Review: No Time to Die
Six years after the release of Spectre and a record-setting 15 since Daniel Craig‘s stint as James Bond began, No Time to Die is finally hitting theatres. The conclusive entry in the five-movie saga arrives following a chaotic uphill journey, amidst doubts from the titular actor over age and injury concerns, difficulties plotting the finale of the overarching story after the previous installment was met with poor reception from critics and fans alike, director troubles when acclaimed helmsman Danny Boyle dropped out of the project due to creative differences, and lengthy delays from the global pandemic. But with studios once again returning to theatres, and Emmy Award winning director Cary Fukunaga taking over the final instalment (the first American to do so), MGM is ready to pull the trigger. The question looming large is whether Bond-25 can reach the highs of Casino Royale and Skyfall, or stoop once more to the lows of Quantum of Solace and Spectre.
Throughout the series, Craig’s darker turn on Bond has had a penchant for breaking rules and working alone, his Herculean missions rife with grand stakes and unmitigated violence. Bond’s methods infuriate M – Judi Dench and subsequently Ralph Fiennes – but his callous efficiency gets the job done. With Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) captured and all wounds in the midst of scarring, Bond offers MI6 a reprieve via retirement before he works himself and the rest of the agency dead. The underlying theme of ‘unfinished business’ is established early with an elegantly shot cold open that introduces key backstory, before traveling back to the present where Bond and Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) are touring Italy. Since the revelation that Blofeld’s jealousy was behind many of Bond’s deepest wounds, the weathered antihero wishes to offer a proper, solemn goodbye to Vesper. Like most entries in the franchise, the action arrives swiftly and superbly. The ancient town replete with cobblestone and stunning scenery serves as another handsome backdrop for a well choreographed chase through the streets, where Bond experiences disappointment once more before disappearing off the map for an extended period.
The lengthy time between entries in the series afforded the writers plenty of opportunity to not only clean up some of the messes of the past, but also weave in pleasant callbacks and homages. With Bond retired and living a life of solitude, what better way to bring him back in the game than his old pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright)? Leiter has an inside track on Spectre, and Bond will be damned if he can’t resist an opportunity for revenge. Old mixes deftly with the new, as MI6’s newest double-oh-agent would prefer to tackle the mission herself. Lashana Lynch brings refreshing charisma and a sardonic charm, which combined with Craig’s dry wit makes for excellent chemistry. It’s difficult to choose who paired with Bond the best between her, Seydoux, and Ana De Armas, whose appearance was unfortunately brief and begs for a return in the next series. All three leading ladies gave wonderful performances, offsetting some uneven turns from a couple of other new characters.
With the core plot set in motion and an intriguing mystery to solve, the middle act is where the bloated 163-minute runtime takes its inevitable dip. Surprisingly, No Time to Die never feels overly protracted, but the gap in action does become noticeable. As Fukunaga prepares for what everyone hopes to be an explosive finale, the story might have suffered were it not for the strength of the surrounding cast. There’s something to be said about how magnetic Craig’s portrayal is when everyone seems to bounce so perfectly off of him. Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) are elevated each time they interact with Bond, and there aren’t many better moments than the constant squabbles between Bond and M. The endearing energy within these dynamics is a major plus compared to where the writing fails, as the humour contains some of the funnier bits in the entire series. Conversely, there’s almost nothing more captivating than a well written villain, and that’s once again a shortcoming in an otherwise entertaining entry.
Rami Malek‘s villainous turn as Lyutsifer Safin has a delayed appearance, which is potentially what held him back from delivering one of the more sinister Bond heels. Malek is quite strong in the moments where the steady camera focuses solely on his blemished, menacing face. However, it’s his contrived motivations and diabolical sermon that feel like somewhat of a retread. While the climax was often breathtaking to look at, the grand scheme wasn’t very fresh or memorable. Safin is serviceable in the moment, but Bond fans will agree the final boss deserved a little more. Without delving too deep, there’s another malefactor within who acts as your standard mini-boss, whose arc is predictable and hollow.
Fortunately, where the writing was a disservice, Fukunaga’s strengths shone. He may not have had Roger Deakins’ signature touch behind the camera, but Oscar winner Linus Sandgren is a solid consolation prize. Together, they brought life and beauty to every frame, from dank tunnels to misty forests. The manner in which Fukunaga jumped scene to scene was seamless, so that it didn’t feel like transitions were an excuse to get to the next action set-piece so much as they were logical locations to be in. And fans of the famous tracking shot filmed by Fukunaga in TV’s True Detective will be delighted by a moment or two during Bond’s battle to save the world.
Bolstered by another strong entry in Hanz Zimmer’s oeuvre, as well as a striking intro with an endless cascade of delectable visuals set to the tune of Billie Eilish’s theme, Fukunaga’s take on the franchise will be remembered as a strong finish to one of the best Bond eras in the near 60 years since the series began. No Time to Die fits squarely in the middle of Craig’s quintet, serving as a notable finish for a character and actor who deserves every bit of praise sent his way. It was an emotional sendoff that will leave fans both bittersweet to see it come to a close, as well as excited for what the future has in store. Craig surprised many when his fresh spin on the character proved a lot of doubters wrong. Audiences generally enjoyed his darker, moodier interpretation. One that always felt abrasive yet intriguingly vulnerable underneath. So it remains to be seen where the studio plans to take the character next. For now, Bond, and Craig, can finally rest.
No Time to Die is currently ranked 563/2432 (77%) on my Flickchart.