No Time To Die, the 25th James Bond movie, opens October 8 in the U.S., and, having seen it, it is a satisfying end to Daniel Craig’s version of this character. The point of James Bond is drinking, wit, guns, and cars, not necessarily in that order. The point of modern James Bond movies is also selling products, like cars.
Everywhere you look in the new Bond there is a product that the movie is trying to sell. Not explicitly, of course, because it isn’t a straight-up commercial, but implicitly, through product placement. James Bond movies are hardly unique, in this respect, but they are also some of the most blatant. In No Time To Die, for example, Bond uses a Nokia cellphone, which I initially thought was a weird choice (the coolest secret agent in the world uses a ... Nokia?) until it quickly dawned on me that, of course, it is product placement.
Watches from Omega also appear. Then there are the cars: a Land Rover Series III, plenty of modern Land Rover Defenders, Range Rover Sport SVRs, an Aston Martin DBS Superlegerra, an Aston Martin V8 Vantage, an Aston Martin Valhalla, some Jaguar XFs, a Maserati Quattroporte, and what I think is a Triumph Bonneville. Oh, and there is also an Aston Martin DB5.
As I was typing this blog, I got an email from a marketing agency on behalf of Jaguar. It reads in part:
The Jaguar XF will demonstrate its exceptional performance and exhilarating driving dynamics in a thrilling chase sequence in the new James Bond film No Time To Die in cinemas US cinemas on October 8, 2021.
Filmed in Matera, Southern Italy, two XF sedans weave through the narrow, twisting city streets, driving across piazzas and down cobbled steps in pursuit of James Bond.
Both XFs feature Jaguar’s all-wheel drive system with Intelligent Driveline Dynamics, which delivered incredible levels of traction on the low-grip surfaces as No Time To Die’s henchmen demonstrate that no street is too small and no corner too tight.
Jaguar, which has the smallest presence of any automaker in the movie, is still happy to have the presence it does, which just shows that the XF is capable of going toe to toe with James Bond and losing. For Jaguar, having their car used by the losers of the story is a win.
For Aston Martin, it is much bigger than that, because there is a strong argument to be made that, without the James Bond franchise, there simply is no Aston Martin, given all of the free or not-so-free attention Bond movies have given it over the last several decades. And while Bond actually started with a Bentley, Ian Fleming later gave him an Aston Martin DB Mark III, updated to the DB5 for when it came to filming Goldfinger.
The DB5 was the first Aston Martin in a Bond movie and, obviously, far from the last; nearly half of all the Bond movies have had Aston Martins in them. The DB5 is the James Bond car, though, and its extensive use in No Time To Die probably cements that for good.
One thing that DB5 doesn’t do, really, is all that much for modern Aston Martin. There are plenty of newer Astons in No Time To Die to be sure, though none with the starring role of the DB5, clear evidence in my mind to believe Neil Layton, an action vehicle supervisor on the film who I spoke to, who told me that, ultimately, the final decision on everything including the cars was up to Cary Joji Fukunaga, the film’s director.
Layton said that after I asked how much the film and automakers collaborated because, of course, they have to, to some degree; the production of No Time To Die actually used two classic DB5s , in addition to eight replicas built by Aston Martin to do stunts. From the production notes:
Two of the eight vehicles were built as gadget cars to house the smoke screen, the mine dispenser and the machine guns. Of the remaining six, two more were fitted with pods that allow the stunt drivers to control the car while sitting on the roof. This ensured that the actors could be filmed inside the car when it drives at high speed.
Narratively, the DB5 works, too, because in No Time To Die Daniel Craig’s Bond is old and, in the beginning, retired, and the DB5 in 2021 is a car for the old and the retired. A much younger colleague of Bond’s in the movie, meanwhile, drives a DBS Superlegerra, a car for the young and retired, or at least a young working secret agent.
All of this product placement, in any case, isn’t intended only to help sell cars per se. Ask a marketing professor some time about the inherent value of branding, which is also mostly the entire point of Formula 1, which is spending a lot of money simply to get your brand into the conversation. Most people who see No Time To Die will never buy a new Omega or Aston Martin, but the benefit is all in the association.
And for an Aston Martin that is propped up by a Canadian billionaire these days, it’s a bit lucky to still have that. Bond will probably live forever, but it’s still an open question whether Aston will. I wondered out loud to Layton if Bond would still be driving a DB5 in 50 years, and, probably because it’s above his pay grade, he didn’t speculate. I hope, in any case, that it isn’t. No Time To Die is a great send-off for Craig but also for the DB5. Sooner or later on everything you have to turn the page.