Warning: This article contains spoilers about No Time To Die.
After the closing credits of No Time To Die (NTTD), a line appears on the dark screen: “James Bond will return.” But by then, the audience would have realized with some shock that the 59-year-old Bond movie saga as they knew it, beginning with Dr No in 1962, had ended. The series had seen a full reboot with Casino Royale in 2006, but this is the old program being scrapped.
Bond is killed off at the end of NTTD. If and when 007 returns, he will be a brand-new person.
But he deserved a much better finale. For many devoted fans, NTTD is not only the most disappointing Bond film ever; it is distressing.
Every actor who has played Bond has interpreted the character in his own way. Yet there were a few constant themes that ran through the series and made it one of the highest-earning and most beloved franchises of all time:
- Spectacular action sequences
- Sexy women (Before the wokes object, let me say that this is a verifiable fact, and Dame Judi Dench, who appeared as 007’s boss M for the first time when she was 61, has been often voted the “sexiest Bond woman” by fans.)
- Cool dialogue, especially cocky one-liners that have got embedded in pop-cultural memory
- Crazed villains, usually with outrageous plans of world domination
Very few Bond films have delivered in full measure on all four counts, but all the best ones tick at least three boxes.
Now take NTTD.
Action sequences: Forget the Mission Impossible films, which have consistently set new benchmarks for thrills; NTTD’s biggest set pieces compare poorly with those in at least a dozen Bond films.
To cite just two examples:
The opening sequence of GoldenEye (1995)—007 bungee-jumping off the top of a dam, freefalling in slow motion with just the wind blowing on the soundtrack, then an intense firefight, finally driving a motorcycle over a cliff edge and diving hundreds of feet to wrest control of a pilotless airplane.
The Madagascar chase scene in Casino Royale involving giant cranes, an earthmover, heavy-duty construction equipment, physical combat and breathtaking parkour.
Even with a much higher budget and access to dramatically better technology, nothing in NTTD comes even close.
The Ladies: Because of the long-standing—and entirely justified—charges of objectifying women, Daniel Craig’s Bond has been largely monogamous. Which is fine. In fact, the lead woman character in the excellent Skyfall (2012) was Dench’s M. But Lea Seydoux's Madeleine Swann was tepid when she was introduced in Spectre (2015) and remains so in NTTD.
The much-hyped NTTD twist was casting Lashana Lynch as 007, since Bond is officially retired from MI6. But then she voluntarily gives the number back to Bond. So what exactly was the point other than inanely ticking the gender and race boxes?
Dialogue: One wants to curl up and die when one hears Bond saying stuff like “Life is all about leaving something behind” and “History isn't kind to men who try to play God”.
NTTD even achieves the incredible feat of messing up the signature “Bond. James Bond.” Craig-Bond is asked his name by a passport officer. He replies: “Bond.” The officer is unimpressed. Long pause. Finally, Craig, looking depressed almost to the point of tears, says: “James Bond”. His passport is then stamped.
Villains: Relying on scary make-up to add menace to a Bond villain can only mean a serious failure of imagination. But Rami Malek's Safin is just a guy with what looks like a bad skin rash and bargain-basement megalomania.
Many henchmen—and women—in Bond films were more interesting than Safin. The silent cat-eating Oddjob in Goldfinger; the gay assassins Mr Wint and Mr Kidd in Diamonds Are Forever; Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye, who kills her sex partners by crushing their ribs with her thighs, come immediately to mind.
But the two most painful things about NTTD?
One, it utterly lacks the most key and cherished characteristic of a Bond film—style/ panache. It has almost no sass or humour or joy. Its tone—and that of Craig’s charmless Bond—is that of a massive aged beast painfully lumbering towards its chosen gravesite. I frankly did not know what to feel about this rendition of Bond—sympathy, pity, or plain boredom.
Two, killing off Bond is a cynical and desperate move. The reasoning may have been something like this: “We’ve run out of ideas. For the last 25 years, we’ve been cleaning him up, but that ‘toxic masculinity’ and ‘caveman attitude’ criticism keeps growing. So why not kill the sod off? Those sissies will see it as a big win and the fans are suckers anyway—they can’t help but buy tickets. Besides, Iron Man died in Avengers Endgame and that film made $3 billion! And we’ll get time to figure out what the hell to do next.”
So 007 sacrifices himself to save his sweetheart and their daughter, the world, and his own soul, not necessarily in that order. This is of course heroic, but a 180-degree deviation from the cool and audacious courage that always defined Bond. In fact, in NTTD, he seems to carry an air of self-loathing that would dismay many fans. This is literally death by over-intellectualisation.
Obviously, the filmmakers have every right to do as they please, but the loyal viewer too has the right to be disappointed.Yet it will be unfair to write about NTTD and not cheer Ana de Armas’ CIA agent Paloma. She brings the film alive, bright and brazen and funny, in the 10 minutes or so that she is on screen. I truly hope she returns in the next Bond film, if and when there is a next Bond film.