Sundays with Bond, James Bond • Part 5 …

Welcome to Sundays with Bond … James Bond! Over the next five weeks, as we ramp up to the (hopeful) premiere of the 25th James Bond Movie, No Time to Die, I’ll be looking back at Daniel Craig’s illustrious career as British Secret Service agent 007. I’m rewatching all four of his previous films and writing about them here. Please follow along for my stirred (but never shaken) look back at Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre, and—in early October—No Time to Die.


No Time To Die (2021)
I finally saw No Time to Die. Two years after the original release date, almost six years after the last Daniel Craig James Bond movie (Spectre), it’s finally out in the world, and I can best describe it as a hot mess. You’d think with so much time to fiddle with it, they might have honed it and refined it and pared it down (it’s 2 hours and 43 minutes long), but I guess it was No Time to Die, not No Time to Edit.

It’s difficult to talk about this movie without giving too much away, so if you haven’t seen it and want to, please stop here at the big red graphic below. If you have seen it—or just plain don’t care—read on. As the official 007 social media accounts say “See the film, keep the secrets.” Well, I’m going to write honestly about the movie and my feelings about it, so … here’s a 007-second warning.

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YOU’VE BEEN WARNED, MR. BOND!

Sometimes I have these long, convoluted dreams that seem torn out of a James Bond movie. That’s exactly what No Time to Die felt like to me, one of those dreams, moving quickly from set piece to set piece and not always making sense in between. I believe NTTD is the first Bond film to be directed by a non-Brit (Cary Joji Fukunaga), and somehow it feels like a different sensibility, a different point of view. There are parts of it that are great and parts not-so-great, but when you put them all together, it somehow doesn’t quite mesh. It’s lovely to look at, but just not quite there, kind of like the old saying, “Nice house, nobody home.”

Yes, a lot of the rumors are true. Nomi, played by Captain Marvel‘s Lashana Lynch, the new MI6 00 agent is really 007. Yes, Bond and Madeleine Swan have a daughter. And the most confounding rumor, the one that I thought would never happen, happens. Supposedly director Danny Boyle left this film (another reason for the long delay between Spectre and No Time to Die) because he wanted to kill Bond off at the end of this film and the producers wouldn’t let him. Well, I’m not going to bury the lede: Bond dies, but if you sit through the credits (which move along fairly quickly), the one thing you need to know is there at the very end, in all capital letters and stark white-on-black type: JAMES BOND WILL RETURN. James Bond is dead … long live James Bond.

It’s difficult to even try to sum up the plot of NTTD … it involves a bad guy, Safin, played by Rami Malek, who is trying to obliterate a significant number of people in the world with a biological weapon that can be programmed to target specific DNA. Why does he want to do this? We’re never told, other than a throwaway line that he wants to kill people, like Bond does, and be “a little tidier.” There’s an allusion to maybe this being racially-motivated; when the scientist who developed this weapon tells Nomi that her entire race could be eliminated (and Nomi promptly kills him), maybe that’s a hint to the possible motivation for this new horror. But Malek’s Safin remains a mystery throughout most of the film, sometimes doing something “good,” like eliminating all of Spectre by targeting them at a meeting in a Cuba to celebrate the birthday of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (once again played by Christoph Waltz, still more creepy than menacing, who also meets his definitive end). Safin is, sadly, just another wimpy Bond villain, a soft-spoken whisper of a man. It’s almost like Malek asked if he could have some kind of disfigurement to make him seem more of a threat, but his scarred face just makes him creepy, like Blofeld’s missing eye (and lack of socks with loafers in Spectre). Safin is also AWOL for a large part of the film. He appears in the opening scene, something which relates to an incident Madeleine talks about in Spectre, when a man came to her house to kill her father, Mr. White. It’s a neat tie-in to the previous film, but then we don’t seen Safin for another hour or so, when he turns up in Madeleine’s office as a possible psychiatric patient.

The original No Time to Die British Quad poster, released, it seems, a lifetime ago.

The film jumps from that opening scene when Madeleine was around nine years old to her and Bond in Italy, directly after the ending of Spectre. Bond goes to visit the grave of Vesper Lynd to finally put that sad affair behind him and is attacked by Spectre agents, which results in a chase scene through the streets of a small Italian town, ending with Bond putting Madeleine on a train, feeling she has betrayed him. The film than cuts to the Billie Eilish song over the traditional animated opening credits sequence and then it’s five years later and Bond is living in Jamaica and called out of retirement by his old friend, CIA agent Felix Leiter, along with newcomer Logan Ash, played by one of the whitest white men ever, Billy Magnussen; the man literally screams frat house bro. Leiter gets Bond to pursue a rogue scientist who has developed the biological weapon that targets DNA (explained in a scene that my DNA researcher friend, sitting next to me, snickered at). The scientist is also pursued by MI6 and that’s when we meet the new 007, Nomi. Bond is sent to Cuba by Leiter and joined by fellow CIA agent Paloma, played by Ana de Armas in a sequence that’s the highlight of the film. (Bring on the Paloma spinoff film and throw in Nomi for good measure, please.) Eventually, all roads lead to Safin and his secret island lair and the rest, as they say, is history.

There’s a lot of around the world travel in NTTD, a hallmark of every Bond film. It careens from Norway to Italy to Jamaica to London to Cuba (actually an amazing set built at the 007 soundstage at Pinewood Studios in England) and eventually ends up at the requisite super-villain secret island somewhere between Japan and Russia. It’s a beautiful film to look at, sumptuously shot and crisply edited. But some of the scenes that were revealed in early trailers for NTTD look better in the trailers than they do in the final film. The motorcycle scene where Bond races up an incredible slope onto a bridge, for example … or the Aston Martin DB5 doing a deadly donut while its machine guns decimate the Spectre thugs trying to kill Bond and Madeleine in an Italian city square. They seem limited and go by far too quickly in the actual movie, when in the trailers they seemed to be much more distinct moments in time. To be honest, they were scenes that made me very excited to see this movie, and very disappointed once I did, kind of like, “Is that all there is?”

There’s not a lot to do for the usual 007 movie characters. M (Ralph Fiennes) has become a grouchy old man. Q (Ben Whishaw) has a bit more to do in helping both 007s navigate Safin’s hidden lair. Poor Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) is reduced to just opening and closing M’s upholstered office door. And Tanner (Rory Kinnear) just runs in and out with exposition every once in a while (“There’s been a development, sir.”). Carryover from Spectre Madeleine Swan (Lea Seydoux) has a much more rounded and ballsy character in this film, if only for the reason of being a mom. NTTF is as much her story as Bond’s, if not more so. Blofeld also reappears in a revealing scene which reinforces the whole “I am the cause of all your misery” aspect of the Bond-Blofeld relationship. Jeffrey Wright returns as Felix Leiter after a two-movie absence only to also have a definitive end to his character. And what about Bond himself? Well, as Craig put it recently, he’s fine with being known as the “grumpy Bond,” and he certainly seems to be that in NTTD. I’m not quite sure how a former secret agent can live in such sumptuous secrecy in Jamaica without MI6 knowing exactly where he is (M remarks Bond was so far undercover they thought he was dead), but Felix has no problems finding him.

The film is at least a half-hour too long, and if I had my druthers, I would have eliminated the whole later Norway sequence where Bond meets his daughter (even though Madeleine insists the girl is not his). While it contains a fairly-thrilling car chase, it’s an unnecessary and lengthy detour. It could have just as easily been done with Madeleine showing up at Bond’s door with little Mathilde, eliminating both travel time and that car chase. And Bond’s final confrontation with Safin, where the villain reveals how Bond is now poisoned with the DNA from Madeleine and Mathilde, is anti-climactic to say the least, if a bit baffling.

(By the way, I realize my writing here is jumping all over the place, but I feel it reflects the tone of No Time to Die. I see this huge map of the world with pushpins in all the locations and bright red thread connecting them to each other: “And now we go to Cuba, and then we go to …” If the movie seems chaotic and unfocused at times, so do I in my analysis of it.)

Nomi (Lashana Lynch) and Paloma (Ana de Armas) redefine women’s roles in Bond movies. I’m not sure how much of that is Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s doing.

If I had to rank NTTD with the other four Daniel Craig films, I’d put it just slightly ahead of Spectre as my third favorite one. First would be Skyfall, then Casino Royale in a very close second (both at 95+ points on a 100-point Rotten Tomatoes-like scale). Then would come NTTD with maybe 65 points, then Spectre with maybe 60, then Quantum of Solace somewhere in the high 40s. But that’s just me; your mileage (and points) may vary.

Is it a satisfying end to the Daniel Craig as Bond saga? Yes and no. Did there really have to be a connected story, or is that something that the producers felt needed to happen in a world with connected Jason Bourne films, and more importantly, the much-coveted shared Marvel Universe? I don’t think it matters with 007; the Bond films have always been one-offs. Skyfall and Casino Royale are both excellent standalone films. But there is something satisfying, I suppose, to Daniel Craig having such a definitive end as James Bond. It certainly clears the deck for a new Bond and maybe once again a reinvention of who and what 007 means in the modern world. Craig had entered into the danger zone of becoming a dinosaur in his own franchise, not as increasingly irrelevant and silly as Roger Moore became in films like Octopussy and A View to a Kill, but he definitely shows his age in NTTD. He’s much better suited to the mental gymnastics of a detective like Benoit Blanc in Knives Out (and its two sequels to come). And I have to congratulate Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson in having the guts to kill off Bond. It’s an unprecedented move and something that was totally unexpected to me.

Was No Time to Die worth the wait? I suppose just about any James Bond film (except the last two by both Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan) is worth seeing at least once. I’ll have to see NTTD again in a few weeks (or months) to see how I really feel about it. I liked Craig, of course, and I felt the additions of both Paloma and Nomi were great. Some of the action sequences were great, too. There’s a lot of “bigness” to this Bond, just not a lot of substance. It is sort of an anticlimactic ending for this portion of the greater Bond story, one that totally reinvented and reinvigorated a character that, by all rights, should have ended with the death of the Cold War. But evidently Bond films, like diamonds, are forever.


As part of my work for the Comic-Con Museum, I hosted a Zoom discussion with Mark A. Altman and Ed Gross about their Bond book, Nobody Does It Better: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized History of James Bond. If for some reason the linked video below disappears, go to YouTube.com and search Comic-Con Museum James Bond.

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