No Time to Die
UNIVERSAL PICTURES (2021)
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes
It has felt like the longest time but, finally, No Time to Die is here. Daniel Craig’s swansong as James Bond has been delayed multiple times due to COVID-19 but now the fifth installment in the Craig canon has been unleashed to the world. Batting at a fifty percent average (Casino Royale and Skyfall are spectacular, Quantum of Solace and Spectre...not so much) the prevailing hope was that No Time to Die could prove to be a return to form as much as a fitting send-off and, happily, that proves to be the case.
Here, Bond is retired and living a quiet life in an idyllic area of Jamaica but, naturally, the world is put into grave danger and Felix Leiter (Wright) knows of only one man who can help. At MI5, though, M (Fiennes) has a new 007 in the form of Lashana Lynch’s Nomi who he also dispatches to put an end to the devious machinations of Rami Malek’s Safin. Add in some dangerous romance with returning Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann and things are set up to get troublesome for our favourite secret service agent.
Cary Fukunaga has gone big with this movie and not just in terms of locations and scope - though the locations are stunning for the most part even if the cinematography is firmly just very decent (there is some marvellous camerawork throughout though including a majestic one-shot sequence). No Time to Die is layered with callbacks to the previous Craig movies, as well as the Bond movies of old, and builds upon those with compelling twists and character development that are crucial to the narrative with some major surprises weaved in. There’s a real sense of weight that looms over the movie from the get-go and Fukunaga creates a strong sense of atmosphere - something’s going to happen but we just don’t know what. That said, every Bond movie needs a major threat and the McGuffin is strong despite being rather convoluted and the irony of it being strangely and coincidentally topical now given the delays is interesting.
In his final outing as Bond, Craig is intense here. You can’t help but feel he is giving his all this time and the humanity he has imbued in the character is extremely prevalent through No Time to Die. The returning cast is solid and it is Seydoux who is afforded the development her character desperately needed from Spectre, she is great here. The newcomers chip in with game performances also, Lashana Lynch was absorbing as the new 007 and provided needed levity with her relationship with Bond and Ana de Armas was a joy in her short appearance, nearly stealing the show as the effervescent rookie agent Paloma (Note to EON/MGM/Amazon - please continue with these characters). Rami Malek delivers a solid performance but he is frustratingly let down by an underdeveloped and underwritten character with much of his motivations left unexplored or simply glossed over. I doubt he will rank too highly amongst the memorable villains of the franchise.
The movie unravels at a decent pace despite its mammoth runtime, the writing is strong and sharp enough to maintain a good consistency - Fukunaga, and writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge inject nuance, emotion, and range (for most of the characters) that has been missing at times in these recent Bond outings. In terms of action, when things appear to be shifting down gears, Fukunaga inserts another impressive action sequence, each one progressively escalating in size until we reach the huge third act - a bullet-laden Italian getaway and a misty forest stalking session providing some particular highlights. However, despite that, No Time to Die really could have been shorter. The duration isn’t necessarily a negative point but it is apparent that a running time of this length wasn’t required and some trimming would have only enhanced the story further.
What’s next for the franchise? Right now, that’s anybody’s guess but it’s hard to argue that No Time to Die wasn’t one hell of a way for Daniel Craig to relinquish the martinis, cars, gadgets, and 007 title. They’ve gone for broke here, and, despite some runtime and minor story issues, No Time to Die is a fabulous send-off for Daniel Craig and the best action movie of the year.
September 30th 2021