Conceived in the 1950s and first put to film in 1962, James Bond is in many ways a relic of the past. A Cold War vision of white male fantasy, Bond has had to evolve over the franchise’s six decades, beyond the sexism and racism that marked the character’s influential early chapters. Now, with the release of No Time to Die and the end of the Daniel Craig era, the series is at a crossroads. Who will play the next Bond? But more important, what is James Bond going forward?
On The Atlantic’s podcast The Review, our staff writers Sophie Gilbert, David Sims, and Shirley Li discuss No Time to Die and Bonds both future and past. The trio also share who they want the next Bond to be, why Q is Shirley’s underrated Bond king, and why David considers the Bond franchise “the most influential action movies ever made.”
This episode was produced by Kevin Townsend and edited by A.C. Valdez.
The following transcript contains spoilers for No Time to Die. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Sophie Gilbert: This movie was originally planned for a November 2019 release, and it has been billed as the savior of cinemas post-pandemic. What does Bond mean that he’s so big as a franchise that he is the character that can singlehandedly save cinema?
David Sims: As much as the box office has been rebounding and people are going to see movies, it’s mostly been movies that appeal to younger men. That’s been the demographic that came back first. And I like seeing the superhero movies, but Bond has famously always pulled every demographic. There’s a sort of eternal generational appeal for this almost-60-year-old character.
Shirley Li: We’ve become so attuned to what makes a Bond film a Bond film. I was listening to one of the [movie’s] writers talk about [how] you can just have a man walk in and gaze at a car. And in any other movie, that would not be a moment that would get the audience going. But in a Bond film, you kick in with the music and: This is not any man; this is not any car. You can get an assured reaction from the audience, and I think that says it all about what Bond means.
Sims: An eternal brand.
Gilbert: What were your hopes for this movie?
Li: I was really nervous going into this Bond, because I have loved the Daniel Craig movies. They billed this one as a swan song, so I wanted it to be emotionally satisfying. And I wanted everything I [always] want from a Bond film: for it to feel classic, for it to be slick, for it to be tragic, and for it to feel big. And it delivered that for me on all fronts. I have my small nitpicks, but it felt like a prestige picture.
Gilbert: The thing that I didn’t know I wanted from it until I got it was a certain level of corniness. I’m an older Millennial, so I came of age with the Roger Moore Bond movies. The kind of ludicrousness of those has always been the defining Bond hallmark for me. And while I have loved the Craig series—the emotional arcs, the development of Bond, and the complication of the character—they have been fairly serious. Skyfall, especially, was pretty bleak. And in Spectre, everyone just seemed depressed.
And so what I loved from No Time to Die is that it seemed fun again. And silly! Like, very, very silly. There’s a giant evil lair in the middle of the ocean. There are henchmen, and stupid plots that make no sense, and weird people harvesting things with neon lights. I really enjoyed that the series finally was able to say, “Yes, we have fundamentally transformed this character. But at the same time, we are acknowledging and honoring some of the things that made you enjoy him in the first place.”
Sims: What I wanted from this movie, most of all, was a satisfying Bond finale for the character, which has never happened. Each actor in the role has exited on their worst movie: Diamonds Are Forever, A View to a Kill, Die Another Day … Usually, the actor would do one too many. They’d seem a little tired in the role and the formula would seem a little in need of a refresher. And that is what Spectre felt like.
Spectre felt like they were overreaching with the serialization, which had been the hallmark of the Craig Bond. They were overreaching with this evolution of the character and Craig didn’t seem very into it, like you say. So my whole fear [was that] it’s just another goodbye to a good actor, but in a kind of lame way. And I don’t think this is a perfect movie, [but] I was mostly just happy that it seemed like everyone sort of came to this one with a little more enthusiasm for doing this a little more properly.
Gilbert: The thing I find so funny about Bond as a character, and maybe this is legend, but Ian Fleming reportedly wrote the character when he was about to get married to his pregnant girlfriend. And it was part of his freak-out because he was about to give away his independence, I guess. And so to satisfy his impulses, he wrote this lothario adventure character.
Sims: Yes, he was this kind of quiet, retiring type. And Bond was his raging id. And Fleming was pretty upfront that Bond is not exactly sympathetic.
Gilbert: He’s a fantasy. But the thing that’s so fascinating that you just mentioned: He is a fantasy that people can universally enjoy. Like, he is this sort of white male fantasy, like, in the way that Bruce Springsteen is. But at the same time, your mom, David, is going to see this movie. And my mom is watching them, and we’re all enjoying them. So, what is it about this character? What are we drawn to?
Sims: It’s partly Daniel Craig. That’s certainly what drew my mother back to James Bond movies. Obviously she’s seen the Sean Connery movies, but she didn’t have much interest in Pierce Brosnan. But Daniel Craig’s whole fleshed-out actor-y take versus the familiar Bond was very intriguing, and I think it was intriguing to a lot of people. And obviously, starting with Casino Royale helps, because we actually have a starting point with this guy rather than him walking as the complete James Bond we’ve always known, which is usually how these movies would do it.
These movies usually have the fear that [after recasting] the guy, they need to make the audience feel comfortable that this is still Bond. It’s still the thing they like. He needs to walk in. He needs to say his name in a certain way. He needs to order the right drink. And the Craig movies kind of thumb their nose at that a little bit, and it was a really good gamble. The problem is, I don’t know what you do next, because you can only have the shock of that once. I don’t know what the next reboot can be. I guess it would be not casting a white person, but I don’t know if that’s what they’ll do.
Gilbert: So in Britain, we love to gamble on who will be the next James Bond, and the odds are forever changing. The favorite right now is Tom Hardy, followed by James Norton, and then Regé-Jean Page.
Sims: I have a lot of opinions on British betting on James Bond. They always make the favorite someone who has a very similar profile to the current Bond. Tom Hardy would be another Daniel Craig type; casting a stouter, tougher guy with Oscar nominations and with a lot of credibility—that’s the Daniel Craig move. Hardy is probably a little a little old for it at this point, which is my guess why they won’t do it.
Throughout Brosnan, Clive Owen was always seen as the next Bond. And then by the time they got around to it, he was a little old and they passed him over. And the whole time with the Daniel Craig, people have thought, Well, Idris Elba—there’s your next Bond. There’s your update for the series. And now Idris Elba is almost 50 and, again, did a perfect guy just sort of miss the window?
Li: The thing about Bond, though, is that it’s malleable enough that we can imagine all these different possibilities for him versus the other franchises, where it’s completely dependent on one person continuing,…