No Time to Die (2021)

Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Anyone who knows me or is familiar with my blog knows that I am a huge James Bond fan. The James Bond franchise is one of the main reasons I got into movies in such a big way as a child, along with Star Wars and Indiana Jones (see my James Bond marathon for detail). These three series of films left a huge mark on me as grew up, and while Bond was likely the most mature of all of them (the most sex and violence for sure), I think deep down it was also my favorite. There is something so gripping and intriguing about the life of a spy, the missions he completes, and the sacrifices made. James Bond was also just so darn cool, just like Harrison Ford as Han Solo or Indiana Jones. But I think I was also largely attracted to the arc of the character across generations, eras, and actors. How interesting that so many actors have gotten to interpret the character in their own ways. And in that vein, the Daniel Craig era is coming to a close, after maintaining a pretty solid and connected arc across all five films, where past Bonds were so often just one-offs, where 007 was simply on to the next mission the next go around, with very little connecting the tissue of the characters across the series. With No Time to Die, we get to say goodbye to Daniel Craig in the role, and see the fitting conclusion to his tenure as the famed spy.

After the events of Spectre, we pick up with James Bond (Daniel Craig) and his lover Madeleine Swan (Lea Seydoux) in a beautifully tucked away Italian town, when an unexpected betrayal leads Bond into retirement, and the perfect couple to split. Flash forward and now Bond is enjoying his retirement in Jamaica when old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) asks for Bond’s help in finding an important, kidnapped scientist. But allegiances are tested as new 00 agent Nomi (Lashana Lynch) is also there to recruit Bond at the request of M (Ralph Fiennes). Conflicted, Bond ultimately finds help from Paloma (Ana de Armas), Q (Ben Whishaw) and a number of other allies as he begins to unravel the mysterious Safin (Rami Malek), the evil villain behind a dangerous new technology that threatens the existence of those closest to Bond.

It’s honestly quite difficult to summarize the plot of the film without revealing important spoilers, of which there are plenty, but I think that is also the charm of the final episode of the Daniel Craig era of James Bond. They cover A LOT. And I mean a lot in order to wrap things up nicely, and that is obviously a large contributor to the film being nearly three hours in length. And yes, the film definitely feels as long as that run time, but that, I think, is also a charm of the movie. This, the 25th(!) installment in the franchise, is not the type of film for a casual viewer dropping in for their first ever Bond movie. If someone is looking to get into to it, Casino Royale is likely the place to get started. Just as is the case with something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the James Bond franchise has put in the work to be able to roll out a 3 hour movie and have it be to the delight of all its fans. Daniel Craig has put in the work too, and No Time to Die finds him bidding farewell to the franchise in a very fitting and emotional way. The director and producers really thought through what they had setup in the last five movies, and have done a fine job tying up loose ends and bringing the iconic character to the end of an era, setting the stage for further development down the line with a new star of the franchise (as the expected “James Bond will return” title card does grace the screen at the end of the credits).

One thing that is apparent is that we have a new director in the Director’s Chair: Cary Joji Fukunaga, whose films I’ve enjoyed a great deal, right from his debut Sin Nombre. While a movement away from the past two films which were helmed by Sam Mendes, I think the change is a good one, as Fukunaga has an atmospheric control of the visuals of his films, and brings quite a lot to the stunning and thrilling action sequences throughout, most notably the opening which includes a pretty gripping episode at an isolated lake house in Norway, with eerily beautiful visuals that evoke Fukunaga’s brilliant adaptation of Jane Eyre. I think I was most impressed from a form perspective with the action sequences, as they are consistently heart-pounding.

The film also manages to balance the tradition with being a progressive vessel of the character. Fukunaga recently made comments that in past Bond films, 007 was essentially a rapist in many scenarios, and looking back I can’t say I disagree. So it’s a delicate balance for fans to be able to throw away the mystique and tradition of the character that doesn’t work, and update the franchise for the modern world. There are Easter Eggs and nods to past installments throughout the film, including a song queue which had me seriously sweating. Even the production design is a throw back to the Ken Adam era sets. The filmmakers really do a good job of paying the proper respect to the history of the franchise in all the right places. But it also pushes forward in the right places as well, but very subtly and impressively making Q gay, and introducing a black, female, extremely capable 00 agent in Nomi. Even the brief appearance of Paloma, an Hispanic, female badass, whom Bond asks to turn around while he changes, is pushing things forward. These updates may seem very small to some, or perhaps even too progressive for some old-fashioned blowhards, but they really make a difference in a franchise that, as much as I love, is certainly easily scrutinized.

No Time to Die the perfect place to pick back up with the character, while also simultaneously closing the book (for now). Daniel Craig, to many, was perhaps the best Bond to ever do it. I would rank him highly as far as that goes, but recency bias I think plays largely in people’s opinions of Craig, whose tenure featured some of the best Bond movies (Casino Royale, Skyfall), and some pretty mediocre ones as well (Quantum of Solace, Spectre). No Time to Die earns its place somewhere in the middle, failing to really reach the greatness of those first two, while maintaining a pretty comfortable distance from the latter. As a huge fan of the franchise, I’m thankful for all that Daniel Craig contributed, and both excited and hopeful for what is yet to come.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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