The last line that appears after the credit roll of “No Time To Die” promises “James Bond Will Return.”
Is the new James Bond film a $200-million dollar Slinky® commercial or the most profound Bond ever made?
Perhaps not oddly the answer lies between those goalposts.
The polite society with a kinky penchant for solace that fueled Bond’s character in the original novels and initial films doesn’t exist anymore.
Bond emulating movies like the Bourne or Mission: Impossible series once crept into the void of smart spy films and now command the narrative.
Every actor whose played Bond brought his own manner to the table and the Daniel Craig era will be remembered for its persistence to an increasingly depressing tally of failures.
Over the course of the previous four Craig Bonds his fiancée drowned in front of his eyes, his ancestral home in the country was blown to bits and pieces, and despite always besting the bad guys his ears keep getting bigger. We’re talking Clark Gable ears. Shrek ears.
It should be noted that Craig made a couple of art films that showed his amazing talent for director Roger Michell a noted British helmer who died last month. Check out Michell’s “Enduring Love” and “The Mother” to get an idea of the emotional range Craig displayed pre-Bond.
“No Time To Die,” delivers action sequences and exotic locales with the veracity of any expertly made Bond film.
But it also offers director Cary Joji Fukunaga a chance to slow the pace between explosions, at times to a glacial crawl. When the final scene has played out you feel a sense of relief that Bond has offered a sense of closure.
Before-and-after-opening-credit-sequences unwind with unrelenting action. In “No Time To Die” action occasionally turns into a meditative coma. The spell of which is eventually broken by the ending, which natch has a lot of explosions.
An early heist scene has the best cinematography in the entire film courtesy of cinematographer Linus Sandgren. A combination of color-coded virus labs and a revolving Dutch angle shot that encompasses a ninja-dressed assault team repelling upside down to their target highlights this exciting expository scene.
The following segment set in Cuba reintroduces Felix Leiter and abounds in the kind of Bond claptrap that after all is said and done becomes the most memorable part of the movie.
Ana de Armas plays a CIA mole that “just trained for three weeks.” She steals the movie for the next reel but she’s not the main Bond girl. There’s gunfire and explosions but more importantly slick night mayhem involving people in nice clothes killing each other.
Craig and de Armas both starred in “Knives Out,” which was in theaters a few months before “No Time To Die” was originally set to open.
Jeffrey Wright has played Leiter in three of the Craig Bond films. It’s a sharp contrast to the number of thesps who’ve played pivotal roles like Q, and M, and Moneypenny in multiple films across the series.
Other than Wright, David Hedison is the only other actor to have played Leiter in more than one film and his appearances encompassed different Bonds: Dalton in “License to Kill” and Moore in “Live and Let Die.”
The Hedison character arc achieved its sharpest twist in “License” when his leg is bitten off by a shark, just like Bond author Ian Fleming penned in one of the early novels.
Wright’s Leiter displays motives that oscillate. He seems to be working in tandem with Bond despite their positions with secret agencies of different countries.
Really, “No Time To Die” is a film about Leiter and Bond forming a rouge alliance to both defeat evil and to subvert their equally evil masters that run the world’s most covert operations.
Lea Seydoux, the true Bond girl of this film, at times seems to exist to distract Bond from his true nemesis Blofeld (Christoff Waltz in a cage). Seydoux has the best attire.
Rami Malek enters stage left around the 80-minute mark. But was Malik already there earlier in the film is a question the audience wrestles with even as the film is ending.
Malik’s character, Safin, has been scarred by his previous occupation as a highly sought after assassin. All he wants in his melancholy existence is to introduce a new viral pandemic that targets people by their DNA.
“No Time To Die” was postponed by the pandemic for over 18 months. The ultimate irony that its plot apes development of diseases for warfare only shows that the Broccoli-Wilson team has their finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist.
Fleming wrote Bond to be a cipher, and ended novels in a patented cliffhanger fashion. The close of “From Russia With Love” actually has Bond losing consciousness and presumably dying after a poisonous kick from SMERSH agent Rosa Klebb.
In the beginning of the subsequent novel “Dr. No” Bond is alive and recuperating in Jamaica. The movies did this backward by launching with “Dr. No” and segueing into “From Russia With Love.”
For those keeping track there’s also a 1950s television version of “Casino Royale,” with Barry Nelson starring as Bond; the satirical “Casino Royale” from 1967 with a cast of Bonds that includes David Niven and Woody Allen; and “Never Say Never Again” a stand-alone Bond film where Sean Connery returned after an absence of over a decade. The latter film falls into a rights dispute involving the original authors of “Thunderball,” a bit of Hollywood legal skullduggery that deserves a separate forum of discussion.
If Bond is destined to only be relevant as a comparison game based on how many times you’ve watched each film then “No Time To Die” will rate highly among the twenty-five films in the Bond canon.