“We have all the time in the world” muses Bond (James Bond) in the opening moments of No Time To Die, words that are strangely apt for the final film of Daniel Craig’s tenure. We have waited 18 long months to see 007 back in action one more time and now, finally, our patience has been rewarded. And, while we have all the time in the world to await what comes next, seeing Craig’s final portrayal of a character than he has helped mould, finesse and develop beyond what we thought possible, it certainly is bittersweet, even more so given that his finale isn’t quite up to the lofty heights of his beginning.
At the end of Spectre, Bond chose to find a life beyond his “blunt instrument” existence and clung to the string of happiness that his love for Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) presented him. Off into the sunset they went with the long, far-reaching arms of Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) still puppeteering from above and, soon enough, the past catches up with them. Soon, it isn’t just the one-eyed man on their trail, as the mysterious Safin (Rami Malek) has plans of his own and his and Bond’s worlds collide, bringing into the firing line the new 007 (Lashana Lynch), M (Ralph Fiennes), MI6 and Bond’s old friend Felix Leiter (a welcome return for Jeffrey Wright).
So far, so Bond. For those playing Bond Bingo, those score sheets will be filled up with felt-tip marks very sharpish as it is much more of the same from the Craig Era Playbook but in the hands of director Cary Joji Fukunaga, No Time To Die feels, sounds, and lands differently even if it doesn’t quite come off as it hoped. His direction is fierce and frantic yet controlled and purposeful, with some of the best action set-pieces of the series thus far – a car chase in the first act the definite highlight – and is brought to life superbly by Linus Sandgren‘s piercing camerawork and Hans Zimmer‘s typically vibrant score.
Peppered with some brilliantly pithy notes from Phoebe Waller-Bridge‘s screenplay (alongside Fukunaga and regular Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade), there’s a vibrancy and panache that harks back to the Connery and Brosnan eras without crossing too far into full-on Moore camp. Indeed, while many assumed Waller-Bridge punched up the female characters (Lashana Lynch and Ana De Armas benefitting most, both fantastic) her fingerprints are clear to see all over the film, mixing levity and emotion well despite the latter becomes a little too much, whilst dissecting Bond’s inability to forgive and forget, needing to feed his ego one last time.
Where she and her fellow writers fall is in the villain arena with Malek‘s Safin one of the weakest of the entire series, let alone Craig’s: a Frankenstein-hybrid of, ironically, much of what has gone before, he feels hollow and unassuming throughout, more spoilt brat than intimidating foe that in turn sucks out any tension between him and Bond and the movie itself and, like the film as a whole, is infuriatingly derivative of films long past. Many will see this as the most emotionally rich of the series and while there are certainly some heartfelt moments, others feel perfunctory in an already long and chaotic film.
As for Craig, it truly is a sad moment that he is hanging up his cufflinks and Martini’s: more than any before him, he has been able to breathe new life into a character that had become awfully stale after the invisible car, Madonna-fuelled Die Another Day. Powerful, energetic, abrasive, perfect, his portrayal will be almost impossible to follow and, once more here, he is simply magnificent, impossible to take your eyes off even for a second such is his raw, unrivalled magnetism. To be able to retire his position with such majesty is testament to his commitment across a tenure that will never be matched and, despite much of the film being a bit of a fun muddle, Craig is always in control.
Action, Thriller | UK, USA, 2021| 12A | 30th September 2021 (UK) | Cinema | Universal Pictures, MGM | Dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga | Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Lea Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Jeffrey Wright, Ana de Armas, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes