Reinvention has always been essential to the James Bond franchise. Spanning more than 50 years and 24 films, the series has endured and adapted to shifts in public opinion and rapidly changing pop culture trends. The current Daniel Craig era is no exception. With a notably gritty, realistic style and an emphasis on technology-driven antagonists, the latest Bond has proven once again that the franchise will continue to develop alongside real-world attitudes, news and trends. The upcoming release of “No Time to Die” marks the end of Craig’s five-film run, and with it, the door opens once more for not only a new Bond actor, but also new creative possibilities for the 007 franchise as a whole.
Discussion surrounding the future of 007 focuses primarily on one question, as it always has: Who will be the next James Bond? Considering Craig’s strongly worded refusal to make a fifth film back in 2015, it should come as no surprise that this speculation was rampant before his eventual involvement with “No Time to Die.” Thus, suggestions for Craig’s potential successors — who were often recommended because of their performances in similar spy stories — are in no short supply. For instance, Tom Hiddleston and Richard Madden found themselves near the top of many Bond casting lists after starring in “The Night Manager” and “Bodyguard” respectively, showcasing their ability to blend in seamlessly with high octane action thrillers. Of course, their history with the genre could also diminish interest in a Bond role, which runs the risk of retreading performances that they have already explored in the past.
A veteran of the casting debate, Idris Elba, remains a prominent, albeit contested candidate who is never far from the “number one” spot on Bond casting recommendations. A leaked Sony email from 2014 asserts from an executive perspective that Elba would be an ideal pick for the franchise moving forward, but the acclaimed actor was met with racially charged arguments against his candidacy as a leading man. “You just get disheartened when you get people from a generational point of view going, ‘It can’t be.’ And it really turns out to be the color of my skin,” lamented Elba, who would be the first Black James Bond if given the role. Complications have only expanded nearing the release of “No Time to Die.” Entering the 007 franchise at 48 would make Elba’s first appearance the oldest debut age of all Bond actors — although not by much, as Roger Moore started his Bond career at 46. Additionally, Elba’s recent stunt work in films like “Hobbs and Shaw” should dissuade any naysayers from believing he is in any way impeded by being in his late 40s.
Standing apart from the Bond casting buzz — or perhaps right in the middle of it, depending on how one views the circumstances — is Lashana Lynch, the new “007” in “No Time to Die.” While Lynch’s character will assume Bond’s famed codename in the upcoming film, it’s important to recognize that Lynch is not assuming the role of Bond himself; Craig’s character is still intact, which means that the search for a replacement actor is still going on strong. The advent of a “007” that is entirely separate from “James Bond” does open the franchise to some intriguing prospects, however.
It’s no secret that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has drastically shaped the way major film studios format their most recognizable brands. We’ve witnessed the creation of “A Star Wars Story” and the DC Extended Universe alongside less successful projects like Universal’s “Dark Universe.” The 007 brand is obviously of a scale that’s comparable to these cinematic universes, and there have been rumors of studio interest in developing a similar model for Bond films. In contemplating this idea, one article asked, “Would audiences be interested in a 007 movie without 007 himself?”
Establishing Lashana Lynch as 007 in “No Time to Die” subverts this issue, cleverly reassigning the instantly recognizable triple-digits to a new character while maintaining the Bond character under his own name. Bolstered by their inevitable interaction in “No Time to Die,” the two characters could then be split up into storylines that run parallel to one another, allowing for spinoffs and crossovers that don’t require audiences to acquaint themselves with an entirely fresh cast of characters in the span of one film. A 007 cinematic universe like this wouldn’t have to feel as distant or shoehorned into mainline Bond adventures, especially considering the largely episodic “assignment of the day” approach that many Bond films rely on to justify showcasing new thrills, locations, etc.
Is it a stretch to assume this new 007 is a clear hint at an upcoming cinematic universe? Probably. But considering how much time Craig’s last film, “Spectre,” spent reintroducing the iconic, titular network of villains that are almost as recognizable as Bond himself, it appears that intertextuality is becoming more important within the Bond framework. While the assignment-of-the-day format is still intact in the Craig era, recent installments have become more serialized. Christoph Waltz’s rendition of the megalomaniacal Blofeld has carried over from “Spectre” to “No Time to Die,” along with minor characters like Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann.
Within the larger context of Bond films, this is an atypical feature of more recent installments. Characters, not plotlines, usually carry over from one film to the next in the world of 007. Seeing how “Spectre” so explicitly referenced all of Craig’s previous films, and now “No Time to Die” appears to be referencing “Spectre” in great detail, it all feels similar to how the MCU slowly established the interconnectivity of its various properties through small references, which of course culminated in various crossover events like “Civil War” or the “Avengers” films. The speculation surrounding Safin, the new (or potentially familiar) villain of “No Time to Die,” also supports the idea that recent Bond films are trying to develop resident key players in a larger cinematic universe, which could then be explored by Lynch’s 007 and a new Bond in tandem.
Obviously, there are a lot of questions that are going to come out of Craig’s final installment in the series. It’s essentially the end of an era, one that has already done plenty to experiment with and push the boundaries of what is typically expected from a Bond film. The trailers for “No Time to Die” already have sweeping implications for the future of James Bond, and if they’re any indication, the creativity won’t stop with Craig. In fact, his films may have just been the start.