There is perhaps no greater film institution than the James Bond franchise. Over 27 movies and 59 years from Doctor No (1962) to Goldfinger (1964) to the modern era of Goldeneye (1995) and Skyfall (2012), Bond is a touchstone in many people lives, although not without controversy. Bond is a threat to women, minorities, and buildings yet also an in-demand entertainment property.
That is all over now. James Bond has been made redundant
The central question in the latest Bond movie, No Time to Die (2021), is how does James Bond fit into our modern world? In an era of technology and advanced nano-bots (really), there is little place for Bond. He is a brute force weapon from a bygone era of spies and lies who has yet to face the fact that modern technologies have forever altered espionage.
The theme of redundancy was central in the prior movie, Spectre (2015), where Bond confronted the rise of the surveillance state. While Spectre takes the position that Bond is needed in the modern world because Bond can stop the worst impulses of a technological society, an impartial observer might come to a very difference conclusion. Bulk data collection, open-source intelligence, and constant surveillance have all altered the intelligence game, will Bond adapt?
The era of Daniel Criag’s James Bond is over, and that point cannot be made more firmly by the conclusion of the movie. James Bond is a murderer, the black and white intro for Casino Royale (2006) makes this clear. By the end of No Time to Die, Bond has evolved but remains past his prime in the modern era, made redundant literally with the introduction of a new 007.
The Cyber Revolution and Bond
Following how Bond deals with technology, and often fails, has become a highlight of recent Bond films. Like the caveman who has no time for modern conventions, Bond almost never makes use of a computer and is rarely seen using digital technology like every other person in the Bond universe.
Like most Bond films, No Time to Die relies on the typical trope of operationalizing a digital technology is the most unrealistic way. In Skyfall the villain was able to get trains to plow through walls through the magic of hacking. Bond cannot understand modern technology, but neither can the screenwriters. A central plot device in No Time to Die is a USB device that contains essential information, yet the USB stick has mostly disappeared. In the world of Bond, the digital must be made physical.
The central scheme in No Time to Die is that the villain has developed a modern method of DNA targeting leveraging nanobots. All one needs is a bit of the target’s DNA and the nanobots can do the dirty work without harming bystanders. Luckily for the villain, data breeches are common and anyone to collect as much DNA infromation as possible, something both Bond’s MI6 and real-world intelligence agencies have been monitoring.
James Bond is explicitly collateral damage, a walking talking reminder of our failure to constraint violence to the professional in modern combat. No bystander is safe in the Bond universe, anyone might be sacrificed to maintain Western power. While data breeches and DNA are consistent factors in modern life, that these two things are combined into a targeted killing machine defies reality. Then again, defying logic is often the point of the Bond franchise.
The Failure of Logic
Bond is both tragic and hilarious simultaneously. In the Bond universe the British stand ready to assert its traditional sea power for Commander Bond. But there are also the typical tings of racial politics with one villain suggesting that the DNA tool can be used to “wipe out the West African diaspora.”
The central plot device, DNA targeting nanobots is complexly nullified by the Q gadget that is essentially an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) watch. Does this matter much? No, Bond films have never been about logical consistency.
Graphing modern geopolitics on the Bond franchise is a doomed effort. In No Time to Die, the British have a globe-spanning navy that can launch a missile strike on a disputed island between Japan and Russia. In the real world, Britain is just barely capable of sustaining a small naval presence east of the Suez.
The logic of death is the interesting question. When are we passed our prime, ready to be put out to pasture? Bond accepts his end yet many fight hard to retain relevance past their sell by date. Life is about leaving something behind, a phrase used in the movie. For many the Bond films have made an indelible mark. But its time for Bond to die and an updated version to rise. I look forward to seeing how the next Bond either evolves with modern times or defies, either way the ride should be amazing.
James Bond will return (and so will I with the next film)