Death Becomes Bond

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Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga ◆ Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Cary Joji Fukunaga ◆ Produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer ◆ Distributed by Universal Pictures
The James Bond film series that began in 1962 is still going strong in this, its 25th edition. The latest installment is definitely a winner, mostly because it deviates so widely from the Bond formula, in that the hero falls genuinely in love with a woman. She happens to be the daughter of one of the leaders of a villainous organization that’s been Bond’s lethal bête noire throughout his career, the Russian spy service known as Spectre.
Not only does Bond fall in love with Madeleine Swann, played by the beautiful French actress Léa Seydoux; he fathers a child with her. Gone is Sean Connery’s swaggering womanizer who was ever ready to throttle or machine-gun an enemy on the slightest provocation. In his place we get Daniel Craig, who convincingly woos a heroine from a family of international gangsters and spies. You’d never see Sean Connery or Roger Moore setting up house and changing the diapers of his progeny with a young lady. As Craig has said himself, in Fukunaga’s script Bond has grown up.
Bond is no longer to be a heartless womanizer and casual killer, a man without a shred of empathy for others. The first Bond film, Dr. No, broke the mold of what a hero was supposed to be. In that film, Bond was sent to Jamaica to sabotage a Russian plot to destroy America’s fledgling space program. Sean Connery had been directed to play England’s super spy as a womanizing bastard without a shred of empathy for others, one comfortable with killing his enemies if and when necessary to accomplish his latest mission.
In Dr. No, Bond outfoxes an assassin and cooly empties his automatic into his would-be-killer’s torso with neither hesitation nor a even a fleeting show of compunction. Connery’s face only registers grim satisfaction over his triumph. While this was no longer considered especially outré, in 1962 it broke the mold of what a screen hero was supposed to be. Heroes then were supposed to adhere to a sporting code of fairness, which meant among other things that they didn’t kill their enemies heartlessly.
There’s an even more radical change: Bond dies at the end of the film. And, not only does he die, but he does so sacrificially on behalf of his wife and child. Instead of falling into a raft or hayloft with an eager lovely at the conclusion of his adventure, he’s instead defending his love and their button-cute little girl. 
But don’t worry over much! We’re left to guess what will happen next, but since a title card following the film’s last scene announces that James Bond will return, his demise is only apparent.Well, of course! You didn’t think the franchise would do away with its golden goose, even temporarily, did you?
Still, the question remains why the series decided to take this more mature and even morbid turn. No one knows for sure, but it seems that the producers wanted to change the series’ direction yet again, as they did with the introduction of Craig in 2006’s Casino Royale. That film allowed a genuinely talented actor to radically re-imagine Bond, bringing a new kind of grit to the role that the swaggering Connery had previously made his own. In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig is still as heartless as Connery’s Bond when he ambushes a turncoat British agent, but at least he doesn’t smirk over the man’s corpse. 
Perhaps the most profound change in this latest film is that by the end Craig’s now-older Bond accepts his own death, sacrificing himself for people he loves.  Having eluded his enemy until the film’s final 30 minutes, he calls the head of secret service, M, played quite convincingly by an unflappable Ralph Fiennes, as well as Madeleine, to say goodbye.
Bond does have time to die, after all. Well, at least for the nonce. The golden goose will come again. But what twist in his character development have they got planned for him next? I won’t hazard a guess other than to say I don’t think he’ll embrace vows of poverty and chastity. 
Meanwhile the search for a new actor to play the role is already going full throttle, with the hulking Henry Cavill currently in the lead. If nominated, he’ll have played two supermen: the brawny S-branded son of Krypton, and Britain’s favorite assassin. Good luck to him!
Daniel Craig as James Bond in No Time to Die (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

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