Our notion of heroes has undoubtedly seen several iterations. And James Bond has been an ever-changing yet ever-present name amongst these heroes on the screen. With No Time to Die, as Daniel Craig steps into the Bond suit for the last time, we are given a film that depicts a more profound conflict than a hero-villain tussle.
Here is a villain who wears almost comically obvious villain treats. He has scars that disfigure his face, a foreign accent, and his name is Lyutsifer. It could almost be considered as pushing the limit to drape a character in such tropes. But the character himself contradicts the assumption of these tropes.
Lyutsifer Safin, played by Rami Malek, is not crude or loud. He may be malicious, but he does not snarl. He is quiet and strange in the way he talks. There is certainly something wholly sinister about his demeanor, but it is not in the scars. It is in the story behind them. A story whose weight is undeniable. And in learning the reason behind his scars and his mission of revenge, we have a man whose motivations are easy to understand.
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The Common Enemy
In the predecessor to No Time to Die, we see James Bond tackle the terrorist organization that lends the movie its namesake- Spectre. While the mastermind behind the group, Blofeld, is arrested at the end of Spectre, the organization itself still exists, free to continue its acts of terror.
The remaining members of Spectre are killed early on in No Time to Die. It is later revealed to us that it was Safin who orchestrated that mass murder. The boy whose family made poisons for Spectre is the boy who witnessed his entire family being murdered by Spectre using their own poison. It is this scarred survivor who develops a smarter, more lethal way to kill with poison.
In doing what he does, Safin destroys an entire organization that goes against everything Bond stands for. He kills to bring about a kind of peace, the kind that will follow when Spectre falls. Even as Bond sets out to stop Safin from using the poison on a mass scale, it is undeniable that they have been united by a common foe.
The Two Sides of a Coin
It is not unheard of, the tale where the villain is a hero’s reflection in a distorted mirror. Even if their motivations are different, and their enemies are different, they are often the same people on opposite sides.
But what of Safin and Bond? What of these two men who have fought against the same organization? There must be a line that separates them, a line that tells us who is the hero we’re meant to root for. Certainly, Safin is placed as the villain and given all the attributes we know to look out for. But could it be that all of it is a mask to keep us from looking too closely?
James Bond kills. And so does Safin. James may not have his scars on display, but we know they are there, regardless. We can see it in the trust issues, the wall that is almost impenetrable, and even in the unfaltering charm. They are both lone wolves, with agendas only they are aware of. They save beautiful girls and women, and they both know how to make a statement.
The only place we can hope to distinguish between the two, is in the lines each is willing to cross. While James grabs Blofeld in his anger and grunts out at him to die, it is Safin who sends the poison along that actually kills him. James will kill the man who murdered his friend without blinking an eye, but he will not save himself when it means endangering the woman he loves and the child he didn’t know he had.
In the end, there is no perfect hero. They are all just humans, making choices they cannot take back. But when the curtain falls, and they all lay dead, it is perhaps the man whose death we mourn that is the hero.
No Time to Die is a 2021 action thriller film directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga.