This has been a long time coming for obvious reasons, not least of which was a worldwide pandemic. With the franchise being locked in legal disputes regarding ownership, questions around Daniel Craig’s commitment to another Bond film, and various directors walking away citing creative differences, No Time to Die is a miracle in more ways than one. But as it turns out, one well worth the wait for cinema audiences worldwide.
What hits home hardest with the trademark efficiency of Daniel Craig’s tenure, is just how well he still fits this role. For all the naysayers who wrote him off prior to Casino Royale, he has gone on to earn his stripes and ride out numerous creative roadblocks to reach this point. Following Spectre, he was quoted as saying he would rather slash his wrists than go through another Bond shoot. It is therefore with no small degree of finality that this James Bond finally comes to theatres.
Picking up with our eponymous in retirement, it takes minutes for Lea Seydoux and Daniel Craig to slip back into their respective roles. A sun-kissed Italian shoreline, winding scenic roads, and panoramic vistas of craggy idyllic shoreline set the scene. Madeleine and James are contented, carefree, and living within a cossetted cocoon of anonymity. What follows is a subtly inventive set-piece, familiar to those who have watched the trailer, that splinters their reality and throws audiences under the wheels of an action-packed prologue.
What director Cary Joji Fukunaga does from that point on, is broadens the franchise canvas by going off-road. As familiar faces including Moneypenny, M and Q are reintroduced James Bond gets better. There is a real sense of humanity that cuts through all those old character traits, to reveal a genuine emotional core. Fleeting moments of franchise favorites populate the background, while a biochemical threat looms large, but this remains a tour de force from our frontman.
Elsewhere, newbies Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas make a real impression as Nomi and Paloma respectively. Regrettably, Paloma is only on screen for a sum total of fifteen minutes before disappearing completely. A travesty on every level, when the performance from Ana de Armas literally scorches cinema screens. In comparison, Lashana Lynch’s Nomi is a measured and resourceful ally, while the chemistry between the two agents is combative, snarky but ultimately respectful.
Alongside writers Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, the influence of Phoebe Waller-Bridge can be felt in every female character. Naomie Harris has more bite as Moneypenny, Nomi outstrips James Bond verbally in numerous exchanges while Paloma just feels more grounded. No Time To Die may have those large-scale blockbuster moments, but it is the downtime between firefights and fisticuffs that allows this film to earn its place. References to a personal life outside of the secret service adds dimension to Ben Whitshaw as Q, while Ralph Fiennes has rarely seemed so ruffled playing Mallory.
Unfortunately, where this film falls short is in giving audiences a villain which can match our hero. Rami Malek’s Safin may carry the trademark disfigurement so familiar to James Bond adversaries, but he is given little to work with. Christoph Waltz gets more layers as Blofeld and occupies barely twenty minutes of the almost three-hour run time. A flashback might provide a foundation, but his motivations for revenge, retribution, or any real emotional resolution undermine what is happening elsewhere.
As a globetrotting swan song to the Daniel Craig era, this character flaw in the plan distracts from all the quality on display. Whether that quality is demonstrated through superior henchmen like Billy Magnussen’s Logan Ash or David Dencik’s Valdo, who both go toe to toe with James Bond and make it worth the ticket price. Combine their performances with some stunningly choreographed fight scenes which switch perspective, go a little Jason Bourne and then inspire with in situ sound design, and suddenly a poorly drawn villain seems less important.
In more ways than one, this is a celebration of Daniel Craig as James Bond and his bedrock performance which underpins everything else. As a film, it may feel saggy in the midsection, but that can be forgiven when you take into account the sheer ambition of the director Cary Joji Fukunaga. Someone who has managed to be respectful to the back catalog and yet create something fresh and contemporary from the ashes of a post-war franchise. Not only cementing the reputation of Daniel Craig in the role but making sure those that follow do so in the knowledge that they have some large shoes to fill.
As another era of James Bond is brought to close and speculation builds about the future of this franchise, this reinvention feels perfectly timed.