No Time To Die review: Daniel Craig’s final James Bond movie reinvents 007
Five movies into Daniel Craig’s run as James Bond, part of what made him so singularly enthralling when he first took the role in 2007’s Casino RoyaleIt has become a routine and unremarkable business. Craig brought vulnerability to the franchise that was based on the exploits a martini-sipping, habitually dressed-up womanizer. Not only did he get roughed-up (and jacked), but he fell in love with a woman and suffered heartbreak. Through Craig, Agent 007 essentially underwent a masculinity makeover, because by 2007, depicting Bond as the macho, unfeeling playboy he’d been historically was not only alienating and retrograde, it was boring and played-out.
The creators behind Craig’s Bond films have clearly clocked significant time on thinking about how to innovate the blockbuster, and how to reshape a historically fraught, hyper-masculine action star with so many sexist overtones built in. They answered by increasing his suffering but with No Time To Die, that tactic not only rings false, it renders Bond into a cliché. The trauma of Bond’s past — in the form of his love for Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), who ultimately betrayed him — looms over each of Craig’s Bond films in an increasingly unconvincing manner.
You can pick up from wherever Spectre left off, Cary Joji Fukunaga’s No Time To Die gives Bond a second shot at love with Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, extending the Bond-with-real-boy-feelings shtick in a way that underscores its formulaic nature. Bond is more than a superspy. HumanWho wants to be surrounded by human beings: good women, best friends, children. It sounds very much like the scenario in many of the bland, risk-averse blockbusters with their unproblematic lead men.
No Time To Die’s prologue offers a bit of Madeleine’s backstory in the vein of a home-invasion thriller. Young Mlle. Swann is from a broken but wealthy family. The mother of Swann, a depressive and alcoholic woman, lies to her child. She is then shot in the head, by Lyutsifer (Rami Malek) a masking Michael Myers wannabe. Madeleine fights back but the psychopath, who considers himself to be somewhat of a family man, eventually saves Madeleine from a wet grave.
The story of Madeleine, an adult woman who is on holiday with Bond in Italy. Having left their chaotic lives behind them to pursue a romantic forever-after off the grid, the two lovers “have all the time in the world” — which means they have literal minutes before shit hits the fan. In this situation, the past is the worst. Bond’s trust problems are fuelled by Vesper Lynd, and Madeleine remains more cautious about her past, as well as the creepy, masked man who refused to leave her. When Vesper’s grave turns out to be an explosive trap, and a snarling guido with a mechanical eyeball corners Bond and Madeleine with a pack of henchmen and a persistent machine gun, Bond suspects Madeleine has sold him out, in spite of her pleas that she’s innocent. Bond insists that he won’t see Madeleine again and puts her on the next train. Bond the classic, the cold and brooding, lone-wolf, attacks again. This time, he is thawed over the course of the next two hours.
Craig has explained the tour in a somewhat lighthearted way on his press tour. There is no time to die is about “relationships and family.” True enough — this film’s big international conspiracy, which concerns the mass production of a particularly nasty bio-weapon called Heracles, a nanobot-transmitted virus that targets victims based on their DNA, is a menacing-enough prospect that ultimately feels a lot less alarming and central to the plot than it should. The implication, given Heracles’ genetic and geographical reach, is that this weapon could be used for ethnic cleansing, though Malek’s Safin hints instead at some neutral, Avengers-style waste-reduction-for-the-greater-good objective.
M, head of MI6 (Ralph Fiennes), continues to talk about how the enemy is not visible in modern warfare. Because, as you all know, it’s imperceptible. (Cue the “Bond in the age of COVID” think pieces.) All of it feels too risky. There is no time to die is too concerned with building Bond better, to anticipate the long-promised end of Craig’s run in this role. Problem is No Time To Die suggests that, like every other modern hero, his losses are only sufficiently worth mourning if he’s missing out on a life of domestic bliss.
Bond lives in Jamaica five years later, a free-spirited bachelor. His old CIA friend Felix (Jeffrey Wright) ropes him into a mission that ships him off to Havana, where he meets covert CIA agent Paloma (Ana de Armas), the single greatest proof of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s involvement here as a screenwriter.
Paloma arguably gets the best fight scene in the whole film — such is the pleasure of stiletto-assisted roundhouse kicking — and de Armas updates the Bond Girl trope by being funny and a little chaotic, a so-called “messy woman” who’s actually incredibly competent. If only her character didn’t also feel like the product of a focus-group study on how to make Bond’s arm candy more real and likable. It would also have helped if she was meaningfully incorporated into the story — you could cut Paloma and her entire subplot out of the movie, and almost nothing else in There is no time to die It would be necessary to make changes.
To the writers’ credit, there isn’t a female stock character in sight, and almost none of the women onscreen have any interest in canoodling with Bond. Lashana Lynch’s Nomi, the new Agent 007, is undeniably cool, a natural brawler, albeit emotionally blank due to the need to impart a hyper-professionalism worthy of the title. Bond, infamously cool as a cucumber, could care less, and his indifference rhymes with Nomi’s anxiety over the threat that his return poses to the status of her promotion. This dynamic plays out repeatedly as a one-sided competition over who is and isn’t allowed into M’s office, a kind of unintentional meta-gag about the tenuous role of the first woman 007.
Later in the film, when Bond and Nomi team up to infiltrate Safin’s lair — a concrete palace on a remote island that hearkens a little too closely to the final setting of Skyfall — she makes a chivalric gesture and surrenders her 007 title back to Bond out of… respect for the classics? The move ultimately serves to legitimize Bond in the eyes of his female competitor; he’s not imposing himself on her turf, she’s deferring to him out of her own prerogative.
There is no time to die’s attempts to humanize and dignify the Bond Girl and cleanse the franchise for a new generation is obviously welcome, and essential to keeping the brand alive. Pushing the vulnerability of Craig’s Bond to its most predictable manifestation, Fukunaga and company decide to give Bond a family. While certainly a new direction for Bond the character, this reimagination renders the superspy indistinguishable from the Wife Guys of the modern blockbuster, like Ethan Hunt, Dominic Toretto, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s version of Hawkeye. It’s why the revelation that Madeleine has given birth to Bond’s child unbeknownst to him feels completely uninspired, like a dime-a-dozen emotional beat grafted onto yet another Hero Worth Rooting For.
You can be sure No Time To DieThere are some good action scenes. For its glittery chaos, the Havana brawl stands out. Bond flees Madeleine’s remote cabin, with Mathilde (5-year-old) with them. A foggy battle in the evergreens leads to Bond taking down whole vehicles using a handful of bullets and clever wire use. Chez Safin: Bond, battered, pushes a dozen minions down a narrow staircase. Fukunaga takes a long track shot, echoing his earlier days. True Detective Days
Yet few of the film’s supposedly charged moments land the way they should, which is a problem, because so much of what the film moves toward relies on these emotional swings. The return of Bond’s old pal Ernst Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) in a Hannibal Lecter-style interrogation scene lacks punch and menace — Blofeld was a woefully underwhelming villain in SpectreHis second round is not as frightful and anxious as one would expect from a returning villain. His function is not to harmonize Bond and Madeleine, but to act as a glue that makes the Bond-verse easier to understand. When Bond (re-)declares his love to Madeleine — a striking scene that sees Craig glowing like an Adonis, in the film’s most erotic stretch by a long shot — the promise of sweet, sweet lovemaking is upended by Mathilde, because sex can never be as meaningful as parenthood.
Later, Safin eventually captures Madeleine und Mathilde. Bond must prostrate in order to prevent Safin harming the child. It’s an ultimatum stripped of any consequence when Safin abruptly loses interest in Mathilde. We’re meant to take away the idea that Bond would do anything for his little girl, but the moment — painfully trite, an overplayed scenario whose outcome we always-already know — takes the vulnerability and punch out of Bond’s emotional standoff.
Then there’s Rami Malek’s Safin, a half-assed character who extends the now-overdone trend of villains who are more villainous because they’re reticent, emotionless, and indecipherable in their blank, mechanical sinistry. (See also: Waltz’s Blofeld, or Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace in Blade Runner 2049(.) Safin is an unusually calm bloke who loves Zen gardens and tatami rugs (really? enough with the Orientalist minimalism shorthand for derangement). He becomes a sleepy boss in the final act, but stumbles into relevance.
Both Bond and Safin are essentially modern-day lepers, which might serve as a commentary on the types of men who have passed through the Bond franchise’s seemingly endless rotations, but who have now been knocked off their pedestals — mortals once and for all. We should not be able to grapple with James Bond’s legacy and the unexpected implications that his story ended with this movie. There is no time to die Lazily, he goes through all the motions in an action movie while trying to make viewers feel affected by his story.
If you were less cynical, it would be much easier. There is no time to die convincingly delivered on its commitments to Bond’s humanity, rather than nudging it into a handful of scattered scenes, around a lumbering, half-baked drama spiked with explosions and car chases. The film might be the best. really is “about family and relationships,” but to the extent that it is, it underscores the dearth of imagination that’s just barely fueling the biggest blockbusters, the inevitability that all our modern heroes will eventually feel as stale as the smug ladykillers they once replaced.
Creating new, truly memorable characters shouldn’t be just a matter of perfunctorily responding to an image that the masses no longer find appealing or appropriate. You have to take risks, and it can be annoying for viewers. can be achieved without resorting to sexist stereotypes. All of it is irrelevant, I wish. There is no time to die Passes on the pleasures of its spectacle. It just tries to be too much. something to let these qualities take center stage, putting a damper on its own party by constantly reminding us that Craig’s time as Bond is over, and that there’s no real reason for audiences to care.
No Time To DieReleases in theatres Oct.
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