I suppose it’s accurate to suggest that Craig’s dark and brooding portrayal is probably thematically a bit closer to the real world, but who wants ‘the real world’ when you can have wristwatches that can blast out electromagnetic pulses, cars with mounted machine guns where headlights once were, and death-defying stunts galore that push the limits of the laws of gravity? Bond is make-believe, people. He always has been and always will be. The dirty little secret the Craig era tried to snuff out is that Bond isn’t real – he’s more likely the ultimate male fantasy (and female, too, or at least some who haven’t converted to feminism) – and the films were meant to be a collective escapism, one where the bad guys were equally larger-than-life and the stakes have never been higher.
But ‘props’ to all those who decided to try something a bit different with the spy franchise, even though you really came full circle with the latest No Time To Die. You ignored practically every rule you broke with the previous four films, giving audiences a kinda/sorta return to the original formula … only to kill off nearly everyone meaningful to diehard fans in the process.
You dirty bastards.
(NOTE: Yes, there will be spoilers. You’ve been warned. Vamoose if you don’t wanna know.)
I guess it isn’t enough that writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga apparently entered into the latest cinematic endeavor with high hopes of putting the nail in the coffin of our celebrated spy, though I suppose they had their behind-the-scenes reasons, too. This was to be Craig’s last time suiting up as the international sensation, and I suspect they wanted him to go out big. And – in case you missed it – the once-powerful studio behind (at least, in part) the Bond franchise – better known as Metro Goldwyn Mayer – changed hands in 2021, becoming the province of Amazon.com. (Don’t fret: the capitalist juggernaut will likely own everything someday, just like a Bond villain.) So No Time To Die certainly was shaping up to symbolize the end of an era, and Fukunaga and his small crew of writers understandably seized on the opportunity to do something a bit more extravagant … even if that meant ignoring the promise of their film’s title.
In fact, during the elongated production of No Time To Die (thanks, Covid) there were media stories about the fact that the film would finally recast Bond as something different. Journalists – those ‘stewards of truth’ forever willing to force even our fictional past times under a microscope – peppered the cast and crew with questions suggesting it was time for ‘Bond to be a woman,’ ‘Bond to be a person of color,’ and any number of revisionist ideas. “Isn’t it time,” they chanted in unison, “that Bond properly reflect modern times?”
Were they not watching the Craig films? Erm … I thought this dark, brooding spy and his stories of how even his own government had failed the people were reflecting modern sensibilities? This secret agent was suffering under heavy personal losses while those who served before shook off such personal tragedy with the drop of an entendre. Why, even when the man was asked if he wanted the martini he ordered to be shaken or stirred, this Bond replied, “Do I look like I give a damn?” To steal a phrase, this was not your father’s James Bond; and I thought producers took every opportunity possible to underscore that. Hell, they gave this incarnation a veritable wife … and then they did the unthinkable …
They gave Bond a child!
To their credit, the producers and even star Craig insisted that, at least, Bond was, is, and always should be a man. Still, this reality never stopped Fukunaga from seeing Bond’s retired license-to-kill in the film assigned to a black woman: actress Lashana Lynch suited up as ‘Nomi’ to fill the agency’s vacancy when Bond abandoned it. (No, no, no: my masculinity wasn’t threatened, dear readers. I could care less, honestly. I’m just making a point.) So these charlatans got what they wanted – in a sense – and I found it hilarious that Nomi performed so second-rate as compared to the original 007. Maybe the message secretly was “be careful what you wish for.”
Still, I’d argue it’s safe to suggest that in striving so very hard across four Craig outings to get away from the traditional Bond formula that the writers inevitably had nowhere else to go but back to the original recipe with the actor’s swan song, and No Time To Die does just that but not in admirable ways. Spectre (2015) certainly leaned heavily back in that direction – if I remember correctly, that’s largely why the film had so many critics – and maybe the powers that be were finding that back-to-basics was inevitable. But No Time To Die’s script struggles mightily with its own identity crisis – it never quite establishes what it wants to be, ultimately – and maybe that’s why I found it so uneven.
Bond’s tied down with Madeleine … only then he’s not. Bond’s out of the spy business … only then he’s not. Bond’s on the outs with MI-6 … only then he’s not. It would seem everything has come full circle, and audiences were even returned to the days of (gasp!) Roger Moore wherein cardstock villains weren’t enough: Rami Malek’s ‘Safin’ is part supervillain, part super-genius (!!!), and he’s shackled with speaking in unnecessary metaphors or analogies and waxing on about only God knows what with some nefarious plot that never quite makes much sense (to those watching closely). All we know for sure is Safin likes to wear a mask (then he doesn’t), wants Madeleine and Mathilde for his very own (then he doesn’t), and is up to something so dastardly not even he can explain it sensibly for Bond.
Talk about becoming your own worst enemy? That’s precisely what this creative team accomplished with No Time To Die. Perhaps they should’ve titled this one “A Perfect Time To Stop This Nonsense.”
Don’t get me wrong – and don’t think I’m pandering – when I insist that there are plenty of reasons to see this film. Largely, it’s gorgeous staged and photographed – the flick’s action sequences are quite possibly as good as they’ve ever been – and the frenzy delivered has always been a benchmark of the entire franchise. No expense is spared in producing an adrenalin-pumping spectacle, and Craig handles his incarnation of Bond with great consistency across his five-picture arc. At this point, it’s no secret that he goes out with a bang (as do a few others) – though I found it a tad predictable, I’ll admit it still makes sense within the world as presented – and maybe when there’s a new actor in the tuxedo I might feel some greater nostalgia for the days when Daniel Craig told me his name was, “Bond … James Bond.”
But, for now, I’m glad it’s over … even though Craig repeatedly promised me we had all the time in the world.