REVIEW: No Time To Die [2021]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 163 minutes
    Release Date: September 30th, 2021 (UK) / October 8th, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: Universal Pictures International / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / United Artists Releasing
    Director(s): Cary Joji Fukunaga
    Writer(s): Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge / Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Cary Joji Fukunaga (story) / Ian Fleming (characters)

The past is not dead.

The end of Daniel Craig‘s James Bond run is finally here—a year late. Five films in a decade-and-a-half serves as quite the accomplishment even if the quintet was marked by extreme ups and downs. Casino Royale impressively injected new blood to flip the script in numerous ways while Skyfall proved a high water mark for the franchise as a whole regardless of lead actor due to its aesthetic, craft, and dramatic gravitas. Sprinkled in-between, however, were Quantum of Solace‘s glorified epilogue to the former and Spectre‘s misguided retcon of Craig’s entire saga to make us wonder why scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were so allergic to letting events happen without convoluted DNA connecting to everything else. How fitting that No Time to Die calculates their average.

With director Cary Joji Fukunaga and screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge joining the team, the task at-hand seemed perfectly suited for just such a result. While too late in the game to start creating a storyline that didn’t reach into the past psychological history of a character, it also needed a road map towards a satisfying conclusion. And since an example of the latter had already been (messily) presented with Bond and Madeleine Swan (Léa Seydoux) driving off into the sunset of retirement (despite her being the daughter of the man that ultimately killed his first true love, Vesper Lynd), who better to mine than her? The offspring of an assassin with a tragic childhood haunted by a secret Devil’s deal could push 007 to choose, unequivocally: love or duty.

Trust obviously plays a role on both sides. Can Bond and Madeleine trust one another if they refuse to be vulnerable enough to meet the other halfway? Can Bond and M (Ralph Fiennes) trust one another if their occupation demands that they can’t due to bureaucratic hierarchy, plausible deniability, and covert operations? Each question demands a leap of faith based on little more than a gut feeling and Bond has used his countless times over the years to reveal how the people he relies upon will probably betray him if the price was high enough. So when he almost dies from an explosion in the city where Lynd is buried, learning Madeleine intentionally brought him there for closure can’t help raising red flags. Has she betrayed him too?

You don’t reach fifty in his line of work ignoring those types of warnings and Bond isn’t about to start now. Cue the end to the happily ever after, fast-forward five years, and welcome back CIA Agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright)—one of the few people in Bond’s life who has earned his loyalty. He’s asking a favor (acquire David Dencik‘s rogue scientist Valdo Obruchev to get a handle on what sounds like a genocide-level biological weapon) that Bond politely declines. In the process, however, comes a prickly meeting with his 007 replacement, Nomi (Lashana Lynch). She’s hunting Obruchev too. For M. Allies are competing and nobody is giving him any real details. Suddenly his interest is piqued enough to suspend his retirement and witness the drama himself.

If not for the prologue of a young Madeleine coming face-to-face with the enigmatic Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), we’d be forgiven for thinking we’ve finally been given access to a mission that didn’t revolve around Blofield’s (Christoph Waltz) shadowy organization Spectre. Alas, that prologue ensures such a thought disappears as quickly as it arrived since Safin will have to be revealed as the Big Bad eventually. So we play along as everyone competes to get Obruchev. We listen as a harried Q (Ben Whishaw) figures out how the virus works (courtesy of a brilliant ambush by way of Naomie Harris‘ Moneypenny). And we wade through the deflection (effective as always with car chases, deaths, and destruction) until Safin returns for his grand entrance and maniacal statement of intent.

The result is more of the same with the bonus of knowing finality is coming. Is Malek doing anything Waltz, Javier Bardem, or Mads Mikkelsen hasn’t already done better? No. He’s the evil villain positioned to give his speech about politics this and power that so Bond can make a quip and begin dismantling the operation. The differences therefore lie in motivation and tactics. While Safin is threatening the world, the fact he is threatening Madeleine’s life (Bond’s love for her hasn’t wavered despite his walking away) means more. And unlike the opening to Skyfall where 007 is partnered with Moneypenny, he’s generally been a one-man wrecking crew. That he gets Ana de Armas (briefly, in a genuinely comedic scene) and Lynch fighting alongside him is a gamechanger.

More of that moving forward please (and Barbara Broccoli will be financing more as soon as she and her team pick a new actor). Not everything has to be so emotionally invested—especially when that investment becomes paramount to the point of becoming a punch line. There is no need for a connection between Safin and Madeleine. None. Her connection to Blofield and Spectre is enough to push Bond away. The rest could have been random with little changing since Safin is pretty much neutered into becoming a deus ex machina who means more to the ending than he does to the plot. Thankfully the excessive branches to Bond’s extended tree aren’t so obnoxious this time around to ruin the experience itself. They’re a means to an end.

We can therefore enjoy the spectacle and the swan song potential (there’s no need to keep anyone alive for a sequel). Fukunaga does a great job orchestrating the big scenes (the sequence in Cuba at a Spectre party is memorable while a long-take stairwell fight proves one of the best and most punishing battles Craig has been involved in) and the writing team does well to punch-up the cattiness between Bond and Nomi or Bond and M (Waller-Bridge perhaps?) so that everything moves at a nice clip (including the unapologetic deaths). And it cannot be denied that using Craig’s age as a factor (whether in quips or fatigue) lends authenticity and stakes to counteract the outlandishness of the rest. Bond is no longer indestructible and no longer alone.

And so we get a successful end cap to a promising if imperfect run that sought to ground the James Bond lore yet couldn’t quite figure out how to trust itself to exist without puppet strings leading back to the camp. No Time to Die looks and feels like a Skyfall while playing like a Spectre—good and bad comingling in a way that’s almost fitting considering we wouldn’t want things to fully coalesce right before saying goodbye. I love that this Bond was allowed to grow with Craig and that he would ultimately discover how fealty to country must rise from family (biological or acquired) rather than replace it. Perhaps he learns this lesson too late, but it’s no less potent. Strength lies in numbers.

[1] James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Paloma (Ana de Armas) in NO TIME TO DIE, an EON Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios film Credit: Nicola Dove © 2021 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[2] Nomi (Lashana Lynch) is ready for action in Cuba in NO TIME TO DIE, an EON Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios film Credit: Nicola Dove © 2021 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[3] M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Tanner (Rory Kinnear) in a tense moment in M’s office in NO TIME TO DIE, an EON Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios film Credit: Nicola Dove © 2021 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[4] James Bond (Daniel Craig) in discussion with Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) in NO TIME TO DIE, an EON Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios film Credit: Nicola Dove © 2021 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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