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Onwards with Burnout

The latest trailer signals a lackluster marketing campaign for a fading series
By Ian Dunross
October 18, 2020
For clarity, all book titles are displayed in small caps (Casino Royale), and short stories are shown in quotes and capitalized accordingly (“For Your Eyes Only”). Film titles, on the other hand, are italicized and shown with the capitalization used by the filmmakers (For Your Eyes Only). Quoted passages contain the styles used in the original source.

In this autumn of Marxist discontent, made glorious summer by “peaceful” looting and rioting, the brain trust behind No Time To Die—a movie that everyone has forgotten—released the second trailer onto the streaming sphere. It may have occurred in early September, I hasten to add. Nobody can be certain. (It happened a good month ago, so how can anyone remember the details!) Nevertheless, think of it as an update from the studio, highlighting a film teeming with gun fire and explosions you’d typically see each night in Chicago or Portland. But, hey, it does have Rami Malik attempting to emote, Christophe Waltz attempting to take the whole thing seriously, and Daniel Craig attempting to be taken seriously. Immersed in his “useful idiot” stint in the Feel The Bern movement, the pseudo-actor—standing in for legions of stuntmen—makes his character leap around in Italy and in dark interiors and scowls at everything, as if he’s letting out his frustrations with the hard truth that America’s Soviet statesman, one Bernardokov (“Bernie”) Trotskyite Sandersmirnoff, would eventually pull out of the presidential race—and, of course, the inevitable occurred by spring 2020 (no doubt the powers-that-be negotiated another vacation home or Gulfstream jet with the septuagenarian). Alas, the film has been so steeped in the politics of the day—and, truly, what have we done to deserve this?—with Craig even declaring “We struggled to keep Trump out of this” (Knight), that the trailer inadvertently reminds us of recent political shenanigans. If there’s any takeaway, the film’s dark imagery reminds us of the bleak and hopeless America presented in the DNC convention, and Craig’s stilted lines may as well have been projected from the teleprompter now used in the Dementia 2020 campaign. This is how a politically-charged 007 striver, in his final attempt at the role, ushers his exit, not with a subdued whimper but with Bernout.

This leads to another takeaway: the trailer conveys the disturbing mood that this entire Bond enterprise is out of gas and ready to be shelved for a long hibernation. To rework bits of T.S Eliot’s "The Hollow Men" (a title applicable to the Bond makers), this is the way the 007 series ends, not with a gradual decline but a sheer burnout.

At least the filmmakers had enough energy to mine the Fleming books for something to work with. Unfortunately, it’s another failed attempt at a crucial passage in Casino Royale. “Harder to tell the good from bad, villains from heroes these days,” Felix Leiter tells the Craig-Bond in a pub in Jamaica. This line is loosely adapted from what the literary Bond says near the end of that first novel, bits of dialogue that offer us a glimpse into his state of mind, the first stirrings of his disillusionment (132-134). In the trailer, the filmmakers inexplicably give the line to Leiter, which is just as useless as they had done in 2006’s Casino Royale (the metrosexual edition) when they omitted the dialogue in its entirety. Hence, in that film, the key aspect of the novel was completely lost. Two years later, in Quantum Of Pansexuals With Solace, the Bond makers reworked those lines in a half-baked attempt to do something with Fleming’s theme. Here’s me, reflecting on the matter in 2008:

The crucial dialogue in the novel—the notion of the uncertainty of good and evil—also loses its impact on screen: it is Mathis who, [in the film], says the haunting bits about the heroes and villains getting mixed up, rather than Craig’s Bond—a profound flaw because, by switching the dialogue over to Mathis, the filmmakers lose Bond’s dramatic transformation—his self-realization—which, as we have seen, is fundamental to Fleming’s depiction of the character.

Now here they are, almost 15 years later, struggling with the whole notion again and, as the trailer reveals, they’ve stuffed it into a scene of beery shenanigans in a pub in Jamaica, with Leiter muttering fragments of the passage, or at least a variation of it. Deep in their exhaustion, the filmmakers obviously couldn’t be bothered with any faithful adaption of Fleming’s novel.

The rest of the trailer plods on, with many scenes from the previous trailer, underscored by a quasi David Arnold soundtrack, while evoking a sense of déjà vu for other recent films, or just reminding us that this is a futile movie. Let me count the ways:

  • The film has an MI: Fallout vibe. The Craig-Bond swinging from the bridge and smashing into a wall has shades of the Tom Cruise stunt in Fallout (his Ethan Hunt leaps through the air from a scaffolding to slam into another building). The motorcycle chase also reminds us of the lengthy motorcycle sequence in the streets of Paris in that same film. Moreover, the whole notion of motorcycles has long been a staple in the 007 series: one need only look at Tomorrow Never Dies, with its elaborate motorcycle stunts in Saigon, or the motorcycle action set piece in Never Say Never Again.
  • “The past isn’t dead”—a line from the Craig-Bond. This is the thesis of the trailer but it’s a rehash of the idiotic statement at the start of Spectre where Sam Mendes inserted the caption “The dead are alive.”
  • Some cringe-worthy dialogue: “James, fate has brought us back together,” says brother Blofeld (sad to say, the laughable foster brother scenario is back). Ralph Fiennes, returning once again as an overacting M, wonders in frustration, “C’mon Bond, where are you?” It’s unintentionally laughable—and distracting, forcing us to wonder if, at any time, Joe Biden will pop into the scene to say, “C’mon man!”
  • The Woke-related dialogues from the first trailer are not showcased this time around. Suddenly, this angle is de-emphasized, and  the removal of the lines suggests that the reports, earlier in the year, about a failed test screening—due to these Woke elements—had some credibility, to say the least. It seems the filmmakers are no longer using the wokeness of the film as a selling point. But whether those scenes are still in the film are another matter altogether. 
  • The trailer has the usual rapid-fire assemblage of action scenes, about 95% of them already showcased in the previous trailer. Some forest scenes in a winter setting flash by, but they’re jarring, reminding us of those idiotic Twilight films set in the Pacific Northwest. Also inserted are a few jet scenes: they seem to have been filmed to appeal to the fans of the highly anticipated Top Gun sequel.
  • The downplay of sexy Bond girls continues. In this film, gone are the legions of babes, scantily clad, as we’ve seen in, say, Octopussy.  We gain the impression that this is a 007 film devoid of the series’ Playboy fantasies of "the good life"—the signature exotic resorts oozing with babes in bikinis, the teasing uncomplicated sex, fast women in fast cars, and virtually at any public event, some babe is ready for said uncomplicated tryst. This absence is the dominant PC element that sticks out in the trailer, a clear virtue signal from the filmmakers that, at last, we have a Bond film for this age of Woke.
  • The trailer doesn’t convey what this film is about. We don’t grasp the sense of threat—whatever it is—from the villain. Then again, the villain Safin exudes no sense of threat whatsoever. He lacks a menacing quality, exacerbated by a slight physique and an effete persona. His accent is all wrong, even grating. Not much uniqueness to this villain. The scar on his face recalls Trevelyn’s damaged face in GoldenEye. To compensate for a weak villain, the filmmakers thrust a jumble of dominantly darkly-lit action scenes. And on that note: Ah, the usual dark cinematography—it’s the defacto standard for the series as it continues to emulate Christopher Nolan’s stylish noir imagery in the Dark Knight trilogy.
  • With all the hoopla surrounding the goth singer du jour, Billie Eilish, the trailer lacks any  emphasis whatsoever of her title song (unlike in the Tomorrow Never Dies trailer, the filmmakers inserted a line of the refrain from Sheryl Crow’s title song).
  • The whole thing feels tired, which is reflected in a lackluster marketing campaign. Take, for example, the new poster, consisting of cheap artwork without the details of the posters of yore.

With its bland design, the recent poster for No Time To Die suggests an uninspired approach to the "teaser" campaigns. It conveys no sense of the film and lacks the details of the pre-Craigian promotional posters. Note, for example, the high-impact visual style in the artwork for Thunderball.

Since the trailer’s release (along with the release of a bland music video for the bland Eilish song), the studio brass had pulled the plug on the film’s November release. From the official statement:

“MGM, Universal and Bond producers, Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, today announced the release of No Time To Die, the 25th film in the James Bond series, will be delayed until 2 April in order to be seen by a worldwide theatrical audience.”

The apologetic piece from Deadline reinforces the studio’s statement, pointing out that the “decision comes at a time when the pandemic has gripped” theaters in major regions such as New York and LA, as well as the UK, which “faces a possible lockdown, and that’s bad for Bond.”

You don’t say?

“We understand the delay will be disappointing to our fans,” the studio statement continues, “but we now look forward to sharing No Time To Die next year.”

How thoughtful of them.

Still, they’ve kicked the 007 can down the road again, prolonging the release for another six months. At this stage, waiting for this film is like waiting for Godot—a futile, hopeless waiting game, in an absurd scenario, for something that we struggle to remember. This must be the 187th time the producers have shuffled the release date. For Bond fans, it’s been a veritable burn out to wait for this film. Maybe we’ve even reached the point where we’re unable to remember why we are meant to be waiting.

Not that it matters. Based on the marketing campaign for the now-canceled November release, it was all rather timid, drab, accentuated with a limited-funding vibe, as if the trailer tacitly acknowledges there is zero enthusiasm for this Bond film. Moreover, it delivers a not-so-subtle subtext: the filmmakers no longer believe in their own product, a faith lost through sheer fatigue from what they’ve done. Since 2006, with the reboot of Casino Royale, they had dramatized things that should never have been dramatized. Yet onwards they marched into kitsch. Onwards they marched into their new-found glory, convinced they had tapped into something profound.

There was just one complication: nobody gives a rat’s behind about the Craig-Bond’s orphaned boyhood and the bizarre revelation of a jealous foster brother as the longtime arch-enemy. And in No Time To Die, does anyone truly give a damn about the connection between Madeleine Swann and Rami Malik’s villain, let alone whatever is inside the mysterious box that he gives her? The trailer reminds us that it’s been five years since we last saw the woman, a superfluous presence in the previous film, which has a storyline nobody remembers and, consequently, becomes meaningless to extend into the new film. The tired feel of No Time To Die, along with the humdrum posters, the familiar stunts and locations used in the promos, convey  examples of how exhausting the series has become.

So now a gazillion-dollar film continues to sit on the shelf, a product that hasn’t generated revenue for the studio. The decision-makers have yet to get the memo: this Wuhan virus exists, ever present just as the seasonal flu; and with the industry’s shutdown, the increasing risk persists of not having any movie theaters at all. Will these businesses survive and reopen in six months?[1] The pandemic has thrust a different kind of burnout, a sort of existential collapse: the protracted lockdown has been ushering the demise of those things that were slowly fading anyway—retail shopping, for-profit college, and, of course, movie theaters.

We can also add, potentially, Daniel Craig’s action-hero hopes to that list. No one can deny that the actor is aging at warp speed, his drained mug about as polished as Joe Biden's withered visage. By next April’s release, the PR department will have to contend with the massive discrepancy between the actor in the film and the one peddling it in interviews. How marketable will that be? With the Mission: Impossible series, the 50-something Tom Cruise still has some semblance to a youthful hero and exudes the glamor of a star whose name on the marquee attracts crowds into theaters. Craig, on the other hand, epitomizes the look of geriatric burnout, a medicare recipient hauled from a senior living facility. Now pull all these elements together—the industry shutdown, Craig’s rapid aging, the various burnout elements of the film—and we get a futile landscape for No Time To Die. In one sense, it reflects the futility of reinventing the Bond role and the series itself, considering the bizarre overhaul that the current keepers of the franchise had done. “I can’t recreate what you’ve done before,” Craig explains in a podcast, summarizing his discussion with the producers. In other words, in his twisted view, that approach has been exhausted. “Brilliant though that is,” he continues, “I can’t do it. I can’t come in and try and be something that people expect. [So don’t expect him to play the classic Bond, he is saying here, because it’s beyond his capability.] I can come in and try and reinvent it, because that to me is fascinating and interesting.”

Oh, Danny Boy. You have no idea.



1 To survive in this wasteland, AMC has started to rent out entire theaters for moviegoers.


"No Time To Die: Recent Poster." Online image. Vital Thrills. Accessed: 12 October 2020.
< https://www.vitalthrills.com/new-poster-for-james-bond-movie-no-time-to-die/ >
"Thunderball Poster." Online image. The Spy Command. Accessed: 11 October 2020.
< https://spycommandfeatures.wordpress.com/robert-sellers-discusses-
thunderball-on-its-50th-anniversary/ >

Works Cited

Fleming, Ian. Casino Royale. 1953. New York: Berkley, 1986. Print.
Knight, Sam. “Daniel Craig: ‘This is my last Bond movie. I’ve kept my mouth shut before and regretted it.’” GQ.
11 Mar 2020. Web. Accessed: 19 Mar 2020.
< https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/culture/article/daniel-craig-no-time-to-die-interview >
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