No Time To Die is the newest James Bond movie, and the last one featuring Daniel Craig. How is this send off to the Bond of the last decade? Well…
When I reviewed Spectre, I thought that would be the last James Bond movie featuring Daniel Craig. But no. No Time To Die is here. You see, at the end of Spectre, James drove off into the sunset with his love interest Madeleine Swann, and that seemed like that.
Guess not. In No Time To Die, we see that same end scene. It turns out, James and Swann are visting Vesper Lynd’s grave — remember her from Casino Royale, the first and best Daniel Craig Bond movie? Spectre troops, sent by James nemesis Blofeld, attack them. A message from Blofeld appears on Swann’s phone and James immediately dumps her and heads to Jamaica by himself to live in a villa. Well, that escalated quickly.
Five years later, some well-organized bad guys rob a secret government lab in London, and steal some kind of biological weapon. Felix Leitner asks for Bond’s help, and he refuses, until his replacement at MI6 comes by and James and M have words.
The weapon is a virus that can be coded to kill specific DNA and was secretly developed by M, and now stolen. James quickly gets dragged into MI6’s efforts to get the virus back from an unknown criminal mastermind.
I’ll try to be mild, but I have things to say about this movie that will require some spoilers. I don’t think they spoil very much, but you might not want to read on if you wish to avoid any and all spoilers.
You have been warned.
On Character Arcs
James Bond is James Bond. He has always been James Bond, and he always will be James Bond. That is to say: he doesn’t change.
Unfortunately, we writers all get drilled into our heads that a good story requires a character arc. A character has a flaw, and through the emotional roller coaster of the story, the character grows and at the climax of the story, the emotional journey of the character helps sell the showdown with the antagonist.
But that’s not really true. It is possible to have a character just stay the same, but overcome obstacles. And that is exactly the kind of character James Bond should be. In Casino Royale, we saw a James Bond who actually grew into the secret agent we know and love. After that movie, the writers of the subsequent movies tried to push new arcs onto Bond, with mixed results. The only movie where it works, somewhat, is Skyfall. They really shouldn’t have in the other three movies.
No Time To Die is all about James Bond learning to repair the mistakes he’s made. Now that the world has passed him by, his mistakes come home to roost. Sort of. Because the plot revolves around M’s mistake. And the problems feel artificial. And we’ve seen James learn this several times in previous movies. He’s like a broken record.
A few weeks ago, I wrote how villains can make or break stories. The bad guy in No Time To Die is Lyutsifer Safin (I did not make this name up).
His character arc can be described as follows: his family is killed and he is mutilated, he kills the family of the person responsible, then spends twenty years plotting, and finally kills the organization behind the person who killed his family. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of movie left after that. So, he tries to become an international arms dealer, or not, and he kidnaps a woman for vague reasons and tries to force her to be his wife.
The vengeance thing I get. But we only learn that was the idea after the fact, so no character-pay-off there. A bad guy achieving his goal can be cool, but having to piece together that he won after the fact is not good storytelling. And he decides not to drive off into the sunset, which is kind of glossed over.
Why does he do that, you ask? Nobody knows. You’d think somebody who was maimed by chemical weapons would not start selling chemical weapons. And why start forcing some woman to be his wife? Those are not unexplainable, but the writers or director apparently decided to focus on Bond’s crap instead.
Bottom line, James Bond has an arc he doesn’t need, and the bad guy lacks the arc he does need.
Convolution is really a term from math, but I’m appropriating it here to describe the ‘evolution’ of ‘convoluted’. Because that is what this Bond movie excels in.
The movie Spectre already decided to tie the stories of all the previous movies together for no reason, and this movie goes a step further. It builds on top of the already complicated mess from before, and makes it even more convoluted. It did not have to do that. Or rather, it could have handled it better. The story is really about Safin having vengeance on Spectre and Blofeld. And that isn’t a terrible idea, but it also drags Bond’s crap from the previous movies in, and that’s not really helping.
It’s also problematic because it means the villain is actually not in direct conflict with the protagonist. Safin is fighting Spectre and Blofeld, not Bond. Bond is faffing about and the story invents reasons to drag him in, but it’s not about him. The escalation near the climax of the story pivots the story so it does put Safin in direct conflict with Bond. However, this is really the writers pushing down on the scales; an idiot plot.
All in all, the movie is messy and convoluted, with needlessly complicated things happening to mask that the writers needed to push the plot to a certain conclusion. I won’t spoil that conclusion, but really: it should have been a more natural result of the story. Now it just falls flat.
Worse, it almost seems as though the writers want their own ‘James Bond cinematic universe’. And if there’s anything we don’t need, it’s another crappy cinematic universe. It may work for Marvel and Star Wars, but I don’t think James Bond can carry that. But I wouldn’t be surprised by a “M. Nomi” spin-off, or a “Felix Leitner Files”.
Although, who knows, with other writers it could actually make for an entertaining movie. More entertaining than No Time to Die, at least.
Bond is not nice to women. At the time of the earlier movies that was slightly more accepted – not ‘acceptable’, mind you. But we’ve grown as a civilization, for the moment anyway, it takes effort not to backslide, unfortunately.
So, the new Bond maybe shouldn’t have been such an a-hole. For some reason, he’s become increasingly misogynistic over the course of the Daniel Craig movies.
In Skyfall the villain shot a woman in the head with a glass of Whiskey on her head, and Bond’s reaction was saying ‘a waste of good Scotch’ and then — only then — proceeding to kill the bad guys.
In this one, early in the movie, he hesitates barely a second before concluding Swann betrayed him when Spectre finds him, then shuts her out of his life. That’s bad enough, but there’s a very creepy scene later in the movie where he tracks her down in a remote cabin, she tells him he was an a-hole, and he forces a kiss on her and she swoons. I think that ticks quite a few ‘toxic relationship’ boxes.
If this story had to have an arc, maybe it could have been ‘don’t treat women like objects’, but hey, that’s not quite the arc this movie is apparently going for. They needed someone to fridge, and they used Swann, and of course… no wait, I’ll not spoil that extra juicy cliché.
No Time To Die is not a very good movie. It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s weakly plotted, convoluted, and messy. And, you may have noticed I did not mention any action scenes. The reason is: I barely remember any of them, and it has been only a few weeks since I saw the movie.
A friend of mine said ‘of all the five Daniel Craig movies, this one is right in the middle’ and I guess that’s true. Casino Royale and Skyfall are better, Spectre and Quantum of Solace are worse. But honestly, I thought Skyfall was already a mediocre film, and this one is less entertaining than that.
Maybe the next Bond incarnation will be better. As for me, I’ll just stick to rewatching Casino Royale and ignoring the rest.