THE MISSION THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING BEGINS.
Like most of its predecessors, No Time to Die promises its audience that ”James Bond will return”. That’s a comfort after such a shocking ending, and it will be no small feat to achieve. The climax of this film will divide the audience, but it is an emotionally satisfying and logical way to close Daniel Craig’s outstanding, 15-year long tenure as 007. Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson’s bold choice to make Craig’s first entry, Casino Royale (2006), into an origins story and then following through on that theme in the course of five films paid off in spades, both commercially and artistically.
A brilliant move – but it also inevitably painted the series into a corner. I brought up this problem already in my review of Skyfall in 2012 and after No Time to Die the question becomes even more urgent: where in the world will Bond go after this?
Retiring in southern Italy
After putting Ernst Stavrou Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) behind bars in London, 007 (Craig) has retired and gone to Matera in southern Italy together with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). But Spectre won’t leave him alone; after a spectacular assassination attempt, Bond believes that he’s been betrayed by Madeleine and puts her on a train, telling her that this is the last she’ll see of him. At the same time, a secret MI6 lab in London is attacked and a dangerous new biological weapon, one that identifies the DNA of its target, is stolen. Bond’s 007 number now belongs to another agent, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), but he’s nevertheless drawn back into a world he simply can’t leave, facing a terrorist leader, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) who’s intimately connected to Madeleine and looking for revenge.
Admirably well paced
When an action movie is getting close to three hours, alarm bells ring loudly, but No Time to Die is admirably well paced and consistently entertaining, in no small part because of the bounty of attractive ingredients that traditionally make the Bond adventures worth watching. There’s plenty of exciting action, including an early sequence in Matera where Bond’s Aston Martin gets to shine, and a stylish car chase in misty Norwegian woods; the locations are beautifully captured by Linus Sandgren’s camera.
David Dencik is fun to watch as an immoral and very annoying scientist who enables the theft of the biological weapon, and Craig remains a solid 007, uniquely combining superhuman qualities with vulnerability. As for the women, Ana de Armas gives the film a shot in the arm as a sexy and highly capable operative called Paloma, but disappears from the story too soon. Malek is OK as a Dr. No-type villain; the character is important in the film but often comes across as somewhat uninspired. The same might initially be said of Bond’s mission, but the deadly effect of the film’s MacGuffin eventually becomes clear, brilliantly leading up to the devastating finale.
I previously used the word ”traditional” in this review, and the film cleverly (and very emotionally) ties into its predecessors, especially On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), the first in the series to give the agent greater depth; No Time to Die finds a reason to bring back Louis Armstrong’s ”We Have All the Time in the World” on the soundtrack, going straight to our hearts.
Filmed in 2019 and delayed several times because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the premiere of No Time to Die finally proved that a new Craig Bond is always worth waiting for. No other film about 007 (there are now 25 of them) has gone as far as this one. Craig’s era ends the way it started, with a movie that’s explosive, brutal, romantic and moving, delivering thrills and luxury.
No Time to Die 2021-Britain-U.S. 163 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Screenplay: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Cinematography: Linus Sandgren. Music: Hans Zimmer. Song: ”No Time to Die” (performed by Billie Eilish). Editing: Tom Cross, Elliot Graham. Cast: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Rami Malek (Lyutsifer Safin), Léa Seydoux (Madeleine Swann), Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris… Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Ana de Armas, David Dencik.
Trivia: Co-produced by Craig. Danny Boyle was first hired to direct.
Oscar: Best Original Song. Golden Globe: Best Original Song. BAFTA: Best Editing.
Last word: “I think that’s the expectation, a female writing very strong female roles, but that’s something Barbara wanted already [before Waller-Bridge was hired as a co-writer]. From my very first conversations with [Broccoli], that was a very strong drive. You can’t change Bond overnight into a different person. But you can definitely change the world around him and the way he has to function in that world. It’s a story about a white man as a spy in this world, but you have to be willing to lean in and do the work to make the female characters more than just contrivances.” (Fukunaga on changing Bond with the times, The Hollywood Reporter)