30th Sep2021

‘No Time to Die’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Jeffrey Wright, Ana de Armas, Billy Magnussen, Christoph Waltz, Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear | Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge | Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga

Daniel Craig makes his fifth and final appearance as James Bond in No Time To Die, a thrilling and surprisingly moving adventure that gives 007 a fitting send-off. As such, it single-handedly atones for the disappointment of 2015’s Spectre and is up there with Casino Royale as the best of the Craig Bonds.

Stylishly directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective), No Time To Die opens with a creepy prologue sequence that has a hint of Halloween about it, as a silent killer in a Japanese Noh mask murders a mother and pursues a terrified child across a frozen lake. We then flash forward to shortly after the events of Spectre, joining Bond (Craig) and Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) as they visit a picturesque Italian town so Bond can pay his respects at the tomb of Vesper Lynd.

However, their romantic mini-break is rudely interrupted by the arrival of a squad of SPECTRE asssassins, triggering Bond’s suspicions about just how they knew he was there in the first place. After the traditional credits sequence (not one of the best, to be fair) and Billie Eilish’s theme song (ditto), the story jumps forward five years to find Bond living in solitary retirement in Jamaica, having parted ways with Madeleine after her perceived betrayal.

However, a request from Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and smarmy FBI agent Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen) forces Bond back into action again, putting him on the trail of scarred supervillain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who has seized control of a lethal bio-weapon. The mission involves Bond returning to MI6 – ruffling the feathers of new 007 Nomi (Lashana Lynch) – and coming back into contact with Madeleine and, only slightly less awkwardly, arch-fiend Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who’s currently imprisoned in a high-security Hannibal Lecter-like compound at, um, Belmarsh Prison.

More excitingly, Bond also makes a new ally, in the form of ass-kicking CIA Agent Paloma (Craig’s Knives Out co-star Ana de Armas, wearing the hell out of a slinky dress), who helps him out of a jam when things take a dangerous turn at Blofeld’s birthday party. However, this backfires considerably, because having completely stolen the entire movie in the space of ten minutes of screentime, she promptly disappears and isn’t even mentioned again, to the considerable disappointment of the audience.

There are certain boxes that need to be ticked when it comes to Bond movies, and Fukunaga ticks them with gusto, delivering a variety of thrilling action set-pieces set in visually stunning locations and chucking in enough car chases, explosions, quips and gadgets to satisfy Bond fans the world over. He’s also not above switching things up a bit – Bond even gets to do his own version of Titanic, when he’s trapped on board a sinking ship.

However, Fukunaga is also conscious of the fact that this is Craig’s swansong, and the script – by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge – rises to the challenge of providing something special, giving Bond an unexpectedly emotional storyline that brings Craig’s five film run in the role to a satisfying end. On a similar note, there are a number of skilfully handled surprises, each of which has considerable dramatic impact, rather than feeling gratuitous.

Whether intentionally or uninitentionally (given that the film’s release was delayed by the pandemic for well over a year), the script also brings a measure of topicality to procedings, given that the bioweapon (nicknamed Heracles and given a shadowy provenance) is essentially a deadly virus that kills everyone close to you. Unfortunately, there’s also such a thing as too much topicality – at one point someone says “I’ll tell the PM” and you can sense the entire audience thinking “Fat lot of good that’ll do.”

As for the actors, Craig pulls out all the stops for what is essentially his farewell tour, finding a depth of emotion you don’t usually associate with Bond. It’s a performance that makes you feel the weight of pain and loss and betrayal the character has experienced over the last fifteen years and in certain moments it is quietly devastating.

As ever, Craig is ably supported by a superb supporting cast, all of whom get strong moments here, from Ben Whishaw as fastidious Q to Ralph Fiennes as M. Similarly, Seydoux is terrific as Madeleine, while Malek is creepily effective as Safin, even if he’s ultimately rather underwhelming as a Bond villain overall. Similarly, Lashana Lynch has great presence and attitude as the new 007, but she’s disappointingly under-served by the script, which doesn’t give her nearly enough to do.

In fairness, No Time To Die isn’t entirely without problems. For one thing, it flags a little in the middle and doesn’t quite justify its bottom-challenging 163 minute running time (officially Bond’s longest ever running time). It also has some annoying elements, such as David Dencik’s gratingly caricatured performance as kidnapped Russian scientist Obruchev, or the aforementioned under-use of both Ana de Armas and Lashana Lynch. It’s also fair to say the plot isn’t as clear as it could have been, especially in terms of what Safin actually wants.

On the plus side, there are a number of pleasing references to other Bond movies, from familiar-looking locations and vehicles to an inspired score that carries emotional weight of its own. Moreover, Safin’s lair (complete with Poison Garden and pools that can dissolve henchmen) is a thing of dark and dangerous beauty, worthy of the great Ken Adams (production designer on the classic Bonds) himself. You sense Dr. Evil would approve.

**** 4/5

No Time To Die is in cinemas now.

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