By: Grant Lefelar
Finally, the nearly year and a half Metro Goldwyn Mayer-imposed embargo has been lifted and Daniel Craig, in his fifth turn in the world’s most famous Aston Martin, gets to sing “My Way”. The pandemic, at least in the eyes of the all-powerful Hollywood box office, is over and therefore, the threat of a new, silver screen-produced one is eating up the minds of the movie-going populace along with a few bucks from their wallets.
No Time to Die, the twenty-fifth edition of the long-running, enormously popular series of James Bond films, does not promise the audience any form of espionage-laced, action-packed escapism, instead offering the incidentally relevant tale of the task to stop the next ultra-deadly pandemic. Taking that along with the familiar cliches that have been entrenched in the psyches of anyone who has set eyes upon a film portrayal of Ian Fleming’s 007, No Time to Die takes a timely event and mixes it with the same James Bond that audiences have recognized for nearly the past fifty years, and boy is it glorious. Well, to a point.
Based on an original story and screenplay led by director Cary Joji Fukunaga, the man best known for Season One of HBO’s brilliant True Detective, No Time to Die is truly a tailor-made tuxedo for Daniel Craig in his expressed final appearance as MI6’s greatest asset. Yet, like any expensive suit, alterations must be made, alterations the filmmakers failed to spot. Following a visible aged James Bond (Daniel Craig), the former 007 is convinced to exit retirement by CIA ally Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and work to locate kidnapped scientist Vlado Obruchev (David Dencik) who had recently been working on MI6’s latest bioweapon. Fearing what would happen if the bioweapon entered the wrong hands, mainly the hands of Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), Bond, alongside Bond’s replacement as Agent 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), and Bond’s female companion, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), must race to neutralize the threat presented by Safin and his army of compatriots.
As the film is Daniel Craig’s so-called “swan song”, the film would be wise to form somewhat of a tribute to Craig’s wonderful portrayal of 007 which has delighted audiences and the overall cinema for the past fifteen years. No Time to Die does just that, within limits. The film’s opening major action sequence in the streets of Matera, Italy pairs a throwback by combining the memory of Bond’s first true love, Vesper Lynd, from Craig’s first Bond film, 2006’s Casino Royale, with an Aston Martin DB5 led chase through the narrow passageways and piazzas of Southern Italy in scenes that would have fit just as well with Craig’s and other’s previous turns at the Bond franchise.
Speaking of fitting well with other Bond flicks, No Time to Die thrives off of the entrenched cliche of the Bond character. Complete with Q’s gadgets, expensive cars, sudden tender love sequences, and the occasional addition of cheesy dialogue, the film creates an aroma that gives tribute to both Craig and the franchise as a whole. Also, Rami Malek’s intense and methodic portrayal of Lyutsifer Safin gives the Daniel Craig-era Bond a true, final adversary, one that could only pluck Bond from the relaxation of the Caribbean sun. However, what the film gains in familiarity and partial nostalgia, the end product of the tuxedo comes off just a tad bit ill-fitting.
While the film attempts to add new elements not seen in previous Bond films, the end result is somewhat disjointed. For one, the film’s opening sees Safin chase a young Swann through her family’s Norwegian cabin. Yet, while the film attempts to create a backstory for the Madeleine Swann character first introduced in 2015’s Spectre, the scene comes off as a bizarre mish-mash of one part Fargo, one part Halloween, and one part superhero origin story. Meanwhile, the character of Vlado Obruchev, the film’s butchered attempt at comic relief, annoys the audience à la Jar Jar Binks while seemingly being inspired in the visual department by Jared Leto’s character in the upcoming House of Gucci film as seen in trailers. Speaking of Star Wars, Safin’s lair, set on an abandoned island in between Russia and Japan, combines Soviet-era brutalist architecture with Asian themes in a setting more well established for the Galactic Empire than a James Bond villain. Furthermore, the film does not help itself in its conclusion which makes an effort to make up for the film’s borderline overly long 163-minute runtime by allowing only a droplet of closure to Craig’s tenure as 007. Yet, despite these obvious flaws, the film makes do with great performances, wonderful action sequences, and a clear emotional depth which shows 007 connecting with his personal side. While No Time to Die is not a perfect swan song for Daniel Craig, one complete with voice cracks and bad tuning at times, the film makes for an adequate send-off, for the time being, for cinema’s greatest character-based franchise.