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Monday 14 February 2022

No Time To Die – A Review and a Lesson for Our Day


**Spoilers ahead**

I don’t normally do movie reviews on my blog, but I consider the last Bond movie of a generation to be a bit of a momentous occasion. I have always been a Bond fan since I can remember. The earliest Bond movie I can remember watching was For Your Eyes Only, and as a small boy this was my favourite Bond until I saw Golden Eye. That movie was epic. It is still one of the best, if not the best, Bond Movies ever. Golden Eye captures the essence of what a Bond Movie should be in all the right amounts, action, adventure, intrigue, charm, pointed and appropriate quips, a fantastic bad guy, and just the right kind of gadgets. Brosnan’s other movies, however, slowly degenerated into the over-the-top farce that was Die Another Day. This precipitated the reboot of the series we got with Daniel Craig.

Craig’s movies were all fine, even fantastic action movies, very much in the mould of the Born series of movies. Casino Royale blew everyone away, no coincidence that it was made by the same director as Golden Eye. But it wasn’t really until Skyfall that Craig finally made a movie that felt like a Bond-flick. But still there has always been something missing from Craig’s representation of the role. He lacked the charm, the wit, the devil-may-care personality of all the previous Bond’s, even Dalton’s darker Bond movies. Craig’s movies also all suffered from an obsession of modern movie makers to tie the threads of their franchises together. It got a bit ridiculous in the end. Bond movies were always stand-alone affairs with minimal references to earlier movies, like Moore standing before the grave of his wife in For Your Eyes Only, who was killed at the end of Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The old Bonds hinted that James had a backstory, a deeper force driving him, but they didn’t major on it, which made him more mysterious. Craig’s movies were all good action affairs, great action affairs even, but few of them can hardly be called good Bond movies.

So how does No Time To Die perform as a Bond movie? Precisely adequate, with pretensions of greatness. It was an ok movie, just that, ok. It started quite unlike a Bond movie, giving a backstory for Bond’s girlfriend, that you barely come to care for in the previous movie. Indeed, this is perhaps why the movie begins by seeking to fill in some of her backstory. The movie desperately wants you to care about Bond’s girlfriend/fiancé, and tries very hard to make this happen. The movie very desperately wants to make you think that real “Bond” is back. He even has a gadget watch in this one that is actually slightly impressive. The movie desperately makes you want to feel like the whole world is in danger, but the bad guy and his lair, seem to be almost a parody of what you would find in the other Bond movies. The movie desperately wants you to feel entertained, by dropping in sporadic actions scenes that feel largely feel like breaks in the monotony rather than compelling sets driving forward the plot. The movie is precisely adequate.  

No Time to Die attempts to reach very high, even introducing real stakes by killing Bond’s best friend and forcing Bond to give his life to save his girlfriend and daughter. The movie feels like it is grasping at greatness, but it actually falls short. After all, at the end of the day, Bond is just called in to fix the mistakes of his former boss who has endangered the whole world by creating a designer virus at a black site off the government’s official record books. Maybe it is unimpressive to watch the movie version of what it feels like the world has sort of already just gone through?

But there is more to the empty feeling of the movie. I think the movie really falls flat because it just feels soulless. It felt like it was trying really hard to have the life of a great Bond movie, and was only able to mimic it like a shadow. Even the eyes of many of the actors in the movie came across as empty, lacking true emotion. Casino Royale sold Bond’s love affair with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) really well. This movie only seeks to mimic that, and poorly. Perhaps that’s why the movie felt so lifeless. It wasn’t art imitating real life, it was art imitating art? Isn’t that the definition of soulless art?         

In this way the latest Bond movie is a product of Hollywood today. A movie industry that is out of ideas, originality, and thoroughly devoid of soul. Yet, even though this is true, it does not mean they are not without insight. Giving Bond a family, a daughter, and a woman to actually love outside of himself was a good idea. It just wasn’t done very well. OHMSS did it better, so did Casino Royale. But one thing the movies does do really well, is that it understands nihilistic humanity really well.

Towards the middle of the third act, when Bond is hearing the classical motivations of the bad guy, Lyutsifer Safin (yes Lucifer Satan…really guys?), he is told this by the main baddy,

“The thing that no one wants to admit, is that most people want things to happen to them. We tell each other lies about the fight for free will and independence, but we don’t really want that. We want to be told how to live. And then die when we are not looking.”

For all its faults, this line was a moment of brilliance. Because I believe this is a genuinely accurate summation of much of humanity. Most people don’t want to take charge of their lives, because making decisions and being independent terrifies them. This is precisely why humanity was so easily cowed in recent years. Because their illusory bubble of safety was burst beyond repair. Safin here has just summarized how many ancient Pagan Greeks thoughts about life: just abandon yourself to fate, and let come what comes, we all die anyway, get out of life what you can. This nihilistic and fatalistic worldview is the worldview of much of the unregenerated world. And it makes sense why. If you really believe this life is all there is, and you get very little of what you want, why would you want to be fully free? Why not just go with the flow, fit in, get what you can, and hope you die quietly and well. This is the materialistic worldview. This is how many people actually think.

It’s important that Bond doesn’t correct Safin here either. He doesn’t try to make a case for meaning in life, because he can’t. He is just as nihilistic himself, the difference is he kills for Queen and Country, whereas the bad guy kills for his own schemes. They are Ying and Yang, two equal and opposite forces destined to come up against each other. All he really says to Safin is shouldn’t we at least give people a chance? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a chance? This is a nihilistic perspective on life, that just happens to be a bit more benevolent.

For all its flaws the latest Bond movie captures something very well: how meaningless and nihilistic the material life is. At best people can hope to leave something of themselves behind. It was this same hopeless worldview that the Christian gospel broke into nearly two thousand years ago. And one of the reasons the gospel was so powerful was that it told people they were not bound by their fate, they could make a choice, and their choices really counted, not just for this life, but for eternity. This concept revolutionized peoples lives and because of this the whole western world was changed. Because the gospel gave people a hope beyond the summation of a man like Safin, that people were not just automatons living until they died. The gospel made people genuinely believe that having free will and a degree of independence mattered, because how you used your actions would resonate into the eternal kingdom of the true King of kings.

It’s not stretching it at all to point out that the story in No Time To Die mimics the gospel. Bond gives his life so he can defeat the evil Lyutsifer Safin and save his loved ones. This is a mimic of the gospel story if I every saw one. The gospel tells us that Jesus, the Son of God, lived the perfect life none of us could live, and then died on the cross taking the punishment we deserved for our sins, in the process defeating sin, death and the devil. The key differences are that unlike Bond in the movie, Jesus rose again, and truly defeated Lucifer Satan. Another key and important difference is that the real gospel offers us real hope.

-        It gives us hope that this life is not meaningless.

-        It gives us hope that we can make a true impact on this world and the next through our actions.

-        It gives us hope to forge a small part of this world where we can live in light of the good news that our king offers us.

-        It gives us the hope to offer hope to others.

Maybe the reason No Time To Die felt so soulless is because it was trying to imitate the real good news, and as we know imitations never measure up. The movie reached for greatness, a greatness far beyond itself, and only managed to highlight how fatalistic mankind is without God in the picture. The authors of the script have some good insight into the hearts and minds of a large amount of humanity. But humanity can be so much more than their summation, if we just remember for Whom and by Whom we were made. The Lord Jesus Christ.  

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