By: Kevin Jordan
The end of an era.
It has been six long, long years since the last James Bond film (Spectre) graced us with its presence. In fact, those years were so long that I forgot that I created a review format for James Bond films. This is a pleasant surprise for me because I was struggling with how I was going to talk about the newest Bond flick, No Time to Die. I also forgot how Spectre had really fallen back into the very standard formula for Bond movies. You know, the one that Austin Powers (among others) makes fun of.
The trick is going to be avoiding spoilers because I think you should see No Time to Die and I really want to talk about it. A friend asked me what I thought of the movie and when I started to talk about my one real criticism, in very general terms mind you, he said all he wanted to know was if I thought it was good or not because he didn’t want the movie spoiled. While that is fair, that isn’t what he asked me and, maybe don’t ask a film critic their opinion of a movie if all you want to know is thumbs up or thumbs down. Plus, the things in a movie that cause my thumb to point in a certain direction are probably wildly different than most people. I mean, I hated John Wick for many of the reasons people liked it. In fact, you probably shouldn’t ask anything at all if you are worried about someone else’s opinion coloring your idea of the movie before you see it. In other words, run away from this review until you’ve seen the movie.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk No Time to Die, with just a dash of MILD SPOILERS. Leave now or forever hold your peace.
After the ghastly opening number of Spectre, Billie Eilish gives us “No Time to Die,” a haunting song in the vein of Adele’s “Skyfall” that foreshadows the general mood of the movie. Considering this is definitely, I promise, we swear this time, Daniel Craig’s last turn as James Bond, it’s a very good song for Craig’s, er, swan song.
The nanobots are back to monitor James’ vital signs, as well as of the new double-O agent we meet, Nomi (Lashana Lynch). Tell me again – why do we need to monitor their vital signs? It’s not like there is a medivac team hovering over the mission site, just in case one of them needs a de-fib. There isn’t a circling drone loaded with a pharmacy of poison antidotes that’s going to swoop in and fire syringes into their necks. Even from a movie perspective, it doesn’t add drama since we are literally watching Bond and Nomi fight their way through bad guys. Even Q (Ben Whishaw) isn’t paying attention to the vital signs since he is busy working other tech parts of the job during the big mission.
Bond also gets a new watch because his watch in Spectre was a bomb. This time, his watch can emit an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP), which can knock out electronics. The idea that a tiny little watch can emit an EMP is hilarious, but we’ll accept it in a James Bond film, as long as they stop talking after saying “the watch has an EMP.” No, seriously Q, stop talking. Stop telling us its range. No, don’t tell us it only works on hard-wired electronics. Oh, for fuck’s sake, now I’m going to notice how it contradicts exactly those things when Bond decides to use it. Also, why didn’t Nomi get a cool watch?
Unless you are very much a gearhead, there are only two cars that will stand out. The first is the Aston Martin DB5, a car we saw in Spectre and six other Bond flicks, including the first Bond movie, Goldfinger. And yes, it has all the silly gadgets from those films as well. Smoke, exploding spike balls, miniguns in the headlights, bulletproof glass, the ability to spin in a circle without going anywhere. It’s a pretty car, but I would have much preferred Nomi’s Aston Martin DBS Superleggera being the featured car.
Speaking of aesthetics, they also decided to dust off the hideous Aston Martin Vantage from 1977’s The Living Daylights (featuring Timothy Dalton) as the second featured Bond car. To me, muscle cars are ugly monstrosities that scream “I’m compensating for something.” The Vantage looks like a Mustang ate an Aston Martin because it ran out of Viagra. I don’t know how the Vantage found it’s way back into the franchise, but it should have stayed in the museum of misfit cars where it belongs.
Cars aren’t the only thing recycled in No Time to Die. The memory of Vesper Lynd makes a return and Bond’s new love (also returning from the previous film), Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), insists he makes his peace with Vesper’s death if he and Madeleine are to remain a couple. This being a Bond film, their relationship doesn’t make it out of the opening scene intact due to bullets flying, cars racing around, and Bond believing Madeleine betrayed him to Spectre.
The new Bond girl in this film is Paloma (Ana de Armas), a CIA agent working with Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). Except, she turns out not to be a true Bond girl since she never gets naked with him. Her task is to escort Bond into a high-class party to find and secure a missing scientist (David Dencik). In what is the best scene in the film, the two of them are dressed to the nines, two criminally gorgeous people clearly at ease with each other. Paloma is practically giddy with excitement, as she is a newly minted agent, and clearly enjoying herself on the mission. Then, the action starts and the two perform in the best action sequence of the film. It’s a scene that stands out for the quality of its components while not ending in the cliched Bond conquest of other films, including the quick death of said female conquest. While we all debate and guess at who will play the next James Bond, I would love to see de Armas succeed Felix as the next CIA buddy.
Spectre brought back the head henchman cliche in Dave Bautista, but didn’t give him a gimmick. This time, we get the whole package in Primo (Dali Benssalah). He’s lethal, he barely speaks, and he has a bionic eye. The eye doesn’t appear to be useful to Primo in any way, but does appear to be useful to his master. On the plus side, it’s not a goofy razor hat, but on the negative side, it should have been a goofy bionic eye.
The new villain is my one real criticism of the movie. He is a very generic villain whose presence is almost an afterthought to the plot. The plot itself seems to be more about wrapping up any and all loose ends that may still be dangling, stretching back to Casino Royale, than whatever the new villain is up to. Why am I still referring to him as the new villain instead of by name? Because his name is never enunciated enough for me to understand it and I had to Google it to learn that it’s Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek). Even the story of how his face became disfigured was lost upon me because it was so boring and doesn’t matter to the plot. But the main way you know Safin wasn’t a good villain is because Spectre’s villain, Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), is featured in just one single scene and it completely overshadows all of Safin’s scenes combined. It’s a shame because I was really looking forward to seeing Malek give us a memorable villain.
The Death Ray
Nanobots. No, not the vital sign monitoring nanobots. These other nanobots are spread like the plague and target people based on pre-programmed DNA and also DNA that is similar, but not too similar. Don’t ask. And they can never be destroyed. In the wrong hands, it’s the end of the world, but that seems to be Safin’s objective only after his other objectives have run their course. It’s like he does it out of inertia rather than desire. And, the nanobots are originally created by MI6. What would a spy movie be without government secrets? At least it’s not an actual death ray.
Another deserted island housing an abandoned military installation, complete with missile silos and blast doors. The Safin family had converted it into their evil lair and Lyutsifer now runs it. The main features are a poison garden and pools filled with acid and dozens of peons stirring the acid while standing in the acid. I mean, I think it was acid. A bad guy melts in it when he falls in during the climax. But it has no purpose other than to be an obstacle, which means the acid is also just the Chompers.
If this movie hadn’t been slated for release pre-Covid pandemic, I’d say it was the idea of government scientists genetically modifying diseases in labs. Not that movies haven’t used this plot before in many various forms, be it diseases or technology or weapons, all in the name of protecting the country and/or the world. It’s pretty standard for political thrillers and spy movies. Hell, it’s the plot of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There is also the idea that science playing God will be the end of us all. We see this scare the shit out of easily frightened people every couple of years, whether it’s cloning, stem cells, artificial intelligence, condoms, evolution, gravity, vaccines, heliocentrism, and the wheel. This time it’s nanotechnology. Next time it’ll be voting machines.
If you have more questions than “good or bad,” the next question from people is where does No Time to Die rank against the other Daniel Craig films? The answer is below Casino Royale. I’ve enjoyed all five of Craig’s Bond films, but Casino Royale is easily the best. After that, throw a dart. The other four are all very entertaining and feature good components, as well as their flaws and cliches. No Time to Die isn’t particularly memorable compared to the rest, just like the rest aren’t particularly memorable. That in itself is a little disappointing since it would have been nice for Craig’s last Bond film to be as amazing as his first. I mean, thumbs up…mostly.
Rating: Ask for two dollars back because Bond villains should be worth the price of admission.