Released 2021. Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
DELAYED FOR A YEAR AND A HALF WHEN THE WORLD went under the Great Cinema Lockout 2020/2021, the latest James Bond movie finally saw the light of day at the end of the year. It’s common knowledge even way back that No Time to Die would mark Daniel Craig’s final outing as Bond. Whilst the actor retires the role, what they’d managed to keep secret is they were going to kill the character as well.
That’s right. James Bond dies. Sorry to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen the movie yet.
No Time To Die picks up from where the last Bond movie Spectre ends. Commander Bond has left active duty and is living an idyllic new life with Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux). To put the past behind him Bond visits the grave of Vesper Lund, his lost love. But the past is never done when you have enemies out for blood.
The prologue this time is the longest pre-title action sequence in Bond history, guns ablazing and tyres screeching for 20 minutes when it looks like Bond is cornered and sure to go out in a hail of bullets. We’re just getting warmed up, so it’s not time to die just yet.
To save Madeleine, Bond lets her go and disappears into hiding for years until he’s approached by his replacement, the new agent 007, and brought back to work with his old pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) from the CIA to rescue a scientist taken from a clandestine MI6 lab in London.
To cut a circuitous plot short, Bond’s involvement leads him back to his old nemesis Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and new villain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek, miscast, underwhelming, an unfortunate caricature) who’s developing a deadly weapon for vengeance. Along the way to saving the world Bond picks up a small blue-eyed surprise.
Like all other Bond movies before, this one ticks all the boxes on the checklist. Globetrotting locations, a crazed evil mastermind with a nefarious agenda, a bevy of beautiful women, fast and furious automobiles, newfangled gadgets, death-defying stunts and the obligatory vodka martini, shaken not stirred.
The extra aspect comes in the completion of Bond’s personal journey. From his first mission in Casino Royale (2006), Bond has been reshaped as a superspy more suited to the mores of the times than all his predecessors. Shedding traces of invincibility, overt misogyny and silly innuendoes that characterised Bond pre-Daniel Craig, the born-again Bond has steadily developed over the last 15 years.
Each successive movie digs deeper into his masculine defences to find his physical and emotional vulnerabilities. Craig’s Bond is the closest to resembling a human agent than the glib and indestructible avatar of male ego where nothing of value is ever at stake. The last five Bond outings with Craig are themselves a complete, mini anthology of its own within the wider 25-movie Bond canon.
Keeping the tradition alive, production value remains consistently high, the cinematography slick and the action scenes robust. A case in point is a fight sequence towards the end when Bond engages in a ferocious hand-to-hand combat with Safin’s henchmen as he punches and kicks, runs up stairs and turns corners, all the time the camera swings alongside Bond barely an arm’s length away. We’re no longer observing the action from a safe, stationary distance cutting between angles but swept along on a single take running and ducking behind our hero, a more visceral and involving experience that feels as if Bond is shielding us from getting hit or shot.
For a brief while, the 007 designation is reassigned to Nomi, a new agent played by Lashana Lynch. Unthinkable that the iconic numerical label could be applied to anyone else but James Bond, doubly inconceivable that it be transferred to a black woman. This might carry a whiff of tokenism in the name of inclusion and diversity, but it’s likely to grow in significance in future analysis of the producers’ willingness to change long-held conventions in the Bond narrative. Who knows what else might surprise us in future?
The most meaningful of these changes is no doubt the evolution of the protagonist himself. With his personal life becoming increasingly entangled with espionage, Bond has been gradually stripped of his professional armour to reveal the man underneath. For the first time ever, we see Bond put romance above dedication to her majesty’s service, grieve for a woman, and turn from a trained killer to a sacrificial father. The fiery, tragic end marks the completion in the evolution of Bond’s identity. No better time to say farewell.
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