Review: 'No Time To Die' (2021) Dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga
Following a six year gap since 2015s SPECTRE, Daniel Craig returns for his final outing as James Bond in a film that battled COVID-19 delays since it's expected April 2020 release...
Following his explosive confrontation with SPECTRE mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Waltz) , MI6 agent James Bond (Craig) is living out his retirement from the service with lover Dr. Madeleine Swann (Seydoux), but the pair are still haunted by demons from the past.
Retirement doesn't last long for Bond however when old CIA friend Felix Leiter (Wright) seeks him out to help investigate the kidnapping of top MI6 scientist Valdo Obruchev (Dencik) with his contact in Cuba, Paloma (de Armas).
As Bond investigates, he discovers a far more sinister plot; a biological weapon now in the hands of former SPECTRE operative Safin (Malek). Bond must return to active duty for MI6, locate Safin with fellow 00 agent Nomi (Lynch) and stop him before it is too late...
Daniel Craig has portrayed James Bond in a grand total of five films spanning 15 years. It's been a journey of reinventing, rediscovering and rebooting the near 60 year old franchise into something more relevant, more appealing and more exciting for new and old fans who my have waned from the same old get the girl-stop the bad guy-save the world-shag routine. While it worked (and continues to do so for the back catalogue of classic films), the audiences were ready for more, and Craig delivered on all fronts. Rising from public and critical backlash in his initial casting - Blond Bond - he has created a billion dollar behemoth of films that has breathed new life into 007 once more.
From his pre-00 phase in Casino Royale where he was reckless, blunt and often careless, he has taken a journey through a story of films that has seen him learn, develop and mature into a lethal, but turmoiled, assassin here in No Time to Die. He looks older, and so he should! We've aged with this Bond and seen him age too, and there's nothing that can make watching a beloved hero grow up with you feel like part of your life on screen.
Craig doesn't put a foot wrong here. While the film(s) have bene crafted around him thanks to his willingness to shake up the Bond formula and have a hand in the stories, he doesn't tread lightly. He gives it his all in one could be his most emotional performance as 007 ever; this is the same Bond who was brazen with his licence to kill, didn't care who saw him do his dirty work, and fell in love without using his head.
The charm of Connery; the emotion of Lazenby; the wit of Moore; the danger of Dalton; the action of Brosnan - all shaken (not stirred) into the talent of Craig making this portrayal of James Bond his most rounded and memorable yet.
The supporting cast fail to put a foot wrong here, and kudos to the team for not wasting a single character- each brings something to the film and to Bond, and not a simple disposable thug or bed mate. Léa Seydoux brings her heart and innocence back as Madeleine Swann, the is she / isn't she innocent caught up in the battle between Bond and SPECTRE. Giving more emotion and power in her performance than in Spectre, her return as leading Bond girl feels just and right. Seydoux gives some beautiful moments opposite Craig, none so more than in the opening and closing scenes that just sum up her tragic character. Let's not forget Lashana Lynch as 00 agent Nomi, a woman who caused more social media stir before the film had even been seen. Is she the new 007? Is she the new James Bond? It shows how women in Bond's masculine world can be feared, but thanks to some injection by co-writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Nomi isn't here to wave the feminist flag. Nomi is here simply to do the job she does best like James Bond- a dangerous operative for Her Majesty's Government who carries a licence to kill and is not afraid to use it.
The MI6 team are not wasted, but some feel underused for the roles they were introduced in, namely Naomie Harris as Miss. Moneypenny and Rory Kinnear as Tanner. Both great talents, but now become the background characters to Bond's story - maybe that's what they should be and not vying for front-and-centre action? That belongs to Ralph Fiennes as M, easily in his largest and most challenging role since his introduction in Skyfall. Fiennes brings great passion and power to his role and is electric in every scene.
Ana de Armas may have a small role, but every second is a joy. She brings youth, spark, an infectious smile and passion to her CIA operative, making a worthy ally to Bond and not one to simply hop into bed. Jeffrey Wright returns as Felix Leiter, able to carry on their intelligence brotherhood that was teased in 2006 and not seen since. David Dencik as Valdo Obruchev is a breath of fresh air, the buffooning man caught up in all of this who offers some light comic relief. And henchman Dali Benssalah as Primo is used well and not one to be killed of easily, thankfully bringing something new to henchman role as Dave Bautista did in Spectre.
It's Rami Malek as the evil Lyutsifer Safin that is a silent winner in the villainous stakes. While he suffers from the modern trait not having much screentime as a Bond villain, his plot and actions are there even when he isn't. The goals he has and actions he initiates push the film forward, and prove he's a man who has nothing to lose. Malek is chilling without being hammy or dramatic, thanks to his smaller poise and gentle, venom laced voice. He truly is the most dangerous man Craig's Bond has faced, and while it will take time to fully understand and appreciate his motives, Safin stands up there alongside Mads Mikkelsen's Le Chiffre as the top tier of Daniel Craig Bond villains; not as theatrical as Silva, or as empty as Greene.
Christoph Waltz also returns as SPECTRE leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld and almost steals the film by doing what a good Blofeld does best - get under the skin of James Bond with his genius and manipulation. While confined to a chair at a high-security prison, Waltz manages to be everything that his Blofeld should be to Craig's Bond, and that is a poisonous thorn in his side. The wonderfully tense and well played out interrogation between the two is a midway highlight.
With some of the risks taken, some of the character development and the action sequences that we are treated to, it feels like director Cary Joji Fukunaga with the backing of franchise producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have made a Bond film that is not a Bond film. It certainly takes brave and bold choices with the narrative, and it's bound to bristle a few hardcore Bond-fans feathers. And that's to be expected, and understood. A franchise that has stood strong for nearly 60 years hasn't changed much in that time. Bar the actors, the themes of these films has been a familiar safety blanket for fans and fans of action / espionage in general. The Craig era took a risk in shaking things up, and it worked whilst retaining core Bond elements.
While those elements are here in No Time To Die and probably more evident than in any of the previous Craig films, the new tactics can still shock and probably unsettle those not prepared for them. Due to the hefty 2hr 40min run-time, there is a little unbalance with the flow. Peaking during the first act and then the third, there is a small lull in the middle. It's not a bad lull, but it's a lull with more talk, more exposition, more analysis and character confrontation. Yet it's bookended by an overarching threat that is present even when certain character's aren't on screen, and that threat is the beating heart of this that maintains your interest despite it being a long watch.
Yet this IS still a Bond film. The gorgeous music by Hans Zimmer doesn't rely too much on dark drum beats to fill the void, and is actually stirring, simple and sinister when it needs to be, much like John Barry. The score compliments the action on screen and more often than not it seamlessly blends in without distraction. A fresh and powerful theme song by Billie Eilish beckons you into a film that just feels like it's going to be an emotional rollercoaster, and thanks to overt nods and winks by Zimmer in the score, certainly proves to be! We have the Aston Martins, the vodka martinis, the ingenious gadgets, the sex, the danger, the adventure - it's so refreshing to see Bond finally get to grips with the Aston Martin DB5, using his driving skills and Q-branch gadgets to full effect. A thrilling opening chase in Matera cranks up the Bondage full throttle and delivers on all fronts, and inside you'll cheer when you see Craig really being James Bond that harkens back to Sean Connery in Goldfinger using his DB5 to avoid death.
When it comes to competing with blockbuster spy films like the Mission: Impossible franchise, there is a unique footprint the Bond team continue to lay down that just sets it apart from the others. The action and stunt work is fast and furious, and kudos to the team who are brave enough to catapult a fleet of Land Rovers and motocross bikes through a Scottish forest all for the sake of a scene that makes you go "wow!", or the daring car chases, hand to hand fighting and shootouts. There's something unmistakable about James Bond action, and this delivers.
Production wise, No Time To Die returns to the winning blueprints laid out by franchise legend Sir Ken Adam. While the locations reflect the required emotion and heart for the film such as an ice-cold Norway, a pulsating and vibrant Jamaica or a bright and breezy London, it's the villainous lair of Safin that ticks the box here. Hidden away on an island, bunkered underground and populated by dozens of guards and scientist working away in creepy conditions, this is the showdown Craig deserved as Bond. We even have a tannoy blaring out instructions as all good villain lairs do. No small showdown in a sinking building, or fist-fight in a burning hotel, nor a blink-and-you'll miss battle of words on a bridge...this is full scale, Bond and Nomi battling bad guys to stop a sinister plot to kill millions around the world with guns, gadgets and explosions (and the odd one liner that would make Roger Moore proud). It's creepy, sinister, gargantuan in scale and glossed with that inimitable Ken Adam feel.
The scars run deep for this final film, and Craig never lets us forget this is the same Government agent who has embodied those mistakes both professionally and personally. Craig is a gifted actor, and there really is a bit of everything in here for fans who will not be dissapointed, but may be challenged on what to expect and think. If anything, it will be a very sobering watch when you remember this is his final time as 007.
You don't know what you got 'til it's gone!
A little longer than it needs to be, but 'No Time To Die' never lets you go from the grip of talent on and off screen to make this one of the biggest, boldest and bravest Bond films in the 60 year history, but one that will potentially divide the fanbase for years to come!
'No Time To Die' is a co-production between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Eon Productions