Bitesize Reviews: No Time To Die, Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2021

Image source: IMDB

The wait for No Time To Die was a long one, and was plagued by rumours of re-writes and delays – making it hard to have a great deal of hope that it would cut the mustard. In spite of this, and of not being the biggest fan of Craig era Bond, I excitedly lined up for an opening week screening at Melbourne’s IMAX. Incredibly this was my first experience of an IMAX, and the first film I watched after an over-a-year long cinema drought, and it turned out to be a worthy choice.

I realised that my last supposedly ‘bitesize’ review, of The French Dispatch ended up being fairly long-winded, so I’m going to limit myself to two main sections this time, the Pros and the Cons, to enforce a bit of discipline. Let me know if you like this format with a comment – I often like reading reviews that get straight to the point, so that’s what I’m going to attempt myself! It seems unlikely that this film won’t have already been spoiled for you, but just in case take this as a massive *spoiler warning* for the rest of this review. If you don’t want to know plot points and character developments in the film, skip this review!

The pros

  • Bond’s humanity. Undoubtedly this is one of the best parts of the film. Unlike the murky family history stories which have made up the bulk of Bond’s past character development, this feels a lot more engaging, and gives the film much more believable stakes. There is still the indiscriminate killing of ‘bad guys’, but here it feels like it is actually for something – Bond’s interactions with his friends and family (not a phrase one could really use of any previous films) lends a sense of weight to actions which could otherwise (and still do, to some extent) come across merely as ticking off action film tropes.
  • Paloma/Ana de Armas. Absolutely the most fun character in the film. Again, her involvement lends some variety and interest to otherwise fairly tropey material. Her function within the film is fairly transparent – offering a rare (unique?) example of a female character who not only does Bond not try to sleep with, but he also clearly respects. This is a bit cringe in places – it’s just so not how any previous Bond iteration would have behaved – but Paloma is such a fun character, and is given enough depth that she overcomes this.
  • Teaming up. I’ll say it – I find films about characters teaming up and overcoming obstacles together far more interesting than lone wolf tales. Heist movies are popular for a reason. The fact that Moneypenny, Q and the new 007 play a far bigger part in this than in previous movies is a big bonus for me. We get to know each of them a little bit more as characters – again stepping away from the idea of Bond as cool and calculating, towards someone with a bit of emotional intelligence and in possession of actual friendships. One can’t help but suspect the hand of Phoebe Waller-Bridge in these scenes – the witty repartee between friends is reminiscent of her stand-alone writing. It could feel a little out of place in the Bond universe, but it builds towards other character developments for Bond, so does make sense within the universe of the individual film.
  • The action. The actions scenes in this film were pretty gripping. The sequence in the forest was particularly good – the stakes feel far more engaging than in previous Bonds. The scenes somehow felt a lot more modern than in the past films – they were actually able to build palpable suspense!
  • The ending. Honestly, I quite liked that they had the guts to commit to it! I think it was a fitting ending for the Craig era, and leaves the door open for a more interesting progression in future films. They could just pretend the whole thing never happened and just go for a kind of multi-verse approach for the next film, or they could embrace the 007 as codename theory. Lots of ways they could go, and it’ll be interesting to see what they choose. But what was really different about this ending was that it actually carried some emotional weight. Sure, it felt a little rushed, without much development of the relationship between Bond, Madeleine as mother, and their daughter, but it also felt fairly realistic and human for that leap to happen so quickly. Bond films are famous for ending with some sort of sickeningly crass double entendre, so for No Time to Die to end so straightforwardly was a bold move, that really paid off.

The Cons

  • The villain (and everything to do with him). There is no denying that the villain is absolutely the worst element of this film. Not only him as a character, but basically all of the plot to do with him. So I guess I’m saying I think the plot sucks. Which it does. The plot is just the means by which we get to Bond’s revelation about his love of Madeleine and their daughter, and then his eventual sacrifice. The villain, whose name I had to look up for this review because he was so forgettable (it’s Lyutsifer Safin), is just clearly not what they were interested in exploring with this film. This is no fault of Rami Malek’s – he imbues the role with a suitably eery tone and does what he can with the meagre offering he is given. Another aspect that disappoints in the villain is that they have chosen, in spite of all the apparent aim for progressiveness, to perpetuate the trope of the ‘bad guy’ having a physical scar. I’m by no means the first person to point this out, and it was one of the early sources of legitimate criticism of the film. The character’s facial scarring has basically no plot significance, so it works simply to continue the idea that physical ‘ugliness’ equates to emotional or psychological ‘ugliness’. Bond films are repeat offenders in this, but you’d have hoped that a modern film, especially one working so hard to tout its progressive credentials, would have known to do better. It’s quite revealing of the fact that writers rooms and production companies are full of the same kinds of people as always – yay sayers who only question the status quo when forced to by outside influence. How was it that no one in the room thought to question this inclusion?
  • The new 007. I feel bad for saying this, and it’s not for the reason you might think it is. But I can’t help but feel that the new Bond isn’t given the chance to develop in the way other characters do. Yes, she has an arc, but she is played for a bit of a strawman, and she feels pretty cardboard. Towards the end of the film, once she takes on a less adversarial role, she is definitely given more to do, but sadly it is often limited to the kind of quips that I guess we have to have in Bond films, but which don’t really add much. Lashana Lynch deserved more, and I hope that in the future she has a chance to stand on her own two feet.

In short I did really enjoy this film, but it’s one that doesn’t hold up to too much scrutiny. I came out of it feeling it was great, but then the more I stopped to think about the actual mechanics of the film, it’s plot, characters and so on, the less well I thought of it. But really none of that got too much in the way of me enjoying it as a movie experience. I never really expect much of Bond films, so I guess I was pleasantly surprised! Don’t go in thinking you’ll get your typical Bond, but don’t hope for anything too different either – there’s plenty of the old problems once you stop and look. But if you’re after a thrilling, accessible action movie with a bit more soul than previous offerings, you’re in luck.

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