A retired James Bond steps back into action to thwart a madman intent on murdering millions. Major spoilers follow.
This is a disappointing film, and watching it so soon after Casino Royale amplified how far the series has fallen. The decision to carry forward an ever-growing continuity snowball left this entry with numerous loose ends to resolve. To its credit, the film doesn’t shirk its duty. But to contrast Bond’s introduction in Royale with his end here demonstrates obscene wasted potential.
Yes, James Bond dies. It’s a death meant to shock and lend resonance to the five-film journey, but it felt like the writers declaring bankruptcy, happy to jettison the mess they’ve made and start fresh. Craig seems resigned to playing out the farce. The icy masculinity he showcased in Royale has morphed into a grumpy-grandpa gruffness reminiscent of Harrison Ford.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about the script.
Like Spectre, this entry continues the inane mandate that every plot thread must have a personal connection to Bond. But Bond films have never been about Bond anymore than Die Hard was about John McClane or Raiders of the Lost Ark was about Indiana Jones. If you want an espionage series about the protagonist, there’s Jason Bourne. His name’s in every title.
No Time to Die carries over the chemistry-less romance between Bond and Madeleine, a Spectre agent’s daughter. The film opens with a flashback to pre-teen Madeleine’s childhood, where a masked assailant breaks into her family’s Norwegian lake house and murders her mother. Madeline flees, only to become trapped under the frozen lake’s ice. The assassin saves her.
Fast-forward to post-Spectre present. Said assassin, played by Rami Malek, resurfaces in Madeleine’s life and professes his love for her. Somehow, he’s the same age as Madeleine, but the script proffers no explanation. Malek’s performance follows Christoph Waltz’s trend of talented actors proving terrible Bond villains. His intelligible accent and detached performance feel pretentious.
The script doesn’t help. It provides him with no cogent motivation or even plausible means for his actions. He exists as a one-dimensional “angry man,” a plot device to stitch together a Frankenstein script credited to four writers.
The tonal inconsistency surfaces early, when Bond travels to Cuba to infiltrate a gathering of Spectre operatives. Putting aside this scenario’s inanity, it proves the film’s lone moment of levity. In a throwback to the Roger Moore days, Bond’s on-the-ground operative, played by Ana de Armas, morphs from nervous school-girl to superhero agent as she and Bond banter and swap drinks while picking off bad guys. Following this scene, we get the film’s first death, a major supporting player in the series.
Besides the crater-sized plot holes littering the script, perhaps the biggest travesty lies in its insistence on introducing this new uber-villain so late in the series. Nothing in Casino Royale sets up this ending. Having Blofeld return as the big-bad would have provided more dramatic resonance and maybe even justified the mess that was Spectre.
Instead, the film jettisons Blofeld but doubles down on Léa Seydoux’s Madeline. The lack of chemistry and seventeen-year age gap between her and Craig cripples the film. She mopes and whines early, then functions as a plot device for the film’s back half. She pales next to de Armas and Lashana Lynch (who plays the would-be new 007).
But I must be fair. The film looks great. Terrific cinematography exploits the globe-trotting locations and showcases the spectacle-filled action set pieces. And Craig looks every bit as lean and muscular as he did in Royale. It’s not his body that betrays his age, but his eyes. Devoid of joy, they mirror the film.