It’s been a year since the Daniel Craig’s James Bond saga came to an end in No Time to Die. The most recent reincarnation of Bond has had its ups and downs, both in the page and because of unforeseen life’s events. It is true that the plot left a sour taste in my mouth at first. However, multiple re-watches have given me a fresh perspective that redeems the last chapter in this modern depiction of the famous spy.
The Specter On My Shoulder
Let me get something out of the way before we begin: I didn’t like No Time to Die when I first saw it. It didn’t have anything to do with the death of Bond, or the fact that he wasn’t 007 anymore. After all, I am a James Bond fan. I’ve read the novels, and I knew the writing was on the wall when the image of Bond faded away during the gun barrel sequence, instead of showing the traditional trickling of blood as an indication that he’d hit his mark.
This, plus all the other similarities found in the movie that reference the book On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, like the use of Louis Armstrong’s song All the Time in The World, or the fact that, when M and Bond are conversing outdoors before going in to see Blofeld, the theme for OHMSS plays in the background, led me to assume that Bond would meet with a terrible fate.
My disliking for this movie went beyond all that. Beyond the underuse of Ana de Armas, who did a great job portraying the capable and gorgeous Paloma in a perfect tribute to the classic Bond girls. It even went beyond the sudden death of Felix Leiter, who could’ve been more involved in the saga before the tragic fate that seems to befall all Leiters in Bond movies.
None of that really bothered me that much because my general distaste existed because the first two times I watched it, I couldn’t quite find the thread that connected all the action scenes together. There was a plot, sure, but the way it carried itself felt disconnected to me, like I was watching a compilation of greatest hits with no true rhyme to them.
Thus, I decided to ignore No Time to Die for a while, considering Spectre as the end of Bond’s arc in my mind canon. I tried to sweep it under the rug, dismiss it completely. However, somewhere in my heart there was the reminder that the movie did exist, and it is canon, whether I liked it or not, and my shelf with the rest of the Bond movies felt empty without the one that closed the adventure.
I guess you could say there was a specter on my shoulder that didn’t let go…
So, I thought about watching No Time to Die again, but this time with a more analytical scope. After all the excitement Bond had given me through the years, his modern Swan Song deserved one more chance, and the results my experiment yielded were extraordinary.
All The Usual Refinements
The whole saga is based on Bond’s internal fight of trying to protect his country through his work as 007, and his desire for a normal life that the service can never provide. This is what leads him once again to leave MI6 for good to finally get the happy ending with Madeleine at the end of Spectre.
This is where No Time to Die puts us at the start. Bond cashing in whatever chips he has left while he learns that he must make peace with his past in order to truly be happy. The whole beginning speaks of this, with the tradition of people burning the representation of that which they want to leave behind.
It is this moment where Bond tries to learn how to be a simple man, outside of who he was as a blunt instrument for the service, but it is also where another element comes into play in a big way: the theme of trust.
Half Monk, Half Hitman
The first thing that jumped to me through the Daniel Craig Bond saga was how James Bond always intervenes, not by some need to be the hero, but by a deep-rooted sense of duty that makes him come out of retirement every time the world needs him.
This contrasts with his desire to live the aforementioned happy life, which we’ve seen since Casino Royale, where he was willing to resign from MI6 for Vesper. This presents the main components of Bond’s internal struggle: Staying a loyal instrument for his Country or going away to finally have some joy. The joy he’s worked so hard to secure.
No Time to Die starts us right as Bond savors a taste of that life he’s been craving for so long, and the way it is handled shows us that he is ready to fully commit to his relationship with Madeleine, and while he feels he is the only one who needs to move on from his past, we also get a glimpse of the secret Madeleine needs to walk away from to embrace her new life.
In a way, it’s poetic that No Time to Die spends its opening with a requiem for Vesper. The first woman who showed Bond that his job and a happy life couldn’t co-exist. It is then that he is attacked and his whole world is shaken, making him question everything around him, and we get to see him struggling between what he knows he needs to do according to his self-preservation instincts as a seasoned agent primed for survival, and what his heart tells him he must do to keep his dream alive.
In the end, he chooses to give it all up to live in solitude, renouncing his life with Madeleine to keep her, and himself, safe, except this time he stays in a limbo that doesn’t give him a choice between any of the lives he always struggles between.
When Felix recruits him, and the new 007 asks him not to intervene, he gets another taste of the life he gave up. He is living alone, but still has his guard up. Only this time he’s got no purpose, and the CIA’s hunt for Obruchev gives him once again a bit of the life he lost. He feels needed, and as he survives Blofeld’s attack, thanks to Safin’s intervention, his other deeply rooted fear is brought back to the forefront: He is needed to combat a new threat that nobody saw coming.
This concept also plays perfectly to Bond’s motivations in No Time to Die, because he is shown once again as someone who doesn’t trust anyone else to finish the job. Even though he meets capable agents who can do the job just as well. In Cuba, for example, Paloma demonstrates that she’s more than capable of handling herself and could’ve very well succeeded if she were on her own, and if he had let 007 take Obruchev, Felix would still be alive, and the MI6 would be one step closer to victory.
This attitude revives a theme from way back in Casino Royale, when M tells him that arrogance and self-awareness seldom go hand in hand.
That’s the one thing Bond hasn’t learned yet. He has always faced enemies that have a personal connection to him, and that has made him unable to trust anybody else to do what he considers to be his responsibility. Once again, even if he is surrounded by loyal people that have proved themselves beyond capable, he still feels he is the only one who can get the job done right, which is why he goes back to the MI6, which is also the root of his exacerbated arrogance when he first returns to M’s office, showing his ego is still very much present in everything he does, and he can’t see the big picture yet.
Different Methods, Same Goal
Now, let’s discuss Lyutsifer Safin for a moment.
He is a villain that presents a similar arrogance to Bond. He is resourceful in his own way, and has built an empire that rivals even Spectre, who he manages to destroy to get his revenge for what they did to him and his family.
This much is clear in the scenes where he appears, but there’s something that goes deeper than that, a key element that connects him to Bond: his interest in Madeleine.
This is a curious take for a Bond villain because, so far, we’ve seen Bond battling villains who want something traditionally evil. They want control, power, or even money, but Safin proves time and again that he’s already succeeded in those areas, so the only thing left for him to get, and the thing that pits him against Bond in the end, is Madeleine, who he sees as property after having saved her life at the beginning of the movie; a goal that in turn makes him more evil than the rest.
Safin makes this perfectly clear when he goes to visit Madeleine as a patient looking for psychological aid.
This scene is quite revealing because it shows how Safin views the world. “Do what I want, or else.” Whenever he wants something, he offers up a deal like that, which people have no choice but to accept, since saying no often puts someone they care about in danger. It is the motivation and perfect form of control that Spectre taught him when they killed his family, and it is what has defined his life ever since. It is also this same outlook that allows him to coldly dispense with redundancies.
He took out every single Spectre agent, including Blofeld, and he didn’t even care to see it happen. To him, it was enough to know he had succeeded, and he wasn’t even against recruiting anyone previously working for an enemy, like he does with Primo. To him, people are mere objects that either give him what he wants, need to be disposed of, or don’t matter at all.
He proves this when he saves Bond’s life at Spectre’s party. There, his targets were all the Spectre agents, his primary focus. Back then, Bond was so irrelevant that he let him live, not out of pity or camaraderie, but just because he wasn’t a part of the plan. He was invisible to him.
It was Logan Ash who perceived Bond as a threat and tried to take him out when he felt cornered, but when Safin learned that Bond survived, he didn’t launch a second attack, he didn’t ask Obruchev to add Bond’s DNA to the nanobots like Spectre planned to do in the first place, he didn’t launch a powerful offensive to get the job done. Bond was irrelevant at this point.
It wasn’t until Bond got in the way between him and Madeleine, and threatened to destroy his life’s work, that he decided to teach Bond a lesson, and even this one was executed in the most ruthless way possible. However, he was so warped that he didn’t want to kill Bond, but instead decided to subject him to a life away from what he desired. The same type of fate Bond was giving him by intervening.
The “insurance” Obruchev gives him on the island wasn’t really about killing Madeleine and her daughter if his plan failed. It was all about setting the nanobots free on Bond in case he proved unreasonable, which in the end he does by choosing to go after him instead of leaving with Madeleine.
When, close to the end of the movie, Safin takes Madeleine and her daughter to his island, he knows Bond will arrive soon, and he also knows how stubborn and destructive he is, so he formulates a plan and executes it in a fantastic way that justifies his character: he gives Bond a choice, a semblance of the dream he knows Bond desires with the “or else” that he always adds to these type of offers.
This shows us Safin as a man who knows how to get what he wants. He does it by giving even his enemies something they want in return, but he’s also always prepared with a contingency in case they don’t accept his gracious offer. His complete coldness versus Bond then comes when he states exactly what he wants from him.
This desire is exactly what makes them enemies: they both want Madeleine, Bond out of love and Safin out of a sick sense of ownership. The villain is even willing to let Bond go and take his daughter with him if it means he gets Madeleine back. That’s the one deal he offers Bond, and that’s the one thing Bond can’t agree to.
This lets Safin know that Bond won’t stop coming after him, and this forces him to go to the next stage of his plan, knowing well that he could die in the process, which is also the moment where Bond’s daughter, Mathilde, becomes irrelevant to him, and why he lets her go and proceeds to the next part of his plan, the next possibility: creating a distorted détente where if he doesn’t get what he wants, nobody else does either.
What’s chilling about Safin here is how determinedly he moves from plan A, to B, to C, leaving behind everything else and moving on to the next perceived goal in a matter of seconds. Adapting in an almost instantaneous way. He’s a new level of cold and unpredictable, which is what makes him even more dangerous.
Safin even proves his cold determination in the final confrontation with Bond, where he doesn’t shoot to kill, even with the element of surprise on his side. He merely wounds Bond to give himself an opening that lets him infect Bond with the virus that could kill Madeleine and Mathilde.
He knew he’d lost, and now his only focus was getting back at Bond by keeping him away from everything he wanted, just like Bond was doing to him by coming after him.
The Author Of Pain
Let’s switch back to Bond’s arc for a moment, because his encounter with Safin reveals something beyond relevant for the character. When he tells Bond that they are not so different, the implication is that they’re both killers. After all, they are, but what I think he is actually talking about here is that they are both willing to die for what they want, without taking anything else into consideration.
Safin even tells Bond: “You leave my baby alone, I leave yours. What do you think?”
Safin knew his life’s work was important to him, and for the sake of realizing his plans, he offered Bond the same thing: to be able to leave and be with his daughter, the embodiment of his happy ending, unharmed and finally at peace. Of course, he is a villain, so his end of the bargain was better and without sacrifice.
It is at this point where Bond shows who he is. Further, he does it in a way truer than ever before in his story arc: After he rejects Safin’s deal and finds both Madeleine and Mathilde, he gets a chance to escape, let the MI6 clean up the mess and allow Nomi to take out Safin, but he can’t do that, he needs to make sure, with his own eyes and by his own hand, that Safin cannot torment Madeleine any longer. It is this action that seals his fate.
Blofeld even mocks him during the interrogation scene about all the time he lost when he walked away from Madeleine, hinting that, right at that very moment, he could just go with her, live the life that he let go of five years ago. But he knows James too well. He knows he won’t give up the chase because it’s his inability to put his trust in somebody else what has cost him everything so far. And Bond proves Blofeld right by going after Safin on his own in the end.
The most interesting thing is that, throughout Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond, we see the character suffering the loss of women he was trying to protect. In Skyfall, the death of M was a result of Bond’s inability to see the big picture, as he could have hidden M away from Silva, but instead, he chose to go head-to-head with him in a final showdown that ended up seeing him surviving, and her dying.
Which brings us to the brilliant end to James Bond’s arc in No Time to Die.
That Will Be All, 007
The sacrifice Bond makes in the end reflects perfectly who he is, and while he could’ve shown his love to Madeleine and Mathilde in a thousand different ways, he chooses to do it on his own terms: by giving them the peaceful life he could never have because of his nature.
In his final moments, Bond shows that he has learned to put his ego aside at last and displays a final act of true love for his family, the same act of love that Vesper showed him back in Casino Royale: he gives his life to ensure those he loves are finally safe.
That’s all that mattered to him at that point, which is why when Madeleine is driving with her daughter and begins telling her the story of James Bond, his circle is complete. His memory will live on, his legacy is secure through a perfect homage for the stories that people tell each other about the suave, sophisticated, lucky and super resourceful secret agent. Stories that we still tell, even today.
This grand ending to the franchise justifies every struggle and every challenge the character bested until his luck ran out, and even when it did, Bond still managed to save the day. In his final moments, he was selfless, and he too found that bit of good in him that told him that he was doing what was right, not for himself, but in the big picture, for the rest of the world.
Those are my thoughts on No Time to Die and how it redeems itself in my mind, becoming a movie I hold as one of the richest and best Bond adventures to date.
What did you think of this thorough evaluation of the movie? Has it helped redeem No Time to Die in your mind too? Let us know by sharing your thoughts through our Twitter and our comment section.