‘No Time to Die’ Review: Overstuffed, Undercooked 007 Soap Opera

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MGM

About two hours into the nearly three-hour James Bond adventure No Time to Die, I started to miss the good old days of the invisible car. Remember that? Remember the much-derided Aston Martin Vanquish in 2002’s Die Another Day?

Yes, after the invisible car showed up in what would be Pierce Brosnan’s final go-round as 007, we all wanted the franchise to come back to earth. And at first, Daniel Craig’s take on James Bond seemed to be the antidote. Casino Royale (2006), at least the first two-thirds of it, were pretty great. The 2008 follow-up, Quantum of Solace, was a total dog but we blamed that on the writer’s strike. Then came a real triumph, 2012’s Skyfall, which was not only terrific entertainment but felt like a launch into normalcy. Okay, James Bond has faced and erased his demons from the past. Can we get on with the show now? In other words, can we stop making James Bond movies all about James Bond’s emotional inner-life and get back to adventure and escapism?

Well, obviously, the answer to that was hell no. In 2015’s dreadful and stillborn Spectre, we learn that James Bond and SPECTRE chief (and longtime Bond nemesis) Ernst Stavro Blofeld grew up together as adopted brothers. Which, if you think about it, is even more ludicrous than that invisible car.

Also dragging down Spectre was a shocking lack of romantic and sexual chemistry between Craig’s 007 and his leading lady, Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann.

But, whatever, “James Bond Will Return,” the producers will learn from their Spectre mistakes, and Craig’s swansong No Time to Die will get back to business, right?

Right?

Wrong.

Daniel Craig is James Bond in “No Time to die.” (Nicola Dove/MGM)

No Time to Die is a 164-minute slog punctuated with a few pretty good action scenes. There’s so much wrong with this movie, I don’t even know where to begin, so I’ll begin at the beginning.

A lovely house in the middle of nowhere. Mom’s drunk and bitter. Madeleine Swann is a young girl. An assassin in a Noh mask arrives to kill everyone but ends up saving Little Madeleine. Then we cut to grown Madeleine. She and Bond are living the romantic life of young and beautiful retirees with “all the time in the world.” Then, after some pretty spectacular action, he puts her on a train. They can never see each other again. Then we come to the credit sequence where Billie Ellish mumble-sings lyrics no one can understand.

The opening scene in the house is too long and ends up being laughably unnecessary to the overall plot, and the lack of chemistry between Craig and Seydoux ensures we don’t care even a little bit about their separation.

At this point, we’re already 20 minutes in with about eight hours to go.

Five years later, Bond is living the single life in Jamaica when his old CIA pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) shows up and asks Bond to come out of retirement for one more job. Ah, you’re thinking, the plot has finally begun!

And in a way, it has. For about a half-hour, No Time to Die feels like a James Bond movie. There’s even a sexy CIA agent played by Ana de Armas who crackles with Craig, and then it all goes to hell. We’re right back in the soap opera. Madeleine returns by way of the most outrageous coincidence you can imagine. But now, she has a daughter who may or may not belong to Bond.

Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) returns for a stupid, unnecessary, and overwrought cameo complete with a plot hole the size of the sun that has you screaming, All this friggin’ security and no plexiglass!!?

By now, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned the villain. After all, a James Bond movie is only as good as its villain. Exactly! Our villain is Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), a deformed man who uses a combination of nanobots and DNA to kill (or not kill) whoever he targets. And his dastardly plan is…

I have no idea.

Something that involves killing a lot of people?

Remi Malek in “No Time to Die.” (MGM)

Because Bond is so tied up working through his emotional issues and interpersonal relationships, Safin is an asterisk, an afterthought, and what he’s up to on his island lair is never fully explained, even during a dull verbal showdown between him and Bond. And while Bond spends some time trying to stop him (while working through his emotional issues and interpersonal relationships), we never know why he’s trying to stop him. Oh, Safin’s plan is dastardly– I mean, look at his face! But is something about to launch? Why the hurry?

Remember those early seasons of 24, the episodes that revolved around Jack Bauer’s daughter? You know how that show Sherlock, the one that made Benedict Cumberbatch a star, devolved into a show where every case ends up having something to do with Sherlock’s personal life? No Time to Die is like that, and it’s a dull sit because you don’t care about Bond’s inner turmoil, and you certainly don’t care about his relationship with Madeleine when they never seem right together.

So, yes, instead of dropping all the dull baggage that ruined Spectre, the producers double down on it here, and the result is a real stinker of a movie that is both over-plotted and under-cooked.

In a way, it’s a fitting conclusion. The entire Daniel Craig era has given us a narcissistic James Bond who’s always licking his emotional wounds instead of being the devil-may-care bon vivant delivering escapism and laughs while saving the world.

Everything about Craig’s Bond has been about a sulking, moody, self-involved killjoy.

There are plenty of Bond films where things get personal, where the villain eventually goes too far, and Bond makes it personal. That’s all well and good. It helps drive the plot. It increases the stakes. With Craig’s Bond, everything is personal; everything is about James Bond, which is not only contrived, it’s exhausting.

As far as the Woke Gestapo elements, Q being gay is just a bone thrown to the Woketards. It does nothing to further the plot. The black female 007 is so unappealing, so smug and perfect; you wince every time she opens her mouth. And then there’s the final betrayal… The very reason we love Bond is shoved right up our ass. This time he doesn’t solve everything at the last minute.

Ben Whishaw returns as Q in “No Time to Die.” (MGM)

The Craig era will be remembered as a colossal mistake, as the era where the producers screwed up by making the franchise all about the actor playing James Bond instead of the character of James Bond. As a result, the franchise built a cult of personality around Craig and his evident desire for BIG ACTING indulgences, which turned his send-off into an instantly forgettable 164-minute soap opera.

Where does the franchise go from here?

I’ve stopped caring.

Mission: Impossible is my Bond franchise.

 

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.

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