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No Time To Die Review

October 8, 2021 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
No Time to Die James Bond, CinemaCon Image Credit: MGM
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No Time To Die Review  

Directed By: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Written By: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge; Based on the characters created by Ian Fleming
Runtime: 163 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong language and some suggestive material

Daniel Craig – James Bond
Léa Seydoux – Madeleine Swann
Rami Malek – Lyutsifer Safin
Ana de Armas – Paloma
Lashna Lynch – Nomi
Ralph Fiennes – M
Naomie Harris – Eve Moneypenny
Ben Whishaw – Q
Jeffrey Wright – Felix Leiter
Billy Magnussen – Logan Ash
Dali Benssalah – Primo
David Dencik – Valdo Obruchev
Rory Kinnear – Tanner
Christoph Waltz – Ernst Stavro Blofeld

“Bond is not a hero, nor is he depicted as being very likable or admirable. He is a Secret Service Agent. He’s not a bad man, but he is ruthless and self-indulgent. He enjoys the fight- he also enjoys the prizes. In fiction people used to have blood in their veins. Nowadays they have pond water. My books are just out of step. But then so are all the people who read them.”

“I didn’t intend for Bond to be likable. He’s a blunt instrument in the hands of the government. He’s got vices and few perceptible virtues.”

– Ian Fleming

The Daniel Craig series of James Bond films finally reaches its dramatic conclusion with No Time To Die. It’s quite appropriate that the new film, much like other Daniel Craig entries, is prone to break from tradition and elements that are more ubiquitous to other entries of James Bond film series. Casino Royale was a game-changer for the franchise because the series had grown far too opulent, goofy, ridiculous and campy. Daniel Craig’s Bond took the character back to basics and returned to the roots of the character who first appeared in the spy novels of Ian Fleming.

The uniqueness of Daniel Craig’s Bond, more than just the films depicting his origins and what truly made him the legendary 007, is that this was really the first time that the Bond producers depicted a version of the character more in line with Fleming’s version. In Fleming’s version, Bond is, as Fleming states “not a hero.” He’s a “blunt instrument in the hands of the government,” a term Judi Dench’s M even evokes in the 2006 Casino Royale film. But as that blunt instrument, Craig’s performance explored what a government-approved hitman does to a person’s psyche and how those acts weigh on a person’s life, both physically and emotionally. No other Bond film dared to show the character having a moment of self-reflection over the act of taking another man’s life, whether that man had arguably earned a death sentence or not.

Under the direction of Cary Joji Fukunaga, the first American director to helm a Bond movie in the franchise’s history, No Time To Die honors the penchant of the Craig films to break from typical Bond convention. In some ways, that works in the film’s favor, but in other ways it does not.

The opening of No Time To Die does something no Bond film has ever really done. It opens with an unrelated flashback depicting the backstory and childhood of Lea Seydoux, tying her together with the film’s new antagonist, Safin (Malek). Eventually, the prologue for No Time To Die picks up not long after Bond and Madeleine Swann rode off into the sunset together at the end of 2015’s Spectre. After taking a stop in Matera, Italy, Madeleine and Bond seek to put some old secrets to rest in order to start a new life together. Their hopes of a clean slate are dashed after Spectre agents locate them in an attack orchestrated by incarcerated chief executive, Blofeld (Waltz). Bond likely would have been better off removing Blofeld from the chess table completely in the last film.

The trauma of Vesper Lynd’s betrayal still runs deep for Bond, and he and Madeleine go their separate ways. That is, until five years later when the theft of a weaponized virus has Felix Leiter (Wright) calling on Bond for his assistance. While Spectre is the main party behind the theft, there is a new operative at play; Safin, who is looking to take his own place at the world table, and Bond and his estranged lover, Madeleine, appear to be at the center of it.

Where No Time To Die struggles is really the script, with no less than four credited screenwriters. The movie plays like there are many competing visions at sake. Not to mention, this movie consists of two movies plots smooshed together. This results in too much narrative heft for No Time To Die. The film really needed a more streamlined, tighter and focused plot, similar to Skyfall.

The first half of No Time To Die suffers because it still seems to be servicing Spectre. That movie erred, as it introduced an unnecessary, forced and contrived connection between Bond and Spectre head Blofeld. So, No Time To Die has to maintain that idea rather than move on. Additionally, just as Quantum of Solace feels like a tacked-on epilogue to Casino Royale, that appears to be the case again here, except that No Time To Die acts as both an epilogue to Spectre with an entire Bond film on top of it. No Time To Die really has enough plot to fill two movies, and it suffers as a result.

No Time To Die‘s strengths come in its key lead performances and exceptional direction from Fukunaga. While Fukunaga does not have much success with the script, his look and style for Bond are certainly immaculate. The action set-pieces and fight scenes are very well done and look great. Not to mention, the cinematography by Academy Award-winner Linus Sandgren looks fantastic and on point.

Obviously, key here is Daniel Craig, who experiences his last hurrah as James Bond. Craig’s performance as Bond over the years has really been a revelation. His run in the franchise is the first time audiences have really been able to see one performer as James Bond with a complete beginning, middle and end. For all their flaws, it’s been rewarding to see the evolution of Craig’s Bond, along with his supporting players, such as the addition of Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw as Q. There has never been a James Bond like Daniel Craig, and there never will be again. I do not envy whoever is chosen to play James Bond next, as Daniel Craig leaves a great shadow and very big shoes to fill. Not to mention, the next actor will be scrutinized unlike any than ever before. It will make the childish and juvenile complaints Daniel Craig had to endure for his casting seem like elementary school recess.

Much as he has from the beginning, Craig reinforces that his version of Bond is a real human being. He has weaknesses and vulnerabilities. He has hopes and dreams. At the very least, No Time To Die is a strong emotional payoff to all of Bond’s previous adventures.

Madeleine Swann acts as a stealth protagonist of sorts for the film. She’s provided with much more emotional depth and stakes to the story that Bond love interests usually do not possess. In the last film, Bond giving everything up for Madeleine, and she in turn confessing her love for Bond was not very believable, especially for a film series that prided itself on grounded realism. The romance between Madeleine and Bond plays in a much better fashion here.

The missteps with Madeleine place far too much emphasis on her “secrets” that don’t really make sense or have a great payoff. Madeleine’s secrets are not quite as momentous as they were built up to be. Also, her tie to Safin narratively resurfaces in a rather awkward, overly convenient way. Again, things get clunky because a lot of time is spent on concluding and resolving events from Spectre before the real plot can get under way.

Ana de Armas is the best new addition to the cast of No Time To Die. Sadly, her role is all too brief. Nonetheless, De Armas steals every scene she’s in as the green, wide-eyed, eager-to-please, somewhat bubbly, yet incredibly competent, Paloma. She actually provides a fun and refreshing spin on the new Bond Girl trope. Her character does break from typical conventions, but she’s still incredibly likable. It’s a shame the franchise waited until Craig’s last outing to add her in because Paloma is a character who deserved more screentime.

Lashana Lynch is very good as Nomi, Bond’s successor and the new agent, carrying the designation 007 at MI6. Considering the idiotic controversy and debate over Nomi “replacing” James Bond, it’s once again a case of bad-faith actors not properly interpreting or understanding her place in the narrative. Nomi and Bond actually have an interesting relationship, and its among one of the more satisfying arcs in the film.

Sadly, Rami Malek’s Safin is the character who appears to suffer the most. He is creepy and menacing at times, but his character is woefully underdeveloped. Once again, too much time is spent on dealing with Blofeld and Spectre rather than the new and final villain for the Craig series. While Safin does have a bit of flair for theatrics, he never truly comes into his own as a Bond baddie.

Ralph Fiennes also puts in the finest performance of his run as M, aka Lieutenant Colonel Gareth Mallory. It’s almost easy to forget that Fiennes is one of the finest actors of his generation. M’s role in this story is actually quite crucial and allows Fiennes to display some sobering gravitas.

While No Time To Die was not the desired grand finale of the Daniel Craig Bond series, it does at least offer a grand sendoff to its series star Daniel Craig. It’s a series that’s probably better viewed as a whole, rather than its individual parts. The five Craig films were experimental and tried some new and different things, for better or worse. No Time To Die is not a masterpiece and has noticeable script and plot issues, but it’s elevated by a fine performance by Daniel Craig and the supporting cast, along with great direction, fun action set-pieces and exceptional cinematography.

As this is the first James Bond movie to ever be shot with IMAX cameras, IMAX is the ideal format to view No Time To Die. Either way, fans will want to see this film on the big screen at least once for Craig’s sendoff. In terms of Daniel Craig as James Bond, nobody does it better.

The final score: review Good
The 411
No Time Die suffers from some definite script and plot issues. The movie runs a bit too long, like two separate films that have been smooshed together into one overly long and bloated feature. As a result, a lot of time is spent on wrapping up the events of Spectre before the real movie and plot can really take off, along with Safin entering the fray. No Time To Die finds its strength in the anchoring of a great performance by Daniel Craig and the supporting cast. This is really the only run of Bond movies that had a formal beginning, middle and end. Despite its flaws, the franchise is better off having tried new things and doing something different with Craig's run that will be unmatched for ages to come because nobody does it better than Craig.