Friday, October 15, 2021

Film Review: No Time To Die


Watching the final shot of No Time To Die, I couldn't help but think of how this final moment was a complete inversion of everything that makes Bond movies what they are.

No Time To Die is the 5th film in the Daniel Craig era of the character.  It picks up after the events of Spectre.  Bond is with Madeleine (Lea Seydoux).  Actually, let's take a step backwards.  The movie really begins with a flashback from Madeleine's childhood when a masked man named Safin (Rami Malek) comes to kill her and her mother in revenge for Madeleine's father murdering his family.  It is only after this very long flashback that we get to Bond and Madeleine.  They are visiting the city where Vesper (Bond's love from Casino Royale) is buried.  A turn of events leads to a rift between the two.  Bond then heads into retirement for five years.  He is brought out of retirement when Spectre steals a deadly weapon.  He is contacted by his friend in the CIA Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) to save the world again.  This puts him into conflict with his replacement at MI-6: Naomi (Lashana Lynch) who is also the new 007.  The trail leads him once again to a meeting with the evil Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and then with Safin himself.

Director Cary Joji Fukunga films the movie beautifully.  The action sequences are some of the best since Casino Royale.  The opening chase through the Greek city is fun and inventive.  Fukunga is able to lay out the geography of the scene so that you don't get lost through all of the twists and turns.  He is helped by Craig, who doesn't seem to have aged since Casino Royale.  This is so strange since in his last outing as Bond I thought he was looking a bit too old for the part.  Now, he seems rejuvenated and is just as believable as he was 15 years ago when he started.

I was worried that Lynch's new 007 would be there primarily to take Bond a peg.  Surprisingly, she was a very welcome addition to the series.  She is younger and less relaxed than Bond.  She does throw shade at him constantly.  But instead of it coming off as a not-so-subtle critique of the character by the writers, it develops into a verbal joust between.  And this rivalry develops into a mutual respect.

Malek is a disappointment as Safin.  He is aloof to the point of being robotic.  He also speaks with such a low-flowing voice that I sometimes had trouble making out what he was saying.  There is almost nothing memorable about him as a Bond villain.  Waltz is in the movie for a much briefer time, but he is much more interesting and engaging than anything Safin does, who looks like is constantly about to burst into tears.

This movie is Craig's last outing as Bond.  As a result, the film-makers imbue this movie with a sense of finality.  That is fine, but instead of giving us a sense of emotional closure, it feels like they are burning every bridge behind them and damn the consequences.

The movie is meant to complete the emotional arc of Craig's Bond.  He started as a cold-blooded killer in Casino Royale who almost came to life because of Vesper's love.  But that betrayal hardened him.  Of the course of this series of movies, Bond lost his pseudo-mother in M (Judi Dench) and then found love with Madeleine.  The problem with the latter is that I never completely bought into the relationship.  Spectre did not do a good job of establishing a relationship that could survive two films.  Vesper still looms large because she was in many ways Bond's equal and Eva Green had great chemistry with Craig.  But he and Seydoux never completely sold me.  Heck, Ana de Armas has a brief stint in the movie as a new agent and her chemistry with Craig is much stronger than Seydoux's.  Bond and Madeleine are together because the script requires it for Bond's emotional arc.

This also puts way too much on Madeleine.  As I pointed out, the movie begins not with Bond, but with Madeleine.  This is very out of place in a Bond movie.  Bond films are not ensemble pieces.  The other characters are supporting players in his larger story.  At least that's why I bought my ticket.  But her arc has to be enhanced in order to fully realize the emotional journey Bond must have.  And in this arc we see Bond reduced to a shell of the man he once was.

I am not one of those people who think that characters shouldn't grow and develop.  There are many who feel like Han Solo lost his coolness in Return of the Jedi because of his growing emotional reactions.  But I think that was fine and made sense.  What doesn't work is that Bond is CONSTANTLY talking about his feelings throughout the movie.  The cool and dangerous character is washed away.  In Casino Royale, Craig held his Bond with strong masculine stoicism.  That's why it was so powerful when his affections for Vesper came through.  In that movie when he asks her if what little soul he has left is enough for her, he does it with a manly edge, like a deadly tiger purring in her hand.  But in No Time To Die, he plays the scenes like he is in a romantic melodrama.  We get scenes where Bond pleads in a way that we never want to see the character do.  Again, this would be fine for any other character, but not James Bond.

This brings us to the problem of the ending.




Having taken the character as far as they think they can on his emotional arc, the writers conclude that the only thing do with James Bond at this point is kill him off.

Let me repeat: they kill off James Bond in a James Bond movie.

Why is this a problem?  Several reasons, but the most important is this: They don't have the right to kill James Bond.

Something I've noticed happening with a lot of pop culture heroes across different mediums is that they don't treat them with the proper respect.  That doesn't mean the characters need to be static or cannot be updated and reimagined.  The Bond Franchise itself is a testament to this.  But a lot of modern writers take characters they did not create, they use them to tell a story that is out of character for this creation, and then throw them away.  I saw this in the way Tom King treated characters like Wally West, Adam Strange, and Mister Miracle in the comics.  I saw in the way Rian Johnson treated Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi.  Speaking of that movie, I thought that the exploration of Luke in exile was interesting.  What I objected to was that Johnson's take on Luke ends with a period and not an ellipses.  Johnson made it so that his movie became the final statement on the character.  They do the same thing with Bond here.  

Yes, the franchise will be rebooted.  But knowing this makes the death even cheaper.  

The final shot, as I mentioned, was so out of place in a Bond movie.  Think about the final shot of Casino Royale: there is Bond standing in his sharp suit, gun in hand, in complete control with all of his powers as the epitome of manhood.  This movie ends with two females on a sunset drive talking about Bond in the past tense.  The first film ended with an exciting thrill.  The second ended with same energy as Titanic.  One was a great James Bond movie.  The other was a decent movie.  The action was good, the performance were fine, the plot was interesting, though ran a bit long.

But No Time To Die fails as a James Bond movie.

Even though Quantum of Solace is a terrible movie, it felt much more like Bond that No Time To Die.

When you make a James Bond movie, you are offering your audience a certain experience.  But I would imagine that for most of us, we have no time to watch Bond die.

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