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007: There’s “no Time to Die” if You Are Cinema’s Most Reliable Intelectual Property

No Time to Die, the fifth and final film with Daniel Craig playing James Bond, prevailed over coronavirus. It took a lot of patience. Universal delayed the movie’s opening several times. They preferred to keep it on the shelf instead of opening in limited-capacity theaters and day-and-date streaming like Warner Brothers did with their 2021 slate. The gamble paid off. I caught the movie at a packed preview screening in my local theatre. Despite the delay, the audience’s interest remains strong. The first-weekend domestic box office reports over 62 million dollars in ticket sales. As I write these lines, the worldwide box office is over 321 million dollars.

James Bond might be the OG of IP. Sure, the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes predates 007 by sixty-six years. However, the relative freedom in the adaptation of the Arthur Conan-Doyle stories and novels goes against the grain of the current tenets of intellectual property management: total creative control. Ian Fleming published Casino Royale in 1953, and soon enough, TV and radio adaptations cemented the British secret agent in the public’s imagination. Eventually, Eon Films, led by producers Harry Saltzman and Alberto “Cubby” Broccoli, acquired the adaptation rights and inadvertently set up the blueprint for the modern film franchise. Even the existence of outliers Casino Royale (1967) and Never Say Never Again (1983), by being considered non-canon works, helps to define the Eon films as a golden standard. These movies, 25 to date, are legitimate Bond films.

The first existential threat to an IP can be its most visible asset: a star. When Sean Connery chafed under the demands of playing the same character in subsequent movies, Eon decided to switch actors. Would audiences accept the change? They did, whenever it happened. 6 actors have taken on the role so far, with Daniel Craig as the latest. The public invests in the endurance of the franchise, more so than in a single performer. Still, each passing of the mantle is a jump in the void. So far, things have worked out in favor of Eon. And each change is an opportunity to reassess and adjust. Check out the contrast between the Pierce Brosnan films and those spearheaded by Craig. Comedic, self-mocking energy made way to a grittier tone, less cartoonish and more violent.

Longevity is a product of the willingness to change with the tenor of the times. The last five films have filtered out a lot of the sexism associated with the franchise. 

The focus of devotion is the character, not the behind the screen-players, and certainly not a corporation. It’s a very different dynamic than the cult of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. and the devotion fans profess for executive producer Kevin Feige. “Cubby” Broccoli even managed to pass the mantle smoothly to a new generation, giving complete control of the productions to his heirs, daughter Barbara Broccoli and stepson Albert Wilson. They are stewards of the brand, not a guru, like George Lucas for Star Wars.

Longevity is a product of the willingness to change with the tenor of the times. The last five films have filtered out a lot of the sexism associated with the franchise. Objectification of female characters is filtered out, positioning them closer to equals of the male hero. Forget about Octopussy and Xenia Onatopp. Gone are the coy, double-entendre names - even the Bond girl moniker is absent from casting news -. Moneypenny is no longer a secretary but a veteran agent assigned to a desk job. And Q is played by an openly gay actor, Ben Wishaw. In the latest movie, a comedic scene finds his coworkers crashing his pad just as he prepares dinner for a date with a male romantic partner.

Craig brings brawn and physicality to the role. Yet, the movies rest on the emotional arc of the character, defined by his sentimental education. He finds true love in Casino Royale (2006) but loses it to the machinations of the criminal organization Spectra. He mourns and learns to trust again throughout three more films and ends up contemplating a future with Madeleine (Lea Seydoux) in No Time To Die. There’s even a kid in the picture.  It is a hint to the possibility of our agent riding off into the sunset to retire into the role of fatherhood. 

The latest movie goes further into suggesting the obsolescence of Bond. Spoiler ahead: Nomi (Lashana Lynch) gets the 007 code name. She is a black woman, which makes the turn of events more striking. A few scenes later, the movie balks at staging such a dramatic passing of the torch. After a particular feat of derring-do, she voluntarily requests M (Ralph Fiennes) to reinstate Bond. It’s an odd moment that feels like a concession to conservative viewers that would react negatively to the irreversible emasculation of the white male hero. We’ve changed, but not that much!

For all his bravado, Bond recognizes he is past his prime. The premature high point of the film is an extended sequence staged in the splendid ruins of an old hotel in La Habana, overtaken by Spectre for a gala function. Bond’s partner is a CIA agent named Paloma (Ana de Armas). On the surface, the character seems like a throwback. She is a young, sexy, beautiful girl with a breathy voice, wearing high heels and a dramatic couture gown with a neckline that seems to go down to the hip. During the mindless chit-chat before the shoot-out, she bashfully admits she trained three weeks before the mission. It’s a lot for her! The dismay in Bond’s face registers as a joke. Once the action starts, we see how those three weeks were enough to make her an equal to the veteran hero, if not a superior killing machine. That Bond doesn’t pass the mantle right then seems like carelessness.

Perhaps like no Bond movie before, No Time to Die builds up to the idea that it’s time for James to retire. The social mores, and the character himself, have changed so much that a new incarnation will be very different from the original article. Even holding on to the name feels pointless. That is the biggest challenge facing producers Broccoli and Wilson. How to move on without alienating their audience? Will they build upon this chapter? Make a full reset? Maybe they will go back in time and fashion a period piece with a modern point of view? Will Bond be black, Asian, or Latino? How about queer? Will a woman take the role? The anticipation pretty much guarantees the viability of at least one more film. With an IP this successful, just fading into the sunset is not an option. The final credits close down with the words “James Bond will be back”. As always.

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