NO TIME TO DIE review by Mark Walters – Daniel Craig leads the 25th 007 outing… his last

NO TIME TO DIE review by Mark Walters – Daniel Craig leads the 25th 007 outing… his last

The journey of NO TIME TO DIE, the 25th James Bond big screen adventure and actor Daniel Craig’s last outing as 007, has not been an easy one for a variety of reasons. The previous Craig film, SPECTRE, was released in 2015 and met with mostly mediocre reviews, and for a while there was concern that Craig might not come back to wrap up the multiple story elements established in that film that were left very much open. NO TIME TO DIE was finally announced in the fall of 2019, with SKYFALL and SPECTRE director Sam Mendes out and Cary Fukunaga (BEASTS OF NO NATION) in, and the intended release date was April of 2020. Then Covid hit, and the film got delayed… then delayed again, and some wondered if it might get delayed even beyond this year. These delays and the selling point of this being Craig final turn as Ian Fleming’s famous secret agent meant that expectations were high, plus now the studio had almost two years to tweak it and fix things should there be any concerns. Does the end result live up to the hype? The answer is yes… and no.

NO TIME TO DIE opens in a very nontraditional way, showing the tragic origin of a young Madeleine Swann (played in SPECTRE and later here by Léa Seydoux) and a masked mystery man named Safin (Rami Malek) who wants revenge on her family for her father murdering his own family. Safin spares her life, even saves her from drowning, but for what purpose? We won’t find out until much later. Flash forward to 2015 and the events following SPECTRE, with Bond (Craig) and Madeleine spending a romantic vacation together in Italy, and for a brief moment it appears the happy couple may have a shot at a relaxing semi-normal life. While there, Bond visits the tomb of Vesper Lynd (his love interest played by Eva Green from CASINO ROYALE), and things take an ugly turn as he’s attacked by SPECTRE assailants, forcing him and Madeleine to flee and compromising Bond’s trust of her. He says goodbye and the opening credits begin. We then skip ahead five years, and Bond is now retired and living in Jamaica (a nod perhaps to DR. NO), until his old buddy Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) shows up trying to recruit him for a job. MI:6 has moved on and recruited a new 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), who soon comes to check on Bond to make sure he’s not doing any unsupervised work. Bond eventually takes Felix’s job on, and discovers a plot involving a biological weapon that can kill specific targeted people by using DNA coding, and how this weapon is being engineered for what could be major mass destruction. His journey will reunite him with Madeleine Swann and her long-held secrets, could compromise his loyalty to Queen and country, and will test his resolve like never before.

There are quite a few great moments in NO TIME TO DIE that hardcore Bond fans will sincerely appreciate, whether its the inclusion of classic cars from previous 007 outings, or just great banter between Bond and his MI:6 counterparts, specifically his confrontational interactions with M (Ralph Fiennes) which are more personal and meaningful this time around. We also have more personal looks at characters like Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), and especially Bond’s relationship with Felix Leiter, but the most intimate character interaction comes from Bond’s love for Madeleine Swann – a plot point that gives us a more mature and evolved look at the secret agent, leaving behind the seemingly sex-addicted philandering spy for a bit. And Craig does have a great chemistry with Léa Seydoux, even if she looks considerably younger than him. But in between those sometimes fantastic moments is a lot of awkward talky filler that just doesn’t feel very cohesive. I had a really hard time understanding the motivations of Rami Malek’s villain here, who incidentally isn’t properly introduced until quite late in the film, and I’m still not sure what it was he was trying to do or why. And at some point you have to ask the question of how these crazy villains are able to recruit giant armies of soldiers and scientists to do their bidding… is it just that they’re wealthy and pay really well? And where did they get their wealth? And knowing guys like this are planning to kill literally MILLIONS of people, why would these employees play along?? I never once felt like I understood what Malek’s character was about, other than him lamenting his own murdered family.

Some of the controversy surrounding this Bond outing came from the announcement that Lashana Lynch was the new 007, with internet rage sites and YouTube channels accusing Bond of “going woke” or pandering to diversity and inclusion audiences. Rest assured, that is not a problem here, and Lynch’s character feels perfectly organic and reasonable, especially considering James Bond is literally RETIRED for five years (?) within this story. I never once felt like the filmmakers were trying to use Lynch to upstage Craig here, and their rivalry in the film actually felt quite fun and balanced. There’s even a tremendous amount of respect shown by Nomi toward Bond, while illustrated even she recognized the importance of this man and his work through the years. One of the best new characters in the film is Paloma, a contact of Felix Leiter’s played by Ana de Armas, who shows up for a brief action sequence with Bond in the middle of the film, but sadly is only in that one scene. She’s a great character that you fall in love with immediately, and lament her departure… I have to wonder if EON Productions has plans for her elsewhere, she’s that fun. I also enjoyed seeing the return of Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter, one of my favorite Bond supporting characters, who is given a great amount of weight here. Wright has a solid and likable dynamic with Craig, and you buy into their friendship and mutual respect. Ralph Fiennes finds a more personal side to M in this outing, also giving that character more weight, and both Naomie Harris (as Moneypenny) and Ben Whishaw (as Q) seem to evolve and find a little more maturity with their respective characters as well, almost making the MI:6 crew feel more like a family than ever before.

The weakest characters in the film, sadly, are the bad guys. Christoph Waltz returns briefly as Blofeld from SPECTRE, and is quite good in his short sequence, but there’s just not enough of him to satisfy. And Malek is clearly trying his best to make Safin a formidable presence, but he’s so sadly underwritten that it’s hard to care about him in the end. I wonder if there was more to that role that was lost in editing, as I genuinely felt like we were missing some crucial plot elements with Safin that would have given him more impact. Billy Magnussen, who I normally love seeing in movies, shows up here as a supporting character that also feels a bit underwritten and poorly developed, to where he’s more of an afterthought than a strong secondary role. Daniel Craig is clearly giving 110%, never once slacking in his performance, and really showing heart and emotional weight with his reading. I saw an interview with him recently in which he admitted he’s going to “miss” playing Bond, and I honestly felt that here, like he knew going in this was it and he HAD to be good, even if the script itself had issues.

The film looks great for the most part, smartly directed by Cary Joji Fukanaga, and is complimented by a strong score by Hans Zimmer that elevates the scope of the production even further toward feeling like a cinematic epic more than just a standard action flick. But there are definitely problems, like some of the action sequences that feel poorly edited or too dark for their own good. The scene with Ana de Armas is particularly hectic and hard to follow, and the stunts in that scene suffer a bit for it. The daytime scenes fare better, like the spectacular opening chase in Italy. For an important entry in the Bond franchise like this, there’s surprisingly little action in it, and the action scenes that are there feel like they’re over almost as quickly as they begin, save for the final sequence which perhaps attempts to make up for the rest of the film. At two hours and 43 minutes, this is officially the longest run time for a 007 adventure, and at times it really feels it. I love James Bond as a character, and I really like Daniel Craig in the role, but I’m not sure I can call this one a solid send off. It’s likely his third best after CASINO ROYALE and SKYFALL, but that still leaves it in the middle of five total films, and maybe that’s appropriate as it feels like a mid-level Bond outing. It just sucks that it’s not a better movie as I genuinely wanted them to leave off with a bang. They also do some ballsy things here that may end up dividing audiences, some of which I appreciated and was surprised by, and there are echoes of ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (one of my personal favorites), including the haunting use of “We Have All The Time In The World” track. I can tell they wanted this Bond to feel more important and risky than normal, and it does, it’s just hindered by script and pacing issues that will likely make repeat viewings challenging.

NO TIME TO DIE is destined to be a polarizing entry in the popular franchise, which is unfortunate but sometimes unavoidable, especially when the purpose is to give the lead actor a big final chapter. I’m wondering if the script revisions and nearly two years of wait time were part of the problem, or if it’s just getting harder and harder to make Bond work as a character in today’s moviegoing climate. Either way, I didn’t hate this final outing for Daniel Craig, I just didn’t love it the way I hoped I would. Your mileage may vary.

NO TIME TO DIE opens October 8th, 2021

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.