Here it is. The first big movie ever to have itself delayed due to the announcement of the coronavirus and had all the others follow suit. I wasn’t exactly biting my nails for this movie to finally arrive, but No Time to Die was delayed at a time we knew very little about the virus, and I truly was worried I was going to die. Seeing it now feels almost like a cathartic breather.
Before I give you my synopsis, let me give you my admittedly small history with Double-O Seven (Daniel Craig). Don’t hate me for it being small. It was 2012, with The Avengers, when my love for cinema and grown-up entertainment really opened up for this 13-year-old and I finally really delved into different franchises. I saw Dr. No one day with my mom, never mind exactly when, and I thought it was fine. The film that started it all, I was never fully in love with the actual film, but again, it was fine. My first domestic viewing of Mr. Bond was in Skyfall, and admittedly, that was not the best film for me to open up to. It seemed the film was trying to be more slow-burned and grounded, away from cool gadgets or self-aware humour to branch away from genre. I should’ve maybe done my homework because the movie seemed to be all about moving forward from tragedies in the past the characters reminisce on, something I was out of the loop on, but even then, a Bond movie shouldn’t have me practically falling asleep. I awarded it a D. I’m sorry, Skyfall fans. If a movie in general is that boring, a D is generous.
We then got Spectre from the same director (Sam Mendes would then direct the spectacular 1917), and whether my expectations were drastically lowered or it was just good enough to recommend, it was, well, somehow good enough to recommend. It majorly had to do with not only the introduction of Lea Seydoux, one of my favourite actresses, as the new Bond girl Madeleine Swann, but how they handled her character and her relationship with Bond. What caused a B- on Spectre, even though I found it dragged on, was it was more exciting than Skyfall, and the love that developed with Bond and Swann was surprisingly pure. Even I knew at that point Bond was known as a man full of one-night stands and hangover regrets, and others who have made it past that mark are in too much danger from his work. Spectre ended with Bond saving Swann after they decided to part ways, and the two of them decided to mend things and rode off to a happily ever after. At the time, Spectre was said to be the last Bond, and with that terrific ending, I gave it a passing grade. Now we have No Time to Die, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve thought about, because of a different movie, changing the grade of a prior movie, but in the first 30 minutes, I considered changing my grade of Spectre from a B- to a C, because a fair bit of my admiration for that movie was it ending the franchise with a loving wife. And this is where my synopsis for No Time to Die comes into effect.
Bond and Swann are on vacation in Matera, and Bond says he wants to go visit the grave of his old friend Vesper Lynd. When he goes, he notices a card with Spectre’s old logo and nearly dies after a booby trap and a dozen assassins nearly get him. Believing Swann is the only way anyone could’ve known where he was, Bond ends up hardened to the reality (or his reality) that he has a life where he can’t be with anyone longterm, not just for their safety but his safety.
Five years have passed and Bond is by himself off the grid. There’s even a new spy under the number 007 at MI6. That same agent (Lashana Lynch) ends up taking Bond back to her place in Jamaica, telling him an MI6 scientist named Valdo Obruchev was recently kidnapped, as was some sort of secret bioweapon M (Ralph Fiennes) approved, not having meant to be used that way and so dangerous it was kept under wraps from everybody. Bond will have to retrace his steps a bit with the antagonist from the last movie, Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and go on another mission he can’t possibly escape.
Except the feeling of him being unable to escape is a negative to him, but not a negative to us. I heard from the owner of my local theatre this was going to be a nearly three hour movie, but I still felt prepared going into it because despite my dislike of Skyfall and lukewarm reaction of Spectre, I was excited to find out how much further they could stretch the stories of a Bond and MI6 who had perhaps more at stake than they’ve ever had. And even if I ended up hating it, I felt it would end up fun to trash. And in the end, I’m calling No Time to Die one of the best movies of the year, a thriller loaded with clever and lethal gadgetry, just fitting for a Bond film, devastating tragedy, fun narrow escapes, and the icing on the cake is how it takes a chunk out of us by the end. In my opinion, every story eventually needs to have an ending, from cartoon to sitcom to mainstream spy or superhero. Taking this concept more seriously than Spectre, this was the Bond feature I’ve wanted since I first really started the franchise.
I don’t want to spoil much about the bioweapon or how the plot unfolds, but this is a great example of why some movies need to be quite long. No Time To Die is the boiling point of James Bond’s life as a constant survivor, girlfriend rejector, and tool to keep the world functioning as it is. It has the courage to give the time to feel like a bit of a journey, the quiet moments stretched not for boredom but for sorrow, of all he’s had to leave behind in his occupation. Sometimes a movie has to slow down and look to give the full idea of a burdened life. But I’m gonna stop myself there for a moment. In 2010, there was a George Clooney thriller called The American. My family and I tried to watch it on Amazon Prime once and it was hands-down the most boring movie I’ve ever seen. That is, tried to see. It seemed to try to also slow down to give insight into the life of a mourning killer. But No Time To Die succeeds because it still entertains us enough to keep us from falling asleep, not just because we’ve known this Bond for so long.
A flaw that feels uncomfortably bare is the total underutilization of Ana de Armas’ character Paloma, and some scenes with her and Bond feel a little too playful (well, not that kind of playful. People are shooting at them and they’re drinking quick shots of…something, out in the open.) That flaw almost caused me to give a lower grade, but the fact No Time To Die is such a rejection of formula and plot armor while keeping true to the thrills and stunts that keep us heading back to these movies is grounds for big celebration. Whatever’s next for James Bond, the next movie, if it ever even happens, has some big shoes to fill. When the movie was done, a pit was in my stomach. And it’s still kind of there.