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No Time to Die of infectious diseases: a partial Bond retrospective

A slew of postponements affect even the titular 007
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With the planned April release of No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film in a series that’s spanned as many actors as it has decades, I was going to write a retrospective of star Daniel Craig’s time as James Bond, but, in light of recent global events — namely the COVID-19 pandemic — this article has developed beyond that idea.

Craig’s been Bond for 14 years, longer than anyone else who’s held the role. In an interview during the runup to 2015’s Spectre, Craig said about doing another Bond film: “I’d rather… slash my wrists,” at least “at the moment.” He went on, “If I did another Bond movie, it would only be for the money.” Needless to say, I was very excited for No Time to Die.

So, I was disappointed when on March 4, the movie release was delayed seven months until November, a highly unusual move since the delay was announced so close to release. But if one thing’s to be taken from Bond’s repeated success since the ’60s, it’s that he never goes out of style — whether we have to wait one month or eight — so just let’s go ahead anyway.

I’d like to be clear that I have not seen every James Bond movie. I’ve seen the first four with Sean Connery, plus a few random ones in between that become hard to differentiate with the amount of time that has passed since viewing them. I remember watching The Spy Who Loved Me in 10-minute segments on YouTube over my brother’s shoulder when I was really young, although I only really know it was that one because of the submarine car.

For the most part, my impression of Bond’s character has been through the four Daniel Craig films: Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and Spectre.

I certainly missed the original 2006 release of Casino Royale — my five-year-old self probably would have been terrified by the loud noises and the various heights from which characters jump. I’ve seen it a few times since then though and it’s probably my favourite of Craig’s Bond films.

It’s a fantastic reinvention of the character, especially considering the fact that it follows the Pierce Brosnan films, which fall into derivative absurdity. It’s tense, complex, and well-paced, held together by actual character drama and a great cast, particularly Craig and Eva Green. It also has what is unequivocally the best Bond theme song, Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name.”

Quantum of Solace (2008) had also fallen off my radar for a long time — I didn’t watch it until last year, mostly for a sense of completion. The James Bond franchise is not one to stay consistent, and this is by far the worst of Craig’s set. The film, like its title, is borderline incomprehensible. Casino Royale was commendable in its elevation of an aging series and character in addition to the action shlock, but Quantum rejects all that. It lacks the same clarity and intelligence in its plot and script, though it may pretend not to. The editing is also distractingly bad, and ruins most of the ludicrous number of action scenes.

I’m not sure if I saw Skyfall (2012) in theatres — it seems like a movie that I would have highly anticipated after seeing repeated bus ads while outside for elementary school recess, thinking it looked ‘epic.’ I watched Skyfall recently, as a bit of a refresher of an old favourite.

It’s similar to Casino Royale in its play on the expected formula of a Bond film, highlighting the moral messiness of the characters’ work instead of taking joy in espionage high jinks. Roger Deakins’ spectacular cinematography, Thomas Newman’s score, and Sam Mendes’ steady direction also set it a cut above.

The only one of the four that I’m sure I’ve seen in a theatre is 2015’s Spectre, which was also directed by Sam Mendes but is a pretty significant step down. It’s the only one that manages to be boring — for all its faults, there’s a kind of fun to how monumentally stupid Quantum is.

Spectre doubles down on the grim tone, while also straying into some weirdly silly territory; the two don’t play together very well. It’s still technically impressive, and it’d be an exaggeration to say that all or even most elements of the movie are failures. But it just isn’t as absorbing as the best of these movies are. Despite all this, I remember liking it at the time, and it definitely had a strangely strong influence on the ultra-amateur early filmmaking attempts of me and my friends.

Five years later, I was sitting on the phone with the same friend I saw Spectre with as we suffered through errors on the Cineplex website when trying to buy No Time to Die tickets. Two days after that headache in March, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and Universal Studios announced that “after careful consideration and thorough evaluation of the global theatrical marketplace, the release of No Time to Die will be postponed until November 2020.”

The announcement does not explicitly name the COVID-19 pandemic currently spreading across the globe as the cause of this shift, but it’s certainly implicit. Sitting in a tightly packed room with hundreds of strangers for three hours is far from the safest thing to do with an infectious disease spreading. Regardless of whether these fears are entirely justified, it’s been morbidly interesting to look at the impacts that such an important global phenomenon has had even on the realms of entertainment.

Disney suspended the Chinese release of its live-action Mulan remake, which will probably lose the company a lot of box office revenue — not that Disney necessarily needs it. Austin’s South by Southwest festival was also cancelled in response to the growing COVID-19 panic, following a trickle of distributors pulling their films.

More studios could feasibly follow MGM’s example and delay their major releases until later in the year, but what happens if things have not changed by November? What happens if they become even worse? It’s a scary thought, and MGM seems to be hedging its bets that the crisis will have somewhat blown over by fall. Amidst all this uncertainty, all we can do is hope that MGM’s right.

On a tangentially related note, if you’d like a bit of stylized global-pandemic anxiety, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion is on Netflix!