When last we saw James Bond (in 2015’s Spectre), it seemed as though he’d gotten his happily ever after, as improbable as that might seem. Pop culture’s most famous spy fell in love, spared the bad guy (Ernst Stavro Blofeld) and drove off into the sunset with beautiful psychiatrist Madeleine Swann.
But finding a happily ever after ending for the world’s most famous spy is about as difficult as—well, sifting through the actual plot of a James Bond movie.
The two are still together as No Time to Die opens, driving through the beautiful Italian countryside. When Madeleine asks James to drive faster, he says they don’t need to. “We have all the time in the world,” he says.
Not so fast, James! The two are vacationing in the very same Italian town where Vesper Lynd, another Bond lover, is buried. But when James goes to pay his respects, Vesper’s crypt blows up. James survives, but his relationship with Madeleine does not. See, Madeleine’s dad was tied to Blofeld’s old criminal organization, SPECTRE, and James wonders whether the love of his life isn’t quite so loving as she pretends.
It’s the sort of trust issue that even a twice-weekly marriage counseling session can’t fix. So James puts Madeleine on a train and decides to spend the rest of his retirement in Jamaica, alone.
But even that’s hard to do when old friends keep dropping in. Take Felix Leiter, James’ compadre at the CIA. Turns out, a dastardly scientist who had been working on a top-secret project for merry old England quit in the most spectacular fashion: A bunch of elite operatives broke him out and killed everyone else in the lab. Felix wants to know what the dastardly scientist was doing for Britain—and he thought he’d ask his good pal James for a little help.
No thanks, James says. But when he runs into his double-O-successor, who says that the scientist had been involved in something called the Heracles Project—a project so secret that even she didn’t know much about it—James decides he can set aside retirement for a bit and help … Felix.
So much for happily ever after, at least for now. James has a job to do. And even if he doesn’t have explicit permission from Her Majesty’s Secret Service anymore, the old 007 still feels like he has a license to kill.
In GoldenEye (officially the 17th of 25 Bond films, this one starring Pierce Brosnan), James converses with the movie’s prime Bond girl, Natalya.
“How can you be so cold?” She asks.
“It’s what keeps me alive,” James tells her.
“No,” she says. “It’s what keeps you alone.”
No longer. In No Time to Die, James Bond isn’t so cold, and he isn’t alone, either. Despite his split with Madeleine, James still loves the woman—honest-to-goodness loves her. And when he learns that Madeleine’s now a mother, too—to a little girl named Mathilde—he fights to protect both of them.
This isn’t remarkable in the context of many movies, even many adventure movies. But it is notable for a James Bond film. The franchise has been built on 007’s cool, sometimes callous quest to serve Queen and Country, no matter how many people he must kill or women he must bed. The idea of James forming real, human attachments is a step forward for the character.
And we should also note that while James’ relationship with his beloved home country sees some strain here, he’s still as committed to saving the world as ever.
No Time to Die also plays with the difficult socio-political environment we live in today. Back when James began in the early 1960s, most folks who watched it had a strong respect and even faith in institutions, especially governmental ones. That’s not so true today, and we see that even Britain can fail its people.
But the film stresses that those in power still mean well, even if that power could’ve used a few more checks to it. And when it understands the threat it spawned, Bond’s old boss, M, and others go to some awfully greaat lengths to correct their mistakes.
We see the interior of a church. The Heracles Project is obviously named after a Greek hero who was the son of the god Zeus. One person in the know describes it as an “invisible god sneaking under [the] skin.” (James reminds him that history has never looked kindly at those who play God.)
We hear a passing reference to the Book of Mormon.
James Bond isn’t the same promiscuous playboy that we see in most other films in the franchise. He sleeps with just one woman here, and that’s Madeleine (who is, at one point, called James’ wife). We see the two kiss passionately, start to remove bits of clothing (we see James shirtless) and lay in bed in each other’s arms, apparently unclothed (though nothing is seen).
But No Time to Die still has its share of “Bond girls.” One dresses in an evening gown, the neckline diving to the woman’s belly. (We see the sides of her breast frequently when she’s on screen.) Another leads James to a bedroom and takes off her … hair. (James quipped that he wasn’t expecting that to be the first thing she took off.) We see a number of other women, including extravagantly dressed dancers, wear clothes that expose some skin or hug some curves. James takes a shower, and audiences see him from the waist up.
Q, as Bond fans will know, is James’ tech/gadget expert. And in this movie, he’s gay. When James and Moneypenny (another frequent Bond character) barge into his flat looking for help, Q is a bit exasperated: He was all set to host his boyfriend for an intimate dinner.
If James isn’t quite as sexually adventurous this go-round, he’s just as deadly—as are other folks around him. Indeed, the Heracles Project is, essentially, a doomsday weapon, using DNA and nanobots as its destructive ingredients.
Secretly designed by the British government, the weapon was intended to be a surgical tool—something that could kill the target without subjecting the innocent to the carnage. We get a taste of how it works during a party where several people die horribly—faces mottling, blood pouring out of visible orifices and sometimes groaning or crying in pain. (At least one other person dies from the weapon, as well.) But while it can be targeted to destroy just one person, it can be modified to obliterate whole groups of people—or, if the user had sufficient knowledge—everyone. That’s the threat that hangs over the head of James and his allies.
But people die in plenty of traditional ways, too. James and others shoot to kill, and they shoot plenty. Rarely are the deaths particularly messy, but we see a lot of them. And some are more visually disturbing than others.
One man is shot, and we see his bloody shirt as he slowly bleeds to death. A mother is shot repeatedly as her daughter hides, listening to everything. (She later sees the corpse). Another man is crushed by a car. Someone is drowned, and another someone almost drowns. (We see the victims struggle underneath a sheet of ice.) People are blown up. We hear about how evildoers killed someone’s entire family.
A couple of prosthetic eyes factor into the story, and we see both disembodied eyes and eyeless sockets. Cars crash and flip. Explosions rip through graveyards. James and others fight wildly, throwing punches and leveling kicks and sometimes a strategic head butt or two. Children are threatened. Poisons are invoked. James chokes someone. People are tossed down flights of stairs.
One f-word and one s-word. We also hear “d–n,” “h—” and the British profanity “bloody.” God’s name is misused four times, and Jesus’ name is abused thrice.
It would hardly be a Bond film if James didn’t order at least one vodka martini “shaken, not stirred,” and at least two are served up here. He and Felix meet in a bar and drink beer. Alcohol flows freely at a posh (and quite strange) party. A fellow spy tosses down a drink.
The mother of a girl, the latter perhaps about 11 or 12, seems completely out of it. She asks the girl to get her some “medicine,” which proves to be wine. (The woman smokes a cigarette, too, as do others.)
A scientist working on the genetically predicated Heracles Project tells a Black woman that he could wipe out her “people” using the weapon. Britain risks an international incident by acting without authority in a zone claimed by two different countries. Some people betray others.
The saga behind the making of No Time to Die seems just as dramatic (if a little less explosion-y) than the plot of many actual James Bond films. It began almost immediately after the 24th Bond film, 2015’s Spectre, came out—with star Daniel Craig saying he’d rather “slash my wrists” than play 007 again.
But never say never again: Craig recanted in 2017, and filming began the next year. But between injuries (Craig hurt his ankle, among other mishaps) pandemic-related delays (COVID-19, obviously) and departures (Danny Boyle dropped out as director), it took this Bond film four years to finally make it to the living daylights.
So, is it worth the wait?
For Bond fans, the answer is yes. No Time to Die has almost everything they’d expect, from cool cars to eye-rolling wordplay, and a few moments they might not expect. Craig’s final turn as Bond is slick and satisfying, and it’s surprisingly heartfelt for such a purposefully superficial franchise. Some might say that giving James Bond a heart undermines the character, but to see this version of the Western World’s favorite superspy truly care about a couple of someones … it works. It just works.
For families of teens, or even older children? The answer is a very qualified maybe.
Yes, ethically, this Bond film is a step up from many others. Remember, early depictions of the character feel almost horrifically misogynistic today. And even when he stopped treating women like plastic sandwich bags (to be used and discarded), Bond certainly showed no compunction in slowing his hedonistic ways. This Bond is more relationally mature (if far from a sterling example of relational health).
But all the other familiar problems are still there: the killing, the drinking, the killing some more. And he doesn’t just kill because it’s his job. Sometimes, he kills because he wants to. He kills for revenge. It’s a brutal, if not unprecedented, turn for the character.
James Bond movies have been around so long that, in some homes, they’ve earned a pass. My grandma was a huge Bond fan, and I remember watching 007 before I knew how to ride a bike. But No Time to Die reminds us that this franchise comes with plenty of perils and pitfalls. And perhaps some viewers—like Craig’s Bond himself—can tire of the whole spectacle.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.