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5 Screenwriting Takeaways: After 25 Bond films, how ‘No Time to Die’ keeps the action fresh

October 15, 2021
4 min read time

For nearly 60 years, Agent 007 has been saving the world from some of the most villainous heels attempting to rule the world — or destroy it. This month marked the 25th outing for the super spy whose drink of choice and love life are both legendary. From actors to action, the movies have evolved with each one looking to out-spectacle the previous.

No Time to Die not only has to live up to being Daniel Craig’s final outing as James Bond, but the studio’s constant pushing of the release date and refusal to show it anywhere but in theaters since the pandemic started, causing expectations to soar.

Nearly two years after its original release date (scheduled for November 2019), No Time to Die, starring Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch, and Ralph Fiennes, hits theaters.

Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga (who also directs), and award-winning Phoebe Waller-Bridge, No Time to Die is shaken to the brim with screenwriting takeaways.

1. Open with a bang

A James Bond film must open with a major action sequence. It’s the catalyst that sets the movie in motion, blazes the path of the hero, and leads into the latest hit song. No Time to Die is no different, for the most part. While most Bond films get into the action within the first few minutes, this one waits a little longer and starts with something more akin to a thriller.

But eventually, there is the key action scene, which screenwriters can see is a way to propel the story forward. There are usually two kinds of conclusions to the opening action scenes that occur in these films: Either Bond saves the day though he and the audience learn that something more sinister and grand is afoot, or he loses something that must be retrieved.

In either case, the action moves the story along — there’s a purpose for it other than meeting the expectations of the audience.

2. Compelling, unique bad guy

Pinky: "Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?"
Brain: "The same thing we do every night, Pinky — try to take over the world!"

Bond villains, like Pinky and the Brain, want to conquer the world. The notoriously wicked evildoers have motives that are ambitious in their aspirations of world domination or the destruction of a large part of it. This also means that writers of the franchise must find new ways for the villains to destroy the world.

From Dr. No to Blofeld to Le Chiffre, Bond villains are meant to be smart, cunning and quirky. There’s always a level of madness inside that drives their intentions and an attribute that makes them stand out. Screenwriters can appreciate how deliberate these characters are. Rarely is one evil for evil’s sake, at least in the later films. They have backstories and beliefs that what they are doing is right.

When creating a villain, remember: Everyone is the hero of their own story.

3. The use of international locations

Big action films usually have multiple international locations. Christopher McQuarrie, writer-director of several Mission: Impossible films, stated in an interview several years ago that when it comes to creating large set pieces, he often seeks out the exciting location before writing the story.

Just like the Mission: Impossible films, Jason Bourne saga, and the James Bond series, there are several riveting scenes from around the world. No Time to Die starts in Italy with a car chase, goes to Cuba for an action-packed fight scene, Norway for another car chase through the woods, and on it goes. There were even teaser trailers from Bond films in the 1990’s that simply stated, “Now shooting around the world,” as that was a compelling reason enough for people to see it.

Writers can take the uniqueness of an area and create something the audience may not have seen much of before, regardless of the budget. Examples include Tom Cruise hanging on the outside of the Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol to District 9’s South African location, to Franka Potente running on the streets of Berlin in the low-budget indie Run Lola Run.

4. The ticking clock

The ticking clock is an amazing device. What happens when the hero is up against a deadline? The closer that time comes to conclusion, the more intense the situation. It really doesn’t matter if it’s minutes before the villain launches missiles or teenagers wanting to lose their virginity on prom night — the ticking clock adds immediacy to the story.

This device also completes the arc of the story. If the bad guy is going to unleash a deadly pathogen at a specific time, the whole story leads up to that point in which the hero saves the day or the villain wins. That’s it. The story’s over. Same with teenagers and losing their virginity on prom night — the story ends once prom night is over regardless of the outcome. With a ticking clock, it’s about what the hero learns on the journey, not the destination; in this case, Bond might have No Time to Die, but the finale is coming either way.

5. Get heroes in and out of impossible situations

What’s great about action heroes is how they’re put into seemingly impossible situations and seeing how they will escape. It’s also frustrating for the screenwriter, because not only do you have to devise the situation, but then you also have to figure out how your character will actually break free.

Luckily, they don’t have to do it on their own; there’s nothing wrong with getting a little help. If a hero is trapped in a room, an ally may come to their rescue at the last moment and save the day. This happens several times in No Time to Die (not the trapped in the room scenario, specifically) and is a perfectly legitimate way to save the hero.

Another way is Deus ex machina, which means ‘God from the machine’. Basically, a random occurrence saves the day. Beware though, this device is sometimes frowned upon. One famous example is Jurassic Park when the characters are outrunning the raptors. When all hope seems lost, the Tyrannosaurus Rex comes in and starts taking out the raptors allowing the heroes to flee. Notice that it wasn’t anyone’s skills that saved them, but rather the unlikely occurrence that the T-Rex popped into the scene. As for in No Time to Die, you'll just have to watch and study it yourself.

No Time to Die is currently in theaters.

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