This is a franchise that’s been going on for sixty years now, and with each new actor cast to play the titular action hero, his identity gets a makeover to fit with the times, sometimes for better, but most of the time for worse. No more is James Bond a womanizer who couldn’t care less about their insides as much as their outsides, now he actually cares about them as human beings… but still has a heart for revenge. Even if more politically correct than the Sean Connery era, the Daniel Craig era still has many issues that will age very badly.
Right after the familiar circle opening, No Time to Die starts with a turn that’s dark even for a James Bond movie. A little girl is seen getting wine for her demanding mother, who’s semi-passed-out on the couch. Instantly after, an intruder comes in, forcing this child to pull out a gun. It shows how she’s vulnerable yet still able to take a stand based on the horrible predicament she’s forced into. Costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb (Slumdog Millionaire) was able to design a scary mask for the main foe to make him resemble the Phantom of the Opera, which works since he’s the first major threat of the movie, so you instantly feel chills from this silent masked assassin whom you’re made to associate with another famous icon of fear. It’s a powerful prologue, but wasn’t necessary to include, since everything it shows is explained again later anyways, so it should have just cut straight to the opening credit sequence with Billie Eilish’s new song (which happens like 15-20 minutes in, by the way).
As the mission goes on from there, the action is so messy that you never have any idea what the heck’s going on, nor do you care to find out. All that can be pieced together is that the bullet physics are tossed out the window, a girl fights like a pro while wearing high heals and a sexy dress, the slopes are too conveniently placed for Bond’s stolen motorcycle in a chase scene, and keys are left in a sea plane for him to steal with ease. Nothing challenges him or his comrades in any way together because the unbelievable conveniences around them make any pivotal character moments unneeded. To be fair though, there are a few stunning set pieces, particularly an indoor garden where every imaginative component within it is placed intentionally for the purpose of the villain’s evil plot.
But what good is a grand cinematic scope if there’s no heart to compress it down? Bond in particular is revealed to be a horrible mourner, he doesn’t cry or anything when in front of the grave of someone who supposedly meant a lot to him. Rather, he shows more of his inner self while flirting with a girl young enough to be his daughter. There’s no sense of depth to the main villain either, he just does and says things that cater to whatever men want to hear. At one point he says to Madeleine Swann, “saving someone’s life connects you with them forever,” but the context of when he says this just suggests a damsel in distress should feel pressured into letting a man who rescued her also enslave her. That is not an empowering message! I get it’s the villain saying this and he’s theoretically wrong, but nothing in the script ever proves him to be wrong.
It may try to fool you into thinking it’s deeper than just being another Bond movie, but there’s no deeper meaning to the cinematography or special effects besides just looking irresistibly stylish. Such elements include church bells framed over a shooting scene that distract from the conflict happening between Bond and his girlfriend below. Then the opening credit sequence features bullets and guns forming the shape of a DNA strand, which is a cool graphic just for the sake of looking cool. A mouse-and-cat chase also goes into a steamy forest, which can’t look as stunning as it wants to be because cinematographer Linus Sandgren (La La Land) displays no mastery of where to put the lights or camera.
With as much as it tries to be frightening, you never see how any of the horrid sights traumatize any of the characters who have to watch it happen, which would have worked if the direction by Cary Joji Fukunaga didn’t waste the potential of the classic characters. But he’s not all bad, Fukunaga was one of the screenwriters of the first It movie, and he’s able to translate that buildup of fear into this movie as director. In two different circumstances he establishes the proper stillness of sound so that a sudden explosion genuinely hits your nerve, especially with the sound effect that lands the finishing blow from the impact. Fukunaga also makes cool use of magnet technology in an elevator that feels just like the type of gadgets that would be used in old-school James Bond. But what makes it even cooler is that it’s all done with modern special effects that honestly look pretty good.
Too bad his efforts are rendered worthless by the forced, unnatural script. There are multiple occasions it tries to deliver Bond’s iconic catch phrases in clever ways, but fails, and the cartoonish dialogue which tries to take itself seriously sounds even worse by the Russian scientist bad guy who at one point pronounces laboratory as “la-bur-ah-tor-ee.” At least the sound effects are so loud that you’ll be covering your ears for most of the movie, which in turn means you may not hear some of the dialogue.
And one final note: No Time to Die was the first of the films delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and now that it’s come out a year and a half later, well into the period of the pandemic very slowly reverting to normalcy, it became an accidental allegory to COVID. So in an ironic sense, this film will hit a little uncomfortably for many audiences across the globe, so hopefully they’ll be scared away from it and won’t want to watch it again… or want to go see it in the first place.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!