For someone who watched his first 007 film, Octopussy, way back in 1985 — at a Bond film festival at the now-defunct Archana theatre in Delhi, my shirt pocket and sandal straps coming apart in the melee with unruly crowds jostling for tickets — the Bond of the era epitomised an escape into a la-la land where logic, political correctness, the codes of everyday life did not exist or even matter. Over time I saw the 007 franchise critiqued for its sexism and misogynism, and Bond decried as a dinosaur. But hey, dinosaurs can be fun. I never watched Bond from the prism of ‘isms. This is not to say I did not enjoy what Craig brought to the character, giving it a much-needed makeover, even if at the cost of the silly fun that characterised the earlier Bonds.
Craig’s final outing as Bond picks up on the strands developed in his previous ones. But unlike Casino Royale and Skyfall, this one suffers from a degree of manipulation in positioning the emotional Bond. Director Fukunaga gets the action spot-on and the pre-credit portion sets up the film just right, in particular, a chase to die for. Every time the film goes into an action overdrive, it has you riveted.
The shoot-out in Cuba — Ana de Armas lighting things up with a delightful 10-minute cameo as the intern who has had ‘three weeks of training’ — is brilliantly choreographed. As is the chase through a forest, with Bond trying to protect his love interest, Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), and her child, Mathilde (Lisa-Dorah Sonnet), who has, as the script underlines twice, Bond’s ‘blue eyes’.
There are some eye-catching atmospheric vistas, including Blofeld’s ‘poison garden’ that Fleming visualised in You Only Live Twice. Hans Zimmer’s background score manages to find just the right balance between the elegiac and the rousing. Above all, there’s Craig’s delineation of Bond, who has seldom been this mushy and vulnerable.
But at a staggering 163 minutes, it’s by far the longest Bond film ever. And the writing is not strong enough to sustain that length. Despite Craig’s heroic efforts, the proceedings flag every time the film moves out of action zones. It does not help that the chemistry between Swann and Bond never quite suggests the passion that’s supposed to inform the relationship. And, frankly, Mathilde seems like a contrivance designed to underline Bond’s vulnerability. Of the other actors, only Armas manages to leave an impression. Even Lashana Lynch as the new 007, Nomi, ends up more like a cheerleader for the original 007 than a character of her own, despite some enjoyable repartee between the two.
But the film’s biggest failing is its lame-duck antagonist, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek). The best Bond films are a factor of their villains — Dr No and Goldfinger in the eponymous films — and often their lackeys, Oddjob (Goldfinger) and Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker). No Time to Die is woefully lacking in that department, with Lyutsifer coming across as a mere carryover from countless Bond villains — the exotic, scarred loner who wants to destroy the world. The characterisation is sketchy at best, with a backstory — including his relationship with Madeline, which is meant to drive the plot — that’s muddled and ineffective. Surely, Bond’s last outing deserved a better villain, one who could match the beaten, haunted spirit that Craig epitomises here.
But for all these shortcomings, Craig makes it all worthwhile, almost all anyway, invoking ‘we have all the time in the world’ twice over. Apart from that, this one left me a trifle shaken at best, but not terribly stirred.
It might sound incongruous in a review for a James Bond film, but as the end credits rolled, I was reminded of Rabindranath Tagore’s line in the short story, ‘Jibita-o-Mrito’: ‘Kadambini moriya praman korilo, she moray nai’ (In dying, Kadambini proved that she did not die). I guess Ian Fleming would have approved. After all, the creator of Bond tried several times to break the mould, most notably in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the novel No Time to Die draws upon, and whose film version is referenced here to good emotional effect. James Bond is dead. Long live James Bond.
Title: No Time To Die
DirectorS: Cary Joji Fukunaga
cast: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Lea Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomi Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz
Where: Theatre near you
Rating: 3 stars
(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)