No Time to Die

No Time to Die ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Much has been made about the supposedly pernicious influence that the success of Casino Royale and especially Skyfall (and, before that, The Dark Knight) has had on the now "serious" and "somber" tone of the Bond franchise, but I'm not sure I fully buy into that thinking. Maybe it's the Father of Daughter in me speaking, but No Time to Die surprisingly nails the big emotional beats, sticking the landing even though it closes with hackneyed self-sacrifice, thanks to committed performances from Craig and Seydoux (could this possibly be the same pair from Spectre?) and an all-time "Oh God he looks like shit" turn from Ralph Fiennes. And I'm not sure how you could argue that this film marks a rejection of the goofiness of the series' past when it contains that glorious ten-minute bubblegum stretch of Ana de Armas in Cuba and a groaningly high quip-per-minute rate (you could, however, argue that the goofiness isn't always well integrated, but it's assuredly there, and it was there in Skyfall, too).

Instead, I think the primary problem with this film—and with other films of its ilk—lies in the villain, with the troubles extending far beyond Rami Malek's emphysemic line delivery. The calibration's off with the modern antagonist—we give Bond a buffed-up back story but still let him have fun, while Lyutsifer Safin (real name) crawls his way through each of his ceaseless, monotonous scenes with the pace and brio of The Disintegration Loops. We've structured the entire contemporary film industry on popcorn movies built in the shadow of Heath Ledger's Joker, but absent are his (uh) jokes, present in abundance is his dark-edged "chaos," and auxiliary is a never-ending supply of stupid, funereal backstories that "echo" "contemporary" "anxieties." Some men just want to watch the world burn, it really is simple as that sometimes.

In the obligatory big speech that kicks off the film's prolonged denouement in earnest, Lyutsifer Safin (real name) posits that all of humanity craves oblivion, but that he's the only bitch crazy enough to actually give it to them. And he's right, in a way, about that first part—at least whenever he's serving as the film's villain instead of David Dencik's Russian twist on Paul F. Tompkins's Cake Boss.