Hard to believe it was six years ago that I saw Spectre (2015). And that one TYG and I saw on the big screen; the final Daniel Craig film, No Time to Die, came to me as a Netflix DVD. It’s a good film and a good farewell, overcoming some of the Craig era’s flaws, but not all of them — and at 160 minutes, it could have stood some trimming. I’ll watch it again in a few months, then add it to the text of Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast. And yes, this discussion will include spoilers.
The Story: When Bond visits the crypt of Vesper Lynd (007’s lost love from Casino Royale) it blows up in his face, then thugs attack. Nobody knew he was going there except Madeline (Léa Seydoux), the lover from Spectre he left MI6 for. Unable to trust her (it’s clear she has secrets she hasn’t shared) he puts her on a train and out of his life. He then goes and buries himself on a tropical island, as he did in Skyfall.
After a Spectre strike force steals the mysterious Heracles bioweapon and its mad-scientist inventor (who’s in with them), Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and his new protege Ash (Billy Magnusson) call Bond in to help the CIA retrieve it. This puts Bond into competition with the new 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), a black woman out to recover Heracles for M (Ralph Fiennes). Bond ends up in a Spectre trap, only to have Heracles wipe out every Spectre agent on hand, but not Bond. Felix winds up dead because Ash, it turns out, was a traitor working for whoever’s after Spectre and Heracles.
Bond winds up returning to MI6 where M remains tight-lipped about Heracles, enough that Bond, Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) have to work around their boss to find out what they’re dealing with. Meanwhile the sinister Safin (Rami Malek) approaches Madeleine, who’s been working as Blofeld’s shrink. He’s got a job for her, and if she refuses — well, she has a little girl now …
The result is that Bond and Madeleine both meet at Blofeld’s cell, only to have her freak out and leave before meeting the villain. After a taunting, unhelpful conversation (though it does reveal the booby trap at Vesper’s grave was all Spectre, no Madeleine), Bond grabs Blofeld, who spasms and dies. It turns out that when Bond touched Madeleine’s hands, trying to comfort her, some of the Heracles she was carrying got on him and then on Blofeld. Heracles, you see, is a nannite-based weapon harmless to everyone, unless it has their DNA on its kill programming. Madeleine or James or anyone can carry a strain of Heracles without any harm but if they touch the designated target … It’s meant as a way to kill one individual with no collateral damage but Q’s research shows it’s been modified so that it can be used to wipe out entire races.
MI6 successfully tracks down Safin. His family were Spectre poison specialists until Blofeld had Madeleine’s father, Mr. White, kill them (I forget why). Safin murdered Madeleine’s mother in revenge and almost killed her but went soft. Now he brings her and her little girl (three guesses who the father is) to his island base, where he’s planning to launch missiles spreading the more virulent form of Hercules all over the world, wiping out millions. Can Bond stop him?
Well, of course, but it comes at a price. Safin had a special version of Heracles whipped up to threaten Madeleine and her daughter. Bond becomes exposed; if he ever touches them again, they’ll die. After destroying the island’s defenses so the missiles can wipe out Heracles, Bond just stands there, ready to die. And apparently does. In the end bit, Nomi 007, Moneypenny and the others toast their fallen comrade.
I freely admit I’m not a fan of Craig’s run, even setting aside the dreadful Quantum of Solace. There’s the mindless, frenetic action, the clunky plotting, the bland villains and going back to the misogyny of the books. In Skyfall, for example, Moneypenny’s demoted from field agent to office drone for doing far less than Craig’s Bond has done without suffering comparable consequences. There’s the contemptuous treatment of Silva’s mistress and replacing Judi Dench’s M with a man (I go into this more in my book). No Time to Die makes up for that: Nomi and rookie agent Paloma (Ana de Armas) are both professional, competent and formidable. So is Madeleine, even if she does get the damsel in distress role a lot of the time.
The Craig films tend to have dully but realistic plots — terrorist financing, computer hacking, obtaining a national water monopoly and lack the ticking bomb imminence that if Bond fails something disastrous and irreversible will happen. Not so here, where failure will lead to the deaths of millions.
The biggest weakness, as usual for this era, is the villains. Except for Javier Bardem’s Silva, the big bads all come off as reserved, mannered and icy; so it is with Safin. I’m not sure why Eon Studios thinks this is a winning hand, but they all lack enough presence to be scary or memorable. Of course, villains have been secondary to the Bond girl as characters since Spy Who Loved Me but Sean Bean and Jonathan Pryce during Brosnan’s era proved that doesn’t have to be the case.
He’s also oddly unmotivated. He spouts philosophical justifications — most people just want to obey orders, then have someone put them out of their misery — and a R’as al Ghul type belief that the old world has to be destroyed to start over. That’s not new in the series — Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker go that route — — but it doesn’t work here (of course Moonraker didn’t work on any level). Safin might as well be twirling his mustache for all the depth his goals give him.
Overall, though, I’m glad I caught this and curious where they go next. Another reboot? Simply have Bond miraculously survive? Try something really radical like a black Bond?
Time will tell. But I’m confident, as the movies used to say, that “James Bond will return …”
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