Movie Review: No Time to Die (2021)

TL;DR – For a franchise that has spanned decades and 25 movies (or 27 depending on who you ask) and counting, this is a Bond film of firsts. First time James Bond isn’t 007. First time there is a black female 007 agent. First time James sires a child. And the first time James Bond will meet his maker.

Review (warning: spoilers)

I’ll be up front. I’m not a huge James Bond fan. The man who has a licence to kill, the gadgets and gizmos, the Aston Martins, the womanising, the spy action, the over-the-top villains etc., are all mashed into a kind of amorphous blob for me. I think it has something to do with the main character himself. I just find him kind of bland. And don’t get me wrong, as a piece of entertainment, most Bond movies deliver enough thrills and action to be enjoyable, but I always find them largely forgettable the next day.

In saying this, however, when Daniel Craig took up the mantle and starred in Casino Royale (2006), it was a new take on an old character. Craig breathed fresh air resulting in a James Bond that was more human, more tortured, more flawed, and more interesting as a result.

Craig would go on to star in three more films – Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and Spectre – before reaching his fifth and final film in No Time to Die.

The crux of the story revolves around a biological weapon of mass destruction (though initially it was designed to target specific individuals only). The weapon uses nanobots that target individuals using their DNA and be deadly to that person but harmless to everyone else. I should say at this point, the vast array of gadgets, weapons and devices used in No Time to Die are outrageously fun and cool but don’t expect them to be grounded in science; maybe science fiction but not science.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), leader of the criminal syndicate Spectre, currently incarcerated by MI6, and Bond’s arch-enemy, has his minions kidnap the scientist, Dr Obruchev (David Dencik), from MI6. Turns out the bioweapon (coined ‘Project Heracles’) is being manufactured by MI6, much to Bond’s disgust, and Dr Obruchev is the mastermind behind it.

Even though Bond is in retirement, Blofeld still has an axe to grind and sets a trap that draws Bond into working with the CIA and infiltrate a Spectre gathering of bigwigs in Cuba. When the trap is sprung, Bond is infected by the bioweapon while the Spectre elite get to watch on with glee. However, to their surprise, it is not Bond who keels over and dies but many of the Spectre members instead.

Turns out Obruchev betrayed Spectre and is working for a man named Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) whose family was killed by Spectre and wants revenge not only on Blofeld but also wants to wipe out millions of people around the world.

What brings much needed emotional gravitas to the story are the many relationships that surround Bond and the challenges that confront him. This includes:

  • Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) – Bond’s primary love interest, who James thinks betrays him to Spectre at the beginning of the film. Later, Bond realises Swann never had any part in Spectre’s plans to kill him and in fact reveals she has a little girl which James realises is his daughter.
  • Garreth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) – Head of MI6. He and Bond collide on many fronts yet they realise their goals are to try and make the world a better place even if their ways are misguided sometimes. When Bond discovers that it is Mallory and MI6 behind Project Heracles, it causes considerable friction.
  • Nomi (Lashana Lynch) – She has taken over as the new 007 agent. At one point, Bond aligns himself with the CIA and there is a race between him and Nomi to get to Obruchev first.
  • Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) – a CIA field officer and one of Bond’s few friends, which means he doesn’t survive to the end of the film. The scene where Leiter dies in Bond’s arms is genuinely moving.

No Time to Die is a much more complex film than previous Bond flicks and is better for it. James Bond needs to juggle the many people in his life while also facing off on not one, but two, mad men in Blofeld and Safin.

And for the first time, he sees a life that he can live outside of espionage with Swann and being a father to their daughter, Mathilde (Lisa-Dorrah Sonnet). It is this potential investment that draws the movie watcher into Bond’s plight.

So, it is quite a punch in the stomach, when we watch Bond successfully defeat Safin in the climactic finale only to be poisoned by the bioweapon. In a dying act of spite, Safin smashes a vial of nanobots programmed to kill Madeleine and Mathilde against Bond’s face. James knowing he can never be with the woman and daughter he loves, performs his final heroic act by opening the silo doors to Safin’s island compound as a strike from a UK navy destroyer sends missiles to destroy the bioweapon manufacturing plant within.

Thus, in a movie of firsts for the franchise, James Bond officially dies.

We will now have to wait and see whether 007 will make a comeback in another form or be rebooted. But what is almost certain is Daniel Craig’s tenure as the iconic character has now drawn to a close.

A fine ending, however bittersweet, that will make me remember it for days to come (unlike its predecessors).

8 out of 10

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