No Time to Die

No Time to Die ★★★

I'm not sure if James Bond is my favorite movie series of all time, but I've become convinced it's the best; much of this has to do with aspects outside the actual narratives themselves, such as the way the movies provide a snapshot of their eras, and serve as signposts for the development of film technology, action movie and pop music trends, and, indeed, our culture's ideas about masculinity. I'll be fair: after making my way through the entire series for the second time, there's likely no way "No Time to Die" could have lived up to my expectations. And as the series often tells us, so much in life has to do with timing: if this film had premiered in the fall of 2019, it might have felt like a satisfying conclusion to Daniel Craig's tenure. In 2021, the ending and even a plot involving a deadly virus play as more ominous—serving not only as a farewell to the James Bond character as we've known him, but perhaps the idea of the pre-COVID tentpole film as well.

As for the film: "No Time to Die" has one of the most dense and involving pre-credits sequences in the entire franchise. With Bond behind the wheel of his Aston Martin, Hans Zimmer's score rattling the speakers, and the blend of practical locations and stunts that 007 does so well, the opening is reason enough to see this in theaters. The finale, too, is solid, updating the climax of "Dr. No" with a level of modern day spectacle. But there's about an hour smack dab in the middle of this film that feels both needlessly over-plotted and dependent upon the events of the previous films, and it just kills any sense of momentum.

Part of me wonders if becoming an 'event' is one the worst thing that happened to the James Bond series; when 007 installments only come out every 4 years or so, there seems pressure to make every movie interconnected, to use every installment to evolve Bond's past or personal life. (It hurts "No Time to Die" that its plot developments are so beholden to the events of "Spectre," when that film failed to establish Madeleine Swann as a strong love interest and Blofeld as a credible threat). I would honestly love to get back to something like the Brosnan era, where Bond has an adventure every two years, and each one offers its little tweaks or variations on the formula rather than emulating the episodic nature of the MCU.

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