1/4, 2020s, Action, Cary Joji Fukunaga, James Bond, Review

No Time to Die

No Time to Die (2021) - IMDb

#21 in my Ranking of the James Bond Franchise.

Well, that was not very good.

This is a movie that feels like it was written by committee with anything resembling a central idea having been diluted to nothing. I could be okay with that if the film, Cary Fukunaga’s No Time to Die, Daniel Craig’s last outing as the secret agent James Bond, operated on some basic entertaining level, but the committee-like script destroys any sense of structure to the story, creating stops and starts that never feel right while the story itself keeps feeling like its beginning at different points. The emotional connection is contrived and weak which undermines the supposedly emotional ending of the film. This is…a giant mess and one of the worst Bond films. Not the worst, but it’s pretty close.

The desire to have all of the Craig films be some giant interconnected puzzle was always a half-hearted effort that started in the previous film, Spectre, and the continuation of the effort here is borderline embarrassing. After an opening showing a young French girl escaping an assassin when he takes pity on her and pulls her out of a frozen lake (taken from a line of dialogue in the previous film), we get Bond (Craig) and Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), the girl from the last movie, enjoying time together in Italy. They are in love, and the movie spends very little time trying to convince us before Madeleine is telling Bond that they will never be happy together as long as Bond is still obsessing over Vesper Lynd. I mean…what? If we’re going to treat these five movies as one long story, then we have to consider the idea that Bond’s dismissal of Lynd’s death at the end of Casino Royale was final, and…um…that his letting go of his rage at her death at the end of Quantum of Solace was also final. She hadn’t been mentioned in Skyfall (which felt like it happened years, maybe even more than a decade, after Quantum ended) and only mentioned in a single line of dialogue in Spectre by someone else. This is the beginning of an effort to have Craig’s Bond say goodbye to the franchise as a whole, and it quite simply does not work.

At Lynd’s grave, Bond is attacked by Spectre, and he blames Madeleine. When they get away, he puts her on a train and promises to never see her again before we get our title sequence and a jump ahead by five years. Why this jump of five years? To give Bond a child is why. He doesn’t know about it yet, though. In the meantime he’s retired, and his 007 moniker has been passed on by M (Ralph Fiennes) to Nomi (Lashana Lynch). When a mysterious figure organizes a raid on a top-secret British biolab and steals a DNA-targeting weapon and defected Russian scientist (David Dencik), the uncooperative CIA and MI6 are both on the trail that starts in Santiago, Cuba. The American agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) invites Bond along on the mission, and the movie missteps heavily.

With this being the Bond farewell tour, he’s saying goodbye to every major figure in the franchise including Leiter. So, with whom does Bond spend most of his Cuba time with? Paloma (Ana de Armas), a new secret agent who looks great in a slinky dress, kicks some butt, and then vanishes from the movie completely. This mission should have been done with Leiter, so they could have had one final hurrah before Leiter dies. Instead, it’s with a throwaway character who doesn’t matter. The other problem with this scene is that it’s the closing of the chapter on SPECTRE as an organization with all of members showing up to a birthday bash for Ernst Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) who is in a maximum security prison in London and observing the events through a bionic eye that he can see through…somehow. I dunno. It doesn’t matter. This movie is stupid. The larger problem is that since SPECTRE is not actually the antagonist of this film, dedicating a large set piece to them after a large set piece that sets them up as the villain. This movie is just ambling from one sequence to the next without any real clear narrative drive.

Leiter is betrayed, Bond loses the scientist, and Bond goes back home to London to visit MI6 and M as a visitor. It’s here where we learn that M is behind the entire project of the DNA weapon that the movie feels like it’s actually beginning, more than an hour into the film. Bond must get in to talk to Blofeld to figure out what may be happening, who may be behind it all, and yet Blofeld will only talk to his therapist, Madeleine. So, our hero and his lady meet once again and they’re distant and borderline antagonistic towards each other. Yeah, this is a great love story.

Madeleine, though, has been roped into the plot of Safin (Rami Malek) by using a perfume laced with the DNA nanobots designed to kill Blofeld, which Bond touches, and then infects Blofeld with in their meeting. Again…Blofeld is not the antagonist to this movie, and we get an extended sequence, almost halfway through this interminable 170 minutes, where he ends up dying while giving up the littlest bit of information that Madeleine and Safin are connected, information that Madeleine has almost told Bond herself before. This is just another entry in the farewell tour occupying screen time, and it barely makes any sense.

Madeleine flees to her mother’s old house in Scandinavia with Bond in pursuit where he meets his daughter whom Madeleine insists is not his. After a quick profession of deep love between the two, they’re found out and must flee. The effort is protracted and ultimately pointless when Safin captures both Madeleine and the girl, fleeing to his island base.

I think it’s easy to see the weird mix that’s going on here in terms of tone, in addition to all the structural and thematic issues at play. The movie is taking some of the more ridiculous elements of the franchise (bionic eyes, super cars, island hideouts) and telling them in the most mundane manner to match with the more sober assessment of Bond’s ending. It’s such an odd combination that when Bond uses his EMP watch to blow up the bionic eye in the head of the bad guy he’s choking and he lets out a bon mot, it’s just some of the most bizarre stuff in the movie. I think it’s pretty obvious that Barbara Broccoli has a huge soft spot for the Moore era films, and she ultimately has to push it in whether it fits or not. Or maybe it’s a Fukunaga thing, I don’t know. And that points to the problem of lack of authorial intent here. The movie’s all over the place.

Paloma was written in, not by the film’s lead screenwriter, but by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (presumably at Craig’s insistence) in order to add more kickass female whether it fit or not. It ultimately doesn’t because it interrupts the overall point of the whole sequence, Bond saying goodbye to Felix. Nomi feels like a sop to some slice of the audience that wants a female James Bond, but she’s ultimately pointless, contributing shockingly little to the movement of the plot or advancement of any thematic ideas despite being in about half the film. Her big moment is when she kicks a physically unimposing man into a vat of acid and has a quip that plays on the movie’s title. He doesn’t matter by that point in the film, and if he had simply disappeared no one would have complained. Instead, though, they give his death to Nomi. The whole subplot with SPECTRE, including Blofeld, is the sort of thing that gets resolved in a movie’s first act to quickly establish the danger of the new bad guy, and instead it takes up half the film.

And then there’s Safin. Malek isn’t really bad as Safin, but he’s largely unremarkable. I remember reading an interview with Fukunaga that said that he and Malek worked really hard to make him as bland as possible, I mean, they worked really hard to make sure he had an accent that couldn’t be tied to any country. Really, it amounts to Malek whispering through pretty much all of his lines, and they’re almost all pretentious nonsense. He’s introduced at about the halfway mark and doesn’t actually get real screentime until the final act is spooling up. His big sit down with Bond is filled with stuff about how they’re two sides of the same coin, and yet no effort has been made to actually establish that in any way. It’s supposedly, I have to guess here, because they both kill people, the laziest of ways to try and draw this contrast. The only time in the franchise this worked was with The Man with the Golden Gun, and the antagonist actually was an alternate version of Bond, another one on one killer. It’s also so late in the film to bring up this kind of idea considering the mess of stuff that’s come before that it can’t really stick any landing, especially when it has nothing to do with anything that’s come before.

This movie is a disaster. There’s no one responsible for the narrative, and what ends up happening is that, much like in the Lethal Weapon sequels, the script becomes about pleasing different stakeholders rather than telling an interesting story. The big finale is built on this idea of emotional connection that the movie only half-heartedly tries to accomplish and fails at that. A random death for Bond would have probably worked better.

There are moments here are there that work, though. There’s a cool little bit in the finale when Bond turns around quickly to shoot someone behind him that mimics that gun barrel bit from the openings. The action is generally well done, it just happens randomly and without any real impact. Ana de Armas is fun as Paloma despite the general pointlessness of her character. Jamaica looks pretty. Hans Zimmer’s score is pretty vigorous. That’s honestly about it, though.

I liked Craig’s tenure as Bond, but this is honestly a Bond adventure I never need to see again.

Rating: 1/4

1 thought on “No Time to Die”

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