“No Time To Die” (2021): James Bond’s Coronavirus Endgame (Review)

· Films & Video Games

★★

The nationwide and global lockdown was one of the worst things that happened in this century.  One of its victims was No Time To Die.

To be sure, No Time To Die is a bad film, and would have been bad no matter when it was released, but as I argued just recently in my Eon List, some films are elevated because of the era and circumstances surrounding popular culture at the time of their release.  This might have been one of them.  But we don’t live in that hypothetical world.  We live in a dark postmodern dystopia currently bereft of good blockbuster films.

Purported as a kind of sum of all films, the end of an era, and a conclusion for Craig, the movie offers elements, tokens, and souvenirs of Bond as a classic character and action franchise, but they’re in and out like a revolving door.  No Time To Die has no time whatsoever to be an action movie or to even dabble in anything that might excite us.  What then, does this two hour, forty-three minute film care about?

The preceding film Spectre and No Time To Die go hand in hand like misery loving company.  The latter leans heavily on the former having simply existed, and assumes that the relationship between Bond and returning girl Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) was so immaculately constructed that all that was left to do before their happily ever after was to close the lingering wound left in Bond’s heart by the betrayal and death of Vesper Lynd.  Except it also contradicts that because the villain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) is introduced in an opening flashback as the source of Madeleine’s lifelong trauma from his failed attempts to kill her father at their home when she was a little girl.

Things don’t get any clearer from that point on.  Even the decision to give him the first name “Lyutsifer” seems like a joke the movie instead intends as a metaphor for his dogging of her in the film.  I say “her” because despite being hyped up as some sort of mastermind Bond villain, he has no relationship whatsoever with Bond himself.  When he shows up again over an hour later, it’s just to torment Madeleine and coax her into helping him because of their “special relationship.”  What we know for sure is that he really, really hates Spectre.  Yet the big plan he is working towards, which apparently began after his own family was killed by Mr. White, has literally nothing to do with anything he has otherwise been doing in the film.  To hear his forced philosophical explanation as to how bio warfare gives people what they secretly really want; it’s like hearing someone press down and hold a button on the telephone like it’s an activation note for understanding.  But by talking about him in more than one paragraph, I’m giving his character more recognition than the film does.  Seriously, he’s barely even in it.

In fact, nearly everything that smacks of supposed importance comes and goes like the amendment tour in the twelve steps of rehab.  After having been absent since his cameo (that was all you could call it) in Quantum of Solace, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and Bond celebrate and talk like friends from childhood.  Their relationship is defined through an unearned line from Spider-Man where Bond tells someone, “the reason I’m better than you is because I have a black friend.”  You probably think I’m kidding.  I am not.

Speaking of black friends, No Time To Die also introduces Lashana Lynch as the new Agent 007 in the wake of Bond having retired.  Again, the film has no idea what to do with her besides reminding you that she exists.  And she can fly a drone, which she proceeds to do just long enough to ensure that the footage is there for the trailer.  The rivalry between them (which has not even a decimal of the energy or magic of the Bond/XxX rivalry in The Spy Who Loved Me) assumes we think that a black woman in the role is a big deal.  Since it isn’t, the supposed payoff of it lands like a belly flop into an acid pool with no consequence or impact for anyone anywhere.

No Time To Die is such a long, miserable experience that even the things in it that work or might otherwise be enjoyed, are pushed off to the outside or smothered by the sense of ugly, persistent depression that has no reason to be there.  Skyfall had these things too. But it, by contrast, understood that they were only useful or functional if they were blended with the larger, cynical world where messy missions occasionally produce the kind of blowback that hijacks the very advantages a secure country thinks it has, and can be resolved only by the personal touches of shadow operatives whose childhood trauma can turn into the very weapon of salvation.  See that?  That was a sentence that summarized a film that was actually coherent and conclusive.  I have no idea how to summarize this one except by the title of this review.  And as such, I can’t make anything from the good things that would otherwise have been worth a damn in a real movie.  Like the machine gun donut with the Aston Martin and bridge jump both in the pre-title opening; or the Cuba nightclubbing with Ana de Armas that had everything except sexual chemistry.

Everything is wasted because at the end of the day, this is a franchise that never understood what James Bond is, what his movies are, or even had strong feelings about him other than those of a distant, condescending aunt writing scripts from her therapy couch about the headache he gives her.  In that sense, No Time To Die is, at least, a fitting final chapter.

The Daniel Craig Bond era, for all the good that two of the five films brought us, was a mistake born of postmodern contempt and abject cinematic stupidity.  See it if you must, but you’re better off watching something that doesn’t treat you like a damaged person for having enjoyed a James Bond film in the past.

– Vivek

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