License to Review: No Time to Die (2021)

Upon Pierce Brosnan’s departure from the James Bond franchise in 2002 with the dismal Die Another Day, the world was in desperate need of a new iteration of the iconic British agent. But it wasn’t just the portrayal of the character that needed updating, the whole franchise needed a fresh start. The series had almost run its course and could’ve sunk had they continued the same direction. Taking their cues from other contemporary gritty action franchises such as Batman Begins and The Bourne Identity, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon decided that’s where Bond needed to head, towards darker and murkier territory as opposed to the camp that had been with the series since the Connery days. And they needed an actor to match, and they found him in Daniel Craig, and his debut as the character came with 2006’s Casino Royale. Craig wasn’t another Connery or Roger Moore or even Brosnan, he was more or less a character actor and more in line with earlier less long-lasting Bonds such as George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton. Craig is tough, very masculine and raw in strength but he could still remain a cool and suave attitude that fits the character like a glove. It’s no wonder Casino Royale is still regarded as the best Bond movie. Craig has had his ups and downs though. Quantum of Solace is a putrid mess beyond belief (the recent reassessment of it online still puzzles me), then he hit another home run with Skyfall, and then many consider the franchise took a significant dip in quality with the follow-up Spectre (an opinion which I strongly disagree with, it may not be a work of art but it’s not the worst Bond movie in a world where Moonraker exists). Following Spectre there were many speculations and rumors whether Craig would return to the most well-dressed spy in the world, but in 2017 it was confirmed that he would make a fifth and final adventure as Agent 007. The film was delayed after original director Danny Boyle left, but shortly Eon found their new director in Cary Joji Fukunaga of True Detective and Beasts of No Nation fame. Aside from becoming the first American to direct a Bond film, Fukunaga’ also the first director to receive a co-writing credit. The film was initially scheduled for a premiere in April 2020, but then of course the whole world stopped due to the outbreak of COVID-19. The film got delayed repeatedly and at times we wondered if indeed we’d ever get to see it. Yet here we are, in September 2021, and the world is now watching No Time to Die.

The film begins after the events of Spectre, with Bond having run off from active duty in MI6 with his newfound love, psychiatrist Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). Their idyllic holiday is interrupted however by the return of Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), and Bond and Madeleine part ways. Five years go by and now a brand new super-baddie has turned up in the shape of the mysterious Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) and Bond must face demons from his past and return to service in the MI6 alongside M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) to stop his plans.

Since I never bothered to review the previous films in the Bond series like I was supposed to (due to both laziness and being unprepared for No Time to Die to actually get released), I thought I ought to give you my opinion on Craig as Bond. In my opinion, he is the best Bond without question. Everyone’s been great in their own way yet Craig is the first one that I’ve truly felt gets the character the way I’ve perceived him to be in the books. He’s a perfect mix of tough masculinity yet suave sex appeal. You believe him as someone who could both kick your ass and be a gentleman about it at the same time. And Craig has proven himself in other films that he’s also just an overall great actor, bringing emotional depth yet legitimate coldness to the part unlike most if not all prior iterations. All these things mix into a very tasty vodka martini shaken very well, and no matter what you may think of the quality of his films, Craig always delivers a thousand percent every single time, and No Time to Die is no exception.

The rest of the cast also do well in their respective parts in my opinion. Of course we’d know Fiennes, Harris and Whishaw would deliver based on the previous films along with Lea Séydoux who’s a very good actress overall. Rami Malek does a good job in the film although I can’t say I found him all that intimidating or scary, except more towards the end. Otherwise I can’t say I’ll remember him the same way I’ll remember Javier Bardem’s Silva or Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre. So for me the two real standouts in the film were Lashana Lynch as a brand new MI6 agent named Nomi and David Dencik as scientist Valdo Obruchev. Lynch manages to be tough and sexy in equal measures whilst bringing a lot of humanity to what could’ve been a rather bland and underdeveloped character. Dencik brings a lot of humor to the film with his horribly morbid remarks and an intentionally silly Russian accent. You can tell he had a lot of fun playing the role and he’s fun to watch, as always.

Something to add is that one of the co-writers of the film is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, famous for playing the lead character and creating the hit comedy show Fleabag. Although I’ve personally never seen the show, I’ve seen interviews with her and she’s clearly filled with enough sharp wit to spare, and a great ear for comedy. Not only do I suspect she helped out writing the more prominent female roles of Madeleine, Nomi and Ana de Armas’ Paloma, but she also clearly contributed with the humor in the script as there were moments that felt like something she’d write or say (probably means I should watch Fleabag at some point). It’s also worth mentioning that she’s only the second woman to co-write a Bond film after Johanna Harwood, who worked on Dr. No and From Russia with Love. Hey, better late than never I guess?

Now, being directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga I expected this Bond film to be directed differently from your average blockbuster and in many respects it is. Just like he did with True Detective and Beasts, many of the action scenes are filmed in slightly longer takes, altering between handheld or classical camerawork, and it all mixes together in beautiful fashion. It is quite beautiful when you can actually tell what the hell is supposed to be happening (looking at you Quantum of Solace). There are also some gorgeous shots throughout the film that truly made my jaw drop and I want to compliment Fukunaga and cinematographer Linus Sandgren for a first-rate job from a cinematographic point of view.

I was also a fan of the score and music throughout. Obviously we’ve all had quite a lot of time to listen to the title song performed by global superstar sensation Billie Eilish, and it is quite a banger. It’s an emotional ballad that fits the nature of Craig’s Bond and his development throughout the course of these five films. I also enjoyed the score by Hans Zimmer, who brings his usual touch to the table. The opening especially felt icy (no pun intended) and tense, with interesting elements such as what sounds like a Japanese flute. There are also moments when he re-uses the main theme from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which I thought was a nice touch. The film also nods to it and several other Bond films throughout, but the influence of Secret Service on this film is unquestionable. They also find ways to reuse ‘We Have All the Time in the World’ which I thought was a nice touch.

Now if there is a complaint I have withe the film it would be that of pacing issues. The film is 2 hours and 43 minutes in length, and it both favors yet hinders the film in some ways. The opening credits don’t even appear until thirty minutes into the film, and it made me quite anxious to tell you the truth to sit there and not know when or where we’d get our opening credits, if at all. In a way, the long setup and pacing throughout actually reminded me in ways of Once Upon a Time in the West. Whereas Once Upon a Time in the West is a masterpiece of pure cinema, No Time To Die is a great if flawed film, but both share a commonality in pace and having an overall melancholic and heavy feeling, both functioning as swan songs of sorts. But I think the prior handled the pacing and justifying running time better, as there were moments towards the middle and end when I felt the material was running out of steam. Probably could’ve been a tiny bit shorter in my opinion.

Overall, I enjoyed No Time to Die a lot, and actually cared whether Bond would make it or not, which is so rare in a Bond film. It’s also a worthy farewell to Craig’s Bond. You will be missed, you’ve done an exceptional job sir!


Published by davidalkhed

Co-creator, critic and columnist for A Fistful of Film.

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