Synopsis – Bond has left active service. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.
My Take – While James Bond as a character has been gracing the silver screen for about 59 years, never had the series met such a backslash when the then unknown Daniel Craig was announced as the latest actor to take on the role, in a reboot following the bad taste that the Pierce Brosnan led Die Another Day (2002) left in almost everyone’s mouth. An uproar which was quickly silenced when Casino Royale (2006) released.
Not only the Martin Campbell directorial was excellent and brought the dated franchise into the 21st century, made it work for an era in which it’s harder to tell the good guys from the bad, but also Daniel Craig turned out to be a great Bond.
Though the consecutive films have been mixed bag, with Quantum of Solace (2008) and Spectre (2015) finding themselves derailed by nonetheless entertaining but clumsy scripts, and Skyfall (2012) reaching a series high in the form of a bold and nuanced blockbuster. Yet unlike the previous incarnations, these films exploited a character still scared by his past and showed a Bond that could lead as well bleed, grounded by Craig’s very root able performance.
Now acting as the 25th Bond installment, after multiple release delays due to the pandemic, Daniel Craig’s final outing as author Ian Fleming‘s British agent code number 007 is finally here. And the good news is that it is a rip-roaring success, with a feast of heart and spectacle.
Yes, running at 163 minutes, the film is a bit too long, overstuffed with plot and features one of the dullest villains in the series’ history, but flaws notwithstanding, here, director Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective, Beasts of No Nation) gives you everything you want from a Bond film, just in a way you’ve never seen before. The action’s loud, the gadgets are ridiculous but work beautifully within the framework of a story, the call-backs to the Bond mythology are fun yet resonate on a deeper level, and the emotional stakes are supercharged but hit hard.
But most importantly Daniel Craig proves once again that casting him as Bond will go down as historical film decision. Sure it is not the best Bond film ever made but surely it will be remembered for a long time, as Craig bows out with his head held high.
After opening with two intense prologues, and set right after the events of Spectre (2015), the story once again follows James Bond (Daniel Craig), an ex-British Intelligence officer, who after having parted ways with Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) five years prior is now enjoying a quiet life in Jamaica. However, his retirement plans are cut short when his old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), a CIA field officer, drops in asking his help to track down Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik), a missing scientist with ties to SPECTRE and Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), and a high-tech biological weapon, code name Project Heracles.
While Bond reluctantly agrees, he is also forced to work alongside his young replacement at MI6, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), sending on a path to meet his most dangerous enemy yet, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).
While the film mostly ticks all the boxes when it comes to fans of the MI6 agent, it also says goodbye to Daniel Craig with so many surprises. Naturally, there’s some globetrotting, some melodrama, and callbacks to the previous outings, but there also are big, unprecedented storytelling decisions that are some major departures from the traditional codes, notably the inclusion of a solemn little girl into the action at a crucial point to raise both jeopardy and emotion.
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga who took over after Danny Boyle bowed out, gives the film a visceral immediacy that’s quite different from the previous outings and script contributions from Phoebe Waller-Bridge have certainly beefed up the female characters, who are given the sort of complex arc and no-nonsense attitude that has been sorely lacking in the franchise. It’s the funniest Bond in forever, too, with a zingy script delivered by Craig and co with aplomb.
The action sequences are cleanly shot and edited and generally superb. Here, Fukunaga and his production team have delivered a big screen experience in the truest sense of the phrase. There is one particularly impressive ‘single take’ set-piece that rivals the tracking shot in the Fukunaga-helmed first season of True Detective. Then there is the car chase in the sun-drenched Italian village is a highlight—who doesn’t love watching a Bond vehicle rattle down a set of stone steps?
Yet the spectacle is only half the story. For all its technical prowess, this is a contemporary action-thriller with a distinctly old-fashioned flavor; one eye on the future and both feet planted in the past. Daniel Craig is arguably the best Bond of all. Here he gives a performance that offers a fitting end to his tenure, ensuring that he’ll be forever jostling for a place at the top of those Best Bond lists. His chemistry with Seydoux may never quite match what he had out of the gate with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, but the film plays to his strengths, giving his tough but tender Bond a memorable and fittingly stirring finale.
Léa Seydoux ensures she lives up the complexities and secrets of her character. Though her expanded role in this film is undermined by the glaring absence of chemistry with Craig, she is undoubtedly an upgrade on the sexist Bond Girls. Beefing up the roster of female characters is Lashana Lynch’s 00 agent Nomi, who shares a nice anti-chemistry with Bond that feels like a meaningful step forward for both characters.
Christoph Waltz also impresses as a defeated, incarcerated Blofeld while Ana de Armas, though her role is small, is unforgettable as the cute and shy CIA agent Paloma. Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris are also given a little room to reveal additional layers. Even Jeffrey Wright, Rory Kinnear, David Dencik, and Billy Magnussen get their moments to shine.
But if there’s a real disappointment here, it’s in Rami Malek’s villain. Lacking presence, and overdoing the sneer, Malek proves to be an underwhelming foil, and the motivation for his nefarious scheme feels flimsily sketched. Yes, the story is a bit too over-bloated story wise and could have been sleeker. But its closing sequence, serves Craig’s Bond so perfectly and sees him out of this five-film adventure with such grandeur that the film’s flaws fall away. On the whole, ‘No Time to Die’ is a perfectly enjoyable action blockbuster that acts as a perfect finale for one of the best James Bond incarnations.
Directed – Cary Joji Fukunaga
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 163 minutes