“Thou ominous and fearful owl of death / Our nation's terror and their bloody scourge! / The period of thy tyranny approacheth.” Thus, the glorious words from King Henry VI.
Undoubtedly, Bond XXV—titled No Time To Die, but also known as No Time For A Script To Film—has nothing to do with that quotation. Instead, as seen in the trailer, we find Daniel Craig and Billie Eilish portraying Vladimir Putin and his new 007 intern, respectively, while a series of car chases, fight scenes, and dark interior sets are presented in rapid fire cuts. None of the tired action sequences, as choreographed by Billie Eilish, have any convincing “owl of death” that haunts the vicinity; but the word die made it into the title, and thou will notice the Aston Martin doth has machine guns popping out from the headlights, so all that has got to count for something.
Based on the novel by Greta Thunberg and adapted for the screen by Billie Eilish, the film is due for an April 2020 release, the traditional dumping ground for junk movies that cannot compete in the onslaught of summer releases. It’s all rather fitting: based on the trailer and anecdotes about the troubled production, we are forced to anticipate a profound mess. Filming wrapped in September 2019 after suffering incessant setbacks. Since then, as post-production unravels, salvage work is at hand. I suppose this must be a reflection of the glorious magic of which we hear so much from the cast. Consider the recent babble from Ben Whishaw (back again as the effeminate Q), glorifying how the filming was “Sometimes quite chaotic” but it was all rather jolly good in that “it was quite improvisational … we didn’t do many takes” (Simpson). He is, of course, making the best of a propaganda spiel. Not much to do, is there, with a film that doesn’t have a script, unless you make up the story as you film. That, I suspect, is the chaos and “improvisational” thing he is referencing. As widely reported, the production went on without a finished script. Now it’s the salvage phase, as I suggested, the end result of what the crew had described succinctly, during filming, as “a well-polished s*** show,” to which in its aftermath, producer Barbara Broccoli and her cohorts will “sort it out in the cutting room” (Bamigboye). This conjures the disturbing image of the director and his distraught editors, huddled in an editing bay, well into the late hours, sorting through footage and piecing together scenes, attempting to find the story, its mood, its tone and essence.
Editing turmoils aside, the latest grotesquerie that has been sorted out is the soundtrack. The composer Dan Romer, brought on board last summer by the director (whose name most moviegoers can’t remember), was suddenly replaced by Hans Zimmer in early January 2020. In this single act, the producers overrode director What’s-His-Name’s preference. Wikipedia, that most scholarly of sites, informs me the director is not Billie Eilish. Nor is it one of the Baldwins. Above all, the man in the director’s chair—that is, when he’s not engaged in PlayStation video games—must not be mistaken for Drew Carey: he is Cary Joji Fukunaga, a last-minute choice himself, considering that many directors shunned this film. Fukunaga had worked with Romer on the Netflix miniseries Maniac and the feature film Beast of Nations; but the decision of the producers to remove his choice composer calls into question whether this film is truly shaping to Fukunaga’s vision.
Yet the Dan Romer ousting suggests that hardly any vision exists for this film. The usual blather about “creative differences” (Dhote) was given as the reason for his exit, but the implied backstory points to the usual clash of narcissistic Hollywood egos—that and a coherent narrative for the story, as editing progresses, hasn’t been established. It must have been a dead end for Romer: the task of a composer is to grasp the vision of the filmmakers and determine their musical needs and to bring out the emotions of the story as a musical dramatist. The composer, in essence, becomes the filmmakers’ eyes and ears musically, an unenviable role when you’ve got hacks attempting to make sense of a story, at this late stage, in the cutting room.
Romer may have completed portions of the score. Sad to say, those efforts have been ditched, with Zimmer presumably starting from scratch. It will be a frenetic deadline chase to deliver something serviceable in a few weeks. Then again, this is Zimmer, who has mastered the craft of churning out film scores with a legion of composers from his assembly factory, Remote Control Productions. Disturbingly, though, the inevitable hasty job from him and his lackeys run the risk of being formulaic—with such a tight schedule, why not fall back on Zimmer’s tried-and-true approach? The tiresome thunderous percussive work in the Nolan Batman films are easily transferred to the Bond soundtrack. Likewise, the sluggish repetitive drone sounds of Interstellar, or elements of his other scores—the deep horn blasts, staccato strings, the emphasis on urgent mood over a consistent melody—are virtually certain to be rehashed and rearranged. The “Zimmer sound” easily converges into a bland homogenized soundscape, reminiscent of what you'd get from the soundtrack of a video game. Slap it all together, I imagine Zimmer thinking, and have it bonded and shipped for universal export.
But fear not. It's Billie Eilish to the rescue! Desperate to make everyone forget the chaos, the producers managed to snatch this crooner, this phenom of hymns to depression, for the requisite title song. It’s obvious her recruitment sprang from a simple idea: just rope in this trendy teenybopper and her mopey expression, the producers seem to say, to bring in as many of her fans into the theater. A Bond film, then, for angst-ridden 13-year-old girls. Imagine, if you will, their reaction to the song, in loony text parlance: “OMFGGG SO DEEP!!! OMG!” Alas, for Bond fans, it truly is the time to die.
In the usual haphazard fashion from the producers, Eilish was a late choice, tossed into the mix in mid-January, but the announcement was essentially eclipsed by the US political circus of impeachment shenanigans and the latest episode of the clown act known as the Democratic presidential debate. Still, with the Zimmer and Eilish involvement, the tactic now seems to be to brush aside the farrago of production bullshit by pulling in high profile names to grab headlines and sell this Bond movie as a “hip” Hollywood blockbuster. This echoes the involvement of one Phoebe Waller-Bridge, feminist TV writer extraordinaire, currently riding atop the gushing adoration of leftists everywhere, who was brought in the midst of filming to tweak the script for this modern age of Woke. Unfortunately, the filmmakers are offering a film not crafted as an intriguing spy thriller but calculated to draw the widest possible demographics, regardless of whether it pleases any segment of the audience once they’re occupying theater seats.
From the trailer, we see that Mr. Putin 007 is customarily withered, although the magic of digital effects has managed to make a youthful appearance from his 80-year old visage. Yes, he only looks 79! Meanwhile, a heap of forced acting exudes from the rest of the cast. Jeffrey Wright, the self-obsessed preacher of anti-Trump tweets, is back for another forgettable performance as a portly Felix Leiter. The CIA agent appears with the Craig-Bond in a pub and essentially begs for help: “I need a favor, brother,” he tells the Putin-esque geriatric. “You’re the only one I trust for this.” Considering the leaks and corruption currently haunting the CIA, we cannot blame this Felix Leiter turning desperately for assistance elsewhere. Yet I had to laugh so loud at this scene: so much for realism when you have two has-been agents discussing top secret spy matters in a crowded pub while sloshed in a beery reunion. The scene is also an obvious reminder that both actors are completely miscast. Wright and Craig are suited to playing the guys who gather the shopping carts in the parking lot of the local Target. It’s a specialized craft, handled usually by your Mark Ruffalos or your John Cusacks. Today, however, Ruffalo and Cusack are actually the guys hauling shopping carts at the Target parking lot. (Of course, I kid these actors. At the start of the next financial quarter at Target, I’m confident both will get promoted to the stock room.)
Barely discernible in the flash of images is the supporting cast. Cuban-Spanish actress Ana de Armas, in a black dress, stands in darkly-lit evening gala, looking startled. It’s a reaction, we can only assume, to Daniel Craig looking older than the Rolling Stones. Rami Malek, on the other hand, does not wear a black dress but, in striking similarity, appears in a dark room while gadding about in a black Mao suit. Word is that he portrays the villain, although the bug-eyed actor could not confirm in a recent interview and even struggled to remember the name of his character. To be fair, it would be difficult for anyone to recall details of a Daniel Craig movie, unless that memory were in conjunction to a memory of, say, getting caught in an avalanche, or inadvertently marrying Rosie O’Donnell, or some such traumatic event. Nevertheless, Malik is expected to turn in a menacing villain—that is to say, nothing truly outstanding as the trailer suggests. He has all the TV charisma of an Adam Schiff.
No Craigian Bond atrocity is complete without the saccharine family drama. Hence, the return of brother Blofeld. Much of the kitsch in Spectre derived from Christophe Waltz’s camp performance and, as the trailer hints, he’ll be delivering more of the same in No Time To Die. But congratulations must go to the man, for he landed a cool gig: from the trailer, we gather he spends a portion of the film sitting upright, smirking from within a high security cage (a throwback to the cage of Raoul Silva and, ultimately, Hannibal Lecter). It’s a delightfully easy job for an actor, similar to playing a tree in Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard. But lousy as he is, Waltz will be sharing duties with Craig on the scenery chewing. The exaggerated zeal from Craig as he exhorts the Malik character (“History isn't kind to men who PLAY GOD!”), and Waltz’s goofy sinister expression, taunting with the line, “James, you gave up everything for her,” are about as compelling as any performance from William Shatner, even William Hung. Thus, for the 25th film, the trailer foreshadows an embarrassing piece of work, with two actors resorting to some of the finest camp-it-up acting ever. It forces me to think that with their ride on the 007 gravy train nearly over, Craig and Waltz may end up in the Vinnie Jones/Eric Roberts direct-to-video bin: a legitimate niche, of course, where they can focus on playing greasy Eastern European heavies who torment a Dave Bautista or a Scot Adkins with lines such as, “Listen carefully, McAlister. Just follow the plan or INNOCENT PEOPLE WILL DIE!” As it is, with both actors lost in overdone antics, it’s puzzling that director Fukunaga did not seek advice from Van Damme, or even Mike Tyson (any acting tips would have helped).
The main selling point, the film’s raison d'être, centers on that most compelling dramatic situation ever to grace the series. So just as Spectre has its idiotic “dramatic” centerpiece—the unveiling of the villain Blofeld as the Craig-Bond’s foster brother (to which nobody was enthralled by that shtick)—the trailer reveals Ralph Fiennes (miscast again as a cretinous M) muttering “Where’s 007?”, juxtaposed with a voice-over of a woman announcing, “The world’s moved on, Commander Bond,” as we see a dark interior scene with a black woman in military attire clutching a high-powered pistol, an image that segues into a dark room wherein the Craig-Bond asks said woman, “You’re a double-O?” To which she replies, confidently: “Two years.”
Presumably, she is the new MI6 agent (Lashana Lynch) who has taken over the 007 appellation. This is what storytellers in Hollywood deem “suspenseful” circa 2020—a popcorn-dropping moment, so goes the PR stroke, or whatever the hell the original phrase is. I’d say it’s kitsch; and if this constitutes, by today’s standards, fine storytelling, we’ve reached the nadir of narrative film, a reflection of—and I dare say it—the overall decline in quality in the arts. (But, hey, all is not lost: we’ve got the lyrics of Billie Eilish and the Jonas Brothers, which consist of English words just like Joyce’s Ulysses.) In any case, the surprise element that the producers had expected from this contrived plot twist deflated months ago when the damn thing scattered across the internet. Now here we are, several months later, with a trailer that confirms the full bloom of the franchise’s utter submission to feminist ideology. We are long gone from the tongue-in-cheek days of Dr. Holly Goodhead. For the Bond makers, it’s a matter of not being left behind in the battle cry for social justice: cheap scriptwriting aside, it’s time to thrust onto the world a woman who has taken over the code number 007.
Those doubtful of such an approach need only examine the bits of dialogue and the disadvantages thrown at our man, Mr. Octowussy:
Interior scene - Bedroom The female 007 [speaking to the Craig-Bond, who stands like a gape-mouthed idiot]. So stay in your lane. You get in my way, I will put a bullet in your knee. [Whispers] The one that works.
Interior scene - MI6 Headquarters Moneypenny [speaking to the female 007 and the Craig-Bond]. I thought you two would get along.
The line from Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) signals a one-upmanship scenario, essentially a retread of the one in The Spy Who Loved Me between Moore’s 007 and Soviet agent Anya Amasova; but in that movie, the characters are competing in the best interest of their respective countries, eventually leading to their alliance for a common goal. By contrast, the trailer of No Time To Die places the scenario in context to the down-with-the-patriarchy feminist ideal. It’s the Craig-Bond with a feeble knee, as noted by the female 007, who embodies the image of a tottering old man—a literal depiction of the old guard that must be overridden. Begone, thou white male patriarchy! Begone your oppression and your exploited privileges in a society plagued by inequality. For the female 007 cometh!
To underscore this theme, the trailer offers scenes wherein the Craig-Bond suffers irrelevancy. Roaming the halls of MI6, with frailty and all, the geezer encounters the state of forgetting: the young Q, without offering a warm greeting, is surprised that Grandpa Bond isn’t dead, and a security guard struggles to recall his name. It all leads to a blaze of images showcasing women shooting guns or heavily engaged in action scenes, suggesting insufferable girl power kitsch, while a brief glimpse of old man Craig suddenly flashes by, this forgotten agent kneeling before a black-suited figure (the Malik character) in yet another darkly-lit scene. As the trailer suggests, the Craig-Bond is not only emasculated, ridiculed as an old man, but reduced to an ineffective wimp, with less of a commanding presence than Beto O'Rourke. He’s quite the fossil, an outmoded character (and at one point, he’s even wearing a long sweater, the kind worn by seniors in a nursing home). It’s a twisted interpretation, denigrating the character completely and, unintentionally, thrusts Craig in an unflattering light. The actor is pushing 60, for crying out loud; but here he is, in the midst of a film that brazenly emphasizes he’s a creased old man of yesteryear.
The trailer presents passing views of a Mediterranean village, a tropical getaway, a wintry landscape—brief moments of light against the dominant pallet of dark interior scenes. The pacing of the trailer doesn’t do justice to these locales, giving the effect that this film lacks the classic Bondian exotic scenery. The cinematography (of course, by Billie Eilish) is phenomenally dull, as are the car chases, which confuse quick cuts with even more rapid fire cuts. All the while, we sense moments pulled from previous 007 films, reminding us of the filmmakers’ creative bankruptcy. Take, for example, the Craig-Bond leaping over a bridge handrail with a long cable. Shades of the bungee jump in GoldenEye!
Nowhere in this trailer are the babes, showcased in bikinis. Nowhere to be seen is the emphasis on the beauty of a woman. This ties in with the disconcerting factor that, as one rumor reveals, the Craig-Bond has ran off and married the gal from Spectre, the very unsexy Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux, reprising her role, I’m sorry to say). With a married Craig-Bond, out goes any carefree flings with other babes. This will be a one-woman Bond, and the trailer points to this motif by providing a fleeting glimpse of the Craig-Bond, in another darkly-lit scene, locking lips with Ms. Swann. As dictated by the PC edict, no such scenes with different women are shown. Then again, the Craigian Bond films have been apathetic in that area. His Bond was never the aggressive womanizer of yore. The most risqué moment in his tenure actually occurs in Brokeback Skyfall, when he reacts with subtle welcome, based on his nonchalance, to the advances of the pansexual Raoul Silva and even suggests he’s had gay affairs in the past. Unbeknownst to the pug-nosed Madeline Swann, his heart lies elsewhere, or at least he can switch passions with ease, suggesting he is in accord with all the hullabaloo for sexual fluidity. Finally, for those in the Woke sphere, a Bond geared for their concerns.
I recall the trailer for GoldenEye: despite the barrage of slick action scenes, the camera manages to settle on Natalya Simonova's loose robe, uplifted in the tropical breeze, framing her bikini crotch (no doubt, Fleming would have applauded such camera work). The shot clearly signals pure escapism. And pure Bond—unadulterated and classically Bondian in imagery. That means fast women, fast cars, the luxury-lifestyle, intrigue in exotic locations, and cleavage and bikinis, dammit. In the actual scene in the film, the shots of Natalya walking along the beach—her white robe slightly blurred in the forefront—are not only splendid to behold but convey a haunting quality. The cinematography by Phil Meheux, along with Eric Sera's score, also enhance the scene. The sunset has a melancholy red-orange glow, which reflects some of the somber imagery that Fleming often paints in his novels such as Casino Royale and, especially, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (the opening chapter, “Seascape with Figures,” comes to mind). There on the beach, with her white robe blowing in the wind, the shots of this woman evoke the celebration of her beauty in a mysterious, sexy, and atmospheric moment without any intention of demeaning her (and any form of denigration is not the necessary conclusion to draw—if so, then we’ve entered the realm of over-interpretation). In No Time To Die, as its trailer depicts, we get women firing guns and leaping around as karate-chopping ass-kickers, confronting 225-pound brutes. To be noted well: there is a tasteful way to present women and their beauty and individuality. Again, take note of the pulchritude in the GoldenEye trailer. But more to the point: as the marvelously named Quintus Curtius explains,
There is nothing inherently wrong with portraying women as strong and empowered: the old Greek and Roman myths did it, as well as the Norse myths, Icelandic sagas, and the classic novels from old China and Japan. But the difference between those stories and modern Hollywood is this: in the old myths, the story complements, and is faithful to, the true nature of women. In modern movies, the stories are utterly fanciful. They are attempts to ram a degenerate, socially pernicious ideology down our throats.
The trailer of No Time To Die certainly delivers this impression of “utterly fanciful” female characters. What piffle this is. Absurdly masculine, these women pass off as over-the-top take-charge, righteous action heroes. Moreover, the bizarre message of the film is that it’s time to discard the old, antiquated Bond, for the world has moved on. Moved on to what? A social justice utopia? Imagine this fantasy land where all is well, the true state of existential equilibrium finally met, with inequality vanquished, the achievement of which relies on girl power feminist pipe dreams. To make matters worse, producer Barbara Broccoli and her cohorts have inexplicably forgotten that this business of Bond-as-relic is hardly new territory in the series: look again at GoldenEye, and we find the theme expounded when Judi Dench’s M proclaims that Brosnan’s 007 (and, by extension, the other Bonds of the pre-Craigian vintage) is a “sexist, misogynistic dinosaur—a relic of the Cold War.” But the underlying cleverness of this seventeenth entry derives from how it emphasizes the need for the traditional past. As M tells Bond, in their contentious meeting: “If you think for one moment I don’t have the balls to send a man out to die, your instincts are dead wrong. I have no compunction about sending you to your death.” Harsh words but, near the end of the scene, as Bond prepares to leave her office, she adds a touch of warmth: “Bond, come back alive.” Her last line adds a moment of poignancy that underscores how this institution, MI6, still has a need for Bond’s methods. She has no compunction to send him on a dangerous mission because she reveres his involvement. The past is to be cherished, not discarded. There is still value in the past; that the past (under the guise of this Bond) has experience, humanism, and can still be looked upon for help to confront any violent unease in the world.
By contrast, based on the footage we’ve seen so far, No Time To Die is aimed for Gender Studies majors and the aforementioned Billie Eilish crowd. Still, we cannot underestimate the message from the filmmakers: jump on board for another fine sampling of kitsch—this time, without any toxic masculinity in the way but a lot of unsexy women firing machine guns and a beautiful black woman, blazing with the 007 moniker! Keep in mind, though, the purpose of any trailer: what we’re seeing here is essentially the filmmakers showcasing their best material. This is it, a social justice revisionism of James Bond and his world. If the film underwhelms at the box office, it will be because the grating political posturing was unbearable that audiences took a peek and thought, no thanks. Until next time, as the saying goes. It will be yet further proof that feminism and social justice don’t sell tickets. And these elements certainly don’t belong in a Bond film. I suspect defenders of the film will proclaim some sort of misogyny caused the tepid box office result and that audiences overlooked a Bond film that finally focused on today’s gender politics. To which we say: take note, old boy. Clinically sane people don’t go to the cinema to seek gender politics. We do expect, however, to be entertained. But in all this Woke propaganda, we’re hit with an oppressive, sexless, self-consciously overbearing ideology that neuters a story, wiping out anything truly enthralling. After all is said and done, old boy, you’re not defending a movie—instead, you’re in the dark, completely unaware that you’re defending an ideology.