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The art of bold ignobility – Review for “No Time To Die” [Spoiler-free]

The long wait is over. James Bond is back in cinemas across Europe. It was a nice film, but it could have been so much more.

Watching a James Bond film in the cinema on first release has always been a joyous occasion. You count down the hours and like a little boy, you feel the anticipation building when you wait for those doors to open. It is a familiar feeling I have experienced since 1997. The same happened today. But over the past few weeks, two more feelings joined my cocktail of emotions – restlessness and anxiety.

I had consumed a great deal about the new film during its production and marketing campaigns. The trailers were watched countless times, every snippet was welcomed and archived. But there was something in the air that massively triggered my anxiety, something along the lines of a proper sendoff for Daniel Craig and his Bond and how special it would be. This could go two ways I thought. Well, it did go in the direction I had been anxious about.

First of all, “No Time To Die” is not a bad film. Not at all. Within its 163 minute runtime, it is packed full with exciting action, humour, gorgeous cinematography and sound design. But that’s basically it. This description is equally true for a great number of Hollywood films. What I missed was the soul of Bond, the distinctive quality that sets it apart from everything else. No, wait…that does not quite say what I mean. The soul of Bond is there, but rather the kind of soul that “Die Another Day”, “Diamonds Are Forever” or “Quantum of Solace” had.

A cure for weakness

Once again, and this is a repetetive occurence, the writing left much to be desired. I am always amazed when the cast speaks of “more depth” and “character development”. It started back in 1998 during the production of “The World is Not Enough” when there was supposed to be a more serious approach to how characters were written, making them more complex and relatable instead of flat and forgettable.

Just this morning, I edited a behind the scenes feature with Press Kit interviews of the cast & crew in which actress Ana de Armas and Lashana Lynch both promised, “No Time To Die” would feature “strong female characters”. Although I had heard that being said on every Bond production of the past 15 years, I was hopeful once again. And then, finally sitting in the cinema, I witness Ana de Armas’ character Paloma coming across as excessively flat and downright silly. I was burying my head in my hands.

Playing Nomi, Lashana Lynch has a point when she speaks of strong female characters. I thought, her character was well written but the cheeky way in which the “007” number reassignment was sprinkled through her scenes with Bond was not to my liking.

Safin, portrayed by Academy Award winner Rami Malek, was probably the biggest weak spot. Yes, Malek delivered really a fantastic performance here and gave it his best shot. Safin is menacing, psychotic and driven by revenge. It is eerie to watch him. I like villains that instill a sense of fear in me. But then again, his plot was impalpable. What exactly did he want to achieve and why? How did he get the means to establish his lair? There was simply too little substance to his entire character and actions. The threat was not tangible.

And then there’s Daniel Craig. Hate him or love him, he has also given the portrayal of Bond his best shot. But that’s what all of the actors before him have done as well. He’s had a good run and he was successful in what he did. But being as involved in the actual filmmaking process like no other actor before him, I was surprised that he approved of so many drastic changes. But his Bond in this film is matured and adequately powerful and energetic when he needs to be. There is also the occasional cringeworty one-liner which is exactly what I have always liked about the Bond films. This is a classic sillyness I like.

There are so many ignobilities in “No Time To Die” that my anxiety turned into disillusionment while watching it unfold on the big screen in front of me. Bond in retirement, no longer a womanizer and several more radical downgrades I won’t mention because our friends in the US and other territories can’t see the film yet.

Continuing the Craig-era storyline of loss, anger, revenge and the coming to terms with the past, experienced by several characters in this film, both timing and dramatic composition seem weak and off. Much of the story was predictable. The finale is not an exception. But it is a finale for Daniel Craig’s Bond. A very long and agonising one.

Up to this day, the producers have not found a cure for the weakness of not telling a story in a way that it is believable and in which all acts seemlessly match together.

The joy of expert craftsmanship

It takes a lot to make films of that caliber. Most of all, it takes a team of experts who know what they’re doing and always willingly strive to push the boundaries. Such is the case with the Bond stunt-, special effects, set design and costume department.

The opening sequence, clocking in at 25 minutes as the longest of any Bond film, is just fantastic. The thrilling car chase in Matera was executed with such precision and love for detail that you are really at the edge of your seat. It was nothing short of brilliant. The iconic Aston Martin DB5, vigorously chased by black Jaguars and Triumph motorcycles would have looked wasted in any other cityscape. Matera was a wonderful choice and it is my personal highlight of “No Time To Die”.

Bond and Madeleine being surrounded by enemies, with bullets aggressively hitting the bulletproof glass of the DB5, was a masterful example of creating tension through sound effects. It was nightmarish and you yourself felt trapped in there with them.

The set design was another highlight of the film. Whether Jamaica or the streets of Cuba, Mark Tildesley and his team did an amazing job in creating sets in true Bond fashion.

Last but not least, I loved the cinematography by Linus Sandgren. So many beautiful and varied shots depending on the location makes this one of the best looking Bond film after “Skyfall”. I can’t even remember them all, but the quality of the cinematography was among the most consistent things in this film. Simply stunning.

Blow it all at once

“No Time To Die” has broken the structural foundation that Bond had been comfortably resting on since almost 60 years. You get the feeling, Bond was systematically dismantled and led down a path that could only result in the finale that it got. Was it the right decision? Was it wise? I guess only time will tell. I am unsure as to how Eon Productions will continue the franchise from this.

Everybody, be it the die-hard Bond or action film fan, is looking for something else in a Bond film. Personally, I was looking for something else than what I got with “No Time To Die” but this is synonymous with the Craig era on my end. I want to make clear that I don’t hate the films, I just wish the producers would engage more with the fanbase and explore, what their ultimate Bond extravaganza needs to stay relevant, believable and strong.

I will have a second viewing of the film on Saturday. Should this change my mind in any way, I will post a fresh review.

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