MOVIE REVIEW: NO TIME TO DIE
This James Bond film is the 25th in the Eon Productions canon and the last for the actor Daniel Craig. But this is not the end of the almost 60-year film franchise. It is an above-average James Bond flick and an immensely satisfying conclusion to Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond. (No spoilers)
I walked into the movie curious about whether it was missing a comma: “No, Time To Die.”
Why? The title seems to be a play on the interchange between James Bond and his enemy Goldfinger:
“Do you expect me to talk?”
“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”
No Time To Die: Satisfying
This is the first Bond film to be done in IMAX and 3D (in select countries.) It is the first film to lure me back to the cinema since the COVID-19 lockdown started. Several things made this $250M film so satisfying:
- Cinematography: lush, evocative lighting, great action sequences, and terrific set-pieces. CGI by Industrial Light and Magic.
- Sumptuous locations: Norway, Scotland, Italy, Faroe Islands, England, and Jamaica (one-time home of Bond author Ian Fleming, and locale of the first Bond film “Dr. No.”)
- Music composer: by Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, Inception, Dunkirk, Sherlock Holmes, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dune,…)
- Title song: by Billie Eilish, won a Grammy Award for ‘Best Song Written For Visual Media’ long before the movie came out. But there weren’t so many movies released during the COVID-19 lockdown with which to compete.
However, contrary to several recent adolescent reviews by some:
- It is not “the best Bond film ever.” That’s Goldfinger.
- Nor is this even “Daniel Craig’s best Bond film.” That’s Skyfall, with his Casino Royale a close second.
- Nor is Daniel Craig “the best Bond ever.” That’s Sean Connery, the original and still the best.
I say adolescent because many younger reviewers have lived with only Daniel Craig as James Bond over the last 15 years. That’s all they know. They may have seen a few Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan Bond movies and found the special effects “hokey” by today’s standards. But that’s just it: back then, these were state-of-the-art FX, but younger reviewers have no historical context.
I’ve read most of the Bond books and seen all the Bond films countless times, almost all of them when they first appeared in theaters, except perhaps the first two or three. I remember seeing “Thunderball” when I first had a driver’s license and returning the next night with my younger brother.
James Bond rocketed to popularity in America in the early ’60s after the press asked President John F. Kennedy, a speed reader, what his top 10 favorite books were. In his list was the Ian Fleming Bond novel “From Russia, With Love.”
No Time To Die: The Bond Girls
This movie is a continuation of the previous film “SPECTRE,” albeit five years after Bond left MI6, believed by many to be dead. It starts with Bond and his love from the previous movie in Matera, Italy. He hasn’t yet come to terms with his previous love Vesper Lynd who died in Craig’s first Bond film Casino Royale. Without giving anything away, we next see Bond in retirement in Jamaica.
In this film, there was little chemistry between Craig and his leading lady Léa Seydoux, and even less credibility of his being in love with her. It was a stretch at the time to believe he had fallen in love with his first leading lady Eva Green as Vesper Lynd in his initial outing as 007 in “Casino Royale.” But that was the point then, he did fall in love, was betrayed, and it hardened his heart to love. In his penultimate film “SPECTRE,” he fell in love with Léa Seydoux as Madeleine. But Craig as Bond is 53, Seydoux is 36. We’ve seen a broader age gap in other cinema romances, but the chemistry is just not here.
Seydoux is the first “Bond Girl” primary love interest that appears in two different films as the same character. Other actresses have been in more than one film, but not as the same character. One comes immediately to mind, Maude Adams stars as Octopussy in the movie of the same name, and as Andrea Anders, girlfriend of Christopher Lee as Scaramanga in “The Man With the Golden Gun.”
For 007 trivia buffs:
Eunice Gayson played Sylvia Trench in “Dr. No” and in the next film “From Russia With Love” but it was a small role.
It was anticipated at the time that she’d be Bond’s regular “girlfriend” between his cases, but the filmmakers decided against continuing with it.
Nor did Craig have much chemistry with the new “Bond Girl” Ana de Armas, as Cuban CIA operative Paloma (Spanish for “dove”). This is ironic considering her starring role with Craig as Marta Cabrera in “Knives Out,” his most recent big movie. Craig had hand-picked her for this role after working with her in that previous movie.
She did a standout job in “Knives Out,” but her time in this movie, while explosive and superbly choreographed, was over too quickly. Her scenes brought excitement and a sense of humor as a new trainee with skills beyond her stated “3 weeks of training.” This actress is going places.
This movie contained lots of tributes to previous Bond films.
- Colored dots in the title sequence, like in the first Bond film, “Dr. No.”
- Pictures at MI6 of previous incarnations of its leader M: Bernard Lee, Robert Brown, and (Dame) Judy Dench.
- The appearance of the porcelain Royal Doulton “Union Jack” bulldog statuette that M had left him in Skyfall.
- The reappearance of Bond’s 1965 Astin Martin DB5, originally from “Goldfinger.”
- The reappearance of the Astin Martin Vantage from “The Living Daylights.”
- The villain’s lair is very much like Ken Adam’s iconic design work in previous films like “Dr. No” and “You Only Live Twice.”
- In a tunnel, Bond pivots to fire his gun, like the trademark photo of him in the rifled barrel of the gun, seen at the beginning of almost every Bond film.
- The Omega Seamaster watch (used since “Goldeneye.”) Interestingly, Craig co-designed this signature Diver 300M model.
- Martinis: shaken, not stirred.
- Main characters returned: M, Q, Felix Leiter, and Miss Moneypenny.
- Christopher Waltz as Blofeld, head of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (which stands for SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, Extortion.) He’s not my favorite Blofeld, but he tears up the screen as the only actor to reprise a villain.
- The S.P.E.C.T.R.E octopus ring, which first appeared in “From Russia With Love,” then “Thunderball,” “You Only Live Twice,” and “SPECTRE.”
- “We Have All The Time in the World.”
We hear strains from the 1969 Bond movie music of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (OHMSS) four times in the movie. The first time is at the beginning when Bond quotes the line from the lyrics of the Louis Armstrong song from that previous movie to his love, Madeleine. Later in the film, when Bond is chatting with M, we hear another song from that movie, and again at the very end when Bond improvises to Madeleine “You have all the time in the world.” The clincher is when this lush eponymous John Barry/Hal David love song is reprised over the credits by Louis Armstrong. There are two key reasons for this:
- This line is quoted by Bond at the end of “OHMSS” to the only woman he had ever married, the incomparable (Dame) Diana Rigg as Tracy Bond [I met her once in London after her performance in “Medea,” but that’s another story.] The line is sweet, and yet ominously foreboding. The roles are reversed in this film, as Madeleine tells her daughter a story about the man James Bond.
No Time To Die: The Villian
Rami Malek, who plays the villain Lyustifer Safin (Arabic for “boat”), is the Academy Award-winning actor who had portrayed Freddy Mercury of the rock band Queen in the film “Bohemian Rhapsody.” In this movie, however, he was mostly wasted; he did not get much screen time.
Indeed, while we meet him early in the film — masked a la “Phantom of the Opera” — we don’t learn his full evil intentions until much later. The usual nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld turns out not to be the real villain in this movie as he was in the previous film “SPECTRE.” Instead, Safin is.
Bond villains are usually megalomaniacs bent on taking over the world or burning it down to create a new world order. Some of them seem a bit, shall we say, crazy. In this movie, Safin majors on crazy, and only later do we pick up the new world order narrative. He has a world-weary Thanos-like demeanor.
The “device” to achieve world domination in this movie is a bioweapon containing nanobots that can infect a person, killing some targeted individuals — who did not practice social distancing — while leaving others unharmed. Considering this movie was originally supposed to be released in September 2019 (pushed back from 2017,) it foreshadows Coronavirus!
No Time To Die: Conclusion
There was little plot pacing to get in the way of the film. The story was impenetrable, as some of the recent Bond movies have been. This one was more difficult to follow than the previous ones. The screenplay-by-committee lacked the usual brilliance and wit. The titles don’t show up until 25 minutes into the movie. At 2 hours and 43 minutes, it is the longest Bond ever and could have used another round of editing. (In contrast, the shortest film in the franchise is Craig’s second Bond film “Quantum of Solace.”) It’s grimmer than most other Bond films and a bit melancholy, but a fitting emotional conclusion to Craig’s tenure as Bond.
James Bond will Return
You’ll like it if: you enjoy cool gadgets, fast cars, motorcycle jumps that put “The Great Escape” to shame, MIRVs bursting in air, nanobots, and attractive women.
You won’t like it if: you need a plot that follows some logic or if you become tired of machine-gun bullets flying everywhere.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian