No less a military unit than the Royal Marines’ Band showed up at Royal Albert Hall on September 28 to lend their ultra-crisp flash and flair to the opening of the much-postponed, hotly-awaited global theatrical premiere of Bond 25, aka the presciently-titled No Time To Die. Likewise, the British Royal family did their part, dispatching the next two in line for the throne in the Court of St. James, Albert’s own descendants Charles and William, to the festivities. In other words, if there somehow remained any shred of a question that the sixty-year-old film franchise in were not a keystone in the architecture of what’s loosely termed Brand Britain, that question was definitively settled Tuesday night on the red carpet in London. At Royal Albert Hall, no less, just to provide a fully-vaxxed nose-thumbing to the pandemic for having delayed the film’s debut three times over two years. The meaning of the event was simple: By definition, any Bond product of any era is Britain. The aptly and presciently titled No Time To Die is all of that.
Naturally, since the premiere was held in London, it was raining. In addition to his regulation Englishman’s brolly, Craig’s uniform for the event was a sumptuous formal velvet double breasted dinner jacket in a plummy shade of scarlet over a pair of trim black trousers. As ever, he exuded a sort of dangerous polish. Hard to say what that jacket’s color was, but for the sake of the event we’ll call it: Abdication Red.
Thus, the London premiere functions as a sort of starting gun for assessment. Contrary to Bond 25’s bracing title, it’s axiomatic that, with each Bond, a part of Bond does die in the sense that, the narrative at that juncture has been lived and explored, usually quite well, and it’s time for both Bond and the world at large to move on. Ms. Broccoli and Mr. Wilson can bring some villains and some love interests back, as they have smartly done with Christoph Waltz and Lea Seydoux, respectively, but they can’t repeat whatever they’ve done. We’ll leave it to the cinéastes and Bond superfans to assess the placement of No Time To Die in the canon; though occasionally insane, Trekkie sorts of superfan debates can be useful, but not here.
Obviously, the literal and moral compass of the Bond monarchy, its prime minister, so to speak, is and has been for the last fifteen years and five films the epoch-defining Craig. Regardless what we come to think of it, No Time To Die is his valedictory. Craig, the actor, is already long gone, but after this film has run its race, gone from our screens and streams will be this hunted and haunted actor’s Bond, the most satisfyingly riven, clench-jawed, rambunctious one in a generation. So it’s going to take us, and not least, Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson and the rest of Britain some time to process that.
The world — in the sense of global events — is also a valued contributor to and catalyst for the Bond franchise. The initial cinematic epoch of Bond — its Jurassic period, so to speak — ran with several actors on the rota from Cubby Broccoli’s 1962 Dr. No all the way to 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since then it’s taken us a couple of decades, and the inexorable rise of Vladimir Putin, for everybody to process the fact that the Cold War was not only not over, as the best Bond villians would, it had been bestowed infinite life by Messrs. Yeltsin, Putin and the allied Russian oligarchs who cemented into political form the point that a ruler-for-life was once again imaginable in Mother Russia.
Arguably bad for the world but good for Bond, the revivification of a most voracious Russia, and good for the now-infinite variations of Ian Fleming’s satiric-but-not Cold War construct of Spectre as part of the overarching narrative hard drive for the franchise. At last, a durable enemy after years of wavy-gravy ambiguity.
That noted, the shape of the world — meaning, in this instance, the “backdrop” to No Time To Die and whatever Bond comes after it — has shifted considerably over the decade-and-a-half since Craig assumed the on-screen helm of the ship. We could argue that the production of this installment of the franchise, and its reward of the required global star-laden theatrical premiere at Albert Hall, had suffered as many tumultuous narrative hurdles over the course of five-year gestation as its hero suffers on screen in the production. There was no fabulously evil Rami Malek character dogging and tearing at the moviemakers behind the camera, but everything else certainly did. Remember Danny Boyle? He signed on to direct shortly after Eon principals Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson began development way back in the early Jurassic period, namely, 2016, when the Trump presidency was in its infancy and a pandemic was the stuff of sci-fi thrillers.
Suddenly, in 2017, there emerged a strong whiff of rumor that the Trainspotting director’s version of Bond 25 would not just be iconic Bond-forever Daniel Craig’s swansong, but it would (theoretically) present an actual time-to-die for Bond, the character, and wham, suddenly, all was not right between Mr. Boyle and the producers over “creative differences.” Mr. Boyle was swiftly replaced with the more than slightly more agile Cary Fukunaga.
Enter one of the greatest “making-of” plot twists in recent cinema, namely, the appointment “Killing Eve” showrunner and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the scriptwriter of note by the ruling triumvirate of what we can call the Bond World monarchy, Broccoli, Wilson, and in this instance, long-lived counselor Craig, who was very much involved in the decision. It’s hard to say what she has actually brought to the project aside from the critical qualities of up-to-the-minute zeitgeist currency and more than a dash of well-read British lit’ry glamour — it’s going to take a couple of viewings to reveal the tea-leaves in the script as filmed.
But Ms. Waller-Bridge lives up to the architecture within her name as a bridge, pointing the way for Bond World monarchs Broccoli and Wilson as they conjure whom to invite to create the many future Bonds in the pipeline. Like Dorothy Parker at the Algonquin Round Table back in the Thirties, it wouldn’t have been the same without her. Her appearance at the London premiere allows for some hope that she’s been invited onboard Her Majesty’s Ship “Bond” for a longer ride than just this No Time To Die mop-up/accent job proved to be.
While we can all wish for Ms. Waller-Bridge’s Tabasco-sauce contributions to continue, the more pressing question for Bond cosmos-dwellers is clear and has been for the last five years that No Time To Die was in the making. That question is: Who can the Broccolis and their millions of Bond-cosmos dwellers possibly get to be the next Bond?
The Broccolis have arguably made that choice — or maybe not! — but either way, the debate is white-hot, and Bond’s British fans have been making their preferences known for some years now by aggressively betting various actors’ chances at landing the role. No, this is not some British version of Rotisserie League and/or fantasy baseball or football. Lovably hard-nosed British bookmakers have been making “markets” out of their royals, their politicians and huge cultural events under the rubric of “Novelty” bets for decades. There are no “wild cards” in a communal draft who will eventually play a “sport.”
The “Next Actor To Play Bond” market is and has been an explosive one since Craig first hinted after Spectre’s 2016 release that he might retire, then renounced that to return his on-screen family to film No Time To Die, and now seems, at 53, finally at home with his decision to parachute out of the bomber. So, for the last five years, the population of Britian, the entire English-speaking acting community and their agents and casting directors have all been betting the vagaries of Mr. Craig’s (and, since he married some years back, Mrs. Craig’s) intentions. It’s been fairly thin gruel up to now, with no payoff in sight.
Now that Mr. Craig has exited, a payoff is in sight. And, more to the point, there’s just you and your (British) bookie duking it out in no-man’s-land over Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, Jack Houston, or, more interestingly, super-duper cool Lashana Lynch, today at 6/1 at Betfair in London. Which low odds place her firmly as the fourth-favorite in the British hivemind, just behind the highly touted third-favorite Rege-Jean Page, at a flat 5/1 at Bet365. The London bettors surmise that her role as a kick-ass member of the cast in No Time To Die helps rather than hurts her chances.
We’ll just have to wait and see about that, but, over in the bookies’ especially volatile kingdom, Mr. Hardy is leading, at a rock-steady 13/8 at Betfair and 5/4 at Unibet, the hundred-plus pack of names upon which the British have placed bets. He’s followed by the estimable but relatively new seed as second-favorite, Clive Stanton, at a flat 4/1 at Unibet. Dashing leading man Idris Elba, meanwhile, has come down a bit to sixth-favorite in the running over the last years — not least because of his own statements that he’s too old for the role — but he’s still hanging in the top tier at 9/1 at SBK and ranges to 7/1 at Betfair.