Never mind the explosions â how sexist is No Time to Die?
I n No Time to Die, James Bond is âretiredâ and so a new agent has taken his 007 title. âThe worldâs moved on, Commander Bond,â purrs Lashana Lynchâs Nomi. Sheâ â yes, she â is a young Black woman. Lynchâs casting as a member of M16 is just one of No Time to Dieâs interventions, designed to refresh the franchise for a contemporary audience.
Itâs a little tedious to be asked âHow was the sexism?â instead of âHow was the film?â Yet itâs perhaps a valid question, given the filmâs two-year publicity campaign, which has been as focused on the movieâs modcons (the addition of Lynch, and Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge as co-writer) as it has on Daniel Craigâs departure. Actually, the same is not true of the film, which is a swooning retro romance, and lavish farewell party for Craig. It has been designed as a crowd-pleaser, with more jokes and sillier gadgets and less nastiness than viewers have become accustomed to in the Craig era. Waller-Bridge, drafted in for a script polish and, likely, her feminist credentials, has lightened the mood with her signature deadpan one-liners. In a mischievous ploy to redress the balance of the seriesâ distinctly male gaze, there are now chances for audience members to ogle Bond in various states of undress (the women remain mostly clothed). Itâs the equal opportunities Bond, and Craig seems more than game.
In the 15 years since Craigâs Bond arrived and, later, waded out of the ocean, the world has changed. Craig himself admitted it in an interview in 2015. âHopefully, my Bond is not as sexist and misogynistic. I am certainly not that person. But he is,â he told Esquire magazine. Even director Cary Joji Fukanaga has acknowledged that the creepy come-ons of previous Bonds are no longer welcome. âIs it Thunderball or Goldfinger where basically Sean Conneryâs character rapes a woman? That wouldnât fly todayâ he told the Hollywood Reporter.
In No Time to Die, the perpetual playboy has traded his bed-hopping habit for respectable monogamy. LÃ©a Seydouxâs psychiatrist Madeline Swann, who first appeared in 2015âs Spectre, is the first of Bondâs love interests to return â if anything, a conservative tweak. I suppose itâs noteworthy that unlike most of his previous conquests, Madeline is not so disposable. This damsel in distress is handy with a gun, but more importantly, she drives the plot and raises its stakes. She is, at least, permitted to wear a pair of jeans, their practicality cancelled out by the fact that theyâre white, and the fact that she wears them with stilettos. I get it â to strip a Bond girl of all her glamour would be too much of a heel turn. Bond is, after all, still a fantasy.
Itâs interesting then to see which elements of the fantasy the new film has dispensed with. One example is the women who canât help but fall at Bondâs feet. Amusingly, the Daily Mail reported Bondâs âfriendly rapport with his female colleaguesâ as though it were news. Any on-duty flirtation is briskly nipped in the bud. Ana De Armasâ scene-stealing trainee agent Paloma shoves Bond into a wine cellar before unbuttoning his shirt â then hands him his tuxedo and turns around. Sheâs dressed like a Bond girl, in a plunging, backless silk gown, but with her goofy sense of humour and athletic gunslinging, she sure doesnât act like one. âYou were excellent,â declares Bond, a line played straight instead of as seduction. Elsewhere, Nomi lures Bond back to his bedroom for a private meeting, making it clear she means business. Literally.Naomie Harris and Lashana Lynch at the No Time to Die world premiere. Photograph: Lia Toby/Getty Images
Lynch is a zesty addition, bringing charisma and wit to an underwritten role. Nomi feels like a symbolic achievement, not a character. We are shown and told of her competence and the respect she commands, but we learn nothing about her inner life or backstory. Understandably, the film wants to celebrate the fact that a Black woman has infiltrated and risen the ranks of such an institution, yet is uncomfortable drawing attention to her race. Indeed, the only attempt to acknowledge Nomiâs ethnicity is a glib, tacked-on moment that sees her cathartically deal with a racist remark.
The filmâs painstaking efforts to whittle itself into a more progressive shape are hardly the measure of its success. That, I think, is down to Craig, who has managed to put his own spin on Bondâs macho swagger. Throughout his tenure, the actor has dug into Bondâs inner turmoil, in turn revealing his humanity. In No Time to Die especially, Craig cracks himself open, exposing a vulnerable beating heart beneath the aloof, weatherbeaten exterior.
Lynch is more of the old-school Bond mould; a smooth, charming and inscrutable cipher. Still, the film itself is tentative in genuinely considering her as Bondâs successor. Itâs emphasised that although she might be the new 007, the title is just a number. Thereâll only ever be one James Bond.