Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Billy Magnussen, Ana de Armas, David Dencik, Rory Kinnear
Run Time: 163 mins
No Time To Die represents Daniel Craig’s swan-song as James Bond, whose films have proved to be the most consistent out of all the actors to play Ian Fleming’s spy. After Pierce Brosnan’s self-destruction of the franchise with Die Another Day, a low point for the series that featured an invisible car, Craig’s debut, Casino Royale rejuvenated the franchise with gritty gusto and a more grounded storyline. I found Quantum Of Solace, controversially, to be the high point of Craig’s films as it is a lean and mean sequel that has some excellent action sequences, although many regard the film as Craig’s low point. Director Sam Mendes’ Skyfall further rejuvenated the franchise by tapping into Bond’s past and reintroducing characters such as Q and Moneypenny, who had been absent from Craig’s initial outings. I would agree that it is a very solid film with some excellent cinematography by Roger Deakins and a great villain from Javier Bardem, if a little overrated. Mendes returned to direct Spectre, which received mixed reviews, but there is a lot to admire in it as it harkens back to the Bonds of the Sean Connery and Roger Moore era with its more playful action sequences and villain with Christoph Waltz’ Blofeld.
What has been really interesting with the Craig films is that they have all been a continuation of a storyline, with each film tying into the last. All of the other films in the series have been decidedly more standalone. It would be cheap to suggest that this is the Marvel effect on filmmaking where many films now are interconnected in their storylines but James Bond has wildly succeeded with this technique.
No Time To Die continues Craig’s storyline and finds Bond settled with Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, after Spectre ended with them driving off into the distance. They find themselves in Matera, Italy, where Bond visits the tomb of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) only to be intercepted by members of Spectre. Bond abandons Swann on the belief that she has betrayed him. Five years later, we find Bond in retirement mode in Jamaica, who is reluctantly convinced by Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) to rescue a kidnapped scientist, Waldo (David Dencik), which ultimately leads to Bond crossing paths with Blofeld and a mysterious adversary in the form of Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).
The film has taken a while to reach cinemas, after a change of director during production and then the coronavirus pandemic. Danny Boyle was originally in the director’s chair and had a script and proceeded with production but left due to creative differences. Boyle’s vision would likely have been revolutionary for the character but I find his films to vary in quality. Boyle’s style doesn’t really suit Bond, so I wasn’t disappointed with his departure. Boyle was replaced by Cary Joji Fukunaga, who is an inspiring choice, who has had success with the television series, True Detective, and has directed films such as Beasts Of No Nation and he wrote and was originally directing It before leaving due to creative differences but Fukunaga’s influence on the film is very much felt throughout tonally.
No Time To Die is an operatic and thrilling finale to the Daniel Craig era that takes some ambitious risks in its narrative. Fukunaga’s fingerprints can be felt all over the film from the Japanese memorabilia to the more intimate character moments. The first half an hour gave me goosebumps with an opening tinged in horror and then an emotive initial action sequence. Fukunaga explores a more personal side to Bond and excitedly departs from established franchise formula. The film is beautifully shot by Linus Sandgren, who makes the various travel destination locations look intoxicating.
Fukunaga ambitiously draws parallels with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, George Lazenby’s soul outing which is underrated for its fantastic story. This is a brave film to try and ape but the comparisons that are drawn and contrasted are well constructed, if not always successful. Hans Zimmer’s score revisits some of the cues, although a little clumsily as he jarringly references OHMSS’s score in places that don’t fit. On the subject of Zimmer’s score, it is good but it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, which is a shame, as he could have been more ambitious with this material.
Of the cast, Daniel Craig is his usual excellent self and impresses with a more sensitive and sombre edge than he had in previous films. Lea Seydoux is also impressive as Madeleine Swann and gets significantly more development, redeeming her more damsel-like performance in Spectre. Ana de Armas makes a particularly strong impression as Paloma, who really shines in an action sequence set in Cuba where she partners with Bond. It’s a shame her character isn’t in the film for longer. The ensemble of M, Q and Moneypenny are not as prominent in the storyline this time around but Fukunaga doesn’t totally neglect them and they all get brief moments to shine. Lashana Lynch’s Nomi doesn’t fare quite as well, as her character lacks personality, but the idea of a female 007 is progressive for the franchise.
Rami Malek makes for a mostly compelling villain. Fukunaga’s introduction of Safin is tonally reminiscent of a slasher film and there is a clear motive for his actions in the first two thirds of the film. There is an extended monologue in the third act which is the downfall of the character somewhat as Safin’s plans are somewhat conventional and there are a few plot holes. However, the execution of his plan is not conventional, which is what allows him to shine and he makes for a nasty adversary for Bond. Christoph Waltz returns in a limited capacity as Blofeld but he makes the most of his short screen time.
No Time To Die is a thoroughly thrilling send-off for Craig and it will be interesting to see how James Bond is regenerated in future instalments, given how this film ends. It doesn’t bottle out and Craig’s films cement themselves as the most consistent. It is hard to tell where this film fits into Craig’s films, I think on a first viewing it ranks in the middle of the pack. It is one of the best films in the franchise and Craig’s tenure as 007 will be hard to top.