'No Time To Die' review: Bond never dies!
The last with Daniel Craig in the lead, the film brings together the various aspects of his nonconformist interpretation of James Bond in a most satisfying way
It seems just yesterday that the world welcomed Daniel Craig to the pantheon of James Bond with trepidation and circumspection. Was he a little short and stocky to be the suave and smooth MI6 agent? Was his persona a trifle brusque and dour for the witty, charming and, might one add, superficial character we had gotten to love so much?
Fifteen years and four films later, the reinvention of Bond as Craig in the origin story, Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale (2006), comes a full circle in the fifth, Cary Fukunaga’s No Time To Die. Fittingly, it’s also the last with Craig in the lead and brings together the various aspects of his nonconformist interpretation of Bond in a most satisfying way.
No Time To Die sets off with a spectacular, edge-of-the-seat opening sequence that, ironically, has nothing to do with Bond. A young girl taking care of her ailing mother is caught in a bind: while she believes her dad to be a doctor who heals, her mother tells her that he kills people for a living. On cue a masked stranger enters their home to avenge the murder of his family. A cold-blooded killing and shootout later the action shifts to the picturesque, wintry landscape outside as the girl flees onto a frozen lake and falls through the cracking ice.
We cut to the present to find that she is Dr Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), daughter of Bond’s adversary Mr White, the one for whom his heart had skipped a beat in Spectre. She is in Italy with Bond following the arrest of Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), Bond’s arch enemy and the head of the crime syndicate Spectre. Things appear to get serious between him and the brooding lady, but the tryst is short-lived as Spectre, with its Octopus like tentacles, comes in pursuit of Bond much as he is forced to go chasing it. Meanwhile, the troubling question looms large—did Swann betray him to Spectre—forcing him to cut ties with her and go into retirement in Jamaica.
From terrorism in Casino Royale, ecology and environment and water crisis in Quantum of Solace and surveillance in Spectre, Craig’s Bond has a thing for contemporary issues. Here the focus is on biological weaponry—Project Heracles which is all about nanobots spreading on touch like virus is eerily resonant in the times of the pandemic. Additionally, there is the sinister, masked terrorist from Swann’s past, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who is intent on using it to bring the planet to its heels, forcing Bond to come back from his sabbatical, for another big mission.
Craig continues to flaunt a sexy pout and a buff body that is often wrapped up in a sharp tuxedo. Additionally, there is the grey holiday/retirement stubble. He continues to travel the world—from Italy to Jamaica to Cuba to Norway to back home in England—to be in the centre of pulse-racing action set-pieces set against majestic backdrops. There are impossible stunts, gravity-defying encounters, outrageous cat-n-mouse chases, dry wit, wry one-liners and some easy wisdom with Bond telling Safin that “history is not kind to people who want to be gods”. Hear, hear! However, the adrenalin rush and emotional engagement are intermittent as the film gets too protracted, the plot gets spread too thin. Thankfully, a lot else still holds.
Ever since Craig rose from the sea in Casino Royale like Ursula Andress in Dr No, the voyeuristic gaze has been overturned a bit, fixated on him for a change. In fact, the so-called Bond Girls seem to have developed a mind of their own than being mere eye candies. Women have found more centrality and connect in his life—be it his love interest Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Casino Royale whose memory continues to haunt him even in No Time To Die, or the boss M (Judi Dench) earlier or Swann now. Even Ana de Armas in a small role as CIA operative Paloma is a lively, likeable presence, delivering perfect action chops despite the six-inch heels and a barely-there gown. In fact, with Nomi (Lashana Lynch) taking over as 007 in Bond’s absence in the film, there is hope that more could be possible for women in this entirely male universe.
Meanwhile, we find Bond himself struggling between the professional—the mantle of 007—and the personal—love, trust, togetherness, betrayal, memories, secrets, paternity, family et al. The rough action of Quantum of Solace meets the romance and heartbreak of Casino Royale. Bond bashes and pummels, gets bruised himself, both physically and psychologically. The picture that emerges is that of a complicated guy—troubled and haunted, steely and gritty but tender and vulnerable as well, in control of life yet resolved in embracing his fate. The final note struck is that of pathos. Things get capped with a most moving conclusion—for the film, the character and most so for Craig himself. A perfect exit that makes you feel that a lot more was still possible to explore with Craig’s Bond. That it could still be taken in an entirely new direction. If only he could die another day