‘No Time To Die’, the long delayed 25th film in the decades old James Bond franchise comes to theaters with an enormous budget and a blast of explosive excitement courtesy of the first American director for the series, Cary Joji Fukunaga, and departing Bond himself, Daniel Craig. The Craig era has been marked by an overarching serialized story, eschewing the contained nature of the previous Bond films. This culminates in ‘No Time To Die’, which literally starts where the last one, ‘Spectre’, left audiences waaay back in 2015.
‘Spectre’ was meant to be Craig’s final turn in the tux, ending with James Bond’s ‘retirement’ in the company of Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine, herself tied to the secretive, conspiratorial consortium from which the movie bears its title. Craig was lured back for one more dance, presumably by backing up an armored truck full of cash, the promise of an exciting new visionary director to the series (originally Danny Boyle), and most importantly, a larger than ever influence on the character itself. Rather than initiating with a pre-credits action sequence, ‘No Time’ starts with a flashback. It’s a genuinely scary set piece that plays more like a horror/thriller than an action movie, signaling Fukunaga’s tone, set more in line with his atmospheric work on ‘True Detective’ Season One than typical Bond fare. Picking up with the couple basically honeymooning in an incredibly scenic ancient Italian town, this extended opening does dovetail into a bravura stunt fest, albeit one with some hefty additional weight.
From here, the narrative as always takes the audience around the globe and back to London, with the difference this time seeing everything through the lens of its talented director Fukunaga. His previous work may have set the stage for his visual prowess, but nothing to this point has been at the sheer grand scale of this framing. From quickly capturing the spatiality of Bond’s Jamaican retirement home right on the water, to establishing the playful dynamic in an energized shootout set in Cuba reteaming ‘Knives Out’ costars Craig and Ana de Armas (a pure joy flexing her action chops), Fukunaga brings a unique visual flair following in the masterful footsteps of predecessor Sam Mendes (director of both ‘Skyfall’ and ‘Spectre’). It continues through the primary red/blue color palette of an extended scene on a floating rig, and through the evergreen misty forests of Norway. Of course he can shoot cars and chases with the best, as well as peppering a portion of the final action scene with an extended one take gun battle up a stairwell that feels like it could’ve been in ‘The Raid’.
That this sequence takes place at the final destination of the film, an island fortress that’s a welcome throwback to Bond movies of old, also means it gets to break up a third act that is plagued by some of the worst tendencies of the otherwise stellar Craig era. An overly complicated plot finds Bond in a position to stop the machinations of Ramy Malek’s villain as well as rescue hostages with whom he has a personal connection. Malek starts out truly scary in his quiet menace, but ends up undefinably aimless and rote, despite getting that aforementioned incredibly realized lair. While the finale is exciting and beautifully rendered, it ultimately rings hollow for a character that’s best known for forming fleeting connections. This failure falls to the writing team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade who have shepherded Bond since Craig took over. While they’ve certainly brought a very modern and welcome breakdown of the character (and at the best moments, interrogating the very nature of the character), the emotional resonance they have sought has eluded them (think ‘Spectre’s reveal of Blofeld as Bond’s stepbrother?!) One wonders if the jolts of fun that run through ‘No Time To Die’, particularly in those early portions of the film are present courtesy of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, brought on late for some rewrites. Her DNA seems to be in scenes like the one mentioned before with de Armas or the cheeky banter between 007s – this film introduces Lashana Lynch as Bond’s replacement, having a ball with an all but wasted character.
In the end, it’s safe to say that Daniel Craig’s Bond, while maybe not definitive, can claim some of the best films in the series, with two (‘Casino Royals’ & ‘Skyfall’) in competition for the greatest. ‘No Time To Die’ may not reach the heights of either film, but it does feature some great sequences, beautiful camerawork, and some of the most inspired acting from its star. What comes next only time and the Broccoli family can say, but like a martini-soaked James playing a round of Bacarat, gamblers have already started placing their bets . . .
Directed By: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Written By: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga & Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Running Time: 163 min.
* * * (out of four stars) -OR- B