Warning: major spoilers ahead for No time to die
Several key elements of Safin’s plan in No time to die just don’t make sense without the presence of former Bond major villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Although Blofeld figures prominently in the narrative, it’s clear that he plays second violin in Rami Malek’s Lyutsifer Safin. However, due to this reduced role, the film as a whole suffers and ultimately raises serious questions about the effectiveness of Safin’s purported master plan.
After taking center stage in 2015 Spectrum, No time to die sees Blofeld a lot behind the scenes of a British prison. Although he still runs operations within the criminal organization, thanks to a computerized eye carried by his colleagues, his power and influence were reduced as a result of his incarceration. This becomes clear when an attempt to use stolen nanobots to kill James Bond at a Specter party inadvertently results in the deaths of all of Specter leaders. It later becomes clear that Safin is behind the confusion as part of his plan to get revenge on Specter for the death of his family. Eventually, Safin manages to successfully assassinate Blofeld via James Bond, after Madeleine Swann infects him with nanobots programmed to match Blofeld’s DNA.
After executing his complicated plan to kill Blofeld, Safin then focuses on finding a buyer for his stolen nanobot technology. This brings him into conflict with Bond, who acknowledges the potentially devastating impact of the so-called Project Heracles. However, while programmable nanobots with the potential to kill anyone they come in contact with within seconds are undoubtedly frightening, on closer inspection, the rationale for Safin’s supposed blueprint does not hold up. Not only is it unclear why he hopes to wipe out so many people, but also what motivates him once he manages to kill the Specter leader. Here is why, in fine, Safin’s plan in No time to die needed Blofeld to withstand scrutiny.
Initially, Safin’s plan to kill Specter as an act of revenge makes some narrative sense. After all, avenging the death of your family is a perfectly compelling reason to seek out technology that could end the world. However, not only does pursuing his plan make little emotional sense after he has achieved his previous goal, the consistency of the entire project quickly collapses after even minimal scrutiny.
For example, it seems highly unlikely that an individual like Safin, regardless of his resources or level of influence, could compete with the tools of a global criminal enterprise like Specter. After all, throughout the story arc of the Craig Era, Specter was tasked with pulling the strings behind everyone from Le Chiffre to Raoul Silva, emphasizing the extent of his power. The idea that a heretofore unknown 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 extremely unlikely.
What’s even more unusual is that Blofeld and Specter, despite the clear and present danger he poses to them, seem largely oblivious to Safin’s true motives. Although he worked for Specter as an assassin, Safin’s revenge plot seems to take everyone by surprise. The idea that such an individual would be able to operate in the criminal underworld, amassing the resources to build his own poison base, without Specter discovering his true plan and the potential threat he poses to all of it. The operation seems to push credulity to its limits.
Considering that Safin is both a new character in the franchise and apparently lacks strong motivation once his revenge mission is over, it looks like he may have worked more effectively as a henchman rather than as a henchman. as the central villain. For example, the idea of Specter’s main poisoner following in James Bond’s footsteps at the behest of an incarcerated Blofeld may have helped the public ignore the obvious issues of incitement that emerge during Acts 2 and 3 of the movie. This would have placed Safin alongside Jaws, Oddjob, and Red Grant as iconic Specter associates, rather than placing the undue burden on him of carrying the entire movie.
As it stands, the film arguably starts to fall flat once the shadow of Specter, which had already defined the Daniel Craig Bond era so much, completely fades from the scene. While Safin’s desire for revenge lends an interesting nuance to his character, his early successes actually undermine the foundation laid for organization by previous films. As a result, turning Safin into a henchman would have been an effective way to No time to die to underline the danger posed by Specter, rather than reducing them to a spectacle easily eliminated by a single deserter scientist.
In contrast, an alternate storyline in which Blofeld was the real mastermind behind the nanobot plot would not only have served the character of Safin better, but would have been a much more compelling way to end the entire story of l. Craig era. Given the conflict between the two characters in the previous films, No time to die could have offered more scope for exploring this compelling relationship. It’s easy to imagine, for example, an alternate story arc in which Blofeld – with help from Safin – tries to get revenge on James Bond from prison, perhaps with equally tragic results. It could have built on existing emotional tensions from the rest of the saga, rather than calling in a new villain and starting over.
Placing Safin as a secondary villain would also have allowed the film to continue a trend that defined Daniel Craig’s Bond films – namely, defying convention and pushing boundaries. Throughout the Bond era, goons have generally been two-dimensional caricatures which, despite having iconic characteristics, lacked proper development. Placing an actor like Malek in that role would have allowed the film to do something really drastic with its supporting villain, giving him his own compelling motivations. Placing him at the heart of the action without a genuinely compelling story behind his actions ultimately satisfies no one and is a serious mistake for No time to die.
One way the film could have incorporated both Safin and Blofeld would have been to alter Safin’s loyalties. It is not inconceivable, for example, that in a world where Blofeld is behind bars, a power struggle could erupt at the top of the organization. In order to keep control of the group, Blofeld could therefore have recruited Safin to assassinate his rivals on his behalf.
Ironically, this approach can also be tied to Safin’s revenge plan. Considering Blofeld’s age, it’s extremely unlikely that he was in charge of Specter when Safin’s family was killed at the group’s behest. However, other senior officials in the organization may well have played a role in the murders, providing Safin with a compelling reason to team up with Blofeld. In this world, Safin as a freed poisoner expert could have operated outside with Blofeld still holding the reins of power in prison. This would have alleviated one of the central problems of No time to die by providing two villains with competing and equally compelling motives, while also giving a villain as iconic as Blofeld his due.
There is no doubt that there are aspects of the film that provide proper swansong for Daniel Craig’s time as James Bond. However, despite all the thrilling on-screen action, including Bond’s heart-wrenching final sacrifice, there’s no denying that Bond’s opponents often fail to make it through the rest of the film. With a few tweaks to the story, it’s easy to see how this problem could have been avoided. As is, No time to die represents a missed opportunity – both for Rami Malek’s Safin and for the reinvented Ernst Stavro Blofeld.