Talking Movies: No Time to Die (SPOILERS)

Talking Movies

Released: 30 September 2021
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Distributor: United Artists Releasing / Universal Pictures
Budget: $250 to 301 million
Stars: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Jeffrey Wright, and Christoph Waltz

The Plot:
Five years after the capture of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Waltz), super spy James Bond/007 (Craig) has retired from active service to be with his love, Doctor Madeleine Swan (Seydoux). However, when he his old friend Felix Leiter (Wright) asks him to investigate a missing scientist, Bond is brought violently back into the world of betrayal and terrorism when he is pitted against terrorist Lyutsifer Safin (Malek).

The Background:
James Bond, the charming and sophisticated MI6 agent with a license to kill, is the creation of former navy intelligence officer-turned-writer Ian Fleming. As beloved as his 007 novels were, the character was forever immortalised through the late, great Sean Connery, who would be just one of many actors to portray the superspy in perhaps the most successful cinematic franchise of all time. In 2005, amidst much unwarranted controversy, Daniel Craig assumed the iconic role for a gritty, modern reboot of the long-running franchise; Casino Royale (Campbell, 2006) was a massive critical and commercial success and effectively revitalised the series after it had become stagnated. Much to the chagrin of Craig, who became increasingly disillusioned with the role, more successes soon followed, with Skyfall (Mendes, 2012) surpassing Casino Royale’s achievements and Spectre (ibid, 2015) earning rave reviews. Development of the twenty-fifth Bond film began in 2016, with director Danny Boyle initially attached to the project before he bowed out over script concerns. Cary Joji Fukunaga came onboard in 2018 and the film’s title was announced in 2019 but the jury was out over whether Craig would reprise his role. Although Craig eventually signed on to No Time to Die, he stated that the film would be his last go-around as 007 and the script was tailoured to reflect this sentiment. As with al of Craig’s Bond movies, No Time to Die was set to feature a sequential narrative from the previous films and included a number of returning cast and characters; like all great Bond movies, filming took place all around the world and included a number of spectacular stunt sequences. The film’s release was repeatedly delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic but No Time to Die finally released in the United Kingdom on September 30th to largely positive reviews that emphasised Craig’s performance and the film’s action sequences while criticising the film’s lengthy runtime, and a current worldwide gross of just over $121 million.

The Review (Spoilers):
No Time to Die kicks off with one of the most longest, if not the longest, pre-title sequences in any James Bond film that basically serves a number of purposes; first, we get to see a flashback to Madeline’s childhood where, as a young girl (Coline Defaud), witnessed her mother being brutally gunned down by Safin, a psychotic killer with a bit of a limb and sporting an unsettling Noh mask. Safin’s motivation here is actually somewhat relatable as Madeline’s father, Mister White (Jesper Christensen), killed Safin’s entire family as part of a Spectre assassination. Although Madeline and Bond have retired to Italy to be together, leaving behind Bond’s tumultuous life, but are still haunted by the ghosts of their respective pasts; Madeline promises to reveal this part of her past to Bond after he makes peace with his former love, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), and in process unwittingly sets Bond’s paranoid into overdrive as he is summarily attacked by Spectre agents, led by Primo/Cyclops (Dali Benssalah), and he separates himself from Madeline to both keep her safe and because he feels he can’t trust her. The film then jumps to five years later, Bond has set himself up in Jamaica and is so far off the grid that MI6 has assumed that he has died. However, when Spectre agents kidnap scientist Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik) to weaponise the devastating “Heracles” virus that MI6 chief, Gareth Mallory/M (Fiennes) developed off the books to specifically target and eliminate individuals while negating collateral damage, both MI6 and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are understandably perturbed at the implications of this virus being in the wrong hands. When M discovers that his darkest secret has been dug up for the world to see, he becomes very cagey and snippy with his employees Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Q (Wishaw), and Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear) and demands that Obruchev and his research be retrieved as quickly and surreptitiously as possible. Bond is begrudgingly brought into the investigation by CIA operative Felix Leiter, whom he embraces as an old friend; having been absent from the last two Bond movies, it’s great to see Felix make a comeback, if only briefly, and it’s just one of many heartwarming moments in the film that help humanise Bond, with Bond even referring to Felix as his brother at one point.

Bond is drawn back into the world of espionage after appearing to be betrayed, only to find he’s been replaced.

Bond doesn’t truly return to his former, violent life until he crosses paths with Nomi (Lynch), a no-nonsense, militaristic agent who, in case you couldn’t guess, has replaced Bond as the new 007. The two initially have a frosty relationship, with Nomi brushing off Bond’s advice and experience and basically continuing on her mission with little regard for Bond’s presence. While Bond played it fast and loose with the rules and regulations, Nomi is all business and follows her orders without questions, making for a less glamorous but strikingly efficient spy, but her heckles are raised when M ends up reinstating Bond as an active 00 agent following a tense and heated confrontation between the two. The more they work together, however, a mutual respect develops between the two, to the point where Nomi requests that Bond regain his 007 number (his actual new 00 number is never revealed), and any concerns that Nomi is being setup to replace James Bond in future films are largely dashed as she never takes the spotlight away from Bond and she largely exists as a competent support character for Bond. Bond has a number of other allies helping him both officially and unofficially; when Bond agrees to help Felix, he is partnered with the lovely and excitable Paloma (Ana de Armas), a CIA agent on her first assignment who’s more than capable of kicking ass even while in a very revealing silk dress. Paloma helps Bond infiltrate a mass gathering of Spectre agents, which is revealed to be a trap setup by Blofeld to kill bond using Heracles, however all of Spectre end up being killed instead when Obruchev reprograms the nanobots to target the Spectre agents, which was a bit of an anti-climatic end to one of Bond’s most notorious and iconic evil organisations. After arguing with M over Heracles, Bond works independently to find out more information about the virus and concludes that he needs to gain access to Blofeld; to do this, he asks Moneypenny and Q for help, and they’re able to help him hack into a bionic eye used my Primo to reveal crucial information that gets Bond reinstated at MI6. Q actually plays a surprisingly big role in the film as he’s out in the field on more than one occasion and even communicates with Bond and Nomi through their earpieces in the finale, which is something I’ve never seen in a Bond film before. It does lead to an amusing moment where Q prepares to walk Bond through a complex procedure to open up the blast doors and allow Safin’s base to be bombarded with a missile assault and Bond simply frantically presses every button and pulls every lever.

Safin makes an immediate impression before becoming a bit of a cliché, fanatical villain.

The main villain of the film, Safin, is largely absent for much of the film and left as this mysterious, unknown third party. Instead, most of the film’s early going is focused on the remnants of Spectre, which Blofeld is secretly controlling while being locked up and isolated in prison. He’s been able to do this because he’s been diagnosed as clinically insane and spends his days muttering and mumbling in his cell and refuses to talk to anyone except his psychiatrist, Madeline. This leads to an awkward reunion between Bond and Madeline, and a tense reunion between Bond and his adopted brother; Blofeld delights in taunting Bond and having outwitted him, and the irony that the two now have a common enemy as Safin is specifically targeting Spectre agents and Blofeld himself to get his revenge. Unfortunately, we don’t really get to see too much of Blofeld here, and I continue to be unimpressed with Waltz’s performance as the character, which just a little too quirky and unhinged for my tastes considering how refined the character usually is. Safin picks up some of the slack in this regard, appearing to echo classic bond villains such as Doctor Julius No (Joseph Wiseman), Karl Stromberg (Curt Jürgens), and Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) in his soft-spoken, unsettling menace and sporting a disturbing skin condition. Safin is motivated to kill all of Spectre after they caused the death of his family, but his plot shifts to worldwide mass murderer after he acquires Heracles, which escalates his favoured method of using plants for a variety of nefarious purposes into reshaping the world into his own image. When he’s first introduced, Safin is clad in a white snowsuit and wearing an expressionless mask, resulting in a twisted visage as he hunts down the young Madeline, and the entire sequence is framed like a slasher horror film; however, when Safin finally returns later in the film, he’s set aside his mask and is just another disquieting, unhinged Bond villain in a suit with delusions of grandeur.

The Nitty-Gritty (Also Spoilers):
One of the most highly anticipated traditions of any James Bond film is the title sequence, in which the chosen song for the film plays over images of scantily-clad women, guns, and other obscure imagery tangentially related to the film. No Time to Die not only brings back the iconic gun barrel sequence (which also gets a call-back later in the film when Bond shoots an assailant down a curved tunnel) but the title sequence even recalls the very first title sequence of the series by bringing back the multiple circular dots that blared at the screen in the opening of Dr. No (Young, 1962), before descending into the usual iconography of guns firing and images of the main actors looking morose. It’s a pretty decent title sequence but for one crucial element; the title song itself, “No Time to Die”, by Billie Eilish. Now, admittedly, I am not a fan of Eilish; I find her music grating, depressing, and uninspiring, but I went into this willing to set aside these prejudices (after all, I’m not fan of Adele or Sam Smith and their Bond themes were pretty good) and remained unimpressed. I just don’t think the song really works; it never properly kicks into a higher gear and just sets a bleak, miserable tone for that the film doesn’t really reflect. The song really should have been a celebration of Bond’s life and emphasised this being the end of an era, and instead just conveys the same dullness of your average gloomy Billie Eilish song. Thankfully, some of these themes of it being a celebration of all things Bond and the end of Craig’s time as the character are revisited throughout the film; Louis Armstrong’s “We Have all the Time in the World” plays in the beginning and ending of the film, which is a nice (if unexpected) call-back to On her Majesty’s Secret Service (Hunt, 1969), and even had me half-expecting to see Madeline gunned down by one of Blofeld’s agents as she and Bond are racing through Italy.

Armed with some of his most iconic gadgets and teamed with beautiful allies, Bond is as effective as ever.

Additionally, Bond drives his iconic Aston Martin DB5, which is outfitted with all of the classic gadgets of old, and there’s even a touching tribute to Judi Dench and Bernard Lee as portraits of them adorn the walls of MI6. I actually really love the call-backs to classic Bond aesthetics that finally got reintroduced to the series in Skyfall, such as the door to M’s office (and the office itself) while still keeping things grounded in the current times with modern technology. We even get a spin on Bond’s classic watch gadget as Q furnishes him with a watch capable of emitting a short-range, high-frequency electromagnetic pulse that pays off beautifully in offing Primo (but is apparently unable to affect the nanobots coursing through Bond’s bloodstream, which is where I expected the gadget to really come into play). As mentioned, the film’s opening is starkly different to those of other Bond films not just for its length but also for the way its short, which mirrors a slasher horror film, with Safin even appearing and being portrayed as an unsettling masked home invader. Safin’s casual brutality is mirrored in Bond’s ruthlessness; both characters are completely at ease with killing (even executing) others in the line of duty, and Safin even proposes that the two are more alike that they may seem at first glance. Interestingly, the idea that Bond has “lost a step” due to his advancing age, injuries, and being out of action for so long is largely cast aside here; it could have been revisited once he meets and works alongside Nomi but, instead Bond is running, fighting, and chasing down bad guys with very few signs of having slowed down. If anything, Bond’s more effective and brutal than ever; he’s easily able to evade Primo and his mercenaries by leaping from a bridge with only a precarious wire for support, races across Italy on a motorcycle, has a series of brutal fistfights that continue to highlight Craig’s Bond’s adaptability when brawling, and the film is punctuated by a number of car chases against both jeeps and a helicopter to help keep things exhilarating. Yes, it’s a long film, even for a Bond movie, but all Bond movies are quite long and it never really felt like it was dragging all that much; I could see a few scenes and even characters being trimmed and maybe cutting back on some of the sweeping establishing shots, but overall I was quite satisfied with the length of the film and the amount of action packed in between its slower, more poignant moments.

Blofeld manipulates events from his prison cell before being unceremoniously offed by Safin.

Many Bond films become so iconic because of their villains, and as ever there’s a number of bad guys bumping around in No Time to Die; Primo stands out for his bulging bionic eye, but is mainly just Spectre’s main henchman and gets very little to do beyond cropping up to cause Bond headaches throughout the film. Bond’s focus shifts towards tracking down CIA operative Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen) after he proves to be a double-agent working for Spectre; Nash, a nervous and overly enthusiastic agent, plays a pivotal role in the film’s early going when his betrayal leads to the tragic death of Felix and it’s incredibly cathartic seeing Bond brutally brush the slimy little weasel under a jeep. Obruchev is the living McGuffin of the film, being a slightly neurotic Russian scientist who at first seems to be reluctantly assisting Spectre and Safin and soon turns out to enjoy his work on the nanobots a little too much, meaning he more than deserves his gruesome dip into an acid bath at Nomi’s hands.  And then there’s Blofeld, the ultimate puppet master of the film who continues to torment his stepbrother even while locked up; their interaction is a bevy of emotions, with Bond flipping between eccentricity and seething rage, leading to him choking Blofeld while spitting “Die, Blofeld!” Although Bond pulls back at the last minute, and gets berated by Tanner for losing control of his emotions, Blofeld is revealed to have died thanks to Bond unknowingly being exposed to nanobots specifically programmed to kill the Spectre head honcho, which was a death as anticlimactic as it was predictable (we see Madeline spraying herself with Safin’s nanobots, and Bond grab her wrist, prior to Bond choking Blofeld). Safin’s plot involves the use of Heracles, a vast array of nanobots that can be set to kill specific targets by programming them with DNA; once they’re inside your body, they’re there for ever and will pass from host to host until they reach their intended target, and Safin even has Obruchev modify them to kill the bloodline of the target as well. M’s direct involvement in this project casts an ugly shade of grey on the character, leading him into conflict with Bond and driving him to use every resource available, even at the expense of keeping the Prime Minister out of the loop and the world on the brink of war, just to eradicate Heracles once and for all. Safin’s jump from wanting revenge against Spectre to destroying most of the world’s population is quite the leap, but he is fully prepared to do this and has more than enough resources to pull it off; how he has these resources isn’t really explained (I guess he appropriated them from Spectre?) but he does sport a suitably ominous repurposes World War Two base as his headquarters and apparently has a background in using poisonous and otherwise toxic plants in his research. This only bolsters his nanobot technology and, while he is far from a physical threat to Bond, actually ends up making him Bond’s most formidable adversary ever as he’s able to infect Bond with nanobots that make his touch lethal to Madeline, effectively destroying any hope he could have of a normal life with her in the process.

To ensure the safety of his love, his child, and the entire world, Bond is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice.

The movie may not have time to die, but the characters certainly do! As mentioned, Felix is the first to go in an emotionally charged scene that sees Bond desperately trying to haul his friend’s injured body to safety and then being forced to watch him die right in front of his eyes after he succumbs to Nash’s gunshot. Much of his immediate motivation revolves around wanting to avenge and honour Felix’s death, though I do think it might have had even more impact if Felix had joined Bond and Paloma on their mission (or even, dare I say it, replaced Paloma entirely) just so we could have seen the two interacting a little bit more and working together in the field. Blofeld also lives to die another day as, despite Bond’s best efforts to ensure that he has a long and unhappy existence rotting away in prison, Safin succeeds in offing the Spectre head through his proxies. I wasn’t exactly blown away by Waltz’s performance in the role, but I do have a fondness for the character’s iconography and impact on the franchise, so it was a bit disappointing to see him brought in as a Doctor Hannibal Lecter-type (Anthony Hopkins) character only to be killed off in anticlimactic fashion. Finally, believe it or not, No Time to Die actually has the balls to kill off the iconic superspy! All throughout the movie, Bond experiences and cheats death at every turn (he survives at least two explosions at close range with minimal damage beyond impaired hearing) and has been assumed dead for at least five years, but No Time to Die finds the character in a position where he’s finally achieved a sense of happiness that he had been searching for since the days of Casino Royale. However, his past haunts him so much that he immediately believes that Madeline has betrayed him, which costs him valuable time with her, and the two quickly rekindle their romance once they reunite, but, more crucially, means he misses out on experiencing fatherhood as he finds Madeline has sired his child, Mathilde (Lisa-Dorah Sonnet). While she’s initially stated to not be his, it’s pretty obvious that she is, even to Bond, and he makes it a priority to rescue her, and Madeline, from Safin after he and Nomi infiltrate his base to shut down his operation. While successful, Bond is injured by multiple gunshots and drawn into a physical altercation with Safin, which sees him brutally snap the terrorist’s arm but being infected with nanobots that will kill Madeline and Mathilde if he touches them. After executing Safin, Bond is forced to stay behind on the island and open the blast doors so that the military’s missile strike will destroy the facility, bidding a heartfelt farewell to Madeline before being killed in the bombardment. In the aftermath, his life and sacrifice are toasted by M, Nomi, Q, and Moneypenny while Madeline prepares to regale her daughter with stories of her father. I kind of suspected that this might happen given the trailers and Craig’s desire to step away from the role, but also thought that the character would simply fake his death to finally retire from his violent life and be succeeded by Nomi, but the film actually went all-in with finishing off the character in perhaps the most dramatic way possible that hit with an impact I honestly wasn’t expecting.

The Summary:
No Time to Die is another strong effort in the Daniel Craig-era of James Bond movies; since his Bond films have all largely been sequential, it’s definitely advisable to be somewhat familiar with his previous outings as the character since the entire film is framed as a celebration of Bond’s life and career and a swansong not just to Craig but the character itself. Never before has a James Bond film positioned the renowned superspy in such an uncharacteristic position where he is largely retired from active service and focused entirely on living a normal life as the world passes him by, and his return to action seems to reinvigorate not just the character but those around him as well, with many of his allies excited to be working alongside him once again. Safin starts off as a strong and visually intriguing character, before descending into cliché Bond villainy and plotting to destroy the world for tenuous reasons, and Blofeld’s big return may be largely squandered but these issues are largely secondary compared to the continued character study into Bond’s emotional journey. Craig’s Bond is probably to most developed and complex of all the Bonds since we’ve witnessed his tumultuous and tragic evolution into an impassive spy and his struggle to reconcile his duty with his desire to lay down his guns, and all of this culminates in his stunned discovery that he has a child out their in a world and something more tangible worth fighting, and dying, for. The execution of Bond’s ultimate end may not land well for some; yes, it’s overly dramatic and reminded me of the overblown farewells modern-day Doctor Who actors give when they leave the role, and leaves a lot of questions regarding the series going forward. Will they recast and reboot again, or will they try and continue the story in this world with Nomi as the new 007? It’s hard to tell, and the film may end up being overshadowed by being “the one where Bond dies”, but I felt that it was an emotional and poignant journey and end for the character, and that the film was a strong and enjoyable outing throughout, and I’m excited to see where the series goes next if they do recast.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Have you seen No Time to Die? If so, what did you think to it and where would you rank it against other James Bond films, especially Daniel Craig’s earlier efforts? What did you think to Safin, his characterisation and his plot, and Blofeld’s brief return? Were you impressed by Nomi and would you like to see her get her own solo film as 007 going forward? Which of the character’s deaths was the most surprising and memorable for you and what did you think to the decision to kill Bond off? Are you pissed off that I spoiled the entire film rather than dancing around the plot? What is your favourite James Bond film and who would you like to see cast in the role someday? Whatever you thought about No Time to Die, sign up to leave a comment below or leave a response on my social media.

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