No Time to Die (2021)


When Casino Royale finally got the big-screen treatment like all the other original James Bond books it was to introduce the latest in a number of actors that had taken on the role: Daniel Craig.  Confusingly, some actors, such as Judi Dench as M, were still held over from the Pierce Brosnan years, but largely the slate was wiped clean and we met Bond, not as an agent who had been through years of adventures, but shortly after receiving his 007 designation.

The main portions of the book were used, though greatly altered since Ian Fleming wrote it during the Cold War and the players were not Quantum or S.P.E.C.T.R.E., but the KGB and MI6.  Originally for the movie version a shady organization called Quantum was at the heart of everything but, after Kevin McClory passed and his estate decided to no longer hold many of the most memorable Bond characters and plots hostage, we were introduced to Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and his worldwide terrorist organization.  Unlike most of the Bond series, which rarely kept much continuity from film to film and in many cases had different actors playing recurring supporting characters every film, the movies of the Daniel Craig era all followed a designated story.  

While Craig hinted that the story may have ended with Spectre, he agreed to return for one last go as Bond in No Time to Die.  Problem was the years were passing and the world was changing, and supposedly five or six different scripts came and went, as well as director Danny Boyle.  Cary Joji Fukunaga took it over and adjusted existing work by Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade in order to bring a satisfying finale to to the series.  For the large part he succeeded in doing so. 

James Bond has retired from MI6 and married Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of a former S.P.E.C.T.R.E. operative that helped him bring Blofeld to justice.  While in Italy he visits the grave of Vesper Lynd, which turns out to be booby-trapped.  Surviving, he barely escapes an assassin named Primo (Dali Benssalah) and, returning, finds Madeleine already packed and ready to go.  Thinking she set him up he puts her on a train and goes into hiding.

Five years later he is contacted at his home in Jamaica by CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) after a designer virus, codenamed Project Heracles, is stolen from a secret lab in London along with its creator, Valdo Obruchev (Dennis Dencik).  He is also contacted by the new 007, a woman named Nomi (Lashana Lynch), who tells him to steer clear of the situation.  Instead, he travels to Santiago de Cuba and meets with Leiter's Cuban contact, Paloma (Ana de Armas), and walks right into a gathering of top level members of S.P.E.C.T.R.E.  However, their attempt to kill Bond results in their deaths instead. Behind it all is a man named Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) who had his own reasons for wanting to see Blofeld's organization destroyed.  He also has his own plans for using Heracles as well. 

This is definitely one of the, if not the longest, James Bond film since they first hit the screen back in 1964.  Before much of the plot was known it seemed that there was a definitive attempt to separate this movie from the rest, but that seems to have just been a ploy to drum up some controversy.  Rather, No Time to Die has a number of references to Dr. No (including part of its title sequence) and is heavily influenced by On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  The latter surprised me because, although reevaluated in recent years, that movie was often considered one of the biggest failures of the Bond series, and it was certainly the one that originally broke the formula of the Sean Connery films that came before it.  The fact that it was so different, and had an emotional ending (borrowed from the ending of the original novel of Casino Royale) is largely why it now has more impact than it did at the time, where almost everyone was focused on the change in actor from Connery to George Lazenby. 

No Time to Die also dares to be different, in many ways mirroring events that happened in On Her Majesty's Secret Service while fitting in perfectly with the story perpetuated by the other Daniel Craig Bond films.  Unlike the Roger Moore years, where Moore had been trying to get out for awhile because he thought he was too old to play the role despite EON Productions trying to pretend he wasn't getting any older, Craig was prepared to exit once he decided he was beyond a reasonable age to play the role.  In fact, Bond's age had started to become an issue in Spectre, and part of why the character himself walked away from his position.  Giving Bond an actual wife and ending the womanizing was just a smart thing to do at this point; Timothy Dalton, way back in The Living Daylights, had been trying to temper that trope, and it was refreshing to see that women were now secret agents as well.

The latter, though, almost sank this entry at one point, however I think there was too much response to the public backlash.  Original previews of No Time to Die emphasized Lashana Lynch's Nomi taking over the 007 designation, and much of the original marketing seemed to emphasize that aspect.  Rather than making MI6 more realistic in the modern world it was presented in a way where it appeared to be an attempt to emasculate Bond.  It seems obvious after watching No Time to Die that this was, like a lot of these situations, blown out of proportion.  Using Bond as a strawman for the patriarchy does not seem to have been the intent of Purvis, Wade or Fukunaga at any point.  Rather the intent was to create some in-universe tension, which seems to be more a sense of insecurity from Nomi instead of from Bond.  That said, this early backlash seems to unfortunately have made Lynch's role in the movie smaller.  She's a good actress, she's believable as a secret agent (at least in the Bond universe) and may just be an interesting character if she had been in the movie more.  

Another actor I wish had more time was Ana de Armas.  Paloma is beautiful, capable and, true to a movie that even forgoes the trademark nude dancing girls in the title sequence, is not a hit-it and quit-it conquest for Bond.  Instead she is professional and arguably has the best action sequence in the movie, second only to the pre-credit sequence.  While Craig may get to be in the longest scene, battling with Safin's henchmen, the finale never reaches the excitement of Paloma helping James escape Blofeld's leftovers in Cuba.  Too bad she's only around for a short time, as I would love to see an entire spinoff centered just on her. 

Léa Seydoux gets to be James Bond's emotional anchor this time around as well as the only woman he truly has eyes for, particularly after they reunite.  The only weak part is Rami Malek, and that's not because he's a weak actor, but because Safin is a poorly written villain.  His politics and motives beyond revenge against Blofeld are murky, and his name has got to be one of the cheesiest in Bond history, right up there with Chu Mi.  Safin himself is little more than a MacGuffin throughout.  It could have been some faceless espionage organization for all the difference it makes, since the true reason for the film to exist, as well as the emotional impact for the audience, comes after Safin is inevitably killed.  I will say, though, that I like how both Bond and Nomi coldly take out their targets when the time comes; that more brutal aspect of MI6, and the 00 agents in particular, has been missing since the Dalton years. 

Cary Joji Fukunaga directs this nicely, though it is obvious there is a determined effort to make sure this doesn't look much different than the previous two movies directed by Sam Mendes.  The plot really isn't much different than many of the Bond films before, with a big bad guy hiding out in a lair and planning to destroy the world, but again that takes a back seat bringing closure to the Daniel Craig era.  The movie is overlong - it could have done what it does in two hours, and they still could have used Lashana Lynch more in that time as well - but it does have the impact it aimed for and is a much better conclusion than Spectre would have been

No Time to Die (2021)
Time: 163 minutes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ana de Armas, Rami Malek, Ralph Fiennes
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga



 

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