by MIKE ORLOCK
James Bond has been with us for 68 years, which means he’s been saving the planet in one guise or another for as long as I’ve been alive. He made his debut in Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel Casino Royale, which CBS quickly adapted in 1954 for a one-hour television drama starring Barry Nelson as Bond, an American secret agent.
But the man and the movie that put Bond on the map were Sean Connery and Dr. No in 1962, during the height of the Cold War, and there was no looking back.
There have been two “rogue” productions and 24 “authorized” sequels (bonus points if you can name them all) during that span, making Bond the longest sustained franchise in Hollywood history.
Not counting Nelson or Sir David Niven, who starred in the first “rogue” – a parody of Casino Royale in 1967 – there have been six actors who have reported for duty in Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Connery, George Lazenby (a one-timer while Connery renegotiated his contract), Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. There will eventually be a seventh iteration of Bond, but until that’s announced, we finally have Craig’s swan song, No Time to Die, to thrill to in theaters after several COVID-related postponements.
At this point, it’s useless to review a Bond movie like any other film because the series has made itself critic proof. People will either flock to it or ignore it, based on their tastes for franchise fare – kind of like eating at McDonald’s.
So let’s see how No Time to Die, at 163 minutes – certainly the longest and most ambitious film in the franchise – fulfills our expectations for a Bond movie by examining some of the things that make a Bond movie a Bond movie.
The cold opening: A Bond film always begins with an appetizer: an elaborately staged action sequence involving ridiculously spectacular stunts. Usually, this set piece is unrelated to the story that follows.
No Time to Die, however, begins with a flashback that connects to an opening that’s integral to the plot and concludes with one of the most thrilling chase sequences the series has ever attempted, through the narrow streets and plazas of a rustic Italian village. In a word, wow!
The credits and song: The best Bond movies give us killer credits and a sensational song, performed by the likes of Paul McCartney, Carly Simon and Adele. Billie Eilish does the crooning here – over a collage of computer-generated images of such Bond tropes as half-naked women cavorting with guns – and Eilish is on her game. Expect to see her singing at the Oscars next year.
The gadgets: Here, too, the makers of a new Bond film (in this case, director Cary Joji Fukanaga) are expected to equal, if not top, what has come before. Series regular Q, played these days by a droll Ben Whishaw, gives 007 a cool car fully loaded with machine-gun headlights, a glider that turns into a submarine, lots of explosive weaponry and a particularly useful wristwatch that is already being marketed for the man who needs a timepiece capable of saving the world and wants to look stylish doing it.
The villain: Bond goes against only the best of the worst. That’s usually SPECTRE head Ernst Blofeld, 007’s longtime adversary. If he’s indisposed, then the villain is some fiend with his own agenda for ending the world as we know it, assisted by a particularly nasty sidekick. Auric Goldfinger and Odd Job, the man with the razor-rimmed bowler, set the template here.
This time Bond is up against Lyutsifer (pronounced “Lucifer”) Safin, played with cadaverous creepiness by recent Oscar winner Rami Malek. He’s in possession of a biological weapon that, if released, will kill millions. He’s abetted by a turncoat CIA operative and a psycho assassin with a bionic eyeball. On the wacko-villain meter, rate Safin and his cohort somewhere between the sinister Dr. No and Christopher Walken’s bonkers Max Zorin from A View to a Kill.
The Bond girls: Better make that women. The #MeToo movement has changed the dynamics in which Bond interacts with the female sex. They used to be arm candy and bedroom accessories, good for a night in the sack and a wisecrack or two in the morning. Now they’re expected to give Bond as good as they get.
In addition to series flirt Miss Moneypenny, No Time to Die features three women, only one of whom he successfully seduces: French actress Léa Seydoux as the mysterious Madeleine Swan, a carryover from 2015’s Spectre; Lashana Lynch as a new 00 who considers Bond a relic fit for a museum; and Ana de Armas, a CIA contact in Cuba who matches Bond karate chop for karate kick while looking fabulous in an evening gown and heels.
The days of waking to Pussy Galore are probably over, but as Bond discovers, some things in life are more important than a one-night stand seven days a week – surprising things that make the world worth saving one more time, with no time to spare.
No Time to Die (PG-13) is exclusively in theaters. See it on the biggest screen possible for optimal enjoyment.
In another lifetime, Mike Orlock wrote film reviews for the Reporter/Progress newspapers in the western suburbs of Chicago. He has also taught high school English, coached basketball and authored three books of poetry. He currently serves as Door County’s poet laureate.