Review By Sebastian Wagner (Germany)
No Time to Die Time for Diversity
The 25th Bond film has arrived. Yesterday I got the chance to watch it; today I must write down my thoughts on it. This text is an essay, a review, and my therapy. It is full of spoilers, so if you intend on watching the film first, don’t continue reading.
The Bond films have a long tradition. This tradition involves beautiful women, fast and cleverly equipped cars, breathtaking set pieces, gadgets, humour, a megalomaniac villain (with his favourite, almost unsurpassable henchman), Vodka Martinis, guns, stunts, and style. Oh, yes – I almost forgot – it also involves Bond being victorious.
Most of these aspects are present in No Time to Die, and yet it is not a classical Bond film. In this review of sorts, I will illustrate why this is the case and why it was such a terrible decision.
I must mention it right off the bat: I didn’t like the film. There were good scenes, but overall, it was a huge disappointment.
It starts with the backstory of Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), also involving the film’s super villain Lyutsifer Safin (played by Rami Malek and masked in these early shots). This – in my opinion – is the first big mistake the film makes because it imposes too much of a restriction. The Madeleine character was already introduced in Spectre and walked into the golden sunset with James Bond (Daniel Craig). If she returns in this film, Bond can no longer be daring or flirt with other women because he must deal with relationship topics. Is the audience interested in a Bond who settles down and lives a quiet life with his family? The answer is of course “No”. We want to see him face eccentric bad guys and live a life of constant danger. The only way to ensure that 007 returns to this life would be to have Madeleine be killed. They must have mixed something up because they… well… decided to kill Bond instead. Way to go.
I would have started the film with the second scene and replaced the Madeleine character with a new face, a new woman that is either killed by the bad guys or an employee of the villain herself. The second scene is a lot of fun and, for me, the best part of the film. It takes place in Matera and essentially involves the audience finding out that Spectre is still active and introducing us to the villain’s favourite henchman. A very clever Bond moment shows 007 taking cover from an approaching car by diving behind a concrete bridge element that is barely wider than our hero himself. It is a classic opening scene for a Bond film. It is ruined however by the fact that James believes Madeleine to be responsible for the ambush, therefore cutting all ties with her. Why should she fraternize with the organization which killed her father and threatened to do the same to her?
Next, after witnessing how a chemical weapon is stolen, we see Bond in Jamaica. He has a chat with his old CIA friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), who’s accompanied by a young bloke by the name of Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen). We immediately sense that this fella will cause trouble. Why? Because James and Felix are a pair, not a trio. So why introduce Ash if he doesn’t play a significant role in the plot. Bond does not trust Madeleine, but he trusts this newbie – very plausible.
Then we are introduced to a black, short-haired, female 007 who goes by the name of Nomi (Lashana Lynch). How much diversity do you want? Yes. In a moment that is probably meant to tear down gender preconceptions, Nomi removes her wig to reveal her short hair. To me this seemed very forced, especially since we see Nomi short-haired for the rest of the film. Maybe it is a common prank among 00-agents – who knows. Unfortunately, we never grow fond of Nomi. She is presented as an arrogant and uncharismatic person. Additionally, her one-liners are neither funny nor cool. All of this is not Lynch’s fault but a consequence of the bad screenplay. Her worst scene arrives near the end of the film when the head scientist of the villain, Obruchev (David Dencik), talks to Nomi about saving her race. She decides to simply murder the man. She has a licence to kill and decides to use it for dealing with an unarmed racist. We get it. Racism is bad. But that is simply too much. Break his nose? Sure. Gag him? Why not. But kill him? No way, especially since he is the only remaining expert on the mankind-destroying chemical weapon.
That Nomi is the new 007 could be considered some sort of foreshadowing as to what will happen to the old 007. Why upset a whole community of Bond fans? Only to give them the satisfaction that Bond gets his number back as a gift from Nomi? Quite unnecessary.
Back to the plot: Bond agrees to work for the CIA and meets agent Paloma (Ana de Armas). Ana de Armas is a gifted actress and responsible for the second enjoyable scene in the film. She is charismatic, gorgeous, and funny. Sadly, we only see her for about ten minutes. In a classic Bond film, de Armas would have been the Bond girl who works alongside 007 and falls in his arms when the battle is won. I wouldn’t have minded this scenario.
We learn that Blofeld is still in command of Spectre, and that he runs everything by having his men use a bionic eye. However, it doesn’t really matter since every single member of Spectre (including their families) are murdered with the help of the chemical weapon “Heracles” which uses DNA-coded nanobots. I am always hesitant when films incorporate such a powerful weapon because it comes at the cost of balance. Safin has the mightiest weapon ever, as well as the DNA code of everyone in the world (or so it seems). We don’t see how he could lose this battle. I don’t like villains who can only be beaten by bad writing. Take Goldfinger, for example. He was in essence an ordinary man. We know he is vulnerable; we see his weakness; we anticipate how Bond might overpower him. I guess this Is a key ingredient to a good action film. Balance.
In a scene on a boat the ill nature of Ash is revealed, and Felix Leiter is killed. I don’t understand why one had to get rid of the Felix character. My guess is that the people in charge decided to cut the ties to every aspect of the classic Bond films. If Bond doesn’t survive, Felix shouldn’t either. After all, James is the only justification for Leiter’s existence.
Back home in London, James and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) visit Q (Ben Wishaw) to decipher a USB stick. We learn two things: Q is gay, and someone has it in for the Spectre guys. Why they decided to reveal the sexual preferences of Q remains a riddle to me, since it adds absolutely nothing to the story. My guess is again diversity.
Because James expects Blofeld to know his enemy, he needs to talk to him. Of course, the only person with whom the latter speaks is Madeleine. Must be very enjoyable for her. After almost 90 minutes, we then finally meet the super villain of the film. He asks Madeleine to kill Blofeld by touching him. He threatens to murder James should she not cooperate.
Bond and Madeleine visit the prison in which Blofeld is held captive, a set piece which reminded me a bit of The Silence of the Lambs (He is only genius, you know, not a physically dominating person). How he managed to conduct his operations from within the prison is never fully explained. Sure, we expect him to have some kind of bionic eye himself. But we never see it or learn how he got hold of it. I asked myself how his team managed to steal the most powerful weapon in the world without any problems but doesn’t try to free its boss.
Madeleine remembers that she has a conscience and leaves the room. Blofeld taunts Bond. Bond touches Blofeld. Blofeld dies because 007 came into contact with the evil nanobots. That’s it. They decided to kill the villain of the Bond franchise. They spent one entire film (Spectre) introducing him, explaining his connection to Bond, his motivations, and establishing him as the evil counterpart of James Bond, 007. All of that, just for him to simply die. Amazing. Truly amazing. That is one enormous waste of potential. But I get it. Bond dies, so also Blofeld has no more justification. While we are on the subject of dying: The title of the film could not be more unsuitable; it feels like, on average, every minute someone dies – even our unbeatable hero.
Bond finds Madeleine in her childhood home and pours his heart out about the things he did wrong in the past. He also meets his daughter. We know it is his daughter, even though Madeleine states that she isn’t. Who else should be the father? All the other guys in the film are either too old, too unimportant, or too evil. When they introduced the child, I had a feeling this could only mean bad news for the franchise. I considered it unlikely that they would have the child being killed. The innocents have always been spared in the Bond universe (But then, Felix and Blofeld have always lived and 007 was always male). Thus, I expected that James would die. I refused to believe it, however.
Of course, Safin kidnaps the woman and the child. He takes them to his island, from which he plans and executes all his evil missions. Later we learn about his motivations. They are not very convincing. Sure, Spectre is responsible for you being an orphan. So, you kill Spectre. But why the rest of the world? Take a leaf out of Goldfinger’s book. He was simply greedy for gold. Revenge doesn’t motivate the eradication of humanity.
Bond and Nomi infiltrate the island. They make their way to the laboratory and capture the main scientist. Safin calls for a parley, so Bond leaves Nomi to meet with the bad guy. Safin threatens to either kill Bond in front of the child or vice versa. Bond has of course an ace up his sleeve, but Safin escapes through a trapdoor. He takes the child with him, only to decide one minute later to let the girl simply walk away. What? He discards his best leverage against Bond? That is lazy writing at its finest. The whole 007 gang meets again (after the infamous disposal of the racist scientist and after the daughter magically found her way back to the top). The three ladies leave the island. Bond must open a gate in order for the British missiles to destroy the base completely. All of this happens while M (Ralph Fiennes) deals with angry Russians and Chinese, who want to know why a British Navy boat is in their territory. Bond shares some good advice with M by suggesting to simply not answer at all. Even after the missiles launch, no conflict arises. Clever James. Meanwhile, Safin is on his way to meet possible buyers for the chemical weapon. What happened to his plan to simply kill most of the human race? This seemed to be a cheap trick to give the bad guy something to do. It would have looked extremely silly if he simply sat there observing how well his gunmen were doing.
007 must reach the top of a tower to open the gate. This is when the third and last enjoyable scene of the film happens: He is in some sort of cylindrical tunnel. Suddenly, he spins around and shoots someone we don’t see. This is of course a nod to the opening scene of the films, in which Bond enters the screen from the side and then shoots at the camera. I found this was done very cleverly. It sure brought a smile to my face.
Bond manages to open the gate and tries to flee. Somehow, Safin decides he doesn’t want to talk to the buyers anymore and teleports himself to the top of the tower to close the gate again. Since teleportation only works for singles, he is without any gunmen. Bond goes back to open the gate again. The two meet and fight. Bond wins, but Safin puts nanobots on him which would kill his family if he ever touched them again. Because there will never, ever be a cure for these nanobots. Nomi killed the last capable scientist, remember?
Since there is no time to flee (that should have been the title), and 007 does not want to put Madeleine and the child in danger, he remains on the island to be killed by the missiles. But not before he gives a farewell speech in which he congratulates Madeleine to the masterpiece she has created in her daughter. Talking about self-praise.
That’s it, 007 is dead, long live 007.
Such a waste of potential. A truly disappointing film.