Delayed by creative differences, then by Covid-19, seeing a change of director, not to mention a couple of re-writes, No Time To Die could either be a turd that’s been over-polished or a film that’s been honed and perfected. If you remember the last film in the franchise, James Bond’s close connection to uber-baddie Ernst Stavro Blofeld felt far-fetched, as did his sudden romance with Dr. Madeleine Swann, but this movie has to follow the disappointing Spectre, so it remains in the heightened world of one of the lesser-liked Bond films.
The Daniel Craig iteration of James Bond has had a chequered history; Casino Royale (good), Quantum Of Solace (bad), Skyfall (good), and Spectre (bad). This flip-flopping, checker pattern would mean that No Time To Die is a return to the positive. Thankfully this is one of the better offerings from the franchise. No Time shares its tone with the best of the series (Casino Royale and Skyfall) rather than the worst (Quantum Of Solace). That doesn’t mean however, that this movie is the five-star rated masterpiece that a few dodgy critics have claimed it is. No Time To Die is not a bad film but it’s not a great film either. Before I go on, I may as well say that this franchise hasn’t ever impressed me; the best movies in this series have been 6 out of 10s and the worst has been a 3 out of 10. Thankfully, Craig’s final outing as Bond ends on a relative high with definite closure.
The plot of No Time To Die gives us a bit of back story for Madeleine Swann (played by Léa Seydoux) which in true sequel form, involves a greater threat than before. James Bond has left active service but he’s approached by friend and CIA officer Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) who asks for his help to locate Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik) an abducted scientist, whose nano-bot creation known as “Heracles” may be used by supervillain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) and lead to the death of millions. This plot about bio-warfare and what is essentially a smart virus that targets certain people’s DNA, made me think that this movie was purposely delayed during the Coronavirus pandemic because it aligned with a Covid conspiracy theory. A major movie with that at the centre of its narrative could have potentially made the public side with a conspiracy, and we wouldn’t want that to happen. Along with the line “don’t mind a shot or two at work” (as a couple of characters are injected with “smart blood” without choice) it makes me wonder how much of a coincidence this plot is, given what’s occurring in the world today. Of course filmic foreshadowing doesn’t exist. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
No Time To Die is directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, director of the first season of True Detective, and like I’ve already said, this film is closer to the “Casino Royales” than the “Quantums”. Some of the film is a bit dark, other parts are a bit blurry, but that’s possibly the fault of the analogue film they chose to shoot this movie with. In terms of camera work, there’s a stairwell fight scene where the camera is too close to the lead, and there’s a few car chases that don’t exactly excite the viewer. The finale which is basically Michael Bay’s The Rock but crapper, may either bring a tear to fan’s eyes or anger them. That being said, I doubt that the film’s original director Danny Boyle would have made anything better.
Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Fukunaga, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge who performed a “script polish” and added humour to the dialogue, the screenplay isn’t something to write home about either. I haven’t watched Fleabag but by all accounts it’s funny, and yet I didn’t hear anything in No Time To Die that would constitute wit or humour. If this is the so-called “polished” script then I’d hate to see what it was originally like.
Whilst on the topic of writing, the line “Stay in your lane” coming from a black “Double O” sounds a bit racist to me. I’d have thought slang wouldn’t be part of a spy’s vernacular regardless of their ethnicity and gender; it’s not like we hear Bond use Scottish colloquialisms or hear Daniel Craig’s Scouse accent. Regardless, this line seems to have been removed from the finished film (or I missed it whilst I was yawning). It appears at approximately 41 seconds in the original trailer…
The inclusion of a black and female 007 seems to be there to placate the modernisers before they announce another white bloke for the 26th film. With all the fan-furore over “Jane Bond” and the rumours surrounding Idris Elba or Regé-Jean Page playing the next Bond, this showed, at least to me, that this series of novels written in the 1950s and 1960s by Ian Fleming are somewhat archaic. The exaggerated world of spies with a a suit-wearing, alchy, womaniser at its centre isn’t exactly a story for the 21st century, but then again, when writers and film-makers attempt to change or subvert this character’s personality and surroundings, we lose what makes James Bond “Bond”. This is now the 25th movie in a franchise that’s kicking and screaming as it tries to stay relevant. All the while however, there’s more and more assassin-slash-spy movies that do a better job of being “current”. Maybe the best idea would be to just set the frigging thing in the 50’s and/or 60’s and keep all the aspects of Bond that Fleming intended. But I digress.
So why is this review in whatwentrightwith.com you may ask. Well, that’s all down to Rami Malek’s portrayal of villain Lyutsifer Safin. Malek is once again impressive as he was in Bohemian Rhapsody and The Little Things, and in No Time To Die, he is literally the only reason to watch this average movie. Every time you see Malek on screen or hear him conversing with another character, it illustrates what a great actor looks like when compared to an average one.
Despite being described as a “nasty piece of work” by producer Barbara Broccoli, the reasoning or motivation behind Safin’s plan makes you slightly sympathise with him like Raoul Silva in Skyfall, and like Mads Mikkelsen before him, Rami Malek somehow manages to make a potentially cartoonish character feel believable. That being said, for any Rami fans out there, he’s not in this film quite as much as you’d expect given the trailer and all the promotion.
Whilst on the topic of the villain, when we see the younger Madeleine with Wallace & Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers playing on a TV behind her, we can deduce that she’s either too young to be schtupping James Bond or Lyutsifer Safin is supposed to be a much older actor than Rami Malek who doesn’t seem to age from the opening scene to his last. Vespa Lynd’s grave states that she was born in 1983 so this is essentially a man changing his bird for a newer model. How very modern and polished.
The other problem is this film is too long with the feeling of boredom setting in a few times. At 163 minutes, surely some of it could have been edited out? The score is also average with the now way-too-old theme tune playing alongside Hans Zimmer’s schizo string synths which at one point (during the poison island finale) sound very much like The Dark Knight. There’s a scene involving the caged Blofeld being wheeled out to be interviewed in Belmarsh Prison and the accompanying score sounds like some kind of sci-fi space movie. Along with Billie Eilish’s forgettable title song, No Time To Die isn’t sonically the pinnacle of this series.
If you recall, No Time To Die is the film that shut UK cinemas down when it was pulled from the release schedule, so it’s now similarly poised to save cinema with no other big-budget movies coming out for a fortnight. With this flick being released in almost every screen and on multiple formats including IMAX, ticket sales for this had better be something. In my opinion, this doesn’t have the believability of the early Bourne movies, the humour of True Lies, or the spectacle of Mission: Impossible, but it’s one of the better Bonds and it’s a satisfying swansong for Daniel Craig’s 15 year run as the well-known spy (now he can get on with making a Knives Out sequel). So just in case the very life of cinema is riding on its success, go and see this picture on the big screen. There’s…
No Time Like The Present.