By Mark Huerta
Fans of the series know the formula: Bond receives word of a megalomaniacal villain with an evil plot to destroy the world; Bond meets said villain and several women who will accompany him, support him or betray him on his mission; Bond gets caught in the villain’s trap; the villain explains the entire scheme to Bond, giving him enough time to escape from the trap and foil the evil plot; Bond rides off into the sunset in the arms of a pretty woman. All the while, we are entertained by grand action scenes, Aston Martins, comedic one-liners and Bond looking sharp in a tuxedo.
The latest flick in the Bond franchise, “No Time to Die,” does not fit the mold, working hard to differentiate itself from the Bond legacy. However, this break from tradition is not enough to save the film from falling into a gimmicky hole.
As the 25th film in the franchise and final outing for Daniel Craig as James Bond, “No Time to Die” does dare to be different. Atypically, the film picks up where the prior entry in the series, 2015’s “Spectre,” left off. Even more unusual, at the start of the movie Bond is with a long term romantic partner, Madeleine Swann, played by Lea Seydoux. Right from the start, this latest installment seems to be failing in terms of believable and consistent characterizations. Making unique creative decisions can be helpful for revitalizing the spy film storyline, but the skeleton of Bond must remain. Instead, this film felt like vultures had scavenged the James Bond we have known and loved for almost sixty years.
One large step away from the “traditional” Bond world is Nomi, played by Lashana Lynch. When Bond comes back to join MI6 towards the beginning of the film, there is a hiccup — his title of 007 belongs to a Black woman named Nomi. While it is fantastic to see more women of color in secret agent roles, Nomi’s incorporation as 007 feels forced and adds little to the story or the promotion of meaningful representation. Bond gets his 007 codename back relatively quickly, making Nomi’s stint as 007 feel like a cheap gimmick rather than a step forward for women and people of color in the series. If the filmmakers had made the bold choice to prioritize Nomi’s role over Bond’s, then giving Nomi the 007 codename would have been more impactful. However, the inclusion of Nomi as 007 is so quick and meaningless to the story that it should have been left out altogether.
And Nomi wasn’t the only female agent introduced in the film. The audience also meets Paloma, a helpful agent in Cuba who is played with humor and earnestness by Ana de Armas. Although this new character was a breath of fresh air in a film dominated by returners, Paloma disappears after only a few minutes of screen time, disappointing audiences. It seems like “No Time to Die” had two separate opportunities to introduce engaging, representative characters, but it fell short both times.
Unfortunately, it seems like weak character choices were a fatal flaw for the new film; the villain, Safin, played by Rami Malek, falls flat. While Safin’s scheme involving a biological weapon is within the iconic Bond style of global-scale evil, Malek’s performance lacks the bravado and charm that made previous enemies of 007 so memorable. Malek mumbles his way through the film, making his villainous role somewhat numbing.
But the real problem of “No Time to Die” is not the relative weakness of its characters — it’s the lack of originality mixed with gimmicks. Although the film tries to add a new spin to James Bond, it falls back on itself by revisiting old characters from “Spectre.” Returning to the same supporting cast, especially Swann, was a mistake. The filmmakers seem to hope that Swann will serve as a gateway to showing a kinder, gentler Bond, but this plan fails. Bond’s latest romance is simply not credible, especially in comparison to the strength of Bond’s love in both “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) and “Casino Royale” (2006). Although “No Time to Die” tries to claim a fresh take by showing a humanized 007, it fails to convince the viewer that Bond would ever change his ways.
Altogether, this film does not read as “Bond.” It leans on tropes and branches out in all of the wrong places. Where returns to tradition would be especially appreciated, “No Time to Die” repeatedly makes wrong turns. This is exemplified by Craig’s send off; after five films in the franchise, one would expect a grand finale. Instead, the audience receives a confusing character reinterpretation that is off-base in a story that is not truly Bond.
Tragically, this latest film disappoints its legacy by landing as a flop. Its creators worked too hard to develop a “fresh” James Bond, undermining the nostalgia that makes the series so beloved in the first place. Is this a good film? Debate will rage on. But is this a proper Bond film? Absolutely not.