The End of the Line
James Bond Eon Film #25: No Time to Die
I struggle with the James BondThe world's most famous secret agent, James Bond has starred not only in dozens of books but also one of the most famous, and certainly the longest running, film franchises of all time. series. As character who has (through various forms) carried on from the 1960s through the Cold War and into the modern era, there's a lot of expectations and baggage that comes along with the world most famous secret agent. When you have 25 films over a span of six decades, baggage just happens and there's really nothing you can do about that. Case in point, Casino Royale was meant as a reboot of the franchise, except one character (M) carried over and eventually all the old baggage of the series was slipped back in.
No Time to Die, the 25th film in the long-running franchise, is the send off for Daniel Craig's version of James Bond. After five films (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre, and now No Time to Die), Craig's Bond would hit the happy trail, never to show up in the franchise again. Bond would come back, but not performed by Craig. This was the end of the line. The grand finale. And... man... I struggle to buy into it.
Look, on its own, No Time to Die is a perfectly serviceable action film. It does work as a basic culmination of the Craig era, but saying that we have to also acknowledge the Craig era was wildly uneven. Casino Royale was great (even if it does have an entirely tacked on fourth act that should have been a separate film), but the following movies slowly added in drips and drabs of old continuity, muddying the waters would overly convoluted plot machinations, leading to a set of five films that somehow had a more bloated continuity than the previous twenty films ever managed. It's a very messy era, not at all the tight reboot that was originally envisioned. If you enjoyed the previous films then likely this film's "end of the road" storyline will hit for you. But the film does struggle to build it's big narrative for anyone not invested.
Again, as a surface level action film, No Time to Die is fine. It had big set pieces that, sometimes, are fun to watch. While the director Cary Joji Fukunaga struggles to film car chases without any kind of energy (there's a lot of cuts, a lot of close ups of the drivers, but no continuity to the shots), his gun fights and melee choreography is on point. Bond here is a quipping, gun-toting, action-powered star, and the film does let him have plenty of moments to shine. He's a bit too far removed from the gruff and brooding spy of the first couple of films but, then, these films have slowly push his Bond more towards the character of old, so that's to be expected. Blowing up a guy's head and then saying, "I showed him the device, it blew his mind," is the kind of terrible wordplay you expect from classic Bond. That's the kind of action star he was and who he's become again.
The issue I had with No Time to Die is that, as a finale for the series it fails. Oh, it ushers out Craig's Bond with a finality (I won't point it as, at only two years old at the time of this writing, I feel like the film still falls under the spoilers statute of limitations, but suffice it to say his ending is telegraphed way in advance). The issue there is that while the end for the character might be earned, the end of James Bond 007 isn't and that undercuts the actual end of the film entirely.
Is James Bond a person or a codename. In these five films he's treated as a single person (which does play some minor hell with the continuity that came before, and even Casino Royale as well), but the larger scope has always implied that "James Bond" is a codename, given to an agent when they become "007". This film does play it like Craig's Bond is the real James Bond, the one and only. He's retired in this film, having left the service after the events of Spectre (having retired and come back in that film as well). Yet he's still called Commander James Bond, that being his real name and rank. For these films, 007 is a codename but Bond is one guy.
That wouldn't seem weird to me on its own, and it works in the tight continuity of these five movies, but it's not just five movies, it's all the movies that came before (which, remember, are loosely connected), and the fact that EON productions are already looking at casting the next Bond, to get the adventures going for the character in the future. A film that plays itself as the grand finale for James Bond, not just the man playing that codename but the actual person of James Bond, fails to nail that because the series can't help but undercut it's own ending but continuing onwards. It's like having Captain AmericaCreated by Simon and Kirby in 1941, Captain America was a super soldier created to fight Germany and the evil HYDRA. Then he was lost in the ice, only to be found and reborn decades later as the great symbol of the USA. leave the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. and then, at the end of the film, a tagline goes, "Captain America will Return..." We can't take James Bond's end seriously because we know, in some form of function, the character can't stay gone. So what's the point of a big finale, then?
I harp on this so much because the film is very deeply invested in making sure we know this is James Bond's last outing. The man, the myth, the legend will not return. It wraps up all its continuity the best it can (while still setting up a possible 007, Lashana Lynch's Nomi, in this 'verse), kills all the characters it needs to kills, and sets the stage for Bond's graceful exit. It wants you to invest deeply in the idea that James Bond will be no more after this, and that would work if the production company didn't immediately undercut the setup by saying in press junkets, "Oh, the character of Bond will come back, just not with Daniel as the lead." Then what's the fucking point?! Why do the finale? Why bother?
There is a way the film could have done this, mind you: it could have just recognized the fan continuity that said James Bond 007 is a title given to an agent. Nomi, by taking on the 007 rank, became "Jane Bond, 007". The series could continue with someone else in the "role" while giving Daniel Craig's "James Bond" his send off properly. But the execution of who he is and what he stands for is so muddled that it knocks the legs out from the finale. It does a disservice to itself because the continuity is messed up enough and, of course, because EON can make a female 007 but they can't commit to making a female Bond. It's just dumb.
What you'll notice about all my ranting is that I haven't talked about the plot at all. That's because the plot of this film is threadbare and doesn't really matter. James is called in because there's a new threat, Heracles, a nano-bot virus made by the MI6 but stolen by bad guy Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek). Safin wants this virus because... evil? he seems to legitimately just want to kill everyone and be evil. Every motivation he has is, "let's just be evil." James is good, Safin is evil, so let's have them fight. That's it. That's the story. No complicated spy-craft, no big ransoms or discussions of the geopolitical climate. Just "evil guy evil, go kill." Okay.
In and amongst this we also get a B-plot about returning "Bond Girl" Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), who was last seen in Spectre. For dumb reasons Bond dumps her at the start of this film, being led to believe he can't trust her. That's all so the two can be apart and have to come back together. Oh, and there's a cute little kid that Bond has to protect because that's what everyone really wanted in a Bond film, a cute kid. It's all supposed to point to him softening, learning to accept love and be a real person, but it comes across as incredibly forced. It's a script filled with tropes that supposed to pull our heartstrings and make us care right before the lead character is sent off into this good night, but it's so blatantly obvious about it's motivations that it's hard to care.
Honestly, I blame the script, which went through four writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The film took six years, and four writers, to pull together and you can feel it straining against the seams of expectations and all the various producer mandated ideas. It's a script straining against all the needs of this finale (a finale, remember, that doesn't really work in the bounds of the series), struggling to do it with any grace. There are solid moments in the film, largely due to the actors trying their level best to sell this material, but it's a story that doesn't work, struggling for forced relevance simply because Craig is done as the character and the producers felt that should "mean something."
Again, at a surface level No Time to Die works as an action film. There are some lively scenes (especially a party crashing sequence featuring solid fight work from Craig's Bond and newly introduced CIA agent Paloma, played by Ana de Armas). But when you dig any deeper into the film, as a drama, as a character piece, or as a grand finale, none of those beats are earned. This is a simple and shallow action film that tries to elevate itself with forced emotion. It works as an action piece, it fails as a finale.