By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Culture Writer
In No Time to Die, director Cary Joji Fukunaga brings Daniel Craig’s James Bond to a heroic end with plenty of Bondian violence and unexpectedly emotional angst worthy of a Greek tragedy along the way.
Small children and family become the emotional focus from the beginning to the end and the audience will best appreciate this outing with a little background from the preceding Bond films featuring Craig because some old friends and enemies will return.
The Oakland-born Japanese hapa Fukunaga has dealt with children before, notably in his 2015 Beasts of No Nation which followed a child’s induction into the American-Ghanaian war as a child soldier under the ruthless Commandant (Idris Elba). Fukunaga had worked on the script for seven years (based on a book of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala) and was rewarded with award nominations, including Best Feature from the Film Independent Spirit. The NAACP Image Awards gave it an Outstanding Independent Motion Picture Award and Elba won a Screen Actors Guild Award for supporting performance.
In the Eon Productions canon of Bond, Fukunaga is the first US director, although the film was originally set to be helmed by Danny Boyle. Fukunaga, along with Bond writing veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and Fleabag writer/actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge scripted this 007 outing.
Beasts of No Nation existed in the realm of historical reality. No Time to Die does not. That’s quickly established in the first scenario: A lone man walking through a wintry forest to a secluded high-rent home where a drunk mother and a young girl are alone. The man wears a Noh mask and is there for revenge. The mother has already told her daughter that her father is not a doctor, but a killer. If you’re a doctor or a killer would you leave your family unguarded?
The outcome and traumatic repercussions of that wintry day will be revealed in the film, but before that, the film fast-forwards to a continuation of the previous film, Spectre, with a happily lustful couple James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) in a silver Astin-Martin burning rubber in Italy.
Bonfires brighten the scenic nightscape as part of an old tradition of writing down wishes on a piece of paper and burning them. Bond comes to this particular town to remember a past love, Vesper Lund, but he’s made this pilgrimage before and some assassins from the evil organization Spectre are waiting for him.
Bond survives in better shape than his Astin-Martin, but his relationship with Madeleine does not. He suspects she betrayed him, something she plaintively denies.
Five years later, a slightly loopy scientist at a large secret facility, Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik), is taken in a high-tech kidnapping by bioterrorists. When you fully understand what the bioweapon is, if you’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, you’ll worry that some anti-vaxxers will take this as proof of a conspiracy theory, but this Bond has already been there.
In a previous film, Bond had a tracking device, “smart blood,” injected into his blood stream. In No Time to Die, the scientific threat is nanobots that can target specific DNA and can be transferred by aerosol spray or touch and are indestructible. On the positive side collateral damage (something that no Bond film is really worried about) is avoided. On the negative side, there’s the possibility of whole families or even whole ethnic groups being targeted.
Bond’s old friend, CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright who previously appeared in Casino Royale in 2006 and in Quantum of Solace in 2008) gets in touch with the retired Bond who relaxing in Jamaica, but Leiter isn’t the only one looking Bond up. A new M16 agent, the new 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch) also arranges to meet Bond.
In time, we’ll learn how our main villain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), the girl in the snow-bound home and the mad scientist are linked and our journey will include a giggling agent in a unsuitably sexy dress, a mother running around in high heels and a bionic eyeball served up on a pillow.
The bloody bioweapon at the center of the action is called Project Heracles. You’ll have to forget anything you learned about Hercules/Heracles from the Kevin Sorbo TV films and TV series (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, 1995-1999) and the Disney animated feature to understand the connection between blood and Heracles and how that relates to Craig’s James Bond.
In Greek and Roman mythology, Hercules wasn’t wise nor gentle. He suffered bouts of madness, supposedly induced by the wife of his father, Zeus/Jupiter, and murdered his wife, friends and children. In today’s world, we’d say he has anger management issues. According to legend, Heracles/Hercules died in a mystical blood poisoning motivated by his current wife’s jealousy.
Fukunaga is fully aware that the legacy of James Bond isn’t without problems of misogyny. According to The Guardian, Fukunaga said, “Is it Thunderball or Goldfinger where basically Sean Connery’s character rapes a woman?” In the 1965 “Thunderball,” a woman who has turned down Bond’s advances, is essentially blackmailed into having sex with him. The original Bond novels were written in the 1950s and Ian Fleming, as the Guardian article notes, had some sexist attitudes and these were on full display in some of the early films.
One of the worst parts of researching for this review was reading the comments where people bemoaned the ruining of James Bond by political correctness and feminism. The death of rape culture is at hand and it isn’t going quietly.
The casting of the women tries to have it both ways with the no-nonsense Nomi (Lashana Lynch) and the giggling Paloma (Ana de Armas). Paloma fights in a dress meant for little more activity than tottering about in high heels with its low-plunging neckline, both front and back. Nomi is sensibly dressed for action and, like Naomie Harris’ Eve Moneypenny (who was a past possibility for bed partners with this Bond), she is in control of her sexuality and not merely a plaything Bond babe.
The addition of a young girl within the Bondian world takes the paternalism of misogyny toward the gentler fatherly paternal spirit and increases the pull on one’s heart. Fukunaga handles these issues deftly enough and the pacing is driven smoothly by the soundtrack.
The ending might leave you shaken or stirred. When Daniel Craig’s Bond is dead, M (Ralph Fiennes) doesn’t lift a martini, but pours a stiff drink for Moneypenny, Gadget guy quartermaster Q (Ben Whishaw) and Nomi, and toasts Bond and his heroic death.
M says, “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
The full quote is:
I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.
–Jack London, “Jack London’s Tales of Adventure, ed. Irving Shepard (1956).
No Time to Die made its world premiere on 28 September 2021 at the Royal Albert Hall. It opened in the US on October 8.
For a full review including recaps of Daniel Craig’s Bond films and an explanation of the Heracles myth, visit AgeOfTheGeek.org.
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