The era in which Daniel Craig played James Bond was a big change for the nearly 60-year-old Bond franchise. Craig’s run in the iconic role brought Bond into the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with stories of long continuity, recurring characters, and an expanded franchise world. The new recording that was in circulation during the last part of the series is of course the one from 2021 No time to die is the equivalent of the Bond films Avengers: Endgame.
[Ed. note: Significant spoiler ahead for the end of No Time To Die.]
So this statement feels completely correct No time to die concludes an era as the last movie starring longtime series star Daniel Craig plays James Bond. Like Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, Daniel Craigs Bond entered our lives bitter and cold, bowing as a tall old softie in a sentimental glow of fame. And how Endgame, This 25th Bond film is too long, with a bloated, disappointing center that is destined to be overshadowed by its cathartic finale.
But the bond between Bond and the MCU goes beyond a one-on-one comparison of a few films in two franchises. It simply reflects the chameleon-like nature of the franchise. Almost every entry in 007 history similarly reflects the cinematic trends of its era.
James Bond versus the MCU
Craig’s run as Bond spanned multiple eras and multiple trends. His first Bond film, 2006 Casino royale, transformed the lovable Bond of earlier eras into a gorilla-like, die-hard assassin who was fit for a post-9/11 and post-The Bourne Identity Age. That was 15 years ago, before the MCU turned our idea of a blockbuster hero into a one-size-fits-all-quipmaster who saves the day while being relatively good-natured and definitely not sleeping with anyone.
Even Deadpool, the most famous bad boy in modern cinema, is more adorable than anarchic. No time to die‘s incarnation of Bond – who cuts apples in the kitchen for a little girl and even sheds a few tears over bad relationship choices – may feel a long way from the character that author Ian Fleming has described as one “anonymous blunt instrument run by a government agency” but that’s just the franchise to roll with the punches like it always has been.
We all became more aware of this trend in 2015 Spook, the bonds archenemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld again from the shadows and announced him as the originator of all pain of our hero. It was the same kind of cynical ingratiation that later revived Emperor Palpatine The rise of Skywalker. This late reveal of the Craig-era Big Bad was clearly an attempt to unnecessarily round up the Craig entries into one overarching narrative, while presenting Blofeld as some sort of Thanos character for the franchise, though the character was Thanos-ing long before Josh Brolin snapped his purple fingers.
A remake of the Bond franchise and some contextual research conducted during the films’ lost moments (looking at you, Clifton James two Cameos as Sheriff JW Pepper) shows how the makers behind any particular Bond film have always reacted, both to Bond’s previous adventure and to everything else that was successful in the market. But the films have become so reliable institutions that it is hard to remember the time when they rode into cultural consciousness on a wave of open controversy.
James Bond against the Vietnam War
As the first James Bond film Dr. No Published in 1962, the Vatican condemned it as “a dangerous mix of violence, vulgarity, sadism and sex”. Sean Connery’s Bond, with its murder, gambling, and hairy, hairy sexiness, is a far cry from this year’s Oscar winner for Best Actor, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. The film, which was made before “the spy film” was an established genre, sticks unusually close to the novel by Ian Fleming, which he is adapting. His version of Bond is a traditional tough guy in the movie role, more like a cinematic gangster with a cause than the serious box office fighters of 1962, from Lawrence of Arabia to Mockingbird to The music man.
But until 1965 Thunder ball, Bond’s countercultural status had completely morphed into mainstream blockbuster success. 1967 You only Live Twice must have seemed like the crunchy old Goliath to the David-esque New Hollywood wave Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Cool Hand Luke, and In cold blood. No wonder, then, that the next installment in the series is in 1969 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service felt shockingly different from its immediate predecessor.
It’s noteworthy that it’s the first (and best) series contribution that gives James Bond a soul, but that makes perfect sense given the cultural context at a time dominated by antiwar sentiments about the conflict in Vietnam. George Lazenby’s softer Bond, with his disheveled shirts and hot proposals, was more easily received than Connery’s gruff killer by an audience tired of the political and social turmoil of the day. The wonderfully dynamic ski POV cinematography in OHMSS flies in the face of the old critics of the time who found Mike Nichols’ lively filming of the living room set Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf too “jazzy”.
James Bond vs. Star Wars
The copycat pattern is best illustrated in the franchise’s Roger Moore offerings, where production partners Harry Saltzman and Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli seemed to have an insatiable delight in flitting from genre to genre and their heroes in every way Refitting from film dominated the box office back then. Bond darted in from blaxploitation live and Let Die Kung fu in The man with the golden pistol, then crowned with Mondraker, a blatant capitalization from 1979 from the success of the 1977s War of stars.
Even in 1977 The spy who loved me feels like a rebuttal of criticism that Moore isn’t a Bond movie the scope and style of Golden finger or You only Live Twice. And for all the praise For your Eyes Only deserved as one of Moore’s less silly offers, it is clearly an overzealous attempt to show that he is like the Connery of Greetings from Russia, could be serious.
After Moore came Timothy Dalton, whose cold-blooded killer Bond feels as alien to Moore as Pierce Brosnan’s Moore / Connery synthesis Bond would feel to Dalton. Where Licence to kill was a violent, dark revenge film for the heyday of action films by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, Gold eye Felt like just the right kind of accessible toy commercials for a movie for the decade that nipples Batman and a giant robotic spider in the Wild Wild West.
Given that context – James Bond as a chameleon becoming what his era required – it becomes easier to embrace and enjoy the franchise’s low moments. The flaws in Bond films can be both nasty and out of date, but they are often useful stills of what action films looked like in a particular era. At the same time, viewers can elevate the highlights of the series as gorgeous examples of cinematic kismet, where the trends of the time and the tastes of whoever held the keys to the Aston Martin come together Skyfall, a Casino royale, a Golden finger, or a On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
It’s silly to lock James Bond up, criticizing any new take on the character as too silly, too grumpy, too violent, or too emotional. After all, no movie character has made it in the industry for almost 60 years without being malleable. Decades (and hopefully more Bond films) from now, No time to die will be just one more cinematic time capsule in a row full of them, an example of the franchise that shows us where blockbuster films were in 2021. In the meantime, James Bond will return to die another day.