It was neither shaken nor stirred but brewed at an upscale ceremony Heineken Ethiopia held at the Sheraton Addis. The occasion was a screening of the brand new 25th outing to the most celebrated spy in the world, James Bond. Most were dressed to show, the men like the characteristic suits Bond is known for and the ladies as sharp as the Bond girls.

Nonetheless, the ceremony was somewhat sombre by the end of the screening. Gone is the constant womaniser of the pre-Daniel Craig era Bonds and the overly stylised set pieces. No Time to Die is more mature and reflective. In Craig’s last outing in one of the most recognisable film franchises of all time, Bond is older in spirit, tired, and more vulnerable than ever.

Like the other recent Bond releases, No Time to Die requires the audience to retain some information from the past movies. Bond is still haunted by the loss of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), his love interest from Casino Royale, who betrayed him. Now, he has to learn to trust someone else, Madeleine (Lea Seydoux). He drops the spy business, hopefully, to settle down for good.

Unfortunately, there is no such chance because he has unfinished business with the underground criminal empire Spectre (and also because the studio wants to milk every single Bond performance out of Craig). Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is behind bars, but he still manages to send Spectre agents after him. But as criminals are known to do, he is himself betrayed by an up and coming new criminal mastermind, Safin (Rami Malek). To complicate matters further, Safin and Madeleine have a history, which Bond has to reconcile himself with as he struggles to leave behind a world of secrecy and mystery.

As in any Bond movie worth its salt, the plot cannot just be about bringing some terrorists to heel. The stakes need to be much more elaborate and a threat to the entire world. It is no different here. Safin is planning to unleash upon a world designer nanobot-bioweapons, which can be programmed to harm people with specific DNAs, and is manufacturing them from a base in an island. It is sort of like COVID-19 but more fatal and could be programmed to be harmless to a person or groups of Safin’s choosing. He is one of “a very long line of angry little men,” as Bond calls him after learning of his plans.

Admittedly, Safin is a pretty cliché Bond villain. Although Malek does his best with the script, one-dimensional antagonists continue to haunt the Bond films. It is all the more jarring in the Craig era, where a great deal of work has gone into updating the franchise – from Bond’s promiscuousness to the over-the-top gadgets. The villain’s have not grown likewise.

I blame Heath Ledger’s Joker for this, which has inspired many characterisations and motivations of antagonists in Hollywood. They are merely purely psychotic, with no sense of morals and bent on world domination through genocide (remember Thanos?). They would see the world burn just to see it burn. Frankly, I miss the Hans Grubers of older times - bad guys just out to make some green so they could live the rest of their lives on some island, with their fortunes stashed in an off-shore account. Not every villain needs to be an irredeemable sociopath so we can root for the protagonist.

There are not many more glaring holes to No Time to Die, though. It is a bold movie, out to update the Bond formula to the 21st century. At last, the Craig-era has given as a man, not a caricature of what we imagine MI6 spies to be like. This was the trap Pierce Brosnan’s Bond fell into, although GoldenEye is one of the best Bond movies out there. This last outing by Craig is a rarely satisfying send-off, respecting the character but recognising that the time has come for him to retire.

A new Bond actor will be hired shortly, and we will all look back on what Craig’s best moment was in the spotlight. We do not even need to bring up Quantum Solace and Spectre, flawed movies that seemed to exist merely because 007 needs to be seen on the big screen every other few years.

Skyfall had been acclaimed and was one of the best box office performers. It is not that bad, but neither would it have been on anyone’s radar had it not been a Bond movie or for Adele’s theme song. No Time to Die is probably the second-best Craig-era Bond film, with fantastic action sequences and a well-paced plot.

Still, Casino Royale will be the standard for a great Bond movie for some time to come. Craig goes out with a bang but not as thumping as the first gun barrel sequence he came through.

PUBLISHED ON Oct 09,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1119]

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