Scenes from the No Time to Die trailer have played over and over in my head for the past year. I see Ana de Armas fly-kicking into a goon; a villain appearing from behind frosted glass, presumably played by Rami Malek, in a porcelain mask; Daniel Craig caught under flashing nightclub lights. They’re stuck on replay not because I’m especially excited about No Time to Die, or Bond in general. Instead, it’s because I’ve seen different cuts of its trailer at least a hundred times – on television, in cinemas, playing on outdoor advertising. Fourteen months have passed since the film’s trailer first dropped. No Time to Die has still not been released.
The 25th Bond film, and the final one to feature Craig as 007, is not the only movie existing in this strange, Covid-circumscribed netherworld. Also subject to endless delays are Black Widow, Candyman and A Quiet Place 2. Posters for the latter can still be found in tube stations – their dusty sheen and aborted March 2020 release date looking like remnants of an apocalypse.
No Time to Die, though, is in a league of its own when it comes to bumped blockbusters. Far and away the most significant movie thwarted by the pandemic, it’s had three different release dates amid Covid, and at least two pushes of marketing. It reportedly cost its backers, MGM and EON, between $30m and $50m to shift its release from April 2020 to November 2020. Two further delays, first to April 2021 and then to a hopefully final October date, will have cost both studios even more.
Further expenses are being added to the debt pile. This week, reports claimed that scenes in No Time to Die will have to be digitally altered to appease many of the film’s sponsors, who paid to have now out-of-date products prominently shown. MGM have yet to comment. There may be more experiential concerns: when No Time to Die finally lurches its way into cinemas, will it even feel like a new film anymore?
You could be forgiven for assuming you’ve already “experienced” the new Bond – or at least everything that comes along with one, short of actually watching it. The week it was pulled from its April 2020 date, Craig hosted Saturday Night Live, his appearance impossible to reschedule so late in the day. A week later, for GQ UK, he broke the internet posing topless and bronzed while inexplicably holding a rotary phone. By that point, Billie Eilish had already gone to No 1 with her theme song – a chilly gloom-fest that was one of the most interesting Bond themes in years, though now largely forgotten. Bond girl Léa Seydoux was on the April covers of Town & Country and Harper’s Bazaar; De Armas nabbed the cover of Vanity Fair.
There were interviews, photo shoots, endorsement deals and general 007 rigmarole. We even waded through an array of exhausting discourse – the racist outrage over a Black character (played by Lashana Lynch) reportedly adopting the 007 code name in the film; co-writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s determination to boost the feminist credentials of her Bond girls. All think-pieced to death already.
“It’s actually not uncommon for films to be promoted extensively and then never come out,” an employee of one of the UK’s leading cinema advertising companies tells me. Captive State, he remembers, was a big-budget Focus Features sci-fi film starring John Goodman that was advertised for months in 2019 and then had its release cancelled – and that was long before Covid. “But it’s very rare for something as big as Bond to stop and start like this.”
Bond’s backers may have shot themselves in the foot in a variety of ways: “EON tends to be quite traditional when it comes to promotion. The first full-length trailer showed off lots of what look like the major set pieces. You have to wonder if there’s anything new to show for a third push. What is there left to tease? Is there even gas left in the tank?”
All of that conversation and messaging was everywhere and then nowhere. It’s also something that can’t be replicated. Buzz doesn’t grow ad infinitum. Rather, it dissipates, spreads to other, shinier objects providing faster satisfaction. In an era of memes and Twitter shorthand, it also becomes vaguely ludicrous if something tangible doesn't soon materialise. Jokes have already been made about our collective old age once No Time to Die actually comes out. It’s reminiscent of The New Mutants, a doomed X-Men spin-off that got its first trailer in October 2017, and wasn’t released until nearly three years later. In the interim, it had been memed, mocked and widely jeered at.
Few could have predicted the horrors of the past year. Even fewer could have predicted that No Time to Die would be the new New Mutants – a megaflop laughed at by everyone and seen by no one.