I know, I’m very late to this, but I need to rant.
I finally watched “No Time to Die” on Amazon Prime. I’ve seen every Bond film multiple times — some of my favorites, “Casino Royale” or “The Spy Who Loved Me,” probably dozens of times. This might be my least favorite movie in the series, other than maybe the pseudo-Bond cash-in, “Never Say Never Again.” I’m not exaggerating when I say I would prefer watching the 1967 version of “Casino Royale,” with Woody Allen as Jimmy Bond, to this one.
James Bond is in love again. Fine. But the Vesper Lynd storyline only worked because she had seemingly betrayed him — a fantastic twist in 2006’s “Casino Royale” — which allowed the writers to fuse his personal revenge narrative into a multi-film arch. And that arch led us to SPECTRE. Daniel Craig’s movies exhumed this nefarious organization from the old movies. SPECTRE was lurking in the background. It was behind that French environmentalist madman in “Quantum of Solace,” and it was there when Javier Bardem was doing his thing in “Skyfall.” The producers even spent a couple of hundred million dollars putting together a movie called SPECTRE, in which the great Christoph Waltz plays Blofeld. This happened. I double checked. But “No Time to Die” just dispenses with the entire SPECTRE project in a single confusing scene that’s meant to shock you. Blofeld is reduced to making a cameo. Why did they waste our time?
It’s worse than that. The first scene sets up a mystery, and the next sets up Bond’s relationship with Léa Seydoux. Both were well done. Instead of figuring out a creative way to wrap SPECTRE into this thriller — again, a group we’ve been hearing about for four movies — the writers rid themselves of the entire storyline by pinning their movie to the most trope-y, formulaic Bad Guy. The only chance this plot twist had of working was for the new organization or character to be more compelling than the one it destroyed. That is not the case. Instead, we get a sedate Rami Malek, a fine actor, whose goofy accent and evil stare aren’t nearly as interesting as the glint in Waltz’s fake eye.
As you still cling to the hope that something coherent will unfurl, about two-thirds into the film — which is like 10 hours long — the writers just completely give up and have Bond running up and down stairs of a parking lot, fighting off henchmen and struggling to open a door. Now, I’m not saying that it is implausible that James Bond might get bogged down trying to open a big door. I’m saying it’s tedious watching anyone get bogged down trying to open a door.
Let’s talk about Bond’s cute kid. This is, I believe, the first time that a child has been put into danger in a Bond movie. Maybe it’s the first child ever to make an appearance in a Bond movie. For me, her presence immediately sapped any fun that might have been extracted from “No Time to Die.” Mathilde was a lazy inclusion, meant to artificially ratchet up the tension in a plodding story and play on your emotions. The last thing I want to do watching 007 is feel anxiety over the welfare of a young girl who is being hunted by a sociopathic geek or worry that a nanotechnical virus carried by Bond is going to kill her, or vice versa. The entire point of Bond is escapism.
And let’s talk about the other 007. It’s as if the producers of “No Time to Die” cast a black woman as the superspy to generate press — and Lashana Lynch seems like a fine actress, as well — but then didn’t think it was important to give her character something useful to do. She is basically drafted as Bond’s chauffeur and backup. Talk about privilege.
Then there is the matter of Bond’s death. This is supposed to be the emotional payoff. A smart Twitter follower of mine points out that, though the movie was subpar, Craig’s death is “oblique confirmation” that 007 is a transferable designation. But everyone already gets that, right? I figured that out the first time I saw George Lazenby.
Anyway, it’s not that I mind that he’s killed — the fact that 007 would give his life to save others is unsurprising — but rather how he was killed. Craig could have jumped into the ocean and swam three miles from that dumb island in the time it took to finish up that tearful goodbye with his girlfriend. They don’t have a single motorized boat or helicopter at the evil dude’s giant lair? MI5 doesn’t have a contingency backup escape plan? People have pointed out that by evading death Bond would have put his daughter’s life in danger (another excellent reason not to have her in the movie) or potentially spread the super disease … please save it. Get Q on the phone. Quarantine the guy. He’s saved the world 25 times that we know of. Surely something can be done. James Bond was marooned in space and got back OK.
“No Time to Die” is, at times, beautiful to look at. Cary Joji Fukunaga is a superb technical filmmaker. Everyone in the movie is fine (Ana de Armas is fantastic.) It just would have helped tremendously if the people who wrote the movie had cared enough about viewers to finish telling a story.