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Atelier 18 (Victor Reynart)

[48-ENG] No Time To Die (2021) review. *SPOILERS*

15 Octobre 2021 , Rédigé par Victor Reynart Publié dans #Cinéma, #Littérature


Excerpt (in french) from On Grief and Mourning (2005), by Élizabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler.


ENG traduction (by me):

Perhaps you will resent yourself for not having done anything to prevent the tragedy. Not that you had the power, but you wanted it. But the will to save a life isn't the power to thwart death. You will likely be angry to find yourself in a situation that you didn't anticipate, deserve, or want. A grieving man told us: "I'm furious that I have to continue living in a world where she's not, where I can't talk to her, see her. I loved her, I needed her, and I can't find her anywhere. She's not really where she rests now. The heavenly bodies are elusive, her spiritual existence beyond my reach. I'm lost and full of rage."


     This excerpt could summarize the emotional conflict, the base on which the personality of Daniel Craig's James Bond was built, after the meeting and the loss of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale (2006), also that of the eponymous novel by Ian Fleming.



     A little technical explanation before talking about No Time To Die (2021): EON Productions is the company that owns the rights of the James Bond film franchise. The two producers at its head are Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.


Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson.


     In 1999, the production company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with which they produced the Bond movies, obtained the rights to the novel Casino Royale (1953) by Ian Fleming and therefore planned a film adaptation. After an official announcement followed by a press conference at which Daniel Craig, escorted by the Royal Navy, arrived by boat (not falling in fact constituted for the actor his real test in order to become 007, more than the press conference itself). He then replaced Pierce Brosnan and the two companies joined forces with Sony, then in charge of distributing the next movies under the license. Martin Campbell returned to directing, having started a new chapter of the saga with Brosnan in 1995, directing Goldeneye (1995). With him, Judi Dench returned in the role of M, also appeared in Goldeneye (1995), and four movies with Daniel Craig were then released. They have the particularity of having a common thread connecting their respective stories: the trauma of the death of Vesper, as well as the character of Mr. White, whose past will be developed over the movies.


(By the way, here is the .pdf link of a recap of the first four movies I made for the film's release (FR only).)


     Finally, in 2015, the tension between EON Productions and MGM with Sony ended, just after the release of 007 Spectre (2015). In fact, Blofeld’s organization only appears in this movie because Sony planned to create a parallel license to Bond’s, focused on SPECTRE, to surely end in a crossover. But that didn't happen and as the contract was about to expire, they granted the use of SPECTRE for their last joint movie (Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/20/business /media/james-bond-sony-mgm-eon-productions.html).


     After the contract with Sony ended, Universal became the distributor of the James Bond movies. And after an origin story, the trauma of Vesper’s death, his furious journey through the desert, the analysis of his relationship with M and his past linked to Blofeld, what remained to be told? To sum up the life of James Bond: after losing his parents as a child, he was taken in by Franz Oberhauser (who is not Blofeld's father in the novels) for a few years, before joining the Royal Navy in which he remained several years, obtaining the rank of Commander, before entering MI6 and becoming OO. Everything had been said about James Bond in Daniel Craig's movies. With the exception of his military background/years, before he joined MI6 and then became an agent. And what he could become after being 007. And it's on this last point that the writers went to dig in No Time To Die (2021), which comes out six years after 007 Spectre (2015) and eighteen months of postponement.


The last poster to date, with the final release date of the movie.


     With an intro set five years ago, so technically in 2016 (i.e. one year after the release of 007 Spectre (2015), or maybe the movie's release year given that No Time To Die (2021) has been pushed back) , the sequence in Matera is a direct sequel to the previous movie, like the capture of Mr. White located between the end of Casino Royale (2006) and the beginning of Quantum of Solace (2008). So in the end we have two diptychs with Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008) on one side and 007 Spectre (2015) and No Time To Die (2021) on the other, and Skyfall (2102) between the two. This fifth movie therefore brings a balance and an end to the whole, by addressing the grief of Vesper from the start, then SPECTRE and Blofeld, before arriving at the bond/link with Madeleine and Safin, the heart of this new movie.


James Bond, Madeleine Swann and Lyutsifer Safin.


     My first viewing of No Time To Die (2021) was a bit indigestible because the content of the movie is so dense. But the other two times I saw it, it was a real pleasure. On the other hand, it's clear that we don't find the finesse of the photography of a Skyfall (2012) or the nervousness of a Casino Royale (2006). Still, the movie is beautiful from start to finish with a wide variety of settings and there are some memorable action sequences including the ones in Matera and the Safin base.


The sequence in Matera is surely the most well done of the movie.


     The opening playing with the white background of the gun barrel to follow a flashback which was welcome and changes the formula of the Bond movies a little. In addition to developing the character of Madeleine Swann a bit and installing the movie's second antagonist, Safin, the sequence reveals Madeleine's mother, the last piece of the missing puzzle concerning her family. And the choice of music Dans la ville endormie (1968) by Dalida was extremely judicious: the singer is Franco-Italian-Egyptian, Rami Malek has parents of Egyptian origin and Madeleine Swann a French mother. And the music precedes the opening sequence in Matera, Italy, following a title sequence of sobriety, classicism and elegance that perfectly match the musical theme of the movie.

A few months ago, a very Bondian-style music video came out on Youtube.


     In the end, I rather found that there were small problems with the writing, like the allusion to the rank of Commander of James Bond that came out of nowhere during the first meeting between Bond and Nomi (that said, I remember reading that a scene where Nomi was reading a Bond report on her cell phone was filmed, but was probably cut from the movie). Five years after the incident with SPECTRE in Matera, Bond is isolated and lives alone in Jamaica, so his former rank in the Royal Navy is of no use to him in his situation and I didn't understand why to mention it, except for wink at the fans. There are a few small details like that which suggest that the movie would have benefited from a final rewrite to correct and remove some elements, and especially to improve certain lines of dialogue. I'm thinking in particular of humor, which, in French, is sometimes awkward and doesn't work. It goes better in original version and I take this opportunity to advise you to see the movie in its original version where some lines (especially in French) have a whole new meaning, in particular with the characters of Madeleine and Mathilde.


     To speak about the writing of the movie besides, it seemed to me more and more clear with three viewings that it's a hybrid film which carries out a metamorphosis during the movie, to arrive at its final (unseen in the license). Not so stupid to have thought of a plot based on DNA then. The intro is 100% Bondian with its fantastical imagery, its romance in a heavenly setting for an ephemeral duration, the connection to Vesper and the irruption of SPECTRE, and the action sequence that follows.


I noted a visual reference to the movie Le Mépris (1963), a Franco-Italian drama by Jean-Luc Godard whose story revolves around a romance slowly coming to an end.


     The explosion of Vesper's grave is like an electric shock to Bond and rekindles the lesson he had learned after her death about trusting (not) to be given to others, because of the nature of his profession. That's all it took for Blofeld to blow up the couple and wake up the trauma of Bond, who immediately leaves to isolate himself away from it all. This sequence could also have closed 007 Spectre (2015), like the final sequence in Venice of Casino Royale (2006), with a less tragic finale, however.


We can see several similarities between Bond's romances with Vesper and Madeleine, including the fact that he gives up his job for them.


     The movie then takes a leap in time and the sequence in Jamaica and especially that of Cuba remain in the specifications of the Bond movies, and especially with Paloma, the young recruit of the CIA played by Ana de Armas, who met some success with the public. This sequence includes everything that makes the salt of the license: an exotic setting, a young Bond girl, a meeting of SPECTRE (with a mysterious/erotic aesthetic reminiscent of Eyes Wide Shut (1999)), the tuxedo, a simple mission, etc. All in a retro setting with the choice of Santiago de Cuba (officially shot in Pinewood Studios in London though). The sequence is like a parenthesis cut off from the present within the film.


The character looks like a luxury commercial model, a fantasy, integrating the movie for a few minutes.


     The character of Paloma is only present for a short time but got an atypical treatment for a Bond girl. There is a dissonance between what she says and does. She calls herself a beginner but is as efficient as Bond, seems to flirt with him but says no when he's receptive to some of his lines and her operating methods are even more random than those of the British agent. There is a funny ambiguity and craziness with this character.


After Knives Out (2019), Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas are a duo that works perfectly on screen.


     The following sequence, set in London, serves as a transition where Bond reunites with the group of his relatives formed from Quantum of Solace (2008) to 007 Spectre (2015): Tanner (QOS), Moneypenny (SK), Mallory/M (SK) ), Q (SK) and Madeleine Swann (SP), and Blofeld (SP). Moreover, concerning the treatment of these characters, as much the past of Madeleine which makes her a grayer character than in 007 Spectre (2015) is interesting, where that of placing Mallory as a false antagonist in a very artificial way is very American once again and less interesting. In the previous movies (Skyfall (2012) and 007 Spectre (2015)), he and Bond could disagree but not oppose each other. In the end, this opposition quickly disappears when they meet near the Hammersmith Bridge, in a nostalgic discussion with in the background a solemn cover of the instrumental theme of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) by John Barry:


     Regarding Q on the other hand, it was appreciable to see him learn the lesson of Skyfall (2012) with Silva, by first connecting the USB key that Bond brings back to a sandbox before linking its data to that of his personal computer.


     Finally, this sequence bringing together all the remaining characters from the previous movies allows this one to shed its first antagonist, Blofeld, after a verbal confrontation at Belmarsh possessing an intensity that Sam Mendes failed to convey in 007 Spectre (2015). Blofeld’s latest crap with Vesper’s grave and the moment when Bond loses his temper really makes him his nemesis. And the moment he goes mad and grabs it surprised me and really shows Blofeld's victory over him as an antagonist. In a verbal confrontation, when one loses control and gives in to anger, the other wins. This scene was missing in 007 Spectre (2015), where Bond always remained in control and mocking.


The reflections in this setting seem to evoke previous versions of the characters (which I added here) and the endlessness of their struggle.


     After his death, Bond discovers the existence of the antagonist responsible for Blofeld's death and goes to find Madeleine Swann, threatened by the latter, in the house where she grew up, in Norway.


Bond and his Aston Martin V8 in Norway.


     And from that moment, rid of Blofeld and therefore of his past, Bond focuses on what matters most to him, even beyond homeland or duty: life. That of Madeleine, and Mathilde, their daughter (which Bond ignores at this moment but felt when he met his steel blue eyes for the first time). As taken aback as Bond by this astonishing discovery, the viewer is then faced with a movie which changes tone completely and it is no longer 007 against SPECTRE, but James Bond who must protect those close to him. From Safin.


In the shadow of SPECTRE.


     In the finale of the Norwegian sequence, director Cary Fukunaga instilled a bit of that hostile and disturbing hazy forest vibe that we already found in season 1 of True Detective (2014), which he also directed, with the Louisiana bayou.

Season 1 of the series is to be seen. The final is crazy.


     And this sequence contains one of the best tracks on the soundtrack, very different from Bond soundtracks and with Safin-themed musical motifs that come up intermittently:


     And after this tracking sequence where Madeleine and Mathilde end up captured by Safin, Bond finds himself alone before being joined by Nomi, the new 007. They then join Q aboard a war plane (who has therefore overcome his fear of taking a plane from Skyfall (2012)) and set off on one last mission to Safin's WWII base, reminiscent of the villain lairs from the first license movies and their brutalist Ken Adam designs:


Lair sketches of former James Bond antagonists, by Ken Adam.


     The two officers go there aboard an amphibious drone. Before the film came out and was even started, in 2017, I saw news about the construction of a mini submarine called Neptune resulting from a collaboration between the Triton and Aston Martin brands. Knowing the importance of marine mythology in No Time To Die (2021) now, it's surprising that the two-seater submersible wasn't used in the movie.


A design very pleasing to the eye.


     Bond then finds a Safin not sufficiently narratively exploited for my taste, in a final dialogue which seems to have been cut off by a few lines, and the result of which is confused at times. As both neurotic killers, for different reasons, the initial concept of opposition/similarity between Bond and Safin was interesting, but it's not developed enough and way too short. Following this confrontation from which Safin and Bond manage to escape alive, the former secret agent finds and shelters Madeleine and Mathilde by making them leave, thanks to Nomi.

     Besides, regarding Nomi, I had liked the idea of a new agent taking the number 007 after Bond had retired, it was an opportunity to be seized. And I was really expecting an opposition of thought and modus operandi between the two, but unfortunately the character isn't used very much in the movie. She does side missions on her side and serves more as a foil to Bond than anything else in the end.


The cooperation between the two agents during the final was very appreciable, however.


     Bond then heads back to the center of the base to stop Safin's plan, still alive and sneaking somewhere in one of its dark corridors. By the way, the sequence has the most rhythmic music of the movie:


     And after a nervous sequence-shot where Daniel Craig delivers his last action scene as James Bond (a gift for both the actor and the spectator), the character manages to stop Safin's plan by opening the airlock of a missile silo containing the poison destined to be disseminated around the world to kill millions of people, so that an impending bombardment can destroy it. But as Bond is ready to flee, the airlock closes and while looking for why, he stumbles upon Safin who will go down in the history of the license "the antagonist who managed to kill James Bond". Indirectly however. Because Safin, in all the perversity specific to the Bond antagonists, contaminates him with a variant of his deadly virus targeting the DNA of particular people (Madeleine and Mathilde in his case). This script element reminded me of the FOXDIE virus injected into Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid saga (1998-2015). It was based on the same operation: in the first game, when the player crosses individuals whose DNA has been integrated into the virus, they die instantly. But in the 4, he is told that the virus (which was no longer a problem since the targets had been eliminated) began to mutate, which caused Solid Snake to age accelerated. And the player learns during the game that the virus could even one day target any human being in contact with the character.


The hero ravaged by the virus.


     Bond however manages to complete his mission and is entitled to a few words with Madeleine (by radio) before the missiles hit the island. All in a sequence rising emotionally crescendo, with the music of Hans Zimmer:


     I don't know yet what to think of this American heroisation of Bond and the theme of the family. Especially with the final sequence where Madeleine talks to her daughter and tells her that she's going to tell her the James Bond story like she's talking about a superhero. The tone is no longer Bondian at all in the second part of the movie and we leave this episodic side of the movies (where Bond is immortal and goes from one mission to another with the phlegm that the spectator knows him) for a proposal of a final chapter. The death of the protagonist. This unique possibility allowed a certain freedom in certain scenes, in particular compared to the play of Daniel Craig. In Matera's sequence, he embodies 100% the Bond of his other four films, then we have scenes where the actor detaches himself from the role to play in a more natural way, and even closer to him. I noticed it especially in the way he spoke, for example at the beginning of his exchange with Blofeld or in the second part of the movie, where the actor speaks with moments of hesitation completely absent from his performances as Bond and closer to his way of speaking, in interviews for example.


     No Time To Die (2021) may remain the only one in the saga to contain Bond's death, which will have such a profound impact on subsequent movies, as the death of Tracy in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) marked the license up to Casino Royale (2006). In any case, this movie’s choice of a more American treatment should remain an exception and will make it easier for the next movie, which will surely revert to something much more British, especially regarding humor and sobriety in general.



A few words about On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) :


     At the end of the movie, Bond marries Tracy Draco, played by Diana Rigg, best known for her role as Emma Peel in The Avengers (1961-1969), but also recently seen in Game of Thrones (2011-2019), and that we'll be able to see one last time in Last Night in Soho (2021) at the end of the month.


The influence of the James Bond saga visible in this shot of the movie trailer.


     This is the actress’s last role before her death, last year.


     At the very end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), as the married couple leave the ceremony, Tracy is murdered by order of Blofeld. It's one of the rare movies which proposed an evolution of the character of Bond, like Casino Royale (2006) or Skyfall (2012), or those with Timothy Dalton, which would be the closest to those of Craig when thinking about it (with the death of Felix Leiter in particular, borrowed from one of Ian Fleming's novels). From the start of No Time To Die (2021), the Matera track features elements of the instrumental from the movie's theme, We Have All The Time In The World (1969). We also hear the original theme at the very end. And as I said above, a cover of the movie's instrumental theme can be heard when Bond is talking with Mallory near the Hammersmith Bridge, where they are joined by Tanner. This theme, composed by John Barry, which we hear in the title sequence, allows me to talk about a visual element found in both movies: the trident. It appears in both title sequences and I would do an aside about this motif. This important form in the James Bond mythology, since already present in the novel Casino Royale (1953), where James Bond is saved in extremis by a SMERSH agent who kills Le Chiffre and leaves him alive (unlike the 2006 movie in which it's Mr. White), before marking him on the back of a hand with the Cyrillic character Ш (cha), for Шпион (spy in Russian), so that other SMERSH agents can easily identify Bond as an enemy. Subsequently, in the novels, the SMERSH, a veritable Soviet counter-espionage service active between 1943 and 1946, gave way to the fictitious organization SPECTRE.


     Among the other references, we can note that Madeleine Swann and Tracy/Teresa Draco are the daughters of a trafficker more or less linked to Blofeld. On the other hand, George Lazenby succeeded Sean Connery here and appears, like the Bond of his predecessor, as an established agent. We can see several references to the movies of the original performer showing and confirming that the movie is a sequel. And since Casino Royale (1953) couldn't be adapted into a movie at that time, because the Americans still held the rights after the 1954 TV movie adaptation, the romance between Bond and Tracy, also from the novels, will then eclipse that concerning Vesper, and this until the Casino Royale of 2006. The movies of the following interpreters (never returning on the past of its protagonist) will allude on rare occasions to this brief and aborted marriage, without going into the subject. As a reminder, in novels and movies, the romance with Vesper is the only time Bond has ever loved a woman and subsequently he collects passionless conquests to fill the void of Vesper's loss. His alcoholism (funny in the movies) is also the way to endure this loss and the other various pressures inherent in being a spy.



A few words about Ian Fleming's novels:


     Before I get into the novels, here is the .pdf (in french) of an article that discusses the differences between Ian Fleming's novels and their cinematographic adaptations. And the movie that would be closest to the original novels would ultimately be Casino Royale (2006), with a Bond that evolves and confronts his traumas, as well as impressive action scenes, but possible in reality.


In the novel, this scene puts Bond in front of a centipede and causes him a real moment of intense fear described over several pages.


     On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963) is the second novel in the “Blofeld Trilogy”. In Thunderball (1961), Bond crosses paths with SPECTRE. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963), he is tasked with tracking down the organization and eventually traced back to Blofeld, who hatches a plan similar to Safin in No Time To Die (2021), with the help of a deadly virus. He aborts his plan but Blofeld survives, flees, and later kills Tracy as the young couple leave their wedding ceremony. Finally, in You Only Live Twice (1964), Bond finds Blofeld and kills him by strangulation (What he does indirectly in No Time To Die (2021), by affixing the virus that Madeleine carried on his wrist on the neck of Blofeld, trying to strangle him.). In addition, in You Only Live Twice (1964), it's also about a poisoned garden and a castle in which Blofeld lurks, on an island near Japan. From what I've read about the novel, Bond is put on the trail of this castle by discovering testimonies of relatives of inhabitants of neighboring villages coming to die there, while walking through the garden made up of deadly poisonous plants. Blofeld also wears samurai armor to move around the garden, protected from its plants (and Safin wears loose outfits reminiscent of some Japanese ones). I haven't read it yet (Ian Fleming's French novels are hard to find) but it's the one that intrigues me the most.

     Finally, in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), we find the character of Irma Bunt (also present in the novel), played by Ilse Steppat. It’s Blofeld’s assistant killing Tracy (that Bond kills in the novel You Only Live Twice (1964)), and I would have liked to have seen Tilda Swinton perform a contemporary version of her. Especially in place of Primo (the actor does the job but the character is just a henchman, period). With her atypical face, the movie's concept of bionic eye would have given her a quite appreciable quirk.


Tilda Swinton in appropriate outfit for a role as a member of SPECTRE.



     To conclude this part and the article, I would do like the movie, I would end with the music of Neil Armstrong, We Have All The Time In The World (1969):

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