Here it is. After so many delays, James Bond has finally returned to the big screen. This was going to be Daniel Craig’s swan song for the character, the man who once famously said he would rather slash his wrists than play James Bond again.
Craig’s tenure as Bond has been noticeably uneven. He started strong with Casino Royale but then continued with the middling, Quantum of Solace. But upon Bond’s fiftieth anniversary came the warmly received Skyfall. All seemed well again. People hoped that Quantum of Solace would be the lone misstep in Craig’s turn as the character. And then we got Spectre.
Now comes No Time to Die. A film that came with a lot of hype and some controversy to boot.
No Time to Die film takes place after Spectre, with Bond living out his blissful retirement with Madeleine (Léa Seydoux). During a trip to Italy, Spectre agents make a (rather clumsy) attempt on Bond’s life.
Bond, having trust issues, comes to believe Madeleine was behind the attack on his life and decides to disappear from her life. Five years pass and now Bond lives a solitary existence in a beautiful beach house in Jamaica. Meanwhile, a group of armed men, under orders from a terrorist called Safin (Rami Malek), raid a secret MI6 laboratory, stealing a bioweapon and the scientist, Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik), who manufactured it.
Bond’s quiet life is upended when he notices a burned cigar, courtesy of CIA operative Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), left in the house. Leiter wants Bond to assist him in a mission to capture Valdo, who’s presumably residing somewhere in Cuba. Eventually, Bond can’t help but pull himself back into the spy game, tuxedo and shaken martinis included. This time, however, Bond will have to work together with his feisty 007 successor, Nomi (Lashana Lynch).
No Time to Die has five credited screenwriters, with many more likely consulted along the way. This is not uncommon, especially with big tentpole films. This is not just art, there is a lot of money involved. The artist wants creative satisfaction, the investors want a sizable return on their investment. Compromises will have to be made.
What matters most is that you don’t see the struggle or the conflict on screen. Unfortunately, the feeling that there were “too many cooks in the kitchen” is unavoidable with No Time to Die. I don’t mean to imply that there was necessarily internal conflict during the making of the film — though original director Danny Boyle did leave the production due to “creative differences” — what I mean to say is that the film lacks a coherent, singular vision. The film doesn’t feel like it was solely directed by an artist. It feels like it was directed by a committee.
Now the Bond franchise isn’t known for being high art. I understand that. Yet, every now and then, a Bond film comes along that stands out, that seemingly escaped the mundanity of the franchise. There’s your From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, or Goldeneye.
No Time to Die, unfortunately, will not be considered one of them.
The film’s first major issue is length. At 163 minutes, it’s officially the longest Bond film yet. And while I’m not automatically against a Bond film with such an epic runtime, there is simply no reason for this film to be this long.
The plot is as basic as it can get: a bad guy has an instrument of mass destruction and Bond needs to stop him. Due to the screenwriters needing to fulfill the hallmarks of a Bond movie, the plot gets needlessly convoluted. There’s no flow to the narrative. It feels like a collection of singular scenes cut together, as if the writers had a checklist to through: “Bond goes to exotic location A” and then ”Bond Goes to Exotic Location B”; “Bond flirts with an attractive woman here”; “we need some product placement over here”; and “now we want to have an action scene here”, etc. Oh, and let’s not forget to “wrap up this plot thread from the previous movie.”
This is why Casino Royale was so good as it used the template of Ian Fleming’s original novel. Nothing felt forced. The story flowed naturally. Instead of continuing on this trajectory, the filmmakers behind Bond reverted to the old trope of putting Bond in as many action set pieces as possible, with a flimsy plot to tie it all together.
Put Bond in a good story with interesting characters. Let the action or spectacle come second. This might seem counterproductive to what a Bond film should be, but as we have seen in Craig’s debut outing, this could work extremely well.
The pace of No Time to Die is at times tedious, a lot of scenes could have easily been trimmed. Even with the high stakes of the film, there’s no sense of urgency. You’re just waiting for the inevitable or the predictable plot twist to appear so it can move on to a more interesting set piece.
The dialogue between the characters is unmemorable, even with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s involvement as one of the film’s many screenwriters. It’s not that I wanted Bond to break the fourth wall and say something humorous — though perhaps this isn’t such a bad idea — but there’s no piece of dialogue, or banter, that sticks out.
The central romantic relationship of the film, between Bond and Madeleine, is depicted mostly through heartfelt words. Their affection for each other isn’t felt, it’s rather told to us. This could also be an issue with Craig and Seydoux’s chemistry, which is functional, but that’s it. It never reaches the romantic heights the filmmakers obviously intended.
Rami Malek as the central Bond villain makes almost no impression in the film. Initially, the character is on a revenge plot and then, for some reason, he aims to murder millions of people. He only has two confrontations with Bond, both during the climax of the film.
His motivation is laid out to Bond in a monologue that once again, takes too long to get going. Safin isn’t creepy, nor funny, or particularly charismatic. They present him as a sort of dark mirror image of Bond, but this symbolism is once again, TOLD by us, rather than shown to us. Safin also has a connection with Madeleine that only seems to be there just so Madeleine can be shoved back into the story.
If you’re hoping for a glorious return of Christoph Waltz as Blofeld, don’t expect much. Waltz literally sits in all of his scenes. (While many critiqued Waltz’s performance in Spectre, I think he’s far more imposing than Malek is here.)
In case you weren’t aware, No Time to Die has been the subject of some “controversy”, as many fans feared that this Bond outing would be fueled with supposed “woke” politics. There was the inclusion of feminist actor/screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the script process (though her involvement was greatly exaggerated), murmurs that this was going to be a Bond film for the Me Too generation, and the confirmation that Bond wasn’t going to be Agent 007 anymore, but that a strong Black woman was going to take the reigns.
Even though the film hadn’t come out yet, many had laughably deemed the film a failure. They couldn’t handle Bond not being his misogynistic self. These concerns were, predictably, completely unfounded.
Besides the ending, the film doesn’t make any drastic changes to the Bond formula — the film is as subversive as a Snickers bar. It’s a relatively safe, by-the-numbers Bond film that aims to please. Personally, I would have loved a Bond film that genuinely takes potshots at the character. (Better yet, give me an excessively PC Bond, just so I can enjoy reading all those angry comments.)
The new 007 in question is Nomi, played by Lashana Lynch. She’s fine in the role and I did like her dynamic with Bond — she also gets the best kill in the film. Though their eventual respect for each other seemed rushed. It would have been fun if the entire film was a sort of buddy film, but unfortunately, even with a runtime of over two and a half hours, the filmmakers had no time for this.
Jeffrey Wright makes a welcome return as Felix Leiter, though doesn’t get much to do. Ralph Fiennes provides reliable support, as does Ben Whishaw, Naomi Harris, and Rory Kinnear.
Most of the new characters don’t make much of an impression. There’s the mischievous CIA agent, Logan Ash, played by Billy Magnussen (who recently portrayed a young Paul Gualtieri). There’s Primo (Dali Benssalah), a henchman with a bionic eye, who only seems to be there so Bond can make some eye-themed puns.
Out of the new characters, only Ana de Amas as agent Paloma is genuinely memorable. Her role is basically an extended cameo, but it’s a fun one nonetheless. She plays a rook brimming with near-childhood excitement regarding her first mission. Honestly, I would have rather seen a film about her.
The score by Hans Zimmer ventures into the occasional plagiarism of his own work. Don’t be surprised to hear musical cues that seem to come straight out of his work from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Other than that, I don’t think the score was very memorable. Sometimes it sounded like generic Bond, other times like generic Hans Zimmer.
The action is fine, though typically bloodless. Besides a cool jump from a bridge and a confrontation in the Norwegian forest, none of the set pieces are particularly memorable. There’s also an annoying reliance on a common editing trick used during fight scenes by hiding cuts and stitching them together to make the action look like one continuous shot. It’s in those moments where I wished I was watching John Wick instead.
No Time to Die also has more humor, which at first glance, I welcomed. I’ve always preferred the less serious Bond. I don’t think the character works well in a Jason Bourne-esque world. I preferred the self-awareness of Roger Moore. Yet the moments of humor feel forced, or simply out of place. Occasionally, they give Craig a few puns that seemed to come straight out of Roger Moore’s era. It makes the tone feel rather inconsistent at times. Admittedly the film doesn’t go too far with it. It’s still a “serious Bond film” but the humor mostly falls flat — except for any coming from Ana de Armas’ character.
No Time to Die is not a complete waste of time. It certainly looks stunning. Bond traverses to various exotic locales and director, Cary Joji Fukunaga, accompanied by cinematographer, Linus Sandgren, make sure it all looks beautiful on screen. Daniel Craig, especially in comparison to Spectre, seems far more invested in the part. His stoic or rather disinterested performance in Spectre almost veered into outright contempt for the material. It’s clear that he had more passion for this particular Bond venture.
The film also takes one particular turn at the end, which I won’t spoil here, that is quite memorable considering all the safe choices that preceded it. If I had cared more about the characters, it would have been more impactful, but nonetheless, they did something different.
Daniel Craig’s time as James Bond is similar to Pierce Brosnan, in that his first outing was the strongest. Thankfully, Craig’s final outing is certainly superior to the bonkers monstrosity that was Die Another Day. At the very least, Craig bows out of the role with some dignity. That’s something, I guess.
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