Unexpectedly epic. Those two words capture the feeling that I had exiting “No Time To Die.” The new Bond film, long-delayed in its release due to the pandemic, exceeded my low expectations for the aging franchise. Its climax is momentous, and the story is intricately woven to lead to its startling conclusion.
The story begins with an extended prologue. In the first of two segments, we see a young Madeleine Swann (Coline Defaud) and her mother (Mathilde Bourbin) in a remote Norwegian home in winter.
A figure wearing a kabuki mask enters and demands to see Madeleine’s absent father who killed his family. He kills her mother but Madeleine is able to shoot him. She drags his body outside but he revives. As she runs onto a frozen lake, it cracks and she falls in. We see her trapped under the ice. The mysterious man fires in a circle around her rather than executing her.
In a wonderful transition shot, the now-adult Madeleine (Lea Seydoux) emerges out of the waters of an inlet in Italy. As we saw at the end of “Spectre,” she now is with James Bond (Daniel Craig). It is clear that they are in love.
They book a hotel room in Matera, where the grave of Vesper Lynd is located. When Bond goes to visit the site for closure, a bomb explodes. Disoriented, he is pursued by assassins.
He makes it back to the hotel where Madeleine has packed her bags and is about to exit. Getting into the vehicle, a car chase with the nemeses ensues. Cornered in a plaza, he uses the famed weapons technology of Q (Ben Wishaw) to escape. Later, convinced that Madeleine betrayed him, he puts her on a train and leaves.
The plot jumps ahead five years to London. A commando team is prepared to enter a towering government facility. Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik), one of the scientists inside, gets a phone call telling him to be prepared. After the lab is invaded, he and another colleague extract a cylinder containing biological material. Everyone is killed except the commandos and Valdo.
Bond is next seen in Jamaica enjoying a life of retirement. Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), his old CIA acquaintance, makes contact. In a crowded bar, Leiter, accompanied by his colleague Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen), asks Bond to go to Cuba on their behalf to extricate Obruchev.
Declining the offer, Bond goes to his vehicle, which has been disabled. A passing woman offers him a ride back to his place on a motor scooter. She turns out to be the new 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch). In no uncertain terms, she tells Bond to butt out or she will not hesitate to kill him.
Intrigued, Bond accepts Leiter’s offer. He meets a newly trained agent, Paloma (Ana de Armas). Dressing to the nines, they enter a party. Suddenly the voice of Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), in a London prison, is heard over the PA system. He welcomes Bond to a Spectre gathering and says that he has a present for him. Gas streams down. But instead of Bond dying, everyone in Spectre is killed.
Obruchev switched the gene-encoded poison to that of the Spectre members. When Bond takes him to a boat with Leiter and Ash, the latter abducts Obruchev and blows up the boat. Leiter dies.
Now Bond is furious and goes back to the U.K. to confront M. It turns out that M has been involved in the Heracles project, where DNA samples of as many people as possible have been collected. Now the information is being weaponized, but by whom and to what purpose?
The mastery of this movie is in the screenwriting. On first impression, the pieces of the story do not seem to be going in a clear direction. But as developments unfold, the intertwining of seemingly disparate events comes together with a punch. The climax is a tour de force, and the subsequent denouement both moving and filled with hope.
The fact that Bond and Swann are reunited in the film due to circumstance may strike some as too much of a coincidence. Indeed it is a weak point in the script. But in the overall arc of the story line, it seems less of a contrivance as it serves the whole.
In this film, technology has become the main villain. Using nano devices that can become a permanent part of one’s body, an unsuspecting person could make contact with an intended victim and impart DNA-encoded toxins. Dispersed on a wide scale, mass annihilation of select parts of the human race is inevitable.
The ostensible ne-er-do-wells, Blofeld and Safin (Rami Malek), are just foils whose personal menace is minimized by an ineluctable death machine. Blofeld is really just a plot device and no further embellishments of his character are provided. Malek’s portrayal of Safin’s mannerisms is deft, but we don’t get enough of a backstory to make him any kind of interesting character. Having a poison garden is not enough of a quirk to make him notable.
The Bond series always reminds me a little of Doctor Who without the regenerations. In the Daniel Craig incarnation, I have liked the odd-numbered films just as in the original Star Trek movies I liked the even-numbered ones.
Daniel Craig goes from doing a serviceable job in the beginning to a more nuanced portrayal as the picture progresses. His romantic scenes are the hardest for him, but the climax reveals a side of this aspect of his character that is quite nuanced.
The other actor worth mentioning is Ana de Armas, whose portrayal of Paloma is superb. Bouncing between confused hesitancy and kick-ass moves, she is a sheer delight. Please give this character her own film.
The production values are as excellent as one would expect. No matter how shopworn any Bond film may be, the sets, weaponry, cinematography and costumes always are top-notch. The visual appeal of the Bond franchise is an under-rated factor in their popularity. The set in the Faroe Islands is particularly noteworthy in its design.
Spoilers prevent me from completely extolling this movie in detail. Trust me that this installment is worth watching. The film is rated PG-13 and is suitable for teens.
Four and a half out of five stars
In No Time To Die, Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, with Jeffrey Wright, with Christoph Waltz and Ralph Fiennes as “M”
Also starring Rory Kinnear, Ana de Armas, Dali Benssalah, David Dencik, and Billy Magnussen
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Screenplay: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, and Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Story: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Cary Joji Fukunaga
Score Album on DECCA RECORDS