Warning: This post contains big spoilers for No Time to Die.
"James Bond Will Return" vows the closing credits of the latest 007 adventure, No Time to Die. Whenever Ian Fleming's super-spy does grace the big screen again, though, he won't look like Daniel Craig. The British actor is exiting the franchise after 15 years and five movies, and even if he wanted to come back — which he really, really doesn't — No Time to Die makes his exit final. In the film's closing moments, Craig becomes the first Bond in the franchise's history to die onscreen. He also joins Hugh "Wolverine" Jackman and Robert "Iron Man" Downey Jr. as the latest stars of a blockbuster movie series to permanently retire their character on their way out the door.
Due respect to Tony and Logan, but James Bond's death is a much bigger deal. Even though multiple actors have carried 007's license to kill over the franchise's 60-year history, those hand-offs happened without any finality. (One lone exception is the 1967 version of Casino Royale, where David Niven's elderly Bond, along with the rest of the cast, is blown up by an atomic pill in the last scene of that spy movie spoof.) When it was time for a Bond to retire, the next one stepped in and the cycle continued. But the death of Craig's 007 means that his run — which encompasses 2006's Casino Royale, 2008's Quantum of Solace, 2012's Skyfall, 2015's Spectre and now No Time to Die — will forever stand on its own as a five-movie arc nestled within the 25-movie (and counting) series.
At least Craig goes out the way that a 007 should: infiltrating the island lair of a madman with a weapon that will cause massive destruction. In this particular outing, that madman is Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who developed a nanotech-infused virus transmitted by touch that he plans to unleash upon the world as part of an elaborate revenge plot. Pushed out of his post-Spectre retirement, Bond spends much of the movie's 163-minute runtime piecing together Safin's plan, until he finally takes his fight directly to the source.
In the movie's extended climax, Bond and his replacement/partner, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), load up on weaponry and head to Safin's HQ hidden inside a long-abandoned World War II-era base where he's mass-producing his bioweapon. But this is also a rescue mission for 007: His lover, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and her daughter Mathilde (Lisa-Dorah Sonnet) are being held hostage. Fortunately, neither Safin nor his henchmen are particularly focused on their prisoners, and both mother and daughter are reunited with Bond in fairly easy fashion.
With that part of the operation taken care of, Bond has Nomi escort Madeleine and Mathilde off the island to safety, while he gets down to the business of stopping Safin. After taking out all of the supervillain's not-so-super enforcers, he and his target have their one-and-only brawl, which results in Bond taking multiple bullets. But the fatal blow comes when Safin tells 007 that he's infected with the virus and will pass it to his loved ones if he reunites with them. Realizing the end is nigh, Bond kills Safin and prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Meanwhile, back in London, the rest of MI6 — including M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) — are desperately trying to keep Bond's mission off the radar of other international agencies. Their planned coup de grâce will be delivered via a payload of missiles fired by a nearby Royal Navy ship. Bond is supposed to prepare Safin's outpost to be blown to bits, and then vacate the premises before the place goes kablooey, once again living to fight another day like so many times in the past.
But this time is different. Bond doesn't show any intention of leaving, and Madeleine is the first to intuit what's actually going to happen. "You have all the time in the world," he tells her, referencing a tragic line of dialogue that's been part of the Bond mythos since the sixth — and arguably best — 007 movie, 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service. In return, she shares something that he (along with most of the audience) already guessed: Mathilde is his daughter. "She has your eyes," Madeleine says, prompting Craig to do his best Harrison Ford in The Empire Strikes Back impression. "I know," Bond says, before the missiles rain down on him and the world goes white.
When the movie fades in again, the spy's former allies and friends are glimpsed reacting with various expressions of shock and disbelief. Their loss becomes all too real when Q sees Bond's vital signs vanish from his remote tracking screen. After a short time-jump, the MI6 brain trust toasts their fallen comrade, with M giving him a Jack London-inspired eulogy and then telling the group, "Back to work." As for Madeleine and Mathilde, they're driving along a picturesque mountain road when mother turns to daughter and says: "Let me tell you a story about a man named James Bond." John Barry's OHMSS theme starts playing and the camera pulls back as their car enters a tunnel, headlights slowly fading in the distance.
Now, there will certainly be those folks who argue — with good reason — that since we never actually see James Bond's dead body, Craig's 007 may yet live on somewhere. (Never mind that being hit with a bevy of missiles would all but ensure there was no body to see.) But the actor and everyone behind the franchise, up to and including producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, has been adamant that this is his last time in the tux. Furthermore, Broccoli and Wilson have also explicitly stated that the search for the next Bond starts in 2022, and it's widely expected that they'll seize the opportunity to reinvent what 007 looks like going forward.
No Time to Die certainly feels like the end of an era even before Bond meets his own end. In one way or another, all of Craig's films have commented on how the very idea of "James Bond," and everything that comes with him, may be out of step with the current times. Throughout this installment, Bond exists entirely as an outsider — a relic with fewer and fewer connections to the world as it exists. In that respect, death is almost a mercy for him: a fate he's been racing towards and only narrowly avoiding since earning "00" status in the opening scene of Casino Royale.
It also frees the franchise to make a conscious break with its own history. Since 1962's Dr. No, Bond has existed in the present tense — his face changes, but otherwise he doesn't have a past or future beyond the mission at hand. But Craig's Bond has a specific narrative arc with a clear starting and ending point, which means the character's next incarnation has to follow a different journey and inhabit a world that's been reimagined from the ground up.
Prior to No Time to Die's release, Craig sounded skeptical about the prospect for that kind of radical change, specifically addressing whether the producers may finally cast a woman or a performer of color in the role. (So far, everyone from Regé-Jean Page and Idris Elba to Jodie Comer and Charlize Theron has been pitched as the next 007.) "There should simply be better parts for women and actors of color," he recently told the Radio Times. "Why should a woman play James Bond when there should be a part just as good as James Bond, but for a woman?"
At the same time, his former castmate Whishaw struck a more hopeful note about the possibility of expanding the franchise's worldview. "It would be quite an extraordinary thing," the actor told the British magazine Attitud when asked if he hoped to see an openly gay star cast as Bond. (Whishaw came out in 2014, and No Time to Die confirms that his tech genius alter ego is gay.) "I really believe that we should be working towards a world where anyone can play anything. It would be really thrilling if it didn’t matter about someone’s sexuality to take on a role like this. I think that would be real progress."
But the future of James Bond is yet to be written, and you've probably still got burning questions about Craig's extended farewell. There's no time like the present to get those answers — read on for more spoiler-laden details about No Time to Die.
Does Lashana Lynch play 007?
The first rumors that the Captain Marvel star had inherited Bond's MI6 number broke as early as the summer of 2019, when No Time to Die was still in production. But the producers and director Cary Joji Fukunaga stayed cagey, only confirming that Lynch was a "00" — the first Black woman to achieve that status. No Time to Die finally puts an end to the franchise's worst-kept secret, revealing early on that Lynch's Nomi is the new 007, assuming the mantle after Bond went off the grid for an extended stay in Jamaica.
The two agents come face-to-face when they're both charged with pursuing the same target — the scientist who developed Safin's bioweapon. And Nomi isn't particularly impressed by what she sees, telling the aging spy to stay out of her way or else: "I'll put a bullet in your knee... the one that works." For his part, Bond insists that he's not bothered by being replaced. "It's just a number," he says of his former three-digit code name.
During the course of the film, Bond is eventually reinstated as a "00," prompting Nomi to ask with some aggravation, "What number?" It's definitely not 007 — Nomi hangs onto those digits until the climax, when she formally requests to M that Bond get his original MI6 identity back. "It's just a number," she says, quoting his own words back to him. In a meta sense, her decision also means that Bond is officially 007 when he dies, marking the passing of both his real identity and his spy identity.
Is Rami Malek actually Dr. No?
As the 25th Bond film, No Time to Die does frequently pay homage to some of the movies (and books) that came before, particularly On Her Majesty's Secret Service. (A scene from the beginning in the film where Bond visits Vesper Lynd's grave is taken directly from the OHMSS novel.) So it's understandable that some fans initially thought that 007's latest villain might harken back to his very first villain, Dr. Julius No, played by Joseph Wiseman in the 1962 film. But apart from a secret island base and a desire to kill Bond, Safin and No don't have very much in common.
In fact, Malek's bad guy doesn't have any beef with 007 initially. Instead, he's got a tortured history with Madeleine Swann, whose father murdered his entire family when he was a boy. In the flashback sequence that opens the movie, we see Safin turn up at the Swann family's remote cabin in the middle of winter and kills young Madeleine's mother before her eyes. Madeleine shoots Safin multiple times, but it's no time for the vengeful villain to die. He rises up from the snowy tundra just in time to save his would-be assassin from drowning in a frozen lake. Decades later, he'll use their shared past to goad her into committing one of the movie's other major deaths.
Who else dies besides Bond?
In a clear sign that No Time to Die is cleaning house to prepare for a new era, two major 007 mainstays meet their ends as well. The film's first act ends with the death of Bond's CIA counterpart, Felix Leiter, a role that Jeffrey Wright has played since Casino Royale. It's Felix who pushes Bond out of retirement to help him track down Safin's missing scientist in Cuba. But then they're both double-crossed by an undercover operative (Billy Magnussen) and left to die on a sinking vessel. Bond manages to swim away, but an already fatally wounded Felix goes down with the ship.
Like Craig, Wright is the first actor to die onscreen as Leiter. Fleming almost killed the character off in a shark attack described in the pages of Live and Let Die, but settled for him being maimed instead. That's also the fate that befell the version of Leiter (played by David Hedison) that appeared in Timothy Dalton's 1989 Bond swan song, License to Kill. In that movie, 007 goes rogue after MI6 refuses to let him pursue the men responsible for his friend's maiming.
Also joining Bond in the great beyond is Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who made his first onscreen appearance in the second 007 movie, 1963's From Russia With Love. Like his longtime MI6 nemesis, Blofeld — who oversaw the league of evil known as SPECTRE — has worn a lot of faces over the decades and at one point vanished from the franchise entirely due to legal disputes. Those issues were finally settled in time for Craig's fourth film, Spectre, which introduced two-time Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz as Blofeld's new incarnation.
That movie also gave the new Blofeld a new backstory. Besides being the mastermind behind SPECTRE, he's also Bond's foster brother after the orphaned James is taken in by Blofeld's father. His childhood jealousy over the interloper leads him to orchestrate the series of tragedies that define his adult life, including Vesper's death at the end of Casino Royale.
Spectre ends with Blofeld in MI6 custody, and No Time to Die reveals he's become the agency's version of Hannibal Lecter, offering advice and intel from his high-tech prison cell. Having used his virus to kill off the rest of SPECTRE in Cuba, Safin enlists Madeleine to transmit it to Blofeld on his behalf. But she bails before confronting him, and Bond unwittingly becomes the carrier after touching her wrist as she races out of the cell. While interrogating his "brother," Bond gets fed up with Blofeld's mockery and strikes him, a blow that literally becomes fatal when the nanobots hit his bloodstream.
Blofeld has "died" before in the Bond franchise, but rarely with such finality. The closest example of permanent death before No Time to Die came in 1981's For Your Eyes Only, when Roger Moore's Bond dropped a Blofeld-like villain (at that point, his name still couldn't be used for legal purposes) down a chimney stack in the opening sequence. No Time to Die leaves no doubt that Waltz's Blofeld is dead and gone. Here's hoping the siblings can put their differences aside in the afterlife.
Who does Ana de Armas play?
The Knives Out star is No Time to Die's closest analogue to a vintage Bond Girl: dressed to kill, with fighting skills to match. But Fukunaga and screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who was brought onboard to do a final rewrite of the screenplay, avoid the usual Bond Girl trappings. De Armas plays Paloma, an undercover CIA agent who is tasked with acting as Bond's date (and back-up) at the fancy dress party where they plan to find Safin's scientist. Paloma is new to the job — she makes a point of saying that she's only had three weeks of training — but she's savvy enough to deflect James's casual flirtations. (If you're a fan of Fleabag, you'll certainly hear Waller-Bridge's voice in Palmoa's dialogue.) She also quickly proves herself a formidable operative, taking out several henchmen without breaking a sweat.
In earlier 007 adventures, this operation would certainly have ended with Bond and Paloma engaging in some off-duty bedroom tussling. But instead de Armas exits the movie as swiftly and professionally as she enters it. After capturing their target and escaping the scene of the extraction, she tells Bond, "This is where I get off," and sends him on his way. Before they part, he looks at her with genuine admiration instead of casual lust. "You were great," he says, wishing her best of luck in the rest of her spy career. Paloma spinoff, when?
Will James Bond return?
Like we said up top, the closing credits promise that James Bond — and not just 007 — isn't going anywhere. And with No Time to Die already topping box office charts worldwide, there's no question that Broccoli and Wilson will be thinking carefully about how they reintroduce the character. But they've gotta move kind of quickly. Unlike Bond, they don't have all the time in the world.
No Time to Die is currently playing in theaters.