Recruited to rescue a kidnapped scientist, globe-trotting spy James Bond finds himself hot on the trail of a mysterious villain, who’s armed with a dangerous new technology.
This review contains major plot spoilers and generic ranting.
After reviewing many films for various websites over the years, No Time to Die is without question the most difficult to look at objectively from a review writing purpose. Should I look at it as a standalone, a well-beloved franchise entry, or simply the ending of one Bond actors run? I only say this as for each of these options I have very different, very conflicting ratings.
Now, I’m a big Bond fan. I read the books when I was younger and remember saving for many weeks to buy all the films in a big VHS boxset. I was a Bond aficionado, quoting line after line in my youth, but, as I have written before, Bond has lost his way. For the new (for want of a better descriptive word for it) ‘woke’ society we live in, Bond is an easy target for criticism. Bond though has always had strong female characters but some portrayals of Bond, his interactions with and the portrayals of these females, are incredibly outdated and creepy. Those were the times though, but if Bond isn’t allowed to be Bond, the franchise is just another generic spy flick.
To go back to the start of Craig’s run, Casino Royale was not without its flaws but it was a solid Bond film. It introduced us to a new, rough Bond. One with a different trajectory but with all the womanising, modern action brutality, nods to the past and heritage needed for its reboot. Since then, I can wholly say I’ve almost lost interest in the franchise. Every Bond to date (except Lazenby) has had a stinker of a Bond outing or two but with Quantum of Solace (2008), Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015), Craig has had one stinker, and two half-stinkers. It’s not his fault of course, it’s the writers. The Ending of Casino Royale was iconic and carried over well, but from there, it’s been a long, boring journey of quite forgettable moments.
Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, (along with a bit of John Logan and Paul Haggis), have overseen the Craig era scripts and they simply bore me with overcomplication, generic copycats, bad dialogue and bad pacing. This time director Cary Joji Fukunaga does some of the writing, with them and the much-publicised insertion of Phoebe Waller-Bridge to the writing team, does something to water down the bland story direction from Wade and Purvis.
As a finale to Craig’s tenure, it does what it needs to and continues what’s gone before. Its consistent, it carries the tale and brings together a convenient conclusion. The action though is pretty timid. Some Heineken gets spotted, as well as a lingering look at a Nokia phone. We also get so see a two-year-old Aston, and a few Range Rovers fall on their side but practically everything else of action interest was spotted in the four billion trailers and TV spots.
The new 007 gets some odd lines, and literally murders someone because they are annoying. Despite great promise, Lynch is simply given a Bond girl role, playing comedic support with most of her action devoid of double-0 intention. She needs help all the time, and is just so badly written that she just ends up quite submissive to the male leads. I’m so, so disappointed that after all the Bond being a female debacle and the “write better roles for women” palaver, that they just decided to do neither. It’s the end though of Daniel Craig’s tenure, not that he has been bad, but I hope to God it’s the end of these Bond writers having any influence on the character.
So as a film, it’s not too bad. As a Bond film though, No Time to Die is terrible. Not only does it kill the franchises major and overarching villain, it also kills the number one hero helper, as well as the bloody hero. Bond is the British Batman. He doesn’t die. I mean, He might die, but he wont really die. They literally decided to kill of Bond for no other reason as to end Craig’s run with something different, something hearty. The thing is, Bond is a continuing, loosely fitting franchise. There always has, and hopefully always will be, crossover from one Bond to another. This finale seems like a hard-reboot. Nobody wants a hard reboot with a different M, Q, Moneypenny etc. I get saddling Bond with a love interest and a child, but the death is pointless. It’s doing something new to have clean bed-sheets for the next Bond, but it also subsequently shits the bed in the process. Obviously, Bond won’t be dead, but we should have seen that on-screen. The next Bond could have rolled in post-credits with a you only live twice line and we could accept the unbelievable but instead, we will sadly have to wait until whatever jug of shit gravy they serve us next time. They cleaned sweeped the thing, hoping a gifted cigar would be enough to smoke up the reboot and the subsequent re-cast.
The thing that annoyed me the most though was the missed opportunities for Bond-liners. Some are in the film, but they are just not funny, almost eye-rollingly bad with bad delivery. When there is so many opportunities in the film from bald cats, to little flying inventions, to a guy running out of bullets to do throwback liners, it reminds me about the sheer lack of understanding about the franchise history these writers have.
I also remember after Spectre the facial disfigurement charities trying to remind the Bond producers not to portray individuals with facial injuries as baddies. Even Malek says he only took the role if he wasn’t a typical middle eastern bad guy. Basically, they doubled down, went classic Eastern European bad guy and gave the villain a facial disfigurement. There’s really not much for the next writers to work with anymore. What freshness can there be, what villains are left and what the hell are they prepared to do with, and to, Bond now?
Hans Zimmer’s brilliant score does its usual uplifting thing but with far too many Billie Eilish theme tune insertions it just keeps reminding you how bloody mediocre the whole thing is.
This is why I can’t rate it as a Bond film in isolation. As a Bond film, it’s the worst. I do mean worst because he simply isn’t Bond. This is some otherworldly, ‘What If…?’ Bond film. I wrote a piece about James Bond and Mission Impossible some time back and I said I would rather see another Mission Impossible film than the next Bond. I was right. I’d love to get the nitty gritty on how much influence Phoebe Waller-Bridge had on the screenplay because either this was really bad to start, she made it worse, or she polished an absolute turd.
Rami Malek’s villain gives echoes and vibes of Doctor No but he is utterly poor, unmenacing and simply a horny guy with Phantom of the Opera issues. Meaning to be old enough to rescue child Madeline at one point in the past, he s simply not aged some 20/30 years when we see him later in the film. He’s just so forgettable, with a Swan hard-on and a pointless desire and motivation. His henchman fares not much better, being generic and eye-rollingly forgettable. When you consider this film kills our leads, has a forgettable villain, a forgettable plot, boring, mediocre and timid stunts you wonder what the point of it is. With all the money spent you have to wonder why Craig’s face is so visibly and badly CGI’d onto the bike stuntman in the opening sequence. More of that style over substance and silliness.
One of its positives is that the film does have one of the best Bond starts of all times, albeit with the main introduction plot very similar to another Bond film. The film relies heavily on the influences of Doctor No and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and at times it feels very Bond-like. Those fleeting Bond-like moments are sadly few and far between and left behind by the usual style over substance and over emotional arcs of Craig’s Bond and the film, albeit entertaining, just feels limp and labours towards an end with a massively draining run-time. Craig though does sell the whole thing well and puts in another solid shift. If you have liked his Bond run then the film will certainly serve as a pleasant ending to his time as Bond. On another plus, Ana De Armas does come across very well and I imagine she will be the next Felix Leiter figure, or some version of it anyway.
While a fitting end to Daniel Craig’s Bond run, it sadly may be the Bond film to end the film franchise as we know it. Not that I am against such a thing. As I have written before, this world of secret agents and spies needs exploring more but I fear that Bond has never been less relevant or more unneeded by cinema goers. As a Bond fan, this film just makes me angry. It’s going somewhere it doesn’t need to go and I pity the next actor who has to follow this generic, washed-up franchise, and its over-egged journey into cinematic blandness.