No Time to Die is not a bad film. Strip away the CGI and expensive appearance and you have an old fashioned spy film: too serious, incomprehensible and full of unrestrained violence. No Time to Die is dressed up for the new world order.
Full disclosure: I grew up watching Bond films and own most of them. I am a fan of the Connery Bond films and the first few Moore films. Other Bond films, less so.
Every transition to a new Bond actor has its own story. Daniel Craig is hailed as a top Bond actor, although for me, somewhat of a vanilla James Bond. I don’t mean to dismiss him or not respect his talent, he is a fine actor. Bond needed reset and Craig did a fantastic job of turning around the character. His persona and the return to a more serious Bond was necessary. Craig is brooding, muscular and stone-faced most of the time. His occasional attempt at dry humor does hang limply in the air. After watching his films I cannot really tell you much about his version of Bond, other than he’s extremely loyal. What did I miss?
For such an important franchise film, the screenplay of No Time to Die is by the formula. The dialogue is uninspired and rather flat. The film is nicely choreographed, implausible with a mind-numbing body count. There are the usual twists and turns, colorful villains, exotic locales, beautiful people and rich production value. The film wants you to believe it is clever storytelling, but confusing is not a substitute for clever and inspiring. Screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz set the bar pretty high for originality Bond films. The franchise needs then, but dead men write no tales, or screenplays.
I have stated this in other blogs, but is James Bond relevant in this millennium? We got by with Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt, who did not have the Cold War or the male chauvinist baggage.
“I think that’s bollocks. I think he’s absolutely relevant now. It has just got to grow,” No Time to Die co-screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge told the Independent in 2019. “It has just got to evolve, and the important thing is that the film treats the women properly.”
No Time to Die of course paints fantasy with a realism eye dropper. Of course, one suspends belief watching James Bond, but the challenge for filmmakers is to complete with The Rock, Vin Diesel and a myriad of comic book superheroes.
Since this film has been in release for months, I won’t take any responsibility for spoilers, but longtime CIA operative Felix Leiter is killed in the film. This character was originated by Jack Lord in Dr. No, and concludes with Jeffrey Wright, and numerous other actors along the way. Bond and Lieter begin their relationship as cautious competitors, but quickly develop a respect and later a closeness.
Leiter’s death is but one indication that the tone in No Time to Die is dialed a bit more more serious than the past few films in the series and when you get to the last minutes in the film you see why.
Craig explains what’s at stake for Bond, who is lured from retirement by various reasons. Duty? Loyalty? Love? Fate? Checking all the boxes.
“I think the important thing was that we all try to create a situation of tragedy. The idea that there’s an insurmountable problem, there’s a greater force at play, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. And the greater force being Savin’s weapon. And that it [kills] the only thing that Bond wants in life, is to be with the people he loves and that he can’t be with them, and therefore, there’s nothing worth living for.” – Daniel Craig
Music is a big deal in a Bond film and no one has topped John Barry. The theme song is sung and co-written by Billie Eilish, moody and breathy, seems to telegraph a somber storyline. So far, the song has picked up Grammy and Golden Globe Awards. Good, but not Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Nancy Sinatra or Paul McCartney great. Maybe I will do a ranking of James Bond themes.
Even the original Monty Norman Bond theme makes a brief appearance in No Time to Die. All things Bond are new again, although with a contemporary veneer. The challenge of Bond is to be faithful to the Bond family crest of Ian Fleming’s character, yet relevant in the new world order, be it whatever year the next film is made.
Visiting James Bond is like visiting Star Trek. Although Star Trek grew into different television series and films, one can trace the lineage back to the original television series. In Dr. No, the chessboard was established, but the chess pieces would change as would the players. Ironic how in From Russia With Love (1963) one of the villains was a world class chess player. East vs West, what’s old is new again. As long as there is weaponized evil, James Bond will have a match to play.