Review: Overstuffed 'No Time to Die' sends Daniel Craig out on tasteful note
Courtesy of MGM
When “No Time to Die” finally hits theaters, it will be almost four years after cameras started rolling, two years since the first trailer dropped, and a year removed from what would be the start of several release date shifts. At this point, it’s become a punchline among fans that the film is not real. Best served with a tall martini, “No Time to Day” marks the end of an era that began with 2006’s “Casino Royale” and peaked with 2012’s “Skyfall,” which remains, in my opinion, the high point of not only James Bond pictures, but espionage thrillers.
The 25th installment in the indestructible 007 series sends Daniel Craig out on an emotionally gratifying note, expertly laying the foundation for whatever direction Barbara Broccoli and Ian Fleming’s estate wish to take. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, the first American to helm a James Bond feature, “No Time to Die” improves over “Spectre” in terms of scale but drowns in dull side characters (Billy Magnusson?), an underwhelming villain (Rami Malek), and a routine “save-the-world” narrative that puts our hero in the same sticky situations he always ends up in.
“Skyfall” peeled back the layers of Bond’s troubled past in a manner fitting for the rogue agent. Audiences were given a portrait of a soul who was in desperate need of a reckoning and had a worthy adversary thanks to Javier Bardem’s diabolical Silva. “Spectre” undid most of that by trying to recontextualize Bond with a baddie, Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who had a knack from holding onto grudges from childhood. Ironically, they have one scene together in “No Time to Die” that has more tension than any of the minimal encounters Craig has with Malek’s disconfigured, Freddy Kruger faced Safin. The screenplay, penned by franchise staples Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and newbies Fuknaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, gives Safin an interesting connection to Bond’s love interest, Madeleine (the gorgeous Leo Seydoux), which is unveiled during a gripping opening prologue set in the Norwegian backwoods, but not much else.
Instead, Fukunaga earnestly wraps up Craig’s arc by going back to where his narrative started and trying to untangle his trust issues. He’s tormented by grief, and nods to Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in “Casino Royale” and Judi Dench’s M in “Skyfall” aren’t lost on the viewer. Of course, as the title would suggest, another loss awaits the tuxedo wearing sleuth and one could make the case “No Time to Die” presents a delicate, fragile lens of James Bond. This isn’t the spy your grandparents grew up with. Hell, it’s not the same one I watched in 2006. Even across a rocky five movie tenure, watching the growth of Daniel Craig as James Bond has been pure bliss and a secret revealed halfway through the movie gives the character purpose beyond the usual flirtations and shaken martinis.
Several obstacles await Bond as he goes down familiar terrain trying to thwart a nefarious scheme involving the release of a biochemical weapon. Living a secluded, retired life in Jamaica, James Bond gets lured out of retirement by CIA pal, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) to help track down a kidnapped Russian scientist (David Dencik) last seen in Cuba. Hesitantly agreeing, Bond links up with his MI6 replacement, Nomi (Lashana Lynch) and gets to lead a thrilling extraction alongside an operative in training, Paloma (Ana de Armas). Don’t get too attached, Armas has probably 10 minutes of screen time before she disappears into the shadows. Here’s hoping the producers decide to bring her back for future installments. Maybe Amazon, the new purveyors of the MGM kingdom, could greenlit her own series? Likewise, for Lynch who is versatile and wisecracking in all the best ways. Watching her bicker with Craig and put him in his place proves extremely satisfying.
As if that wasn’t enough, and though Bond quips: “We have all the time in the world,” “No Time to Die” doesn’t always feel like it does. Running just under three hours, the screenplay detours into a shady agenda the new M (Ralph Fiennes) has manifested, some of which threaten to derail the prestigious spy organization. His relationship with Bond hasn’t aged the best either, but fellow MI6 peers, Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) welcome James with open arms. The gang's back together, for better or worse, with a slew of cool new gadgets and bulletproof vehicles armed with machine guns. Sometimes it’s good to remember a James Bond movie never feels complete without classic cars, beautiful locations, and a smooth glass of scotch.
“No Time to Die” isn’t short on eye candy, geographically and physically. The international scenery, punctuated by Hans Zimmer’s electric score, provide the backdrop for one of the series best sequences: an invigorating chase in the Italian countryside that features a death-defying leap, and motorcycles flying abound. It’s big and it’s loud. Same for the climatic 45-minutes on Safin’s island lair, built on old submarine docks and features carefully curated poisoned courtyards. These are fun reminders of the moviegoing experience that’s been lost during the pandemic. If only “No Time to Die” didn’t jam so much down our throats and gave a villain worth investing in.
In the end, “No Time to Die” comes full circle and toasts Daniel Craig in a tasteful manner that earns its payoff. There’s plenty of savory nods and Bond throwbacks that’ll quench fans appetites as we begin the waiting game for whatever casting announcement comes next. Tomorrow is another day, but Craig has put a worthy stamp on the beloved character that will live on for generations to come.
NO TIME TO DIE opens in theaters Friday, October 8th