Brad Miner reviews the last of Daniel Craig’s performances as James Bond: another rollicking adventure, in which 007’s actions probably don’t pass muster with just-war doctrine.
No Time to Die is the last of the cinematic incarnations of James Bond personified by Daniel Craig. In some ways, it’s a sequel to its most immediate predecessor, Spectre (2015), and includes several returning actors/characters from that film: Léa Seydoux as 007’s love interest (the only “Bond Girl” ever to reprise her role) and Christoph Waltz as archvillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
It’s another rollicking adventure and a fitting conclusion to Mr. Craig’s 16-year run as the most famous and notorious MI6 operative of them all. I suppose I’ll always think of Sean Connery as the best Bond, but Daniel Craig is second-best and a close second at that.
I’d rank Connery’s performance in Goldfinger (1964) as the best followed by Craig’s in Casino Royale (2006). That’s also the way I’d rank the films themselves, except in reverse.
The five Bond movies with Craig have given us a 007 with a somewhat richer psychological profile. He falls in love and suffers for it. First, it’s Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Casino Royale and, last, it’s Madeleine Swann (Miss Seydoux). Now in his 50s, it’s not hard for Mr. Craig’s Bond to seem worn down by his life as a secret agent. He’s a man who wants out, as was starting to become apparent in Skyfall, high on my list of favorite Bond movies.
In that 2012 film, Bond escapes with MI6 head “M” (played by Judy Dench) – to his eponymous ancestral home in Scotland. It turns out Skyfall has a priest door (and tunnel), a place where – during the Reformation, when Catholic clergy faced death in England, Wales, and Scotland – a recusant family could hide a priest. Bond escapes pursuers via that 16th-century tunnel. M dies in Skyfall’s chapel. Bond, of course, survives.
However, except for a Day of the Dead opening sequence in Spectre, there’s not a whiff of Catholicism in the last two films. Vainly had I hoped No Time to Die might include another evocation of Bond’s Catholicism.
As No Time to Die begins, Bond not only wants out but – for all intents and purposes – is out. But the villains of SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion) are out to kill him, presumably because he apprehended and imprisoned Blofeld. As in all other Bond films, the bad guys’ attempts to take down 007 fail, no matter how many of them there are or how many times they shoot, bludgeon, or knife him; loose a poisonous spider on him or strap him beneath an industrial laser.
The Academy Award-winning song, “Skyfall,” written by Adele and Paul Epworth, begins, “This is the end . . .” and seemed at the time to suggest Craig’s run as Bond was over, but it turned out was Dench’s M who was finished.
Whether or not the theme song from No Time to Die, composed by Hans Zimmer with lyrics by Finneas O’Connell and his sister, Billie Eilish, who sings the song, will win an Oscar remains to be seen. It’s the most soporific of all Bond themes, barely reaching a crescendo before it drifts back to sleep. They should have got Chet Baker to sing it, except he died in 1988.
Ms. Eilish whispers:
I should’ve known
I’d leave alone
Just goes to show
That the blood you bleed
Is just the blood you owe . . .
There’s a scene in No Time to Die when Bond is in the usual straits the character always finds himself near the climax of every film – and from which he has always escaped – when it really looks bad and he assumes this may be his time to die. And still, I was telling myself: This is where he’ll drop to his knees, remember his heritage, and pray the Our Father – in Latin.
As with the films of Keanu Reeves (John Wick) and Bruce Willis (Die Hard), a cottage industry has arisen on the Internet in which film geeks calculate the number of kills a hero stacks up in each iteration. Estimates vary but, according to one source, the total of all the kills of Craig’s Bond until No Time to Die was 235. Sitting in an IMAX theater is no place to compile a tally sheet, but I’ll wager another couple of dozen will now be added – unless that is you count the number of innocents killed in a climactic scene reminiscent of the very first Bond film, Dr. No (1962). If so, Commander Bond and MI6 have a lot to answer for; their actions seeming not to pass muster with just-war doctrine.
And if you think you’re about to meet your end with upwards of 300 deaths on your hands, you might well think it prudent to pray. Of course, I say those deaths are “on your hands,” but that’s not what counts, is it? It’s the conscience that matters. Perhaps time and trade have hardened Bond’s.
In Casino Royale, M calls Bond a “blunt instrument,” and Bond and other on-screen blunt instruments move in an ambit of intensely immoral activity. In many ways, of course, James Bond is a “good guy,” and there’s no doubt that the evil empires he takes on must be laid low. But there must also be moral limits in victory, lest we slip over into atrocity, as may be the case with the presumed deaths of dozens of workers on the island lair in No Time to Die, most of whom probably don’t grasp what villain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) is up to.
The latest M, played by Ralph Fiennes, agonizes about the decision to lay waste to the island fortress, but his hesitation seems mostly about the risk a missile attack poses to his agent in place.
At the film’s end, we read: “James Bond will return.” Of course, a nearly $8-billion franchise must return – and will with a new actor in the lead. Would it be so terribly offensive to contemporary sensibilities were the new Bond to attend Mass now and then? The best warriors do, you know.
No Time to Die is rated PG-13 and is nearly 3-hours long (more bangs for your bucks). James and Madeleine do some snogging, but nothing is explicit. Jeffrey Wright returns as the CIA’s Felix Leiter as do Ben Whishaw as Q, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, and Rory Kinnear as Tanner. Lashana Lynch (Nomi) and Ana de Armas (Paloma) are serious women.
You may also enjoy:
St. Thomas Aquinas’s Just War, in a Nutshell
Jean Bethke Elshtain’s Can War Be Just?
Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer).
EDITORS NOTE: This The Catholic Thing column is republished with permission. © 2021 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: email@example.com. The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.