I’ve never seen a James Bond movie before, but this one was pretty good.
No Time to Die is like the twenty-first James Bond movie, I think? It’s the fifth starring Daniel Craig in the title role, and the last before someone else takes up the mantle, so obviously it was a great place to start.
There are going to be spoilers in this review for No Time to Die, which I saw pretty late but which definitely has a very spoiler-able plot, so be warned.
In No Time to Die, James Bond’s girlfriend Madeleine turns out to be working for Spectre in the prologue, so he breaks up with her and goes to angst in a pavilion on a lagoon somewhere, which gets interrupted by a guy who was probably in a previous film asking him to do spy stuff again. It turns out that his now ex-girlfriend’s father figure is a terrorist who has stolen a weapon of mass destruction in the form of some nanobots that target people’s DNA and can kill anyone in the world, so Bond goes to kill him with the help of his replacement Nomi, who the movie won’t let be cooler than him even though she probably is. In the end, the world is saved but with tragic consequences.
Overall, I want to say that No Time to Die is a really good movie. It’s obviously an action movie and those sequences are done really well; they’re extravagant and explosive and fun without being too over the top, in my opinion. There are a lot of car chases, which I think are stupid but which are fun to watch. I definitely enjoyed watching it a lot and the people I watched it with, who were actually into James Bond movies, liked it even more than I did, which I think is a better endorsement than anything I could have said.
But I am going to say some stuff. Rami Malek plays the villain, whose name is the very subtle Lyutsifer Safin, whose first name means “Lucifer” in Russian. He’s an evil, disfigured disabled person, which I’m told is pretty common in James Bond movies, so that’s super sketchy especially since nobody else in the movie is disabled. I’m not sure that the character is that good, to be honest. They try to make him meaningful by having him be sad because Madeleine’s dad murdered his whole family, but his family were also all assassins who lived on a weird poison island with a Zen garden that grows hemlock tended to by slaves over a missile silo full of acid, so it’s a bit hard to feel bad for them, and also a bit hard to believe that they were killed by their own poison and didn’t notice, but anyway. He’s all sympathetic but he’s also literally trying to kill half the world in the name of world peace and then randomly at the end decides to sell his weapon of mass destruction to some ambiguous rich people for reasons that aren’t explained, and honestly in the end he’s kind of just a one-dimensional supervillain.
Which is fine, because he’s not the main character. James Bond is. In this movie he’s (presumably) seen some shit. He has a dead girlfriend, a terrorist archnemesis in jail, an ex girlfriend who is evil but then turns out not to be evil because it was all a big misunderstanding, a secret daughter, and Ralph Fiennes has fired him and replaced him with a younger, hotter actor (that said, it’s very important that Daniel Craig is briefly shirtless early in the movie and is also briefly naked, but only from the waist up in one of those shots where they make it clear he has no pants on but don’t show anything). He’s having a lot of pathos and stuff, and that’s very well done. I haven’t seen any of the movies leading up to this one, but it seems like all the stuff that happened in them must have really sucked for him, and I think this is a very good conclusion to his storyline.
The female characters in this movie are pretty kickass, which is good, especially given what I’ve heard about some of the other movies. Madeleine is a psychologist who also has terrorist gun training and is good at shooting people and saving herself, Nomi is an assassin who is super good at fighting and stuff, but isn’t allowed upstage Bond, which I think is unfortunate. It’s obvious they very intentionally gave a Black woman the 007 role in this movie, but I wish she’d had just a little bit more to do to really justify it, because it feels a bit token-y as is. There’s also a sexy CIA operative named Paloma who’s played by Ana de Armas, who played the main character in Knives Out alongside Daniel Craig. She’s only in the movie for like twenty minutes and isn’t that important, but I do like her overall. None of the female characters die or betray Bond or anything like that, so it’s not terrible, even if there could have been slightly more of it. But hey, movies are allowed to have main characters and the main character of No Time to Die is James Bond.
And, to be fair, none of the characters except for Bond really have a lot of development. Again, I’m sure they all do in other movies, but most of them are all just kind of there to help Bond along, and that’s fine in this kind of movie. It’s not a particularly complex movie and when it pretends to be, it falls down a little. I can think of a particularly egregious scene where Bond is talking to Ralph Fiennes and Ralph Fiennes is trying to justify authorizing the creation of a weapon of mass destruction capable of eradicating the human race and he’s all “war is so complicated now…we can’t just bring the enemy to the table, because we don’t know who they are…it’s not easy to tell who the good guys and the bad guys are anymore…” despite the fact that A) There are some people who work for an organization ominously called Spectre that seems to exist literally only to do terrorism, and B) The whole point of the weird nanobot weapon was that it targets some people specifically and nobody else, which pretty much requires them to know exactly who the bad guys are or else it can’t be used. But we just accept this because Ralph Fiennes isn’t that important in the movie, his job is just to be ominous and also wrong so that James Bond can be right, and he does that well, and also suffers no apparent consequences for inventing a world-ending eugenics machine or possibly starting World War III with Japan and Russia in the third act. We don’t care about this, because we know the movie isn’t about him and we also know that once James Bond has killed the villain, the day is saved.
James Bond also knows that he is the main character, pretty clearly. He looks kind of bored through most of the first half of the movie, not really in a bad way but mostly in a “I’ve seen all this shit before” kind of way. He’s not at all worried about fighting all the many goons or the two minibosses, because he knows he’s not in danger from them, even when they kill his friend and trap him in a sinking boat. He often pulls out his gun and starts shooting people who are about to appear from behind doors before the door has even opened. He figures out a cold war-era blast door machine without any help because he’s just that cool. The whole point of the character, as far as I can tell, is that he knows he’s very cool and he knows he’s the main character, and so does everyone else. Madeleine and Nomi don’t object to him sending them both away on a boat and going to fight the final boss by himself even though Nomi is just as good at fighting as he is, because it’s obvious that James Bond has to do this. There’s an interesting meta element to the narrative there that might be fun to play with. I think when they make more movies, they should let them lean on the fourth wall just a little, because that would really have brought this element out a lot more.
James Bond is the kind of guy I used to want to be when I was little, and even though I grew up to be an environmentalist politician, I’m glad he exists so I can pretend I’m like him sometimes. He’s cool and that’s cool for him. He dies at the end of the movie, which is predictable since Daniel Craig has been trying to stop playing the character for a while now, but still pretty sad. Nothing about the movie is realistic in the slightest and clearly this isn’t how being a spy actually works, but that genuinely doesn’t matter when the movie is so entertaining (though definitely too long and in need of trimming in the expository middle).
No Time to Die is a really fun movie that I enjoyed a lot. I don’t know that it interested me in seeing the other James Bond movies, especially now that I know how they end, but I definitely wouldn’t object to Boey showing me the rest of them if he really wanted to. Either way, I’m glad I saw this one.