Cary Joji Fukunaga’s “No Time to Die” isn’t perfect by any means, but its somehow the most fun to be had in a Bond flick since “Die Another Day” in 2002. In terms of ticking the Bond boxes (cool cars, beautiful women, exotic locations, impeccable suits, a villain with a creepy accent and physical disfigurement, impressive stunts and fight scenes, a plot to take over the world, some witty one liners and at least one vodka martini), “No Time to Die” comes close to ticking all of them! However, while spy action films aren’t exactly known for air tight storylines and logical motivations, the storyline and characters in “No Time to Die” just unequivocally make no sense at all. And not in a “that laser probably couldn’t blow up the whole world” kind of way, more in a “where did that horse come from and how does he know how to operate a laser at all without fingers” kind of way. It’s also probably the least like the other Daniel Craig Bond films out of all of them which may turn off some fans, but I actually prefer the more playful and less gritty take that the earlier flicks (and novels too) had taken. And if you haven’t seen this yet, hold off until you watch it because I’ll be dishing out a few spoilers.
The film opens with a flashback to when Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) is a little girl and witnesses her mother get murdered by the last surviving member of a family that Madeleine’s father had assassinated as a member of Spectre, with the Bond villain-esque name of Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek). For an unknown reason, he lets her live. We then return to present day, and Bond (Daniel Craig) and Swann are in the throws of their new romance in 100% Egyptian cotton against the dazzling blue of the Mediterranean, but when Bond is nearly assassinated by Spectre, he suspects Swann’s involvement and puts her on a train, never to see her again. Five years later, Bond has left active service with MI6, but is recruited by the CIA to locate a kidnapped Russian scientist who has developed a bioweapon containing nanobots which can specifically infect a target based on their DNA. Bond rejoins MI6 (where there is bizarrely a new 007 agent who has replaced Bond since he left (Lashana Lynch) but isn’t cool, suave or even remotely a good agent but is somehow just always there to remind Bond that she’s 007 now and he’s not) and with Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Q (Ben Whishaw) and Swann, Bond must infiltrate Safin’s creepy island headquarters where he is developing the bioweapon and cultivating a garden of poisonous flowers, stop the bad guy, get the girl and save the world!
As I said, this movie’s key attraction more than anything else is that it’s fun. Bond has regained some of his cheekiness and British charm that has been somewhat missing in Craig’s other films and it’s a welcome change of pace. The opening scenes in Italy with Bond being chased by bad guys on his motorbike and then driving round and round in circles in his kitted out Rolls Royce with a machine gun in the bonnet are about as Bond as you can get. There’s later a sequence in Cuba in which Bond is recruited by the CIA to retrieve the Russian scientist and is joined by CIA agent Paloma (Ana de Armas) and in terms of pure, old fashioned James Bond entertainment value, it’s pitch perfect. It’s a lot more choreographed and stylistic than the bleak and brutal sequences that we’re used to with Craig’s Bond; usually we would be expecting for Bond to snap his assailant’s forearm in half and then hear the gurgling in the assassin’s throat as he chokes on his own blood, while here, Paloma and Bond pause in between ass kicking baddies to down martinis. But then Paloma is gone never to be seen again, and we’re stuck with Madeleine Swann and her marble face which is somehow incapable of showing emotion. This is what doesn’t sit right with me; if this is the woman that is going to turn Bond into a monogamous family man and to make him forget about Vesper (Eva Green) from “Casino Royale”, and make Bond question his life so much that he starts delivering introspective, philosophical monologues about how all the pain in his life was worth it for five minutes with her, then surely they could have given us someone with more personality than a Volvo 940! The romance between Bond and Vesper was handled so well, and I could understand him giving up the MI6 life for her. For him to do so for Madeleine, I just didn’t buy it.
The same can be said for the villain; Rami Malek seems like a slam dunk to play a Bond villain, considering how weird and creepy the guy is in real life anyway without the trademark Bond villain face impairment. Here though, he seems completely redundant. Especially since Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is still alive and well and has been locked up in a special government facility as a kind of German Hannibal Lecter, and is somehow controlling Spectre from inside the prison, which could have been a really cool story if they went further down that road! Why then all of a sudden is Safin introduced, who saves Madeleine as a kid, and is weirdly obsessed with her, until he’s all of a sudden just, not? Then he’s obsessed with her oddly obedient and quiet 4 year old daughter, then lets her run away because she bites his hand. Then he’s hell bent on destroying the world with his bioweapon, for no real reason at all (usually the reasons for world domination are pretty superficial, but at least the old school Bond villains stood by their principles!). Then he and Bond face off, and it’s seriously anticlimactic. And that’s that. Nothing about this character fits, and if he’s the one who’s going to be responsible for the death one of the most iconic characters in film or literature, then surely you’re going to give Bond a worthy adversary! When you think about the most famous Bond villains of all time (Dr. No, Goldfinger, General Orlov) even those more recent ones in the Craig films (Le Chiffre, Raoul Silva), it seems a bit of a cop out for Bond to die without a proper showdown at the hands of Freddy Mercury.
In saying all that, I did enjoy “No Time to Die”. It’s probably not the ideal send off for Craig but it’s at least an enjoyable one which is going to largely satisfy its target audience. Its sometimes cheeky and kitch in the old school Bond style, but then often solemn and introspective more in keeping with Craig’s interpretation of the character. It did make me excited to see who the new Bond is going to be and what version of 007 will we see next time? Whoever it is, I hope they see this film as a reminder of how much fun this franchise can really be. James Bond is something that doesn’t necessarily need to depict the bleak reality of the world of espionage, sometimes its just fun to see a cool spy wearing a nice suit drive a cool car and do cool karate moves on the bad guy while saying cool one liners and then kiss a beautiful woman and for us not have to think too much more about it.
By Jock Lehman