No Time To Die, 2021, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga — 3.5/5 Stars
It seemed like No Time To Die would never come. The latest installment in the James Bond franchise was originally set to release in November of 2019, but was delayed due to directorial changes and internal disagreements, and then further delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly two years later, No Time To Die doesn’t quite measure up to the more lovingly crafted contemporary Bond films like Casino Royale and Skyfall, but is overall a fun action blockbuster and a notable sendoff for Daniel Craig’s portrayal of the character.
What sets No Time To Die apart from past Bond films, even within the Craig era, is its overarching emotional storyline, relying heavily on the previous installment, Spectre. The story begins with Bond living abroad and away from his MI6 responsibilities with Madeleine Swan, played by Léa Seydoux, his love interest from the last film. The plot truly kicks off when Spectre, the global criminal organization that has long been Bond’s looming antagonistic figure, catches up to him. Bond narrowly escapes and, fearing he’s been betrayed, decides to part ways with Madeleine. The audience is then met, in classic Bond fashion, with a beautiful, kitschy opening credits sequence, set to Billie Eilish’s dark, dramatic ballad written for the film. These opening moments set a perfect tone not only for Craig’s final outing, but also for a successfully memorable chapter in what has become an overwhelming amount of films in the Bond saga.
The plot that follows is unfortunately overwrought, and ultimately makes the film as a whole feel bloated at times. While Spectre and its imposing leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played by Christoph Waltz, initially present themselves as the main villains of the story, they are pushed out of frame by Lyutsifer Safin, played by Rami Malek. The script is far too concerned with wrapping up the emotional loose ends from past movies, and it leaves little time to develop Malek’s character, or for the truly important part of a spy film, the action sequences. While the scenes featuring fast cars chases and intense, hand-to-hand combat are well executed, they don’t come along as often as they should, as much of the film’s nearly three-hour runtime is dedicated to characters discussing their motivations and connections.
What makes these overly plot-heavy moments bearable is the immaculately polished cinematography from director of photography Linus Sandgren. While it can’t compare to Roger Deakins’ truly stunning work on Skyfall, the film is beautiful to look at.
Another major strength of the film is the reintroduction of fun, silly spy gadgets. Bond’s signature Aston Martin is equipped with mini-guns in the headlights. His watch can let out an electromagnetic pulse. These, along with Safin’s overly stylized fortress, harken back to the early days of Sean Connery’s version of Bond, but with a modern twist.
The entire cast, especially Craig and Seydoux, give great performances that give an emotional impact to Bond’s fitting and inevitable end. Some are underutilized, notably Ana de Armas, Jeffrey Wright and Ben Wishaw, but performances never feel stilted or disingenuous.
It’s finally here, and it’s tough to say No Time To Die was worth the wait, but it certainly won’t disappoint casual moviegoers, nor longtime fans of the series.