On Friday night, my friend, Zee, invited me to go for a movie. With Covid restrictions lifted and theatres back to some form in the city, I was up to catch any good show that was on. It came down to choosing between No Time To Die and Free Guy.
I thought that Free Guy would be the same old Ryan Reynolds schtick and felt that money would be better spent on a Bond movie with it's gadgets and action set pieces that would translate well to the big screen. I was looking forward to be entertained by a Bond spy thriller and chose to go for No Time To Die with the assent of my friend.
In the end, what I got was something totally unexpected...
The movie starts with a flashback that with a young girl and introduces a man in the mask, who seems to be Rami Malek, out on a vendetta against her family. He kills her mother, but spares her and lets her go, We find out that the young girl is actually Madeleine, Bond's girlfriend from the previous movie.
We find her and Bond making their way through a European town to pay respects to Bond's previous girlfriend/love, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Of course, things go to shit and Bond finds himself being chased by SPECTRE. Suspecting Madeleine to be involved, he breaks up with her and sends her off on a train. As she leaves, there is a hint in the way she moves her hand over her stomach that she is carrying his child. Cut to 5 years later and Bond is pulled back into the action by his friend Felix, who recruits him for a job to rescue a kidnapped scientist from SPECTRE.
At first, it felt like there was a strong premise and a setup with SPECTRE still at Bonds tail and then the mysterious threat of an unknown weapon, which we later find out is a DNA based targeting weapon. There is also a new player on the board, someone who takes out most of SPECTRE. It took 4 movies for the underlying threat to emerge and the scope of the SPECTRE organization to be revealed and now it seemed there was someone more dangerous. The threat, the mysterious villain (most likely Rami Malek), the world ending weapon, the new 007 and Bond right in the middle of it all makes for some great action.
But then I found the movie slow down. I found Zee's attention also wandering around the theatre as he made a note of a guy sleeping behind us. I couldn't wait for the plot to progress. Yes, Blofeld, the leader of SPECTRE, incarcerated in the previous movie, is the next target. Turns out it is Madeleine who is his doctor and the only person he talks to. Of course, she is used to take down Blofeld by the masked man, who calls in his favor for sparing her.
Bond meets Madeleine and finds out she has a daughter, but then both are kidnapped by the masked man, Safrin, who turns out has an evil plan to reduce the world's population by using the DNA targeting virus. Here we find a villain who's motivations doesn't match up to his setup. He was a man, whose family had been killed by a SPECTRE agent and even he got his revenge, first by killing the assassin's family and later, by bringing down SPECTRE itself, we suddenly find him ready to unleash terror upon the world. It made no sense.
The story concentrated more on Bond's personal life than the core plot. I felt that this was not a good (to put it mildly) Bond movie. It's like they couldn't even define the villains motivations properly. It was more of a Bond love story than an actual spy thriller. They don't even show the new 007 in action. Like she is supposed to replace Craig and I don't even know what she is capable of apart from a few snide remarks. Further, they stressed on her insecurity in the position of 007. I mean she literally asks which double-o when Bond is reinstated to the agency.
Thoughts of a friend
Agitated and disappointed by the movie, a feeling matched by Zee as well, I got back home and was ranting about it on discord. It was then that another friend of mine, Reader, stated that I had missed the point of the movie if the above points were my gripes....
She thought that the movie was trying to say something else and that because it was trying to focus on Bond having his character developments. At the end of the day the Safrin was just a tool and that yes while his plan was....more or less the plot of a Dan Brown novel, it wasn't the focus and they didn't develop it because it didn't matter. She also did not think 007/Nomi actress is going to replace Craig as the new head of the James Bond Franchise and she was as much a side character as Q or Moneypenny, or Alec from Goldeneye, none of whom get the development either because the focus was on Bond and saying goodbye to him.
She also said that in the context of the other Craig movies, you see a story that you don't really see in previous films either. Its a fair point and its so unexpected of the franchise to kill off bond. She thought that if you go into it expecting something and you get something else anyone would be disappointed.
Revisiting my thoughts
It was truly interesting points put forward. Then when I thought back to the movie, I remembered a few moments where I was at the edge of my seat engrossed in the scene, particularly where Bond interacts with Madeleine. I could feel the frustration because I saw the misunderstanding between them esp. when they showed her daughter and Madeleine lies to Bond that it is not his at first, but we know that its not true. It was a personal story developing Bond as a character and finally a proper send off to Bond.
That final moment when the bombs drop was so perfectly shot. Bond was seeing the sun rise, talking to the love of his life, learning about his daughter. Here was a man, who lived a full life and was ready to greet death like an old friend. Craig had so perfectly captured the moment.
It truly does seem like the movie I will return to because of those few excellent moments. I mean despite the odds, I was still hoping for Bond to survive. It did seem to be a Bond story and all other characters were just there for the sake for being there. I don't think that they have actually considered 007's replacement (proven by her presence in this movie). It was my expectations that killed it for me and my set direction of looking at the plot a certain way.
I am glad to have had the conversation with Reader. After watching so many movies all these years, it is easy to expect and predict what is going to happen in a movie and in the process, the feeling of the spontaneity and the other stories that the movie is lost as I pegged it down to a certain pattern of movie. Understanding a different perspective always throws in light certain elements that we would have dismissed in our confirmation bias.
In the end, No Time to Die served as a perfect goodbye to Daniel Craig as James Bond. I entered the franchise a skeptic and now I leave a believer.