Skip to main content

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die
(2021)

(SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre, the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Nomi: I have a thing for old wrecks.

By far the movie’s most egregious act is the use of Louis Armstrong’s all-time-high Bond song We Have All the Time in the World and Bond uttering as much, not once but twice. Whatever claim the Craig era has to have struck out in an individual direction – and charmless yobbo Bond was certainly a break with his predecessors – is dashed by the makers kneeling to the memory of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the one really moving, affecting Bond movie (the reason that one works is because George Lazenby is willing and able to play vulnerable; Craig, in contrast, continually begs the question, rather like his vodka martini’s preparation, of why you should give a damn). It’s quite appallingly lazy. Bond has never stooped to feeding upon itself in quite such a shameless, brazen way before, to admitting “Yes, this one is so much better than we are, so we’ll have some of it”.

Particularly since it further underlines how lifeless No Time to Die’s central romance is. As with national-treasure Judi’s M, the Craig’s era just can’t help banging on about things better left buried, so the ghost of Vesper dutifully follows him around everywhere he goes, forgetting that James looked far too thuggish at the time to get hopelessly lost in a romance (whatever the makers tried to tell us otherwise; again, go to OHMSS for the one that worked). Vesper’s replaced by Madeleine Swann, Eon compounding the errors of Spectre by making her the love of Bond’s life (or is it really Vesper, I’m never quite clear due to the harping on), and neither Seydoux nor Craig can do anything to convince us Bond and Maddie have any chemistry. Which made the initial prospect that she might have been working for Spectre all along – we know it’s a slim chance, but we hope so all the same – an appealingly schismatic one.

It’s very telling that the parts of No Time to Die that work for Swann – and there aren’t many – involve her dark secret or her interaction with Rami Malik’s Beelzebub Mephistopheles. I mean Lyutsifer Safin (seriously, WTF?) And then further, Madeleine Jr’s (Coline Defaud) prologue encounter, possibly the best sequence in the movie, as she shoots his diminutive Michael Myers alike before heading out on a frozen lake (what happens next, we never discover, since their relationship over the years is left more than vague. The same as how Abaddon Belial looks about Madeleine’s age, even with that makeup, despite being a good two decades older than her). Running about with a mortified moppet is rarely a good look for a movie, unless you’re Sigourney Weaver, and you know, the moppet has a glimmer of personality (which is why Old Nick leaving her after she bites him is amusing in more ways than one, as it’s a signal the writers are just dog tired with this dispensable plotline). Yet the backend of No Time to Die is pretty much that.

It’s another case of don’t tell us. Invest us. Don’t tell us Bond loves Maddie, make us feel it (without resorting to We Have All the Time in the World). Don’t tell us Bond cares about his new-found moppet (Lisa-Dorah Sonnet); give them some kind of er, bond, beyond a stuffed toy. And don’t tell us Bond’s self-sacrifice is profoundly affecting; make us weep for the loss. Rather than, you know, breathe a sigh of relief.

Knowing the outcome to No Time to Die was at Craig’s behest rather puts me in mind of sourpuss Harrison Ford’s attitude to Han Solo. Except that Han really had nowhere to go once he’d been derogued and domesticated. I guess neither did Craig Bond, even after they’d done every damn thing they could to give him some additional dimensionality and still come up short. It’s been suggested Danny Boyle fell out of directing this effort because he wanted a light-hearted romp with Russkies as villains (perhaps as a break from all that soul-shredding 2012 Olympics predictive programming). But Craig wanted to die.

Probably because he’d seen Logan or something (it can work to kill a hero, but only if you have an idea. Rather than, you know, a Purvis and Wade script with some spot welding from Fleabag). Toasting Bond simply emphasised there was no power to his send off. If they really had to riff on OHMSS, they should have had Craig exclaim “This never happened to the other fellow” just before he exploded (I’m doubtful Dan is overly bright; I suspect he took the part in Logan Lucky simply because it had Logan in the title. Making a Soderbergh movie tends to benefit no one, not even Steven’s CV).

The most affecting sequence in No Time to Die comes much, much earlier, and relates to a character short changed not only in the Craig era but Bond generally. Previously, that had much to do with an almost perverse desire to recast the role each movie (and when they did return to an earlier actor, that seemed almost perverse in itself). Jeffrey Wright is one of the unqualified highlights of the Craig era, and every time his Felix Leiter appeared on screen, I wanted to follow his adventures rather than the spy we’re lumbered with. Obviously, if they were going to kill Bond off, they’d kill of Felix first. As a taster. And for weight. Gravitas. All that stuff. On the plus side, though, Wright makes every moment count and reverberate in a manner Craig couldn’t dream of, so his exit is genuinely upsetting; I was just glad to see him again, after he’d been so rudely ignored in the previous two movies.

Q: Can I just have one nice evening place before the world explodes?

So we’ve dealt with the deaths and returns, largely, and I’ll address the plotline shortly. What of the other supporting factors? The irony of the Craig era is some very good key casting. Ben Whishaw returns as Q, but this time as GAY Q, in case you hadn’t realised that Ben only ever plays fey characters (except for Paddington, who’s merely bear-curious). Moneypenny’s role is a bit thankless, but the whole treatment of Naomie Harris’ version has been positively perverse, so making her final stint borderline redundant is about right. Rory Kinnear is very likeable as Bill Tanner and like Wright’s Felix, the indelible version of the character. But in Bill’s case, well, entirely inessential. M…

Q: Blofeld's eyeball unlocked.

What exactly happened to M between movies? He’s suddenly become entirely inept and morally unconscionable. He’s basically Homer Simpson, with a “Doh!” response to how the deadly DNA killer developed at his invitation was misused, allowing Swann to see Blofeld because she’s the only one he will see (that’s EXACTLY why you shouldn’t let her), and somehow letting Blofeld’s bionic eyeball pass undetected in a hyper-security facility.

That’s the returnees. We also have the new 007, in the form of Lashana Lynch, most remarkable because she’s the first chunky 00 – there’s no other explanation for trousers approaching one’s neckline – rather than for having assumed the 7 mantle, and clearly not built for speed, hence the mostly carefully curated camera angles. Ostensibly, she’s the “woke” part of the movie, taking over the franchise from the toxic male, although in any other era (you could easily see her in the Moore to Brosnan run as an amusing intrusion upon the status quo), she’d hardly raise an eyebrow.

Mostly, she suffers from that self-same problem the series currently suffers in any area; whenever it attempts to hit a mark, be it romance or emotional baggage or sexual politics, in looks a bit silly. Lynch is fine in the way Seydoux is fine; forgettable, a bit bland, nothing you’ll remember apart from the cheap shot ducking David Dencick’s Valdo Obruchev in a nanobot vat for making a racial slur. That, and relinquishing her 007 status because she sensed through the aether it wouldn’t do to have Bond die without his designated number attached.

The contrast to this vague sense of hopelessness, cast wise, is trying to have a simple, breezy good time. No Time to Die scores in exactly the same way A Quantum of Solace (Gemma Arterton), Skyfall (the Bond-Moneypenny rapport) and Spectre (the Bond-Belluci lust) did. The entire gamut of Bond and Paloma (Ana de Armas) is an absolute highlight of the movie, as she introduces herself as a bit of a klutz before revealing she’s devastatingly effective (you’re never remotely convinced Nomi is). The whole section of the meet up, segueing into the ultra-weird and very obviously evocative of Rothschilds circa-1972 dinner parties Spectre/Elite meet up, followed by her turning incredibly kick-ass, is a delight. When Bond offers a farewell “You were great”, you can but concur. She really was. You want a female Bond movie. Make Paloma. She’s a gift.

Elsewhere, there’s Billy Magnussen, a much more serviceable bad guy than either of the (inevitably, despite the prejudicial connotations) disfigured ones. Malek can’t get over looking about fifteen, which means, once he’s shorn of his mask, his impact diminishes. Waltz is simply a bit shit as Blofeld, once again, which means that, even though he has a glorified cameo, he helps to collapse the overall import of this 00-edifice.

During the first half of No Time to Die, I was pretty convinced it was the best-directed Bond movie. The staging and editing of the action sequences is superlative, from the Italian graveyard bomb to the first of several enviably versatile car chases, to the Cuba encounter and poor Felix’s demise. But let’s not forget Cary Fukunanaga, who did such a grand job on the first season of True Detective, also has a story and screenplay credit, so is at least partly responsible for the third act drudge that follows, failing to turn the series into an effective first-person shooter and falling on tired and pedestrian devices and plot developments that ultimately do for both the movie and the sense of continuity he was carrying from scene to scene and act to act, instilling a palpable internal tension to the proceedings. Fukunaga fumbles it, and even employing the reliably “building” Hans Zimmer score cannot redress the balance.

As to balance, we have to wonder about Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s contribution, deemed as it was important enough to garner a screenplay credit. One has to guess she refashioned much of the dialogue, but much of it could easily have been written by “lesser” luminaries. You know, Hugh Dennis making “small pox in a lunchbox” gags and Bond joshing that Swann’s next revelation, post his child, will be “another child”. Proponents of the Craig era will make a case for his burly wit, but I’ve found him mostly rather dour and self-serious, and this is no different when his character “arc” gets in the way of the story, which was ever thus (he has a producer credit).

Safin: People want oblivion and a few of us are born to build it for them.

Of course, Phoebe is not simply an Elite stooge, no matter her woke-ing of Bond (apparently, she turned departed Donald Glover’s TV spin on Mr. and Mrs. Smith on the grounds of, and I quote, his being a “fucktard”). One has to look more broadly at who dictates Eon’s content to pinpoint the plot expediencies here. Who feeds Eon their MacGuffins? Are Purvis and Wade as immaterial as Chris Carter when it comes to submitting to and facilitating a broader agenda?

Last time out, Bond was injected full of nanotech (smart blood), and we barely batted an eye in the face of the bigger threat (a NWO engineered behind the scenes by Blofeld that only the stalwart MI6 could fend off). Was this a stealth manoeuvre, such that it isn’t the smart blood that kills Bond – he’s injected again this time – but rather smart missiles? Either way, No Time to Die is in retreat. M (per above) is now making all the wrong moves, and Project Heracles, “a bioweapon containing nanobots that infect like a virus upon touch” (per the Wiki summary) developed by British government is, shockingly, misused by the bad guys rather than those who would use it for morally upstanding purposes. This is a well-worn trope, naturally, so there’s little point spending much time on it (again, it seems early on as if Bond might discover the whole world to be corrupt – in the way at-odds nations can unite suddenly in response to a global “threat”, almost as if powers are only nominally at odds and really cajoled by octopoid tentacles behind the scenes – the only surprise being the movie mustered even that level of doubt).

It’s telling that the scientists at the opening are joking about notoriously deadly and transmissible smallpox (and Ebola) before revealing via Obruchev – David Denick, as your comedy foreigner par excellence, see also Alan Cumming in Goldeneye – a contagion that actually is transmissible in the manner of the Pasteurian disease model. This one still requires direct exposure (via a “mist”) but once in one’s system, others can be “infected” (so, see shedding for a comparison). One can also be an asymptomatic carrier (hence Bond's self-sacrifice).

No Time to Die embraces popular DNA science for its MacGuffin, able to target an individual, a family, or entire ethnic group. Fortunately, this is very easy to control and blow up its manufacturing base, enabling a trad third-act finale. The movie was initially due for release just as the plandemic was taking hold, of course (and before even: 2019, when Boyle was still attached), and some commentators have suggested its engineered viral outbreak plot may be a little too close to home for some viewers. The movie’s a hit, but it looks like a very limited one in the States, and its sure not to recoup its considerable costs on its cinema release alone. Plus, even given this is *just* one incarnation of Bond – while the framed portrait of frickin’ Dench M was no surprise, it was nice to see Bernard Lee, previously on a wall in The World is Not Enough – thanks to Daniel it’s still a Debbie Downer of an ending. If Bond can die, anyone can…

Generally, my take on the Craig era – and I know there are those who will strongly disagree, claiming there’s bags of gags – is one of dour self-importance that diminishes the series’ best virtues. As if Licence to Kill had been a hit and remained the franchise template. That approach, the Bond Identity, served Casino Royale well, but nothing since has offered a sufficiently robust plot for the two modes –excess of scheme and budget versus studious character arc – to marry successfully. As such, I don’t mourn this Bond’s passing. Indeed, I think it’s really quite alright.


Popular posts from this blog

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

I don’t think Wimpys still exist.

Last Night in Soho (2021) (SPOILERS) Last Night in Soho is a cautionary lesson in one’s reach extending one’s grasp. It isn’t that Edgar Wright shouldn’t attempt to stretch himself, it’s simply that he needs the self-awareness to realise which moves are going to throw his back out and leave him in a floundering and enfeebled heap on the studio floor. Wright’s an uber-geek, one with a very specific comfort zone, and there’s no shame in that. He evidently was shamed, though, hence this response to criticisms of a lack of maturity and – obviously – lack of versatility with female characters. Last Night in Soho goes broke for woke, and in so doing exposes his new clothes in the least flattering light. Because Edgar is in no way woke, his attempts to prove his progressive mettle lead to a lurid, muddled mess, one that will satisfy no one. Well, perhaps his most ardent fans, but no one else.

It looks like a digital walkout.

Free Guy (2021) (SPOILERS) Ostensibly a twenty-first century refresh of The Truman Show , in which an oblivious innocent realises his life is a lie, and that he is simply a puppet engineered for the entertainment of his creators/controllers/the masses, Free Guy lends itself to similar readings regarding the metaphysical underpinnings of our reality, of who sets the paradigm and how conscious we are of its limitations. But there’s an additional layer in there too, a more insidious one than using a Hollywood movie to “tell us how it really is”.

The voice from the outer world who will lead them to paradise.

Dune (2021) (SPOILERS) For someone who has increasingly dug himself a science-fiction groove, Denis Villeneuve isn’t terribly imaginative. Dune looks perfect, in the manner of the cool, clinical, calculating and above all glacial rendering of concept design and novel cover art in the most doggedly literal fashion. And that’s the problem. David Lynch’s edition may have had its problems, but it was inimitably the product of a mind brimming with sensibility. Villeneuve’s version announces itself as so determinedly faithful to Frank Herbert, it needs two movies to tell one book, and yet all it really has to show for itself are gargantuan vistas.

Give poor, starving Gurgi munchings and crunchings.

The Black Cauldron (1985) (SPOILERS) Dark Disney? I guess… Kind of . I don’t think I ever got round to seeing this previously. The Fox and the Hound , sure. Basil the Great Mouse Detective , most certainly. Even Oliver and Company , so I wasn’t that selective. But I must have missed The Black Cauldron , the one that nearly broke Disney, for the same reason everyone else did. But what reason was that? Perhaps nothing leaping out about it, when the same summer kids could see The Goonies , or Back to the Future , or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure . It seemed like a soup of other, better-executed ideas and past Disney movies, stirred up in a cauldron and slopped out into an environment where audiences now wanted something a touch more sophisticated.

It becomes easier each time… until it kills you.

The X-Files 4.9: Terma Oh dear. After an engaging opener, the second part of this story drops through the floor, and even the usually spirited Rob Bowman can’t save the lethargic mess Carter and Spotnitz make of some actually pretty promising plot threads.

Monster nom nom?

The Suicide Squad (2021) (SPOILERS) This is what you get from James Gunn when he hasn’t been fed through the Disney rainbow filter. Pure, unadulterated charmlessness, as if he’s been raiding his deleted Twitter account for inspiration. The Suicide Squad has none of the “heart” of Guardians of Galaxy , barely a trace of structure, and revels in the kind of gross out previously found in Slither ; granted an R rating, Gunn revels in this freedom with juvenile glee, but such carte blanche only occasionally pays off, and more commonly leads to a kind of playground repetition. He gets to taunt everyone, and then kill them. Critics applauded; general audiences resisted. They were right to.

Three. Two. One. Lift with your neck.

Red Notice  (2021) (SPOILERS) Red Notice rather epitomises Netflix output. Not the 95% that is dismissible, subgrade filler no one is watching but is nevertheless churned out as original “content”. No, this would be the other, more select tier constituting Hollywood names and non-negligible budgets. Most such fare still fails to justify its existence in any way, shape or form, singularly lacking discernible quality control or “studio” oversight. Albeit, one might make similar accusations of a selection of legit actual studio product too, but it’s the sheer consistency of unleavened movies that sets Netflix apart. So it is with Red Notice . Largely lambasted by the critics, in much the manner of, say 6 Underground or Army of the Dead , it is in fact, and just like those, no more and no less than okay.

What about the panties?

Sliver (1993) (SPOILERS) It must have seemed like a no-brainer. Sharon Stone, fresh from flashing her way to one of the biggest hits of 1992, starring in a movie nourished with a screenplay from the writer of one of the biggest hits of 1992. That Sliver is one Stone’s better performing movies says more about how no one took her to their bosom rather than her ability to appeal outside of working with Paul Verhoeven. Attempting to replicate the erotic lure of Basic Instinct , but without the Dutch director’s shameless revelry and unrepentant glee (and divested of Michael Douglas’ sweaters), it flounders, a stupid movie with vague pretensions to depth made even more stupid by reshoots that changed the killer’s identity and exposed the cluelessness of the studio behind it. Philip Noyce isn’t a stupid filmmaker, of course. He’s a more-than-competent journeyman when it comes to Hollywood blockbuster fare ( Clear and Present Danger , Salt ) also adept at “smart” smaller pict

Oh hello, loves, what year is it?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) (SPOILERS) Simu Lui must surely be the least charismatic lead in a major motion picture since… er, Taylor Lautner? He isn’t aggressively bad, like Lautner was/is, but he’s so blank, so nondescript, he makes Marvel’s super-spiffy new superhero Shang-Chi a superplank by osmosis. Just looking at him makes me sleepy, so it’s lucky Akwafina is wired enough for the both of them. At least, until she gets saddled with standard sidekick support heroics and any discernible personality promptly dissolves. And so, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings continues Kevin Feige’s bold journey into wokesense, seemingly at the expense of any interest in dramatically engaging the viewer.