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If they don't revamp 007, the next James Bond has nowhere to go

Brian Truitt
USA TODAY

Spoiler alert! The following post discusses the ending of “No Time to Die,” so beware if you haven’t seen it yet.

James Bond will return.”

Those four words at the very end of “No Time to Die” (in theaters now) are what every die-hard 007 fan wants to hear, a pledge that the impeccably dressed British secret agent who’s been battling megalomaniacal villains and swilling martinis on screen for nearly 60 years will continue a remarkable run in movie history. But with Daniel Craig’s transformative run as the superspy at its explosive end, the franchise needs to change to ensure Bond’s future – even if some alterations might not fit everyone’s wants or expectations.

Craig’s recent five-movie saga kicked off by 2006’s “Casino Royale” fleshed out Bond like never before. This Bond definitely had that old license to kill but also a new depth of soul, one who loved and lost and loved again. And in “No Time to Die,” he makes the ultimate sacrifice: In trying to stop the global dissemination of a high-tech bioweapon wielded by bad guy Safin (Rami Malek), who made Bond’s DNA dangerous to the lives of his love Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and the daughter he just learned he had, the iconic hero dies during the massive bombing of Safin’s island lair.

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Daniel Craig said goodbye to James Bond in significant fashion in "No Time to Die."

It’s the first time in Bond history he’s met his fate on screen, leaving the franchise wide open creatively like never before. Yet there’s that pesky promise after the credits roll, a Marvel-like vow that Ian Fleming’s suave gentleman has, well, no time to die.

Bond producers have said that they’ll start the search in 2022 for the next person to join the likes of Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan, which means endless fan and media speculation. (Popular 007 candidate Idris Elba, who’s grown weary of being asked about Bond for a decade now, is probably less than thrilled.) But after the past 15 years of storytelling and such a well-earned goodbye, it seems disingenuous. Why rush putting the man back in action? What’s the usual mourning period for a pop-culture legend who just bought the farm after six decades?

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Sure, financially speaking it makes sense to keep milking an internationally successful cash cow: The five Craig films racked up more than $3.2 billion globally. Americans love Bond, too, with the pandemic-delayed “No Time to Die” just bowing with $56 million. Artistically, though, Bond is kind of a dinosaur – only Godzilla has had a longer run at the cinema – but he doesn’t have to be. 

Many would like to see a person of color or a woman take on the Bond mantle and break the “white guy, black tux” mold. While franchise producer Barbara Broccoli said Bond will "probably stay" a male character, Daniel Craig has argued in favor of creating an equally great female action role instead of gender-swapping an existing one: "Why should a woman play James Bond when there should be a part just as good as James Bond, but for a woman?”

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Nomi (Lashana Lynch) is MI6's new 007 in "No Time to Die."

He makes an excellent point and “No Time to Die” happens to have two spinoff-ready personalities. The latest film introduces a new 007 in Lashana Lynch’s Nomi and an extraordinarily watchable CIA agent in Ana de Armas’ Paloma, so why not have a movie or two with them? Even better, hire "No Time to Die" co-screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge to take charge of a new movie and create a woman of action who furthers the 007 mythos but also cleverly touches on and/or subverts Bond’s legacy of misogyny, sexism and colonialism.

And for those who must have someone named James Bond zooming around in a super-sweet Aston Martin bedecked with machine guns, it's time to drag Bond producers kicking and screaming into the 21st century and embrace the streaming model the same way “Star Wars” and Marvel have to expand their franchise footprint. (It's also a very real possibility considering MGM's pending $8.45 billion sale to Amazon.)

Instead of so much gnashing of teeth about which A-list star will be the next Bond, let them all have a go. A series where Elba, Henry Cavill, Tom Hardy and anyone else who wants to wield firearms and martini glasses each take a season of playing the character in a different time period (World War II, Cold War, etc.) would be bigger than the “Game of Thrones” prequel, that new “Lord of the Rings” series and Baby Yoda combined.

Even if he’s box-office gold, just doing the same thing with the same sort of Bond for the next 60 years would be a huge mistake. Craig’s 007 proved you can teach an old dog new tricks, though playing dead is probably not one of them. We don’t expect this seminal figure or franchise to die.

To borrow from Auric Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond, we expect you to evolve. 

Daniel Craig gets a 007 sendoff like no other:  How Sean Connery, Roger Moore said goodbye to Bond