It’s a good life, isn’t it?
There are few properties in cinema history that can elicit the same magnetism of James Bond. Ever since Maurice Binder’s title sequence dazzled with colorful bombast to John Barry’s iconic theme, the power of Bond has globally endured for over 50 years. Now 25 installments later, No Time To Die is here and modern audiences are finding themselves waving goodbye not just to Daniel Craig, but to a tenure of films that reevaluated the notion of what these blockbusters could be. After all the delays, it brings me immense pleasure to affirm that No Time To Die is the bonafide triumph many hoped it would be.
Kicking off proceedings with a house invasion sequence that would make Mike Flanagan grin with joy, the remnants of Spectre both narratively and as an organization, are still bleeding into the Bond cosmos. Berreta’s behind the bleach, under the sink, just like Mr. White said and a chilling encounter brings us back to Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) in the ocean vistas of the present. Fukunaga lays the foundations here with a focus on the sensibilities of love, intimacy, and infatuation that continue to remind us why Craig’s Bond is so easy to attach to. Naturally, even in the face of undying love, trouble inks itself on the fabric of Bond’s life again as S.P.E.C.T.R.E comes calling.
The best Bond openings have always been the ones that take their time. Fukunaga isn’t pulling any punches or holding his fire. No Time To Die’s opening is a furious, angry skirmish on the streets of Matera oozing with all the trappings to let you know truly: Bond is back. From choking out henchmen with clothing lines to silently contemplating death behind the bullet-riddled windows of the DB5, the fierce pizazz of Bond’s action is confidently executed to a tee. It’s all complemented by a gorgeous title sequence (paying homage to non-other than Dr. No) from Bond franchise veteran Daniel Kleinman that revels in simplicity and the haunting reverb on Billie Ellish’s voice.
If Casino Royale was the story of what Bond becomes, it’s fitting that No Time To Die is both a rich celebration and dive into who Bond is. The initial, albeit dated attraction to Bond, came in the form of lustful fantasies for action and romantic escapades. Craig’s Bond run, no matter the quality of the film, has always had Craig himself deconstructing how Bond should be perceived. Skyfall and Spectre waded through the complex emotional graveyard of Bond’s past and present, presenting someone beaten to a physical and psychological pulp, behind all the Omega watches and tailored suits. It’s a breath of fresh air to see this continued, as Bond interacts with people more than ever outside his previously stoic or blunt bravado. This is a Bond that even when he’s pissed off, will still open the doors of the DB5 like a gentleman.
Even in a setting with fantastical villains, biological warfare, and atmospheric tweaks to celebrate Bond as a legacy, No Time To Die examines the man himself with an expressive lens. He’s exactly that: just a man. Driven by the most difficult, joyous, and ultimately the most complex emotion there is: love. Seydoux’s Swann establishes herself as more than just a “Bond Girl”, but a character worthy to stand tall in the echelons of Bond’s female characters. Driven by a raw survival instinct, Seydoux’s performance makes their love all the more tangible.
Yet, within the 163-minute runtime, Fukunaga and co.’s screenplay manages to manifest brutalist tendencies not seen since Quantum of Solace. While the latter suffered for its obvious on-the-day rewrites and hyperactive editing, Bond can be a towering mass of power when the stakes are raised to scorchingly hot levels. It’s showcased with devastating effect in a fog-laden forest sequence, that sees 007 giving John Rambo a run for his money when it comes to holding down territory.
Fukunaga’s action is visceral enough to incite winces and satisfying smiles, while always managing to keep the importance of character essential. Each beat feels motivated by urgency and this couldn’t be more exemplified than in a barnstorming stairwell sequence in the third act. You will know when you see it. On a character front, the “Bond Family” as it were returns, with Ben Whishaw’s Quartermaster stealing the limelight once again. A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag on a cargo plane is a testament to the delightful nature of Bond’s genius ally.
Familiar faces like Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter make an appearance, while newcomers Lashana Lynch, Ana De Armas, Billy Magnussen, and Dali Benssalah stamp their mark within the halls of Bond fame. Lynch is a strong foil to Bond, challenging him in and out of the field. Their dynamic is captivating to see unfold as their adventure takes them globetrotting. Magnussen and Bensshalah torment Bond with cocky, smarmy effect. It’s the kind of annoying where they aren’t irritating, but in classic Bond fashion, you can’t wait for them to get their comeuppance. Ana De Armas’s Palmoa is sure to kick off a campaign for more of her, as she is a witty, energetic sidekick enhanced by Armas’s clear passion for the role.
It’s been said that Bond films are only as good as their villain, and while I don’t agree wholeheartedly with that statement, there is something to be said about the inclusion (or lack thereof) of Rami Malek’s Lyutsifer Safin. The runtime of No Time To Die flies by in an instant. There really is no let-up, even in what could be considered downtime. However, Malek’s Safin is notably absent for a large portion of the film, despite setting up plans in the background or appearing in scenes via voice. It’s important how a villain’s time is used in a Bond film. Skyfall’s Silva or Royale’s Le Chiffre, who still appear late in their respective films, soak up their screentime with reassured writing and compelling performances.
Malek’s calm and collected Safin, who is taking more than a few cues from Dr. No within his Sir Ken Adam’s inspired island base, had the potential to be a truly memorable villain but is unfortunately muddled by motivations that aren’t as strong as the film around it. His past connects to our heroes and even villains outside of Blofeld. Yet, Safin falls more into the standard assignment of world domination first, thinking later that previous Bond enemies have displayed before. Surprisingly, the handling of Christoph Waltz’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld is far better than I initially speculated. Represented with the same air of mystery and danger seen in You Only Live Twice or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Blofeld feels like a true puppet master this time around.
There is a lot for long-time fans of the franchise to chew on when it comes to celebrating the franchise as a whole. I won’t be spoiling specifics here, but tributes to past scenarios, familiar faces showcased in set dressing, and some obvious musical motifs act to increase the vibrancy of No Time To Die’s world. On the subject of music, Hans Zimmer’s score is the exact kind of brassy goodness that one would expect from this legendary composer. Peppered with intoxicating earworms, new and of Bond’s past, Zimmer channels the heavily missed exhilaration of David Arnold’s work – with Johnny Marr aiding to ensure Barry’s twangy guitar hooks are reinstated with immediate effect.
Immediate is apt, as Fukunaga’s turn at helming a Bond film is a concise, bold ride from the opening gunbarrel. The ecstasy of seeing Craig expertly maneuver a performance that is vulnerable but still able to rattle off quips that will make Moore fans excited is a confirmation of just how much Craig has done with the character. Bond films don’t come around too often. If “event cinema” was in the dictionary, you’d more than likely find Bond aside some of the biggest blockbuster contemporaries of today.
No Time To Die is a franchise peak, wearing its brand of huge, wonderous “event cinema” on its sleeve. Managing to still push the envelope on what Bond can be, Fukunaga’s conclusion to Craig’s run is a supreme send-off and a love letter to arguably the most iconic hero in cinematic history. Bond will likely return in another reinvention someday, but I’d be happy to see the franchise take a hiatus for now.
After all, we have all the time in the world.