Review: No Time To Die

No Time To Die

Trailer

You know what you did.

Five years after being seemingly betrayed by his paramour Madeline (Lea Seydoux), James Bond (Daniel Craig) lives quietly until approached by old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) with the temptation of another mission. A kidnapped scientist, taken by the army of the mysterious and deadly Safin (Rami Malek), holds the key to a devastating weapon, and Bond must face the demons of his past if he is to save the world from a bloody vengeance.

So, here we are again. It’s taken a while for me to get to Cary Fukunaga’s first, and Daniel Craig’s last, James Bond movie, and unfortunately I can’t say that the wait was really worth it. No Time To Die is certainly ambitious, has a flair in the visual that follows on from the previous Criag-era films and attempts to give closure to a character and a story that has previously been immune from such things. But while this is all admirable in its way, it is in the execution that No Time To Die falls down, and falls down hard.

This film is a slog and no mistake. Fukunaga, in what is undoubtedly his biggest film ever, is allowed to indulge himself, to the point of being self-indulgent (or maybe it’s the four credited writers). There is simply no justifying two hours and 45 minutes of James Bond, when so much, especially a middle act that seems to take an absolute age to go anywhere, seems unnecessary (and when there has been more than ample time to come to a more palatable edit). In trying to balance the needs of the genre with all of its action and spycraft, with the more human story that Fukunaga clearly wants to tell, No Time To Die compromises by just seeing the end credits move further and further away (only to, paradoxically, come on too quickly once the finale passes, weirdly enough).

One does appreciate the vision that is trying to be processed here, with Bond as scarred emotionally now as he is physically, and having a hard time coping with either problem. But No Time To Die doesn’t really do enough with this idea really, with Bond jumping back into service with enthusiasm, tearing up Cuba with Ana de Armas and Lashana Lynch, before moving on to the next set-piece and the next and the next, and Madeline Swann and a big surprise are in there somewhere. The film needs a really good villain to string things along, but instead is left with a permanently at-sea Rami Malek, stuck with a moronic name (“Lyutsifer Safin”, I mean come on) ridiculous accent, loads of make-up work and a diabolical plan whose world-ending stakes make a mockery of the Craig-era’s more balanced approach up until now. Christoph Waltz gets relegated to a Hannibal Lector-esque cameo here, which is moronic as well.

On the other hand Craig is his usual top notch self here, having made the role his own as quickly as two minutes into Casino Royale, but he can only do so much with this adventure, which feels like a joyless trek for too much of its running time. Others around him are decent too – I especially liked Ralph Fiennes as a somewhat more unhinged M than we have previously seen – but it still comes back to the basic problems of plot and structure. It builds to a somewhat flat and overly-extended finale shoot-out on an isolated island that involves missiles, nanobots, vats of lethal water and stealth planes that are also submarines, and somewhere in all that Fukunaga chooses to get very, very serious. The ending wasn’t to my taste for reasons I feel I can’t really get into with any great detail, other than to say that in pursuit of resolution the director and writers fail to really challenge the audience enough in my opinion: expectations remain methodical here, and not inverted when they should be.

Moreover, there is a certain lack of fun in all this. That’s perhaps the wrong word to use, but there was a needed entertainment value to all of Craig’s films before this, even Spectre, that seems lacking to me in No Time To Die. That comes with the territory of having a very maudlin ambiance, but even when Bond was returning to his old family home in Skyfall we got one of the most standout action sequences of the last decade: here everything seems more subdued, with the moments of levity rather forced when they appear at all. Craig has been slowly making Bond a more engaging character with every film, but there’s no amount of quips that can make what No Time To Die has to sell something worth swallowing. The moments when this is not the case – especially when Ana de Armas walks in for an extended cameo as a rookie CIA operative who doesn’t let a barely-there dress stop her from kicking people in the face – stand-out even more in comparison. James Bond, as a concept, as a character, as a series with the kind of lineage that it has, has absolutely no right to ever be described as boring, but that’s what I felt No Time To Die to be for large stretches.

Of course the film looks great and sounds great. Fukunaga, with Linus Sandgren, may not have the chops of Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins, but No Time To Die still carries many of the great touches that Craig’s films have had: wide natural expanses, dynamic panning, well-choreographed fight scenes and a nice mix of class and kinetic energy to the diversity of sets. Nods to other Bond films, most especially Dr No and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, abound, most especially in the film’s score. Billy Eilish’s “No Time To Die” has long since staked a place among the more memorable Bond themes and will probably pick up a few gongs between now and the end of next year, but Hanz Zimmer’s score, while being unmistakably his, is just as worthy of note: soaring, swooping, thrumming and thrilling when it needs to be. No Time To Die owes a fairly large debt of gratitude to Zimmer really, as without his usual sterling work the film would struggle more then it already does.

It’s a shame for me that I have to give a hearty “Meh” to three of Daniel Craig’s five Bond films, when the other two are my literal favourites of the series. But I can’t help it here. There’s too much going against No Time To Die: the ridiculous length, the dreary nature of its plot, the rubbish villain and an ending that just doesn’t satisfy. Good production – visuals, sets, music – and good performances from most of the cast only mange to raise the film to a sub-par level. The lengthy wait, and subsequent raising of expectations, probably didn’t help matters either I’ll admit. We await Bond #7 then and whatever that will bring, but as for this one, it’s not recommended.

(All images are copyright of Universal Pictures).

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