By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
I never liked Daniel Craig as James Bond.
Maybe because he had other movies first. He remained Daniel Craig, the action star, to me, and not James Bond. Craig was more pugilist than the suave superspy I grew up with on constant replay at my grandparents’ house. But, even though the films were reliable entertainment, I never liked the character either. He was “classy” and always had the smooth lines, but I couldn’t stand how he had a new expendable lady in every film and never fell in love. Yet he did, once. It’s ironic that Craig, the Bond I didn’t like, has made me love James Bond by being love-able—and falling in love—in “No Time to Die.”
“No Time to Die” is a tribute to the 007 franchise, and fittingly so, as it is reported to be Craig’s last installment as the British secret serviceman—just when I decided I want him back. (But do our heroes ever go away anymore? Is Ironman really gone? I’ll leave that there.) Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, one of the satisfying things about “No Time to Die” is the “Easter eggs” scattered throughout the movie. If you are a James Bond fan—it’s part of our collective consciousness by now—you know what’s supposed to happen.
There will be a visit to Q’s gadget wonderland. A vodka martini—we know how he likes it—will be consumed. Villains will have odd physical defects—cue glass eyes and a face so damaged a mask is needed.
My déjà vu sensor flashed when I saw Bond driving a gray Aston Martin on a cliffside, with his love, Madeleine Swann, by his side. Swann is not the first time Bond loves—the movie includes a visit to Vesper Lynd’s grave—but knowing this is Craig’s, and perhaps 007’s, swan song gives this love story great impact. The scene on the cliffs is a nod to the 1969 Bond film, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” where Bond loved and lost—and was not his usual unflappable self.
I didn’t like that Craig was so flappable. Even though that’s what made the Bond series lackluster to me, I was still convinced that’s how Bond was supposed to be. Turns out Craig eliminates, finally, what was most grating to me—that Bond never showed love—and establishes that it’s okay for each new 007 to be different, which is good, since who knows who will be next. A woman? Perhaps Lashana Lynch, who plays the (temporarily named) 007 when Bond is rumored to be retired? (Haha, Bond never retires.) Henry Golding? (Still rooting for that.)
In “No Time to Die,” we have many of the who’s who that we know from other films (and the books), including Blofeld, Bond’s foster brother; Mr. White, Swann’s father; and Swann herself. The new villain, Lyutsifer Safin, played by Rami Malek, is out for revenge for the death of his family, which was ordered by Blofeld and carried out by White. He plans to achieve this by hijacking a scientist and a genetic superweapon. Safin kills Swann’s mother, but becomes attached to Swann in a perhaps inappropriate way. (So if Safin killed Swann’s father when she was a child… shouldn’t Malek look much older? And what exactly is the age difference between Bond and Swann? Okay, doesn’t matter. Love. Starry eyes.)
What else is going on in “No Time to Die”? There is some effort to make us think that society can’t tell right from wrong anymore. Gee, whose side is anybody on? That government agent? Good guy? Bad guy? Who knows? Bond? You are just the same as me, claims Safin. You kill people. I kill people.
Whoa, hold up. Did you fall for that? Cuz I can tell when someone is a megalomaniac who is wrong for wanting to kill millions of people (the ultimate goal of any Bond villain) and someone doing his darndest to defend his country (or do his job, whatevs), who only kills reactively. The baddie started it. The baddie kidnaps children. The baddie has an entire “poison garden.” It wasn’t even Bond who killed his family. Chill, dude!
I don’t think Bond buys it, which is nice. Bond is not a wordy guy—his big response is “okay”—but he’s got his feet on the ground, and he is beautifully, symphonically, wordy in “No Time to Die” when it comes to expressing his love. Both in deed and word. A hero. A good guy. (Craig is also known for doing most of his stunts, which might be why he has less to say and looks a bit more perturbed than prior Bonds who sat in a fake car in front of a green screen.)
In spite of all the propaganda to the contrary, in “No Time to Die” the good guys stay good and the bad guys stay bad. You know how there is always the inside guy, the top guy (or gal), who turns out to be in cahoots with the villain? Not in “No Time to Die.” You will wonder for a bit but turns out it’s refreshingly safe to count on MI6 this time. There is Logan Ash, played by Billy Magnussen, introduced as a good guy, and maybe the creepiest person in the movie. But Bond says, “He smiles too much,” so you know he’s a turncoat. Doesn’t even count. Red flag.
IMHO, a real feat has been carried out here as this turns out to be the only time I have ever felt emotional during a Bond movie. It’s a complete circle and yet also leaves the path wide open for whatever scenic road an Aston Martin is going to drive down next. In “No Time to Die,” Bond says to Swann, “We have all the time in the world.” That’s one of the most loving things you can give someone: time. Or pretend to give, when we all know it isn’t true. But if you can pretend, for a little while, that there’s nothing but time, isn’t that grand? Bond says these same words in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and there is the same letdown when time runs out.
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.