007 returns as Mr. Woke Woke Sob Sob
This is high-grade shlock cinema. But at long last, the conclusion to the tedious rebooted 007 series—the profoundly tedious, it-spanned-five-movies-to-end-it-all tedious Craigian daytime soap—is here. Straight out of the Hollywood zeitgeist of a multi-bajillion dollar production, No Time To Die is full of video game-caliber action sequences, camp villains muttering sinister plans in dark rooms, a quasi sci-fi angle bristling with the aesthetics of Roger Corman (Not Of This Earth comes to mind), and nods to the melodramatics of comic book movies, right down to the children-of-the-superhero motif. Filmed lavishly in Chaosvision, an advanced digital camera system for capturing tormented productions, this 25th entry in the series languishes for almost three hours, pumping out the heinous sound and fury of tiresome explosions, forced dramatics, and a profound lack of originality. It’s from the producers who gave us The Rhythm Section (2020), a spectacular box office disaster with the stature of the worst opening ever for a movie that opened in over 3,000 screens.
We will tolerate a moment for laughter.
Okay, you read it correctly: it’s the same production company, Eon Productions, renowned for churning out 007 films since 1962; and over one year later, the company has dropped another atom bomb in theaters, so to speak. Nevertheless, its purveyors must be saluted for delivering something (that is, a pile of celluloid) from the nine circles of production hell. Aptly released in October 2021—traditionally the dumping ground for films that have zero chance of surviving the competitive Thanksgiving/Christmas movie season—this Bond entry lives up to the inevitable junk that a clinically sane person had sensed was imminent during filming: “a well-polished s*** show,” as the crew described succinctly, bogged down by an unfinished script and the lack of a title as the cameras rolled, underscored by incessant setbacks and alleged infighting, as heavily reported throughout production. With such voluptuous chaos, amplified by indecision on a suitable release date, one wonders why the Bond team didn’t call it a day and just toss all the footage into the blaze when explosions ripped through the London set from a stunt gone wrong. The ineptitude of the key players haunts the entire film, and it’s all there on the big screen, notably in Zoom-quality resolution for this era of social distancing. Car chases, blazing machine guns, and CGI-pumped explosions and backdrops burst occasionally in rapid-fire cuts to interrupt the long vapid kitschy drama; and in a movie that struggles to be relevant, the key mood is desperation and creative bankruptcy. No Time To Die self-destructs at so many levels that it’s difficult to pinpoint its main flaw.
Let’s start with the title, which has some odd implications. Above all, its subtext is not we have no time to die and therefore we can take the day off to indulge in Sony PlayStation video games (although if left to director Cary Joji Fukunaga that is the meaning, based on his antics). Instead, the title is grounded in an imperative mood that dictates we have no time to die. Period. Yet who’s doing all this time-keeping anyway? How does one even use a stop-watch to track whether we have no time to die? The movie does contain philosophical implications concerning time, highlighted by the clock in M’s office, which we can only assume has provoked the MI6 chief to delve into deep discussions about time with the ever loyal Moneypenny. Imagine, if you will:
Speaking of time, the movie takes place six years after the vague happy ending of the moronic Spectre, which has led to some sort of vague island retreat, where Daniel Craig, Jeffrey Wright, and Lashana Lynch can vaguely act. Yet the obligatory pre-titles sequence takes place in the past with the strangely named Madeleine Swan Lake (aka Madeleine Swann) as a child. We are in Norway—in Nittedal, to be exact (motto: “We have frozen lakes in Nittedal!”)—and the little girl Madeleine, in a snowy forest, is running from an assassin with a Japanese Noh mask. However, this scene raises complications: her father is Mr. White, the below average incidental character in previous but forgettable Craig-Bond movies, so why is her last name different? Shouldn’t she be named Madeleine White, or perhaps even Madeleine Le Blanc (for an arty, Frenchy flair)? Moreover, against all known rules of logic and good taste, she has adopted the name of a body of water. Is she in possession of the mythic Swan Lake as referenced in Tchaikovsky’s ballet? Even more baffling: how does this child come to possess her own lake? Director Fukunaga had promised, before filming, that he would flesh out the character—truly, what have we done to deserve this?—and sticking to his word, he stages a predictable scene wherein the child Madeleine falls into a frozen lake. Presumably, this is the Swan Lake to which she has developed an affinity. Yet the complications become more labyrinthine: instead of killing her, the masked figure spares her life and saves her. As a result, the entire chase through the Norwegian woods is pointless, a painfully obvious attempt by Fukunaga and company to insert a winter setting to give the film a big globetrotting canvas.
This is juxtaposed with an altogether different locale: suddenly, the narrative shifts to Matera, supposedly with a timeline that occurs not long after the events of Spectre. Thus, circa 2015, and the Craig-Bond and the grown-up Madeleine have settled in this Italian hill town. It’s an idyllic world, rendered in bright floral spring sunshine, a setting we can only assume motivates the Craig-Bond and Madeleine to hold hands and skip through golden fields. But as often happens in gritty realistic spy thrillers, an explosion occurs at Vesper Lynd’s grave, which leads to a car chase and shoot-outs along narrow streets during daylight in a town in which the citizenry is unaware of the chaos. The cinematography, the pacing, become the blue-print for the rest of the film’s action: a fast-cut video game style, too mundane to be engaging, and crammed with impossible escapes, car wrecks, and the Craig-Bond and a female ally blasting a legion of anonymous thugs. What Fukunaga fails to stage carefully is a smooth narrative: the entire pre-titles has abrupt shifts in time and comes to an end before we can truly grasp what has happened.
A blizzard of images also hampers the obligatory titles. In yet another Daniel Kleinman-designed sequence, it showcases images of hourglasses and clocks throughout. It’s not exactly original: this imagery of time first surfaced in the titles of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a hallmark entry in the series (of which No Time To Die desperately imitates, including the frequent citation of the line “all the time in the world,” pulled from the film and the novel). Meanwhile, Vesper Lynd (who no one remembers) briefly appears alongside the Swan Lake girl, while DNA imagery is rendered by guns and bullet trails as they mimic the double-helix structure. The incoherence from the random-like burst of images is accentuated by the title song, one of the worst compositions ever in music history: think of it as acute misery expressed by a bi-polar sufferer in a Tibetan Book of the Dead-style bardo chant, as droned by the alleged singer Billie Eilish. Suffice it to say, it’s best not to expect a sweet aria à la Schubert. Besides, it’s nothing more than a mere sideshow to the rest of the disappointments. The story proper begins in England, where the crux of the vastly muddled plot unfolds.
Under the unfocused direction of the aforementioned Fukunaga, and scripted on the fly by a battery of writers, including Eon’s go-to hacks Purvis and Wade and newcomer but manic feminista Phoebe Waller-Bridge (the screenplay seems more like patchwork than writing), this dismal excuse for another attempt at the box office cash grab is about a lethal DNA virus stolen from a British lab by CGI-aided villains. This has an unsettling similarity to the plot of Hobbs & Shaw—in that film, a terrorist organization known as Eteon has stolen a super virus bioweapon, which MI6 agents desperately attempt to retrieve. Fortunately, in No Time To Die, the villains have it easy: they are saved from having to embark on a lengthy trip to (oh, and I'm just brainstorming here) a virology lab in China. Luckily, for them, Fukunaga and his cronies ruled out any location in the eastern hemisphere where a lethal virus could possibly originate under the dictates of communist leaders and provoke global chaos and instill quasi totalitarian restraints on individual liberty, let alone any supervillainy-type of destruction. Of course, nothing sinister could ever originate in the east. Instead, in the film's woke charade, it's the west where the fountain of evil spurts. Leave it to the British, by way of MI6 leader M, to assign a below average scientist, a certain Dr. Valdo Obruchev, to develop an off-the-book DNA-targeting bioweapon.
This means CIA agent Felix Leiter (and only he can do this, apparently) must travel to the Caribbean to entice a washed-up Craig-Bond, who yet again bailed on the British Secret Service, back into action. This—the start of the main narrative—occurs about five or six years after the Matera fiasco: the Swan Lake girl is long gone, and the Craig-Bond has settled into a woke asexual lifestyle in Jamaica. During a dull conversation in a raucous bar involving nobody of any interest, Leiter babbles about the importance for the Craig-Bond to snatch Dr. Valdo Waldo Gorbachev—excuse me, the Obruchev chap—who happens to be captured in Cuba, of all places, by the Marvel-inspired Spectre organization. This is not the same nefarious syndicate in the Fleming books; but we are expected to know some Spectre film history (yes, that movie from six years ago), including an understanding of the group’s operations and whether its name has any acronymic significance (you got me there). Still, a scientist has been kidnapped! The fate of the planet hangs in the balance! The great need, the one thing needful: the CIA must seek the help of a decrepit former British secret agent in recluse to retrieve said scientist. At first, the Craig-Bond refuses, citing the need to stay in Jamaica and drink the local rum. Leiter tosses in the heroic incentive, suggesting that the Craig-Bond could help a world wherein the villains and heroes are all mixed up (a line mangled from the novel Casino Royale), although the whole notion is way over the Craig-Bond’s head. In a final attempt to be left alone, the Craig-Bond declares he’d rather be a roadie for a steel drum band, or perhaps even slit his wrists, than return to action-adventure spying; yet he’s completely unaware that, in reality, he is nothing more than a D-list actor collaborating with the director who got booted off the It movie.
Just as we contemplate this character point and the business about a virus, the narrative shifts to another direction: the Craig-Bond takes home an iron-fisted black woman, Nomi (played by Lashana Lynch), in attempt to put aside, at least for one night, his gender neutral routine. In a plot twist that might have been effective in Disney Channel’s Andi Mack, the woman reveals herself as the new 007. The dumfounded look on the Craig-Bond’s mug suggests an epiphany: just when he let his guard down, a forceful woman steps in and takes over his coveted double-O license to kill in the line of duty. Thus, for Her Majesty's Secret Service, appointing a non-seductive female agent as the successor to the Craig-Bond scores diversity points, and the damn thing matters like hell.
The stratagem for wokeness is always thrust to the forefront under different guises. To this point, actor Ben Whishaw stands out from the rest of the supporting cast. As Q, he’s outed as a vibrant member of the LGBTQ+ community (confirming what we have suspected all along) because it fills a quota. One would assume, in this vein, Naomi Harris (as Moneypenny) would have a bigger part. She’s also much easier on the eyes and more engaging than Nomi 007 and the Swan Lake girl. But the shortfall of the script relegates her to brighten the drab office scenes and, especially, the bizarre visit to Q’s apartment: abruptly—and preposterously—it’s in the techno-wizard’s home where the Craig-Bond and Moneypenny plan a clandestine mission without the knowledge of M (Ralph Fiennes), although we sense the scene was crafted solely to showcase that Q is a man-dater. We get a glimpse of his preparations for a romantic dinner in a puzzle-lined apartment with fine cutlery and the delicate crooning of Yma Sumac blaring in the background. There was a time when these Bond films presented characters seated at a table for a meal and discussed the matter at hand (take, for example, detective Aubergine and Bond in the Eiffel Tower restaurant in A View To A Kill ); but the intrusion into Q’s pad is the only scene in that manner. There was also a time when Bond and M had conversations that exhibited the MI6 leader’s paternalism and worldliness. Now, however, such a scene is overhauled to please the woke tribunal: during a Thames riverside conversation between the two, we witness trite babble as M complains about the lack of clarity in today’s enemies. The commissars in Beijing are rather clear, I’d say, but pointing them out in the realm of Wokeistan is the unpardonable sin.
There is no point in being polite for this rubbish. If the filmmakers had not been quite masochistic in their cold revulsion for the Bond films of yore, we might never have got to know the unpalatable cardboard that constitutes the new idiotic characters in No Time To Die. We might have also never got to encounter the very idiotic plot concerning nanobots and viruses—tedious in its idiocy, so much so that it makes an Ariana Grande video a profound work of art. But for now, the Craig-Bond and new 007 Nomi (a distracting name that recalls the Orkan greeting, Nanu Nanu) must accommodate the predictable climax by invading the villain’s island stronghold, somewhere in the China Sea, to thwart his evil plan.
So this takes us on a giant leap into ridiculousness. Despite bailing on MI6 several times, the Craig-Bond gets back into the spy trade with ease. This suggests that his boss M is so tolerant and laid-back that he doesn’t even care what this withered version of Vladimir Putin does. Very cool. I had a similar situation with an easygoing supervisor at the auto wrecking yard (during my college days) until the owner caught said supervisor sparking a one-hitter pipe behind the dumpster. Sad to say, such convenient work conditions never last unless you’re an inept and irresponsible British secret agent. Thus, this flimsy impetus for the climax leads to the Craig-Bond confronting the least menacing villain of the entire series. (Wait, what am I saying?! All of the villains in the Craig tenure are the most forgettable in the series.)
Behold Lyutsifer Safin, yet another below average guy whose evilness has endowed him with the ability to devise a pointlessly demented scheme; that and the ability to emphasize his villainy by speaking slowly with an obscure accent just like Mike Tyson in China Salesman. He is, of course, played gratingly by Rami Malek, fresh from his other grating performance in Bohemian Rhapsody, for which he bagged the Oscar Best Actor award for reasons I still find puzzling. Clad in a kimono and sashaying in dark rooms like a total moron, Safin is a former assassin of Spectre who hails from a line of exciting chemists. His childhood was spent on this balmy island retreat flourishing with poison flower gardens--the catalyst, certainly, for productive endeavors such as hobnobbing with assholes in Spectre without ever cultivating himself with anything that resembles a personality. The astute Bond fan will recognize that the filmmakers pulled the garden backdrop from the late-bloomer You Only Live Twice. Surprisingly, they had enough discipline not to adapt Fleming’s bizarre notion of Blofeld, the villain of the novel, patrolling this poison garden in a medieval suit of armor and chopping off the heads of suicidal visitors seeking deadly salvation on the island. (Self-restraint was not Fleming's forte; he considered his friend and playwright Noel Coward, best know for delicate comedies of manners, to play the part of Dr. No—imagine the casting, if you will.) Yet either way, this brief allusion is meaningless to anyone who has not read the novel and, moreover, we can be virtually certain that most moviegoers have little to no acquaintance with the Fleming oeuvre.
Anyway, as another flaw of the film, Safin has very little presence, and the character we finally meet is another variation of Eon’s recent greasy effeminate foreigners baffled by their own villainy. Hence, the confrontation with the Craig-Bond falls flat: Safin’s dialogue exchange with the agent is as incomprehensible as his motivation. Malek, hindered by the incoherent script, can’t seem to focus on any motivation. He banks on the makeup (which supposedly depicts a scarred face from chloracne) and the whispery shadow of a voice in a desperate attempt to be sinister, a technique that can only be called “astonishingly stupid.” But it's unclear where all the vapid talk about destruction is actually headed. We see the Craig-Bond is in conflict with Safin but we never truly know why he's struggling to thwart the master fiend. The assumption is that Safin has an evil plan because, well, he owns an island fortress. But is some kind of weapon about to launch from his island? Apparently so. We witness quite the yawner of a climax despite a ticking clock, missiles careening towards the island, and a final round of tiresome video game-style combat before the proclaimed “shocker” of a finale.
Infused in all the shenanigans is the steady dose of plot points that become more convoluted and soap operatic. Before the finale, the Craig-Bond reunites with the Swan Lake girl and together they visit his beloved brother/archenemy Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). Alas, the bruder is now a mega-maximum security prisoner residing in a cage obviously ripped off from Hannibal Lecter. Waltz expresses some of the finest camp acting to signal that his appearance in a Bond film is too undignified and beneath him. His scene is a fleeting cameo where he smirks in his cage and taunts the Craig-Bond with lines such as, “James, you gave up everything for her,” in a half-whispered sub-Vinnie Jones performance. He could give lessons in delirious overacting to Nicolas Cage. Just as Safin’s doomsday speech, Brother Blofeld’s manifesto is all but inaudible, like static white noise.
Whispers and muffled dialogue seem to be the modus operandi in a film that has some of the worst sound mixing. Director Fukunaga pulled off an effective trick in that he practically drowned out the dialogue with soft volume levels and overbearing sound effects and a sonorous soundtrack. With the characters’ voices buried underneath a drone of sounds, Fukunaga was free to skip through any sense of a story, simply because no one could hear the characters! Not even the supposedly great maestro, Hans Zimmer (hauled into the fray at the last minute), could keep the story engaging with his score: it expresses his worst tendencies, showcasing the overuse of brassy soundscapes, which recall the strivings of a sound designer meddling with chord progressions. It all seems like leftover audio clips from one of his Batman soundtracks. The only gem is his reuse of the John Barry-composed love theme from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, although it does stick out blatantly as a separate piece and not cohesive with the rest of Zimmer’s score.
Yet the scene with Brother Blofeld gives our man Craig the chance to overact with histrionics that make Travolta’s enactment of Gotti look profoundly dignified. His intonation and zeal at delivering the line “Die, Blofeld, Die!” are enough to bring him a Razzie award nomination for worst actor. Again, it’s futile to be prissy about this: Craig, ever in the state of deteriorating Bondness—bobbleheaded, pale, prematurely aged—exhibits the charm of a brick wall. Histrionics aside, he manages to keep us preoccupied, forcing us to wonder how his thin hair structure will hold with the rigid fixatives applied. No doubt his performance will be admired by experts—the court eunuchs known as the establishment press and the gullible Craiggyboppers in sycophantic fan forums—who will proclaim he has delivered an outstanding performance. Very true, if only because he appears to know when to move aside and make way for his legion of stuntmen. Nevertheless, the Blofeld encounter serves as a gateway to more DNA virus nonsense, melodramatic kitsch, and the introduction of Madeleine’s four-year-old daughter, whose father may be the Craig-Bond.
In the interim, or at least somewhere in the haphazard narrative, we meet some underdeveloped female characters as a direct consequence of Fukunaga’s incompetence. For all the hoopla surrounding a female 007, Lynch’s Nomi fails to be an enticing character. Her banter with the Craig-Bond is a tired routine that doesn’t reveal any insights into her character. Inevitably, based on the decree in Wokeistan, any sexual spark between the two is out of the question, a condition emphasized by the constant scorn from her and a warning that she’d maim him if he tried anything. (Not that it matters: the former 007 lacks a commanding presence; and what is worse, he finds her intimidating; and what is still worse, he is anxious about her.) By contrast, Ana de Armas, a photogenic and stunning actress, is wasted in a total screen time of approximately seven minutes. She plays Paloma, a CIA agent who represents the closest thing to a “traditional” sexy Bond girl. In another miscalculation from the filmmakers, she disappears after the gala event in Cuba, never to be seen again.
The Cuba set piece, for that matter, is a mess. In the film’s twisted reality, Cuba is a cheerful tropical paradise rather than the communist hellhole that its despotic leaders had established for 6o something years. For such irresponsible idiocy, one must look at a certain actor’s corner, whose occupant brazenly supported Comrade Bernie Sanders, America’s resident apologist for communist dictators. I had to laugh at the sight of the black-tie affair that the Craig-Bond and Paloma attend: decorated with lavish lighting, the gala’s intense power usage would short-out the country’s electricity for several months. But it’s here, in the balmy Havana evening, where the two encounter Dr. Valdo Waldo (the virus scientist) and a legion of Spectre thugs. In a ridiculous scene, the Spectre commander doesn’t bother to order his team to kill the Craig-Bond—instead, he unleashes the DNA virus and ends up killing some Spectre members (somehow, the virus scientist has an ounce of intelligence and reprogrammed the nanobots to seek and destroy Spectre morons). The Craig-Bond and Paloma shoot their way out of the uproar in another round of video game-style action choreography, with Paloma suddenly transforming into Lara Croft as she performs stupid handsprings and improbable dropkicks that knock down men ten times her weight. It’s vengeance on these male patriarchs and, as luck would have it, she’s had more than the three weeks of training she had initially mentioned to the Craig-Bond. Of course, why she lied to him from the get-go is never explained. This is a testament to the weakness of the script. On the other hand, director Fukunaga’s implication, I suspect, would be, “To wipe out toxic masculinity! And to jolt male viewers with a twist on gender expectations!”
The Craig-Bond, in another attempt at being a gelding, adheres to the edict of Fukunaga and tosses aside his dignity: here he is, in the presence of a gorgeous woman, but like the sexless paper-thin comic-book hero he’s evolved into, he treats her like any of the blokes at MI6 despite seeing her luscious beauty in a sleek slit evening gown. His predecessors—the Connery-Moore-Brosnan Bonds, for example—would not have missed a beat and turned on the 007-style charm to win her. Moreover, one can also sense the Waller-Bridge script revision in this action tumult: it's Paloma who exudes the Bondian spirit when she confidently pulls out a semi-automatic and wipes out a dozen or so thugs before bidding the purported super-spy farewell with a nonchalant quip. Through it all, the Craig-Bond watches her like a gaffed salmon, feeling over-awed and intimidated by her action heroics. There’s not much for this Bond to do in Wokeistan.
Which brings us to another miscalculation by the filmmakers. Distinctly missing is anything resembling sex appeal—but such is the 007 world in the wake of the #metoo fire storm. In their caution of the woke tribunal, the filmmakers convey intense sex panic, and No Time To Die becomes more sexless than anything in the Marvel realm, or MCU, or whatever the hell it’s called. But one of the key elements of the 007 series is the pulchritude of women with their teasing sexiness. Now, however, we get a Bond film that practically keeps the women wrapped as quasi-burqaed babes—essentially covered, with only bits of bare arms or legs to distinguish them from their kindred sisters in Kandahar or Kabul. This means stuffing Anna de Armas in a formal evening dress; likewise, Lashana Lynch in rumpled military fatigues for most of the film. Forget any camerawork that showcases babes lounging by a pool in revealing bikinis. The Craig-Bond himself, for almost three hours, doesn’t initiate any Bondian seductions with a scantily clad bird. Rather, his only romantic scene resembles a Kay Jewelers TV commercial, shot with a hazy filter, as he and the Swan Lake girl smile in cozy embrace while she’s wrapped in a loose-fitting cardigan. It’s a Bond film so devoid of sensuality you’d think it was developed in a convent with an 82-year-old nun overseeing the script to make sure nothing risqué was included.
Not that it matters, I gather, in the grand scheme of things. The puppeteers of the franchise, still waggling the cardboard husk of a geriatric-looking actor, have resigned to the futility of their situation: His Decrepitude, Daniel Putin Craig, resounds—and has always resounded—with zero chemistry with any of the actresses in his 007 tenure. To compensate in No Time To Die, they’ve upped the ante by presenting a lovesick schoolboy gushing over his Spectre Bond girl, Madeleine Swann.
“We have all the time in the world,” the Craig-Bond tells her, in his dreamy state, during the Matera sequence. Again, it’s the line from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Cue the orchestra. Underscore the moment with John Barry’s love theme for that movie. It’s the repeated motif in the film, a struggle by the filmmakers to present some kind of sweeping epic romance. Only this time, the Bond of this film is the emotional one. His statehood of Wimpus Sentimentalis, the new man in this new world of Woke, has caused him to detach, so to speak, the last connecting sections of his nads and plopped them on a gold platter for offering to the altar of fanatical feminism. It’s only fitting that, in overly morose moments, this Bond even gets teary-eyed and purses his lips as he gazes into the distance, trying to get a handle on his emotional issues. The effect of presenting a sentimental Craig-Bond and then stuffing him and this woman Madeleine in a Hallmark Channel-like romance movie with soaring orchestral passages is laughable, even farcical. Never has the series dipped so low into saccharine kitsch. Also, I ought to add that, as the foundation to the film, this romance is completely useless. For the entire plot is built on the flimsy assumption that audiences will find this love story, extending from a forgettable union in the forgettable Spectre, deeply moving. Fat chance. There is no spark between these supposedly love torn characters. The Craig-Bond, who has aged approximately 87 years in the 6 years between Spectre and this movie, is ready to be hauled into a retirement home and play bingo with his fellow seniors; Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine, the most unattractive Bond girl ever, spends most of the film with a pained look on her face, accented by closeups of her nose running as she weeps. The drastic age difference is disturbing (or shall we say creepy?), with Madeleine easily passing for the Craig-Bond’s daughter.
Not helping matters is Fukunaga’s treatment of the character as a fatuous bore, evermore so than she was in Spectre. With the plot elements converging onto her, the character amounts to nothing more than a placeholder to attach a love interest to the Craig-Bond and to advance the story when she’s abducted and used for leverage against him. Ultimately, she’s an ineffective recurring player in a serial; and this is before the filmmakers plop her in one of the most boneheaded ideas in the history of this tired series, surpassing even the ill-conceived Bond-Blofeld brother scenario of the last film. It’s astonishingly very bad.
I refer, of course, to the soap operatic revelation that Madeleine Swann has a little daughter (Good Lord, to think this is the drivel that gets the green light in today's Hollywood!). Director Fukunaga, along with Madam Producer Barbara Broccoli and the rest of the brain trust are truly grasping at straws to invoke forced dramatics into this story. Yet, just as a storyteller must never forget the rule of Chekhov's gun, one doesn’t thrust a child into danger to heighten suspense. It’s an overused gimmick often found in low budget action movies filmed in Romania. In No Time To Die, the revelation is so out of place that the film practically never recovers from it. An addendum, then, to Chekhov's rules: thou shalt not have a little tyke with a daddy Bond in a 007 adventure. (Even Fleming wisely glided over the notion of Bond's son at the end of You Only Live Twice: he travels to Vladivostok, unaware that the Japanese babe he leaves behind on the island of Kuro is pregnant with his child.)
Also contemporary, at least from the standpoint of emulating the recent tenor in comic books—wherein the hero dies at the grand finale—is the demise of the Craig-Bond in some sort of sacrificial, virtue-flaunting manner. It’s reminiscent of Hugh Jackman’s Logan, Scarlett Johanson’s Black Widow, or even the death of Han Solo in Star Wars Episode 247 or whatever the title might be. This is the other profoundly boneheaded sentiment in the movie. The sudden revelation of a child is not enough—we need to witness the death of the hero for maximum dramatic impact. So for its crowning glory, No Time To Die delivers a stilted climax where Nomi and Madeleine and her daughter, Mathilde, are forced to evacuate the villain’s base while a missile strike is set to destroy the island. Of course, the Craig-Bond stays behind to open the blast-resistant silo doors (and, by golly, somebody has got to do it) to allow the missiles to destroy the base. But first there must be the bittersweet goodbye: speaking to Madeleine by radio, attempting to hold back tears, the Craig-Bond mutters that he loves her and that she now has “all the time in the world” with her daughter. She confirms the kid has his eyes. (It is, we must admit, a truly distressing revelation: pity this child who has inherited the Craig-Bond’s revolting, lifeless reptilian eyes—picture it, if you will.)
"I know,” he mumbles, acknowledging the truth. The moment, though, doesn’t give him a chance to say more, not even, “Remember, Mathilde has ballet lesson after school.” For there is never any time for ardent family conversations when missiles are torpedoing towards your location. In an instant, a massive explosion occurs—and the filmmakers cherish the moment, letting the explosion go on and on, presumably because, in their delusion, it’s the most tear-jerking moment in cinema history. What they ought to have understood is that it’s difficult to pull out any heartrending emotion from audiences for a CGI-crafted fireball. The line itself, “All the time in the world,” is misused, considering how it’s so out of context from what Fleming wrote. The Craig-Bond recites it periodically like an endearing expression, something that star-crossed lovers in a tragic romance would say to one another and becomes the catchphrase that identifies their union. As it is, if the herbal fragrance of Moroccan Gold, drifting from smoke pipes, engulfed the script conferences of this film, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. This is not an accusation, but an attempt to grasp the bullshit. Drowned in their euphoria, the filmmakers must have equated the line with the famous one in Eric Segal’s Love Story, the tear-jerker with the tag line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Moviegoers clutched handkerchiefs during the finale of that film. In No Time To Die, I suspect audiences suffer severe depression from watching a dewy-eyed Daniel Craig attempting to emote for three hours and muttering a maudlin line that Fleming had never intended.
It points to the dismal level of creativity. Fukunaga and his writers rehash the line as a key signature element of the film. But the line only surfaces twice in the novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and in an entirely different context. Contrary also to the filmmakers’ objective, the line is not exclusive to that novel; for it first appears in the fourth 007 adventure Diamonds Are Forever. In chapter 9, “Bitter Champagne,” Bond takes comfort in his dinner with Tiffany Case, the heroine of the piece, at the iconic 21 Club in Manhattan. It’s a joyful moment. The waiter has brought “the Martinis, shaken and not stirred, as Bond had stipulated” (68), and he begins to take delight in discovering this woman. Meanwhile, the exquisite caviar, the warm ambience of the restaurant, and the smile of the woman transform into a moment of refuge from the deadly world of spying. Here it is, the almost mysterious line (emphasis mine), only this time it’s an inner sensation that Bond cherishes:
The waiter had gone. For a while they ate their caviar in silence. . . . Bond suddenly felt they had all the time in the world. They both knew the answer to the big question. For the answers to the small ones there was no hurry. (69)
He is quite captivated by her despite the way she fluctuates like a metronome with her emotions. In the Fleming canon, she is another one of the author’s damaged women: a complete neurotic, certainly a candidate for the psychiatrist’s couch; and throughout the novel, she constantly vacillates between hot and cold, so to speak. But for Bond, despite her being emotionally unstable even during dinner (witness, in the restaurant, her bizarre shifts in mood), all that matters is the moment with her. By the end of the novel, in chapter 23, their union blossoms into full romance. They board the Queen Elizabeth for London; and during dinner on the veranda, Bond feels again a calm blissful state:
The waiter came with the check and [the couple’s] hands rose and parted. But now there was all the time in the world and no need for reassurance from words or further contact. (187)
Once again, the line (emphasis mine) points to an inner sensation for Bond. The dangers of his profession are far away. There is peace, a stillness wrapped in contentment and serenity, in the moment. As emphasized by the chapter’s title, “The Job Comes Second,” Bond cherishes an inner sanctuary where all that matters is this moment with the woman, while the job of secret agentry takes a backseat to it all. He is caught up in this inner world and, however momentary, the spy trade and all its darkness has receded to some distant place. The seclusion, though, is illusory, Fleming seems to say: Bond is unaware that in the outer world, two ruthless assassins, Wint and Kidd, have boarded the ship. In the Bondian world, idyllic moments are always on the verge of disruption.
By the time we reach the next novel, From Russia With Love, the romance itself has met its own disruption. The aftermath of their union is summed up in chapters 11 and 12: they had discussions of marriage; but in this ever changing world in which we live in (to paraphrase Sir Paul McCartney), the couple suddenly ran out of bliss, and there was only time for quarrels, a noisy relationship of the plate-throwing kind as Bond implies to M, at the start of the mission briefing: “Fine girl, but she’s a bit neurotic. We had to many rows” (100). In the end, Tiffany Case set off to marry a bureaucrat in the U.S. Embassy. Bond, on the other hand, is alone again in the secret world of spying, no longer feeling the oceanic rapture of having all the time in the world.
Well, at least he finds it again several years later. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the line surfaces at the end, just after Bond and his bride La Comtesse Teresa (Tracy) di Vicenzo drive away from their wedding. It’s another newfound moment of bliss, a fresh state of happiness for the secret agent. With Tracy driving, Bond glances behind him and notices that several miles “way down the great highway was a speck of red,” a Maserati gaining speed. The now-Mrs. Bond, also aware of the car, wonders what to do:
“There’s a red car coming up fast behind. Do you want me to lose him?” “No,” said Bond. “Let him go. We’ve got all the time in the world” (189).
Moments later, he is a widower. Tracy is “lying forward with her face buried in the ruins of the steering-wheel” as blood oozes from the fatal wounds caused by “some automatic gun” from archenemy Blofeld’s passing car. An Autobahn patrol officer discovers the ghastly scene; and Bond, in a daze, says softly,
“It’s quite all right. She’s having a rest. We’ll be going on soon. There’s no hurry. You see”—Bond’s head sank down against hers and he whispered into her hair—“you see, we’ve got all the time in the world” (189 - 190).
Despite the rueful scenario, it’s also in a strange way a suitable ending: not to be heartless, but secret agent 007 in a marriage is something that we, along with Fleming, knew could never last. The scene occurs in the final chapter, titled “All The Time In World,” an ironic play from Fleming. For there is no such thing, this everlasting sense of a radiant moment, especially in Bond’s world. It is illusory; the tranquility is unattainable. Despite Bond feeling that there is no urgency in life, that he and Tracy have this long-lasting bliss, it’s all shattered in the space of an instant. Love and the peaceful state it brings can be taken away at any moment. In a turbulent world, every moment is haunted by the disorder that evil actions unleash. That is the world of Fleming’s Bond. That is the essence of the literary Bond—a man who drinks heavily and delves into the 007 high-style of living to diminish the agony in his system, an agony from the disorders of a violent world. In this sense, from Fleming’s standpoint, the phrase is more of an ominous line than a gushy romantic one.
It also suggests something critical in Bond’s reaction. His explanation that everything is quite jolly good, that “she’s having a rest,” and that they’ll be going soon is more than denial; rather, it’s Bond attempting to cling to the blissful state of having all the time in world, reluctant to let it go because everything has come to an end. It’s a retreat from the outside world and its horrors. But in that outer world—the real world, if you will—the horror lingers: the patrolman “took a last scared look at the motionless couple, hurried over to his motor-cycle, picked up the hand-microphone” (190) and calls urgently to the rescue headquarters.
After all is said and done, No Time To Die is a bizarre reimagining of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The DNA virus bioweapon is nothing more than a variation of the germ warfare plot of the novel and film. The visit to Vesper’s Lynd’s grave in the pre-titles is an attempt at dramatizing the fleeting revelation in the novel that Bond has an annual pilgrimage to visit the woman’s grave. Madeleine Swann is a tortured rework of Tracy di Vicenzo and her troubled past. In addition, lingering from Spectre, albeit a faint presence, is Mr. White, which attempts to emulate the situation with Tracy’s father, Draco. Who is Mr. White, you ask? We can be certain he is not Matt Le Blanc, aka Matt The White. Here’s me pointing him out in my review of Spectre:
Well, he is a shady character from Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace who has a total of eight minutes of screen time in both films. Somehow the filmmakers convinced themselves that the one thing needful was to expand Mr. White’s role for Spectre so they could stage a scene where he can mutter one of the laughable lines in a rundown barn: “You’re a kite dancing in the wind,” he says to the Craig-Bond. Yet what the filmmakers failed to realize was that they were fiddling with such a minor character who made zero impact on audiences in the aforementioned films. The endeavor is no different than, say, expanding Rob Schneider’s role in a future sequel to Grown Ups to add more “dramatic tension” in the story. In the film’s reality, the Craig-Bond promises Mr. White to seek out his daughter, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), who can reveal information about the Spectre organization. This triangle with the Craig-Bond and a wily criminal and his daughter has shades of the Bond-Tracy-Draco scenario in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Marc-Ange Draco, Tracy’s father, is head of the Union Corse. As the backstory goes, at the time he met his first and only wife (Tracy’s mother), he was hiding in the mountains from the police who “were after me at the time,” he tells Bond, and “they have been for most of my life” (38). In the pre-titles of No Time To Die, the whole notion of Spectre agents hunting down Mr. White and his family has shades of this theme. And, of course, the death of Tracy itself is revised as the Craig-Bond’s obliteration on the island. In other words, Majesty is throughly plundered with intimations and soundtrack cues (again, witness the John Barry-composed romantic theme). For the filmmakers, it’s their brazen signal to the world that No Time To Die is the replacement of the novel and film (Fleming is not even acknowledged in the screenplay credit). It is, in essence, their attempt to erase that 1969 movie and the very source material itself, Fleming's novel, to force the world to accept that this fifth Craigian 007 film is the definitive version.
In the end, it’s an act of subversion, of nihilism, on the entire 007 series and exposes the decadence of the mentality behind it all. Let me put it another way: it’s painfully obvious that the Madam Producer and her cohorts felt the need to intensify the dramatic aspect after the idiotic Brother Blofeld angle fell flat. But the death of the Craig-Bond raises problems that work against their intention. If anything, it wipes out the reasoning of the rebooted timeline and negates the very series itself. The current timeline, I gather, is the mandate from heaven, the gold standard of timelines, the one that finally takes the series to a better course and leaves behind the essence of those decadent Bond films of time past—hence, the alleged justification of the Casino Royale reboot in 2006. Yet by killing off the Craig-Bond, the filmmakers not only bring this glorious timeline to its end but destroy any context to the rest of the series—for example, in this timeline, with the Craig-Bond’s death, the events of Majesty (including the Tracy Di Vincenzo marriage, along with her doomed end) have never happened; in Licence To Kill, the grisly torture of lowering Felix Leiter into a cage of a great white shark has also never happened (Leiter, sad to say, meets his death in No Time To Die). By extension, all the previous adventures before the reboot in 2006 have never occurred somewhere in the Craig-Bond’s past—because he was blown up on that desolate island and his quintet of films has never expressed any solid references to previous adventures in the series. By contrast, in Licence To Kill, the allusion to Majesty (when Leiter tells his bride Della that Bond was married a long time ago) acknowledges a sense of continuity with the established cinematic Bond and honors the character as intended by Fleming—in that timeline, Majesty has occurred in the Dalton-Bond’s past. Disastrously, in No Time To Die, the Bond makers have, in essence, killed off, erased, a 60-year-old franchise so frivolously. Inadvertently, they canceled themselves, as today’s parlance goes.
Which brings us back to Mr. Live and Let Gripe. In No Time To Die, He of the Order of Ingrates gives us the worst of his interpretations for the 007 character. I have expounded on his wokeness, which requires no additional lucubration, except that, as we pull all of his antics together, we get a nihilistic performance that finally erases whatever was left, in this reboot, of the classic cinematic Bond and its literary counterpart. In the pre-titles, it’s Madeleine Swann who encourages him to visit Vesper Lynd’s grave. Where the hell is his independence of mind? In the novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the visit to the woman’s grave is James Bond’s private ritual, an “annual pilgrimage,” as he dubs it, because “there had been a drama and poignancy about that particular adventure [in Casino Royale] that every year drew him back to Royale and its casino and to the small granite cross in the little churchyard that simply said “Vesper Lynd. R.I.P” (19). The Bond in the books has self-determination and is not quite verbose and tends to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself. If anything, the business about Vesper Lynd is not something that he readily shares with others.
In addition, the literary Bond takes pride in his stature as a Double-O agent. But in this film, in his first encounter with Nomi, who has assumed the 007 mantle, the Craig-Bond is indifferent and shrugs off her promotion, telling her it’s just a number. It becomes something of a motif: near the end, he mends his fences with the fearsome Nomi, and, in their alliance, she gives the title back to him, proclaiming it’s just a number. Not quite. It’s not just any military-related status easily gained.
“A Double O number in our Service,” as the literary Bond explains in the novel Casino Royale, “means you’ve had to kill a chap in cold blood in the course of some job” (133). Fleming had also described the section as an elite but covert one, located on the eighth floor of the MI6 building: office doors lack numbers and “someone would come and fetch you to the room you needed and see you back into the lift when you were through.” Loelia Ponsonby, Bond’s secretary, has the distinction of being “one of the most envied girls in the building and a member of the small company of Principal Secretaries who had access to the innermost secrets of the Service” (Moonraker 5 - 7). In other words, it’s prestigious to be associated with the Double-O section. Bond shares an office with two other members, 008 and 0011; but the total number of agents in the Double-O section is never mentioned—perhaps because details of the section are highly classified, and this aura of mystique fuels the section’s sense of grandeur within the service.
The contrast from No Time To Die is jolting: the 007 label is thrown around casually and the Craig-Bond fetches it happily like a dog. This careless approach to the character worsens with other twisted aspects. Take, for example, the signature gun barrel visual. The Craig-Bond enters in full gait, flouncing across the screen, light in the loafers, if you get my drift. The actor has since admitted, on the Jimmy Kimmel show, it is his worst gun barrel opening because he was “skipping a bit, getting too light on my feet.”
You don’t say?
This Bond, viewed through the gun barrel, lacks determination and self-assurance in his walk. Now connect that with the character we see throughout the film. The light gait not only compliments the woke sentimental Bond we’ve discussed but also signals the aura of a first-class wimp who expresses himself ad nauseam. This guy is no challenge to a woman: he’s too much of an open book. Again, he’s the lovestruck school boy who says, at Vesper’s tomb, that he misses her and then gushes to the Swan Lake girl that they have all the time in the world. These overdone sentiments don’t belong to James Bond but to those foppish men redecorating living rooms and muttering dandified wall color schemes on home improvement shows.
Also, for the first time, we encounter a Bond with suicidal tendencies. Note how, in the Matera shoot-out, he sits in his Aston Martin, pausing for a few moments, watching how the windows of the car are about to shatter from the gunfire of a dozen goons. In this scene, the Craig-Bond freezes, suggesting he’s contemplating letting the bullets end it all right there; but it’s Madeleine again who initiates things and snaps him out of it. Why in hell is suddenly toying with death? Is it because he feels betrayed by Ms. Swan Lake? Apparently so. After the explosion at Vesper’s tomb, with his feelings hurt, the Craig-bond returns to the hotel, confronts Madeleine, and they begin arguing, with the Craig-Bond assuming she’s involved in the plan to kill him. She, on the other hand, insists they should play tennis, or at the very least have fun with a Sony Playstation game, and then take in some of the sights of Matera to get maximum value from their tour package. This, of course, further hurts the Craig-Bond’s feelings. Nevertheless, in the Aston Martin scene, he never bothers to think that if she had something to do with the tomb explosion, then why are the same goons shooting at her in the car? It’s an idiotic misunderstanding on the Craig-bond’s part, one easily rectified had he not overreacted like a neurotic 13-year-old girl who listens to Billie Eilish music. Fleming’s Bond, on the other hand, had never once contemplated suicide. As Raymond Benson summarizes effectively, in The James Bond Bedside Companion,
Bond tackles each day with a mania for experiencing whatever sensations it might offer. For a man surrounded by so much cold-hearted death, Bond loves life. He thrives on the adventure his assignments bring. Danger is a drug that stimulates Bond—his mind is clearest when his life is threatened (76).
Benson’s analysis reminds me of the Bond we meet in The Man With The Golden Gun. In this last novel, Bond returns to Jamaica on another grim mission to track down the assassin Scaramanga. But as he reads the Daily Gleaner at Kingston International Airport, he finds excitement in an advertisement for a real estate property. On the surface, this is a mundane scene but its underlying essence expresses so much character. To Bond, the newspaper ad conveys a sense of “old Jamaica.” He takes delight in the “splendid address and all the stuff about chains and perches and the old-fashioned abracadabra at the end of the advertisement brought back all the authentic smell of one of the oldest and most romantic of former British possessions.” (40 - 41). This is a man who feels a sense of life renewal, despite the loss of Tracy and all the traumas he’s suffered in his adventures. And as he sits in the airport, he remembers his past experiences in Jamaica, wonders about Honeychile Ryder and their survival against the demented Doctor No. The carpe diem factor kicks in, very touching in its simplicity: “One must forget the bad and remember the good. . . . James Bond smiled to himself as the dusty pictures clicked across his brain” (41). This is the credo for life affirmation, one that could only come from a man who doesn’t harbor suicidal thoughts.
Best of luck getting that sort of credo from the Craig-Bond. The suicidal impulse in the car is but one factor. From a larger perspective, we have a self-hating lout who totters on the brink of despair, and we see how it hinders the romantic angle of No Time To Die. Put another way, the romance sticks out awkwardly because we know the persona of the Craig-Bond. Repeatedly, throughout these five Craigian films, he’s been a grouchy, frustrated individual. Why so? The Craigian quintet is meant as a serial, the plots building upon one another, with the characterization of the Craig-Bond presented as a steady progression that defines and shapes him into the Bondian man he is. I turn again to one of my previous explanations:
This Bond is miserable because, in all probability, he’s a thoroughly loathsome individual and never once does he realize that he's so miserable because he’s got a psyche layered with childhood scars and repressed homosexual leanings. The groundwork for the characterization was established since the series was rebooted: we find a brick-stupid agent gadding about in tiny light-blue swimming trunks—essentially flaunting that he’s quite the modern metrosexual—but prone to rage as he pounds the stuffing out of doughy thugs dumber than himself. By the time we see him in Brokeback Skyfall, he’s evolved into a delicate flower, calling grandmother M frequently to seek guidance and comfortably sharing with the villain Raoul Silva that he’s had gay affairs. . . . Of course, what’s long gone is any adherence to Fleming’s literary character. For Mendes and Craig, Bond is essentially the same damaged marine colonel depicted in Mendes’s American Beauty: a sufferer of homoerotic repression with the tendency to snap into homicidal rage.
We cannot disregard the characterization thrust upon us in BrokeBack Skyfall. That alone negates the established cinematic Bond and Fleming’s characterization. Now here he is, the Craig-Bond, in a heterosexual romance that stems from Spectre but none of it rings true. Hence, the underlying reason why he and the Swan Lake girl lack so much chemistry. The ridiculous age difference between them is one thing; the other is that we’re unable to shake the notion of this pent-up gay tendency within him. It forces us to wonder whether, in his heart of hearts, he envies the self-affirmation of the young Q, who unabashedly dived into his true self? What’s certainly obvious is that this Bond is so damn miserable and suicidal because he cannot come to terms that he’s a closeted gay, or a pansexual of sorts, or whatever term the social justice warriors have approved this month. The guy is an existential wreck.
No Time To Die is the dumbest—and corniest—movie in the entire 007 franchise and perhaps the dumbest you will ever see in your lifetime. Maybe it’s even the dumbest movie that the entire spectrum of the human spirit could possibly create, even if we started now and had carte blanche resources. It has the most absurd story, grounded in the wonkery of Woke; and Craig, Malek, and Waltz give the biggest, dumbest performances you’ll ever see, even if you often watch 3D avatars of giant gorillas performing The Brady Bunch theme song. If this movie wasn’t so insulting to the 007 film legacy and to the Fleming canon, it would be the most laughable since the dawn of narrative film. Unfortunately, for the Madam Producer and her cronies, that glorious stature still belongs to China Salesman.
|1||It will not do to say that screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have based her name on Proust's character, Charles Swann, in Remembrance of Things Past. To read more into their concoction and associate it with Proust's great novel is an effective path to utter madness. Let’s face it: Purvis and Wade, along with Daniel Craig and Cary Joji Fukunaga, are about as literary as Emilio Estevez. On the other hand, Remembrance of Things Past is essentially a meditation on time and the human tendency to reconstruct the past through memory. In No Time To Die, or Spectre for that matter, none of the characters offer an iota of philosophical inquiry. After all, the characters in these films are total morons and, besides, it's difficult to philosophize about time in the midst of car chases and explosions.|
|2||I refer to the worst PR maneuver in the history of the series: Craig, presenting himself as an entitled blowhard on the eve of Spectre’s release, claimed he’d rather “break this glass and slash [his] wrists” than return for a fifth film—unless the studio brass further bloated his bank account.|