Bond movies have always been easy targets for criticism and ridicule: predictable story beats, villains that are little more than caricatures, ludicrous gadgets and unmistakably misogynistic treatment of female characters (among many other shortfalls). These aspects have been widely documented and dissected. In 2006, Casino Royale released in theatres and caused a flurry. It was quite obvious why – this incarnation of James Bond was vulnerable, inexperienced and instantly compelling. Did Bond movies have actual stakes now?
Daniel Craig's rousing portrayal of the fictional spy had no small part of the credit that started pouring in, and with good reason. For someone who started watching the series with Craig's rendition, it was near-impossible for me to imagine anyone else in the role (still is, to an extent). But this gritty re-imagination alone was not enough to ensure the franchise's continued success, as the largely forgettable mess that was Quantum of Solace and the empty spectacle of Spectre would demonstrate.
Safe to say, going into this movie, I was not expecting much other than well-choreographed action scenes and stunning visuals. The movie delivered on these promises, but also did much more than that.
Here's a sentence I never thought I would write: one of the most emotionally resonant films of 2021 is a James Bond flick. (Embarrassing, yes, I know.)
The emotional stakes are built right from the spectacular opening sequence, with all the complex emotions surrounding love, (perceived) betrayal and heartbreak conveyed alongside exhilarating action sequences.
The movie doesn't hesitate to double-down on the elegiac tone, which is quite understandably the predominant mood here. It never wanders too far from the story it wants to tell, of an inherently suspicious secret agent who, after being betrayed by someone he loved in the early days of his career, miraculously met another person with whom he could imagine a future. A future which he then goes on to sabotage.
There's not much that is inventive here, but it doesn't need to be. The most impactful of tragic love stories have always worked best when evoking the emotions that surround the phrase – if only. If only they had more time, if only they had trusted each other, if only their circumstances were different.
This movie hits all the right notes to tell a surprisingly poignant tale, a feat that is all the more remarkable when one remembers that the Bond series is infamous for comic-book calibre gadgets and villains. 'Subtlety' and 'understated' are definitely not part of the filmmaking vocabulary here. Every emotion is writ large and often spelt out. The pathos surrounding Bond and Léa Seydoux's Madeline is wonderfully executed. Craig turns in a layered performance that is at times emotional and raw, at times steely and guarded, but always magnetic.
It is both the least 'Bond-like' film in the franchise, and a very fitting send-off to the actor.
No Time to Die unsurprisingly has its fair share of tired clichés. There's yet another villain with plans for "world domination" and killing millions of people, with extremely murky motivations and a convenient backstory. There are quite a few logical leaps, clunky dialogues, grand monologuing and implausibilities.
Yet, the movie demonstrates a key principle: audiences will overlook the grossest of errors to appreciate a story sincerely told.