‘I’ ON CULTURE
James Bond is back, and in pretty good form for an old man. In No Time to Die, the 25th installment in the series, Bond (Daniel Craig) is not the youthful stud we are used to, charming all the women and doing incredible feats. He is called out of retirement by old CIA buddy Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) because the case involves Spectre. Remember them from early movies?
The film begins with Bond romantically involved with beautiful Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), a romance ended when he discovers she is a “daughter of Spectre.” After a wild driving and shooting sequence through a seaside Italian town, he tells her goodbye and “leaves forever.” When called back to duty, he learns that she is central to dealing with his problem, the only one who can get him to see Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), the imprisoned head of Spectre.
Along the way he goes to Cuba to find a rogue scientist with a (what else is new?) weapon that could end mankind. Meeting with colleague Paloma (Ana de Armas), who tells him she’s only had three weeks of training, they manage to shatter Spectre, most of whom have gathered in a trap designed to kill Bond. We soon find out that the real villain is Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who for some never-mentioned reason spared Madeleine’s life when she was a child. Bond convinces M (Ralph Fiennes) to let him join another agent, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), who ironically is now “007,” a sign demonstrating his being outdated. And, of course, everything winds up in a major battle.
There are several things that separate this from other Bond films. One of the most obvious is its treatment of women. When the first Bond movie came down (and, yes, I am old enough that I saw it on its first weekend), Dr. No, the woman in it was merely decoration, useful for good looks and as a clear hostage. This has, happily, changed over the years. All the women in this stand up for themselves. Seydoux’s Madeleine is strong and determined, and she winds up fighting for her freedom. Lynch’s Nomi is a dedicated, by the book, tough woman who takes out her share of bad guys. But it is de Armas’s Paloma who is a real delight. She manages to wipe out at least a dozen Spectre bad guys using a pistol, a rifle, unarmed combat skills and a passing auto. She is only in the movie for a short time, which is a shame. She steals every scene she’s in.
Another differing feature is how much Craig allows Bond to actually feel emotions. While other Bonds were strong on lust, violence and righteousness, this Bond is introspective and winds up protecting a young girl (Lisa-Dorah Sonnet) caught up as a hostage. There is a lovely bit where, in the middle of running through the bad guy’s lair shooting down minions, Bond stops when he spots the girl’s doll lying on the ground and picks it up for her.
The ending is also more violent and provides a fitting conclusion to Craig’s reign as Bond. Although Sean Connery was always my favorite, Craig added a gravitas to the part that fits our troubled times. The film makes it clear that he’s well past his prime, but he handles his battle with time and, of course, is as brave as any Bond. We can only hope that his successor will do as well.
The plot is the usual supervillain tale, although it does provide closure on several counts. Malek, a really fine actor, is set up to be so inscrutable that his motivation is not easy to read, creating a major plot hole. And he is on so briefly that the villainy does not flow through.
This is one of the better Bond films, which is a great compliment. When Bond is good, he is quite good. Although a bit weak on villains, and Waltz is almost a blank as Blofeld, an exceptional actor totally wasted, the large number of lesser villains and some of the twists and turns involved them, helps mitigate that. Unfortunately, this means the film is somewhat longer than would be best. But it is a really good movie experience. If you like Bond or action films in general, go see it.