Bond fans have waited an eternity for the release of No Time to Die. There were numerous delays due to COVID-19. But Bond is finally back.
I wanted this to be the biggest and best Bond film ever made. It had the biggest budget of any of the previous 24 James Bond films (a staggering $250 million price tag).
It was going to be the longest Bond film ever produced (2 hours and 43 minutes). And it was going to be the last Bond film starring Daniel Craig, whom I have come to like very much in the role of 007. His brand of Bond grew on me.
The trailers had me jumping out of my seat with the incredible motorcycle stunt on the Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE and the shot of the beloved Aston Martin DB5 spinning 360 degrees in an Italian square with machine guns blazing.
I couldn’t wait. But wait, I did, along with the rest of the world of James Bond fans.
While I’d like to say that No Time to Die was my favorite Bond film, it wasn’t. For a number of reasons.
Cutting to the chase, what it lacked was the pacing and full-throttle energy of my favorite Bond films. It was just too long. By 43 minutes, in my estimation.
It would have been a better two-hour film.
Part of the problem lies with the writing team who have struggled to bring 007 in line with 2021 sensibilities. It’s a tall order.
These days, James Bond is an anachronism, a throw-back to the 1960s and story material gleaned from Ian Fleming’s novels written in the 1950s. It was a different world back then. Radically different.
By today’s standards, Bond might be considered a womanizing, sexist pig. Much of his behavior is unacceptable by today’s standards, but it was a reflection of the times. The first Bond film, Doctor No starring Sean Connery was released in 1962. A lot has changed since then.
It’s tough to keep a character relevant over the span of nearly 60 years. With No Time to Die, the decision was made to bring Phoebe Waller-Bridge aboard to assist in tweaking and doctoring the script.
The goal was to bring Bond in line by steering him in the direction of political correctness. Though well-intentioned, in my opinion it amounts to the “kiss of death” that Shirley Bassey sang about in the Goldfinger theme song.
It’s an emasculation that transforms Bond from a womanizer to a wuss.
Now retired, 007 is settling into a monogamous relationship with Madeleine Swan (Lea Seydoux) who we met in Spectre (2015).
His legendary attraction to sexy spies and evil villainesses is notably absent.
In one scene, when he has to change clothes in a wine cellar, he asks his accomplice, played by Ana de Armas, wearing a sizzling cocktail dress to please turn around. It’s a clunky, awkward moment, completely out of character for the spy that no woman could resist.
No Time to Die is more about characters and relationships than adrenaline-charged action and thrills. The overall tone is somewhere between soap opera and Shakespearean tragedy.
It’s a departure from the tried and true “Bond Formula” that I wrote about in “James Bond and America in the Sixties: An Investigation of Formula Film in Popular Culture” (Journal of the University Film Association, Summer 1976).
It’s a rigid formula that has worked for decades with only minor tweaks. I’d argue that it was what audiences paid to see.
Granted, there are a few well-staged action sequences, shot on breathtaking IMAX and 65mm film. But there is also a LOT of filler in between.
The shootouts are flashy, but the fight coordination lacks the raw brutality of the one between Bond and the Russian spy played by Robert Shaw in From Russia with Love, shot way back in 1963.
A very similar fight between Bond and a corrupt CIA agent on a sea platform is tame by comparison.
Action movies require action movie directors. With that regard, Cary Juji Fukunaga may not have been the best choice for No Time to Die. Overall, the movie moves at a sluggish pace and never achieves the full-throttle final reel rush that we’ve come to expect.
Even the traditionally snappy pre-credit action sequence that opens all the 007 films plays like a stretched out mini-movie of its own, before No Time to Die gets underway.
And speaking of the ending, without giving away the particulars (though they are hinted at in the movie’s title) I can say that it’s either the most shocking ending in the entire franchise or possibly the greatest cliff-hanger in movie history.
Whatever it is, the end credits assure us the “James Bond will return.”
Suffice it to say that it’s a sensational climax that fans will be talking about and thinking about until that next promised film is released.
They will also be discussing who Daniel Craig’s replacement should be and how Hollywood’s most famous franchise should evolve in a world of shifting social guidelines.
EON Productions is at a critical juncture, moving forward. The box office returns for the long-delayed No Time to Die might indicate whether they have started down the wrong path in making their famously politically incorrect super spy more palpable and acceptable to a younger movie audience.
In the meantime, Bond fans can retreat to the guilty pleasure of watching the previous 24 James Bond films, with all the moments that reflected the times (the good and the bad) and offered pure escapist entertainment.
No Time to Die opens in U.S. theaters Oct. 8.
Photo Credits: Nicola Dove © 2021 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.