No Time To Die

Year: 2021
Production Co: EON Productions
Studio: MGM
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Producer: Michael G Wilson, Barbara Broccoli
Writer: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Cast: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Rami Malek, Jeffrey Wright, Lashana Lynch, Ana de Armas, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Wishaw, Naomie Harris, Billy Magnussen

Sometime around Skyfall I realised Barbara Broccoli and Michal G Wilson had taken the mood of the market and realised the Marvel-inspired multi-film franchise – where one long story is told over multiple films – was the future. Until the Daniel Craig era, Bond films had been standalone episodes in a mythology, the hero versus another megalomaniacal, well-resourced despot who wants to take over or destroy the world. But now, maybe from the outset, they've decided to spin up a complete Bond tale where you need/want to see them all in order.

A couple of decades ago we might have gasped and said ' [REDACTED] happened? How can they make more Bond movies? The answer is this; Craig is now finished, and just like Christian Bale played Batman in Chris Nolan's take on the legend and it had nothing to do with Tim Burton's films (and Matt Reeves is about to do it again with The Batman as I write these words), Bond is endlessly recyclable IP for a new generation of writers and directors.

Broccoli and Wilson popularised the term 'reboot' back in the mid 2000's in the run-up to Casino Royale, and I think their plan from here will be to reboot Bond every decade or so with a new actor, new trappings and a new story.

At the very least, it will have the opportunity to address the increasingly excited movements on social media hoping Bond will one day be a person of colour, a woman or some minority. And in fact there's already a nod to that sentiment where, in the main story, Bond has officially retired to a Caribbean paradise and his replacement and the new 007 is a black woman in the form of Nomi (Lashana Lynch).

But before we get there, we witness a formative event in the life of his new love Madeleine (Léa Seydoux). She lives with her sozzled mother in an idyllic snowy landscape when Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) comes to kill her father and the rest of the family. Why, I still have no idea, but it's got something to do with a past character. The young Madeleine defends herself by shooting Safin with a gun her parents have stashed in the house and flees, but he survives and when she falls through the ice, he rescues her.

Years later, now lovebirds with Bond, they're having a holiday in a medieval Italian cliffside town when Bond decides to go and visit the grave of his original main squeeze from Casino Royale, Vesper Lynd. But SPECTRE-led agents have it rigged with explosives and it blows up literally in his face. He survives and does battle with the goons sent after he and Madeleine, and even though he sees them off he's convinced she's the one who's given him up. He puts her on a train, tells her they're through, and goes on with his life.

Five years later, enjoying the sun and booze in Jamaica, his CIA pal Felix (Jeffrey Wright) comes to see him with a request. We've already seen the precision hit on a high-rise London virology lab, and the bad guys have made off with a nanovirus that codes itself to an individual's DNA along with its inventor. Felix wants James to find and bring in the inventor, but Bond wants none of it – he's done with espionage.

Later on, a chick at a nightclub he figures he might bring home and bang turns out to be Nomi, his MI6 replacement, who's come to tell him about how the virology project, named 'Heracles', was a British government-sanctioned operation and so Bond, appalled, agrees to help Leiter.

So begins a globe-hopping jaunt from Cuba, where an impossibly hot young CIA operative (Ana de Armas) helps him infiltrate a SPECTRE gathering gone horribly wrong, back to London's Belmarsh prison, where Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is still being held and where he reveals the deeper conspiracy behind Madeleine and the attempt on his life at Vesper's grave.

By this point there are a few too many characters and their motivations revealed and imparted a little too cryptically for a good deal of the plot to make sense. Safin is trying to destroy SPECTRE completely for some reason, but also wants to engineer the nanovirus to kill millions of people, although I never figured out why.

Longtime series writers Robert Wade and Neal Purvis wrote the (presumably) original script, with director Cary Joji Fukunaga doing a pass and then a high-profile punch-up by Pheobe Waller-Bridge taking place afterwards, so maybe the narrative spine became just too addled in all those voices.

Other than that there are a few too many tired old plot archetypes on hand, and unlike Skyfall, No Time To Die isn't good enough overall to negate them. Once again (in the most tiresome of Bond tropes), he's gone rogue and off the grid and comes back into the fold because This Time It's Personal.

There's the hoary old The Corruption Goes Right to the Top chestnut, where the British government itself has created the MacGuffin that causes all the trouble, the heroes and their moral absolutism left to deal with the fallout when it all goes wrong and falls into the wrong hands, the powers that be (in the shape of Ralph Fiennes' M) left to try and justify themselves.

There are also a few checkboxes to drive the right wing, anti-woke crowd nuts like the lesbian kiss at the end of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker did, like when Bond and Nomi burst into Q's (Ben Wishaw) flat for help with some tech problem and he refers to a (male) date that's due to show up any minute.

Like no other Bond film that came before, you have to be familiar with everything since Casino Royale to understand where you are and who everyone is, when a major character dies about halfway through, you'll realise it's not just the number of times they've talked about this being Craig's final Bond film, it's a message that the gloves are off and they're really going to go there, and that there's no more final way to end a grand spectacle predicated on a license to kill than with just about everybody important getting killed in the process.

I'm not against the new approach, although I think it says less about the creative intent at EON Productions than it does the state of cinema today and what audiences will show up for (ie multi-film, continuing-story franchises). Personally though, my idea of James Bond is still for each film to deal with the latest in a rogue's gallery of rich maniacs Bond deposes in a handy two hours before the final credits promise us that 'James Bond will return in...' (but I'm only betraying my age there – that was the way they did it in the Roger Moore era and that's what I grew up with).

It's flabby, over-plotted, under-explained and overlong, but the action and stunt work are definitely up to scratch, all of which results in a movie that's just fine rather than great.

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