Warning: Large spoilers ahead No time to die
Several key elements of Safin’s plan in No time to die simply does not make sense without the presence of the former great Bond villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Although Blofeld plays a prominent role in the narrative, it is clear that he plays second fiddle to Rami Malek’s Lyutsifer Safin. But as a result of this reduced role, the film as a whole suffers and ultimately raises serious questions about the effectiveness of Safin’s supposed master plan.
Having taken center stage in the 2015s Ghost, No time to die sees Blofeld much behind the scenes in a British prison. Although he still conducts operations in criminal organization, thanks to a computer eye carried by colleagues, his power and influence has been reduced as a result of his imprisonment. This is made clear when an attempt to use stolen nanobots to kill James Bond at a Specter party inadvertently results in the death of the entire Specter management. It later becomes clear that Safin is behind the mix as part of his plan to take revenge on Specter for his family’s death. Eventually, Safin manages to successfully assassinate Blofeld via James Bond, after Madeleine Swann infects him with nanobots programmed to match Blofeld’s DNA.
After carrying out his intricate plan to kill Blofeld, Safin then focuses on finding a buyer for his stolen nanobot technology. This brings him into further conflict with Bond, recognizing the potentially devastating effect of the so-called Heracles project. While programmable nanobots with the potential to kill everyone they come in contact with in a matter of seconds are undoubtedly scary, on closer inspection, the rationale for Safin’s supposed master plan does not hold. Not only is it unclear why he hopes to exterminate so many people, but also what motivates him when he successfully killed the head of Specter. Here’s why, in the end, Safin’s plan enters No time to die needed Blofeld to stand up for control.
Initially, Safin’s plan to kill Specter as a night of revenge gives some narrative meaning. After all, revenge for your family’s death is a compelling reason to seek out potentially world-end technology. However, the continuation of his plan makes some emotional sense after he has succeeded in his previous goal, but the coherence of the whole project quickly falls apart after even a minimal examination.
For example, it seems very unlikely that someone like Safin, no matter what resources or level of influence, would be able to match the tools of a global criminal company like Specter. After all, throughout the early history arc of the Craig era, Specter was responsible for pulling the strings behind everyone from Le Chiffre to Raoul Silva – highlighting the extent of its power. The idea that an unprecedented villain with a mysterious backstory would be able to defeat the entire organization on his own by persuading a single scientist to switch sides therefore seems highly unlikely.
What is even more unusual is that Blofeld and Specter, despite the clear and present danger he poses to them, are largely unaware of Safin’s true motivations. Despite working for Specter as an assassin, Safin’s revenge plot seems to surprise everyone. The idea that such a person would be able to operate in the criminal underworld, gather resources to build his own poison base, without Specter discovering his real plan and the potential threat he poses to the entire operation, seems to stretch the credibility to the utmost.
Given that Safin is both a new character in the franchise and apparently lacks strong motivation once his revenge mission is complete, it seems he may have worked more effectively as a supportive henchman instead of a central villain. For example, the idea of Specter’s executive charges on the trail of James Bond at the instigation of a jailed Blofeld may have helped audiences overlook the obvious incentive issues that arise during the film’s second and third acts. This would have placed Safin alongside people like Jaws, Oddjob and Red Grant as iconic Specter employees, rather than saddle him with the unnecessary burden of carrying the entire film.
As it is, the film no doubt begins to fall flat when the shadow of Specter, who had previously defined so much of the Daniel Craig Bond era, completely disappears from the scene. Although Safin’s desire for revenge adds an interesting nuance to his character, his early success actually undermines the foundation of the organization of previous films. As a result, it would have been an effective way to turn Safin into a henchman No time to die to emphasize the danger that Specter poses, rather than reduce them to a side show that can be easily eliminated by a single flawed scientist.
In contrast, an alternative plot where Blofeld was the real mastermind behind the nanobot plot would not only have served Safin’s character better, but would have been a far more compelling way to bring the entire arc of the Craig era to an end. Given the conflict between the two characters in previous films, No time to die could have provided greater opportunity to explore this compelling relationship. It is easy to imagine, for example, an alternative story arc in which Blofeld – with Safin’s help – tries to avenge James Bond from prison, perhaps with equally tragic results. This would have built on existing emotional tensions from the rest of the saga, rather than shoehorning into a new villain and starting over.
Placing Safin as a secondary villain would also have allowed the film to continue a trend that has defined Daniel Craig’s Bond film – namely, defying the convention and pushing boundaries. Throughout the Bond era, henchmen have typically been two-dimensional caricatures that, despite iconic features, have lacked proper development. Placing an actor like Malek in this role would have allowed the film to do something really radical with its supportive villain, giving him his own compelling motives. Placing him in the heart of the action without a truly compelling story behind his actions ultimately satisfies no one and represents a serious mistake for No time to die.
One way the film could have incorporated both Safin and Blofeld would have been to change Safin’s loyalty. For example, it is not inconceivable that in a world where Blofeld is behind bars, a power struggle may break out at the top of the organization. In an attempt to retain control of the group, therefore, Blofeld could have recruited Safin to assassinate his rivals on his behalf.
Ironically, this approach may also have been linked to Safin’s revenge plan. Given Blofeld’s age, it is extremely unlikely he would have been in charge of Specter when Safin’s family was killed at the request of the group. However, other high-ups in the organization may well have had a hand in the killings, which gave Safin a compelling reason to team up with Blofeld. In this world, Safin, like the liberated expert poets, could have operated externally while Blofeld still had the reins of power in prison. This would have helped alleviate one of the key issues No time to die by giving two villains competing and equally compelling motives, while at the same time giving a villain as iconic as Blofeld his fault.
There is no doubt that aspects of the film provide an appropriate tail song for Daniel Craig’s time as James Bond. But for all the thrilling actions on screen, including Bond’s heartbreaking last victim, it’s undeniable that Bond’s opponents often do not live up to the rest of the film. With a few adjustments to the story, it’s easy to see how this problem could have been avoided. As it is, No time to die represents a missed opportunity — both for Rami Malek’s Safin and the newcomer Ernst Stavro Blofeld.