Arts movie review

‘No Time to Die’ had far too much time

The movie tries to be too many things at once and succeeds at none of them

9660 james bond nicola dove
Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas star as James Bond and Paloma in ‘No Time to Die.’
Courtesy of Nicola Dove

No Time to Die
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Starring Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Ana de Armas, Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch
Rated PG-13, Now Playing

No Time to Die has finally come to theaters after being delayed multiple times due to the pandemic. As Daniel Craig exits the role of 007, No Time to Die attempts to humanize Bond while still clinging onto all of what is Bond-like: dry quips, fight scenes, foreign countries, a femme fatale, and sinister organizations hell-bent on some version of catastrophic destruction. But instead, it languishes on an incoherent storyline for nearly three hours.

The film begins with Bond leaving his lover, Madeleine Swan (Léa Seydoux), and retiring to Jamaica. However, he’s called back into service in order to track down a missing scientist, and this mission quickly gets derailed as more and more secrets are unearthed. Along the way, he must repair his romantic relationship and deal with the fact that the world has moved on without him.

One glaring weakness in the film is the way Bond treats women. When Bond is attacked by assassins while visiting the tomb of a previous love interest, he somehow concludes that Swan is at fault. He shoves and drags her around, and when they are in the car with the assassins shooting at them, there is a moment when he chooses to ignore the situation and stare off into space while one can hear the sound of bullets pounding at the glass and Swan’s increasingly desperate pleas for him to do something, anything. He takes his time before acquiescing.

The way Bond pushes Swan around when he’s angry and the way he risks both their lives to prove a sick point about how dependent she is on him show that their relationship is extremely toxic. Even though it is clear that this film intends to develop their relationship somewhere down the road, I actually cheered when Bond put Swan on a train and vowed to never see her again.

It’s not just Bond’s attitude toward Swan. After his retirement, the world had moved on from James Bond, and throughout Bond’s journey back into the world of MI6, there is a question constantly playing in the background: Is he past his prime? Can he do it again? The film makes sure that he does, but at the cost of diminishing the women around him. For instance, Paloma (Ana de Armas) is terrifyingly competent but always defers to Bond because she is starstruck by him. Nomi (Lashana Lynch) and Bond trade snubs for most of the film because Nomi is his replacement, but the film resolves this by having Nomi learn to respect Bond and make space for him. A significant part of the film is essentially women of color being reminded of this white man’s supposed greatness.

In a college roundtable interview, Lynch talked about Bond’s relationship with the women in the film: “[it’s] very indicative of where a lot of men that I know personally are thinking towards these days — respecting women, speaking up for them, and leading them to have more agency in their industries.” But while that intention is apparent throughout the film, women don’t need men to speak for them or teach them how to lead, and the depiction of that can be harmful.

What is also concerning is how the villain, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), is portrayed alongside Japanese aesthetics. When Bond confronts Safin, Safin wears a kimono-like robe and sits at a low table. His garden of poisons uses East Asian design elements. Safin says some maudlin lines about how Bond and him are two sides of the same coin, but what is most noticeable is his accent, a sibilant, effortful drawl. English is not his first language.

This isn’t limited only to this one James Bond film — it applies to the entire series. It is tiring to see villains who speak with an accent and who are coded with a non-Western culture. It is tiring to watch men who go off to far-flung, foreign countries and claim that murder is justified because they are “saving the world”, when what they are really doing is defending nebulous national interests.

While these points made me dislike the film, I have to acknowledge that the main expectation of a James Bond film is for it to provide stunning visuals and high-stakes action, and No Time to Die delivers that well. The camerawork in some of the scenes is gorgeous. The whiplash of transitioning from an emotional scene to the main characters being shot at does the job of thrilling the audience. Experiencing it all on a big screen in person is a suitable “welcome back” from the pandemic.