Thursday, September 30, 2021

No Time to Die

Daniel Craig's tenure as British Secret Agent James Bond comes to an end as the troubled No Time to Die (first delayed by a director swap then by COVID) finally makes it into theaters. More than Craig's last film, the four writers credited to the film set out to make it Bond's last film creating a scenario where Craig both begins (Casino Royale) and ends Bond's legacy. For those agree that Craig is the definitive Bond, the choice may be easier to swallow than those of us who believe, at best, he ranks third or fourth in a franchise spanning nearly 60 years.

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga brings in some flourishes to honor Bond's past, although not as many as you might expect and relying on overusing the same ones over and over again (such as the use of "We Have All the Time in the World" - a nod to the only non-Craig Bond featuring his prolonged love for a single woman).

We get a gadget or two, and Bond's trademark car (showing up in early in the film's best action sequence), but little actual spy world drama as the film gives us Craig's more morose soldier-style Bond one last time. Remember when Bond actually liked being a spy? Oh, those were the days! The one classic Bond scene, involving Craig sneaking into a party with the latest Bond girl (Ana de Armas, who is criminally underutilized here) is the best of the film. One of the curiosities about this attempted definitive Bond film, is Bond is far from the most interesting character as he's constantly outshone by the film's women.

For villains, the film offers Rami Malek as the one-note maniacal Bond baddie who wants to kill lots of people and cause chaos but doesn't seem to have much of a plan beyond. Of course his plan includes a secret secluded base which will need to be (rather easily) infiltrated for the film's climax. Léa Seydoux returns again as Bond's on-again/off-again big love whose story is really more integral to the plot this time than Bond. We also get Lashana Lynch as a new 00 in the role of frenemy or competition to Bond after our hero is dragged back into action by his old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright).

Other familiar faces return as well as we get appearances by Q (Ben Whishaw), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and M (Ralph Fiennes). Christoph Waltz also returns as Ernst Stavro Blofeld for what turns out to be little more than a cameo to remind us his importance to the Craig Bond's overall arc. Also keep a look out for several small references to former stars of the franchise including Judi Dench.

While attempting to be the final word on James Bond, No Time to Die is neither Craig's best nor worst work in the franchise. It has more in common with Pierce Brosnan's final Bond film than it would like, including a half-baked plot it takes far too seriously while forcing repeated nods to the Bond series. However, given the stakes it plays with, for better or worse, it is far more memorable than either of Craig's last two Bond films. It relies on a couple of tropes I'm not overly fond of including a couple of time jumps to set up the main story and Bond on the outside working a bit as a rogue agent, yet again.

Fukunaga delivers an impressive looking film whose story involving unstoppable nanobot technology and super-viruses we've seen done in movies and television for several years (hell, Mission: Impossible did it when Brosnan was still Bond).  If this is indeed the last of the franchise, Bond goes out with more of a whimper than a bang. No Time to Die is a fun enough action flick (although at 163 minutes, the film is at least 45 minutes too long), and a passable, if middling, Bond movie.

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