Film & TV

James Bond Gets COVID in No Time to Die

Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas in No Time to Die. (Nicola Dove/DANJAQ, LLC/MGM)
The action series succumbs to exhaustion and goes tone-deaf.

When the most intense moment of a James Bond film exploits the potential death of a child — and Bond’s child, at that — it’s time to give up. No Time to Die (series sequel 24) proves that the decades-old James Bond franchise has reached a dead end. The turn toward sadism that began with Daniel Craig’s angry, sinister interpretation of 007 has reached an unconscionable level of heartlessness. Does anyone believe in the series anymore? Even the producers have forsaken the ethical delight that once guaranteed a Bond movie’s insouciance and thrills.

In No Time to Die, Bond comes out of retirement to figure out his betrayal by the woman he loves Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) only to confront a potential pandemic by an evil horticulturalist Lyutsifer Safin (Remi Malek). Lousy plot and lousy timing. No one really cared last year that NTTD’s release was delayed because of the lockdown, but that fact has made the synchronicity of the film’s plot NO FUN.

The problem started before COVID: Jean-Jacques Beineix, director of the dazzling ’80s romantic thriller Diva, once said he wanted to make a James Bond film — a movie aesthete’s desire like what Luc Besson brought to the Transporter films and Spielberg channeled into the Indiana Jones series. Yet producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson went Tarantino instead. NTTD’s grim narrative combines personal malaise and global misery following the culture’s worst hipster-nihilist tendencies.

PHOTO GALLERY: No Time to Die

They’ve made the Bond movies, which began as Cold War caprices, hideously woke. Bringing in TV’s Fleabag star Phoebe Waller-Bridge to apply fiendish-selfish #MeToo script-doctoring merely inhibits entertainment. She forbids sexual humor (no Pussy Galore or Xenia Onatopp), which is a serious loss to the important idea of mutual attraction. The overplotted script starts with young Madeleine’s abuse and her vengeful, gun-slinging prowess, like the little girl in Kick Ass. That means Bond enters the story as a secondary figure, a meaninglessly violent toxic male unmotivated by patriotism.

Bond’s emotional reeducation includes racial solidarity with Jeffrey Wright’s black mercenary Felix Leiter. (“I had a brother, his name was Felix,” Bond laments.) Next comes a female sidekick (Ana de Armas); then he’s challenged by a black female replacement 007 (Lashana Lynch, essentially a sullen chauffeur packing a badonkadonk); and a pointlessly gay househusband, Q (Ben Whishaw), supplies Bond’s digital intel.

Craig’s craggy scowl always suggests a street fight, which makes his Bond an ideological punching bag. This Bond succumbs to Tarantino’s white-boy sadism through indie director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s post-Obama biracial liberal guilt. Despite the pretense of Fukunaga’s drama Beast of No Nation, bemoaning third-world political savagery, here he replicates trite, Bondish violence (killings for killing’s sake) without social or moral principle (only interoffice squabbling with Ralph Fiennes at MI6) and without the panache that Chad Stahelski brought to the John Wick movies and that Tom Cruise oversees in his Mission: Impossible films, which have assumed Bond-movie expectations. (Only one action scene featuring an Aston Martin car tank spinning in 360-degree lethality achieves slapstick mirth.)

Reduced in stature — like the cynical, demoralized West — the intrepid Bond is tested by Safin’s chemical-warfare project Herakles, an ethnic-cleansing weapon using Dioxin and DNA-targeting nanobots. The COVID-like threat is so unimaginative, it rots the movie.

We know from the dreamy-dreary Billie Eilish theme song that NTTD has no moral compass. That’s why its nearly three-hour overkill includes an extraneous nemesis, Christoph Waltz as Blofeld. But Waltz, Millennial Hollywood’s favorite Nazi (and notably the creative force behind Georgetown, the year’s canniest political farce), can’t match previous Bond villains. Even when introduced à la Hannibal Lecter, he’s still less than Robert Shaw’s evocative Red in From Russia with Love, Harold Sakata’s Oddjob in Goldfinger, or the ultimate baddie’s baddie, Gert Fröbe’s Auric Goldfinger, which Collider aptly described as “a rich asshole with plans of world domination or corruption.”

NTTD needs what all those earlier villains provided for their times; it needs a George Soros figure (or maybe a Xi Jinping) to set the bar for an appropriate James Bond antagonist — if we still fantasize that Bond is the Western world’s savior. But NTTD indicates that Bond and his audience are tired, exhausted, and defeated. No wonder the rave reviews wallow in the biological-warfare plot as if COVID never happened. It proves that the partisan, brain-washed, propagandizing media (including the Bond franchise) are selling fake amusement.

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Armond White, a culture critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles. His new book, Make Spielberg Great Again: The Steven Spielberg Chronicles, is available at Amazon.

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