all). Barbara and Michael have said in the past that Bond movies must always be present-day. But my vote for making this option work would be to take it back to the ‘60s, with the cool cars, outfits, and non-PC attitudes. (My only hope for this being anything but a daydream is that Anthony Horowitz’s continuation novels fall into the gaps between Fleming’s.)  

 

Nick:  I have a feeling that we are fairly likely to see a spin-off movie with Ana De Armas, and I guess that might be alright; I would certainly buy a ticket. I personally feel a real disconnect from the original franchise, and although I have a very negative reaction to the death of 007, I will definitely need to see what they do. I‘m pretty darn happy watching the James Bond channel on Pluto TV. 24/7 classic Bond movies still talk to me big time.

We haven’t discussed the rather blatant references to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and George Lazenby. Why the hell is the” Craig Bond” weeping nostalgic over Diana Rigg,  being serenaded by Louis Armstrong’s great song, and even quoting “All the all the time in the world.” There were plenty of other musical and visual reference points to that early “one-off” movie.

IMHO, the current re-evaluation of the movie/Lazenby is a little too over the top. The movie was pretty good and Lazenby was alright. Incidentally, if you haven’t seen the Lazenby documentary “Becoming Bond” (currently on Netflix, I believe) it is required viewing. I got to spend a really great drunken evening with Lazenby organizing a bachelor party for our mutual friend Michael Sloan (creator of The Equalizer) and George had many even better stories of his Bond years. 

 

Mike: I think the classic quote from OHMSS was supposed to make us think it would take the predictable track and kill off Madeleine fairly early, clearing the way for ‘the next girl’?  (And the trailers furthering this by letting us think De Armas would be that next girl). And when that didn’t happen? Well, that’s one reason to see it again: I spent the rest of the movie thinking beyond what was happening in the moment and wanting to jump to the end: Now there’s only one more answer for these callbacks, and are they really gonna go there?

But yes, to the chagrin of the people next to us, Steve and I reacted out loud when both the Louis Armstrong and the title theme of OHMSS were played in the underscore. Armstrong’s song in the end credits was a wonderful touch. (The movie itself is up there in my ‘top third’ of the films, maybe it’s because it’s my favorite book. It does go on a bit, and  dubbed “Hillary” is an awful misstep, and it definitely lets its ‘60s fashions hang out in a way that’s maybe less cool than the Connery ones.) 

 

Nick: I am very fond of the OHMSS book also, one of the best in my opinion. There was a really awful “extended cut” of the movie that was created for its TV premiere. More skiing than a winter Olympics.  

 

Steve: With a little time and distance after absorbing everything No Time to Die did,  I am starting to resent it. It killed Felix. It killed Blofeld. It killed all of Spectre. It killed 007. Why not M,Q and Moneypenny too? Essentially, it killed off the totems of my youth, both minor and major. Did they need to remind me,  as an original member of the Bond-adoring generation,  that I am nearing my own death as well? Perhaps Bond is not built for this era. Actually,  neither am I, and that’s part of why I embrace him.

And yes, probably why he is destined for extinction. We are different types of dinosaurs, but dinosaurs nonetheless.  But he is not done yet and neither am I.  As long as baby boomer seniors dominate the landscape,  there is still a place at the movies for our heroes (and for our money at the box office)

But NTTD might have done more damage to the brand by giving it a death asterisk, an air of tragedy and mortality dragging it down. Invincibility was the fantasy. For a few hours we could all be invincible in his skin. After this flick, we are all doomed in his skin. We are not allowed our vicarious happiness. And when have we needed it more?

I don’t pretend to know how to bring him back,  except that we need a palate-cleanser — a rousing, drama-lite, kick-ass adventure with a great villain (maybe a female — Meryl? Charlize?) And an electric new actor as 007 in his career prime. And a selective memory regarding NTTD.  In a pandemic- ravaged,  hate-fueled world, I need more than the death of James Bond. I need the dude who lets me believe,  however fleetingly,  that I am invincible.

 

Nick: As a tiny afterthought, yes Steve, The dinosaur thing fits (and hurts,) maybe we are getting old, and maybe the world is too woke for Bond. Two weeks after the American premiere of NTTD the Rolling Stones announced that they would no longer play Brown Sugar in their live show because of its politically incorrect subject matter. The Rolling Stones made this decision!!!!! On a related note, their tour bus has had its left blinker on for the last three cities. Perhaps Jumping Jack can now only get up slowly. Personally, I am going to watch Dr. No again on pluto because I am convinced this is “No Time To Age.”

 

 

  

James Bond Will Return….

 

~ by Nick Lewin on October 16, 2021.

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