For Bond fans, it has been a long seven year itch since we last saw a new Bond movie on the big screen. Delayed 2.5 years since April 2020, it’s been quite an arduous waiting game… there’s even a rumor at one point that Bond might be coming via a streaming service [gasp!] Well I for one am glad that didn’t happen, and I think this film deserves to be seen on the big screen.
For a franchise famous for its opening sequences–often followed by a music video of its theme song featuring scantily-clad women–this one already sets itself from the pack as it actually does not feature its titular hero. I’m going to keep this review spoiler-free (or clearly mark them as I usually do), so let’s just say the opening features an ‘origin story’ of sort for a female recurring character, which in of itself is quite revolutionary. There is a lot of firsts in Daniel Craig‘s Bond film, starting with the man at the helm, Cary Joji Fukunaga. He’s the first American director to direct a Bond film, which features Lashana Lynch as the first female 007. All of these historic anecdotes are cool, but at the end of the day, did the film deliver?
One thing for sure, the post-credit opening scene delivers incredible panoramic vistas, as one would expect from a Bond film. Bond is shown living a blissful life with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) as they are on holiday in Matera, a picturesque stone village in Southern Italy. Bond is in love, and for a brief moment seems to live a blissful existence… but of course you know it’s short-lived because suddenly he’s nearly blown to bits and chased in a brutal fashion by relentless goons (well, what else is there?). Fukunaga proves adept in mounting a pretty exciting action sequence early in the film, complete with an insane car chase careening through rocky hills and cobblestone streets that ends with something rather fantastical even for a Bond movie. It reminds me of the Nick Fury’s car attack in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it seems Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 is equipped with similar bullet-proof feature!
Bond fans (me included) loves watching epic action sequences like that, so getting that ‘craving’ satisfied early on is a smart move, as the next hour is relatively quiet as Bond nurses a broken heart and lives quietly in Jamaica. There are plenty of nostalgia here despite its theme of ‘letting go of one’s past.’ From moments recalling integral characters in Craig’s Bond past (as well as those before his era), down to the choice of a melancholic song (one of my top 10 favorites) AND the lines Bond say (which he utters twice in the film). Another theme running through the vein of Craig’s final Bond film is secrets … which as a spy he is obviously well-versed on, but the secrecy isn’t just those of the country he serves, but of the woman (or I should say women) he loves.
As I feel that this is a rather unconventional Bond film, this will be an atypical review. Without getting into too much of the plot, let me just go over the good and not-so-good parts about the film…
Firstly, Daniel Craig‘s performance. I haven’t always been super fond of him even though he wowed me in Casino Royale, at times he appears too thug-ish and his sex scenes with the Bond girls can be laughably absurd (the one with Monica Bellucci in Spectre comes to mind)… but over his 15-year span playing the character, he’s able to balance his tough, formidable action prowess with his sensitive, vulnerable side. It’s even more palpable here as he declares his love for Madeleine… Bond is past just showing off his muscular arms as he unabashedly wears his heart on his sleeve.
Then there’s the oh-so-fabulous Lashana Lynch as Nomi… sassy, smart, sexy, a woman who knows her own power but also has enough confidence in her competency that she doesn’t concern herself with ‘titles,’ or in this case the code name 007. Right from the moment Nomi meets Bond, she’s clear that she’s got no time for the old patriarchy. I love that she is often one step ahead of Bond and unafraid to put him in his place. There are lots of moments where I silently whispers ‘you go girl!’ but at the same time, she’s also empathetic and mindful, which proves that a woman’s strength isn’t about knocking men down as they don’t need to.
Ana de Armas is fantastic as Paloma, a Cuban CIA agent working with Felix who’s assigned with Bond to track down a scientist at a Spectre party. Having seen her with Craig in Knives Out, their meet-up is actually quite hilarious. She’s shown as a rookie who’s still excited for her first big mission but comes out surprising everyone’s expectations, especially Bond. Wish she had more screen time here though… I want more Paloma! This is perhaps the most playful shoot-em-up in this movie, harkening back to a scene from a Roger Moore Bond flick, but it’s a lot of fun to watch!
Another returning character is Jeffrey Wright‘s Felix–the actor has a consistently formidable presence in so many franchises … Bond, Marvel, DC (I so look forward to seeing him as Commissioner Gordon in the upcoming The Batman). After five years in retirement, Bond ends up teaming up with the CIA with Felix, along with a Jack Ryan type ‘state department guy’ Logan (Billy Magnussen). Wright is undoubtedly the best and most memorable Felix in the whole 007 franchise.
All the returning cast in the MI-6 camp, Naomie Harris‘s MoneyPenny, Rory Kinnear‘s Tanner, Ralph Fiennes‘s M and Ben Whishaw‘s Q are all wonderful. Bond is so fortunate to have such phenomenal friends, esp. Q who’s willing to give up his date in order to help his friend out. So good to see MoneyPenny and Q collaborating again. I also enjoyed the rather talky scene between Bond and M in London, mulling over the dire consequences of Safin’s grand plans.
Now, I didn’t care for Christoph Waltz‘s Blofeld in Spectre who I described as nothing more than a clichéd, petulant psychopath. Well somehow he actually fares better here even and manages to rile Bond up even while he’s contained in a box within an extremely high-security prison. Somehow Blofeld still have control over his organization who’s now got a lethal DNA weapon using nanobots… which connects him with the main Bond baddie-du-jour Safin, that brings me to the…
Rami Malek’s Lyutsifer (is this just another lame way to say Lucifer??!) Safin just falls short in comparison to former Bond villains of the past. He seems dangerous on paper but kind of underwhelming on screen. Malek comes across more creepy than menacing, I actually think of him as a tragic character given what happened to his family, leaving him as the only survivor. His eerie connection with Madeleine from when she was a young girl just isn’t fully realized. At first I thought it might have involved a Stockholm Syndrome or akin to Phantom of the Opera’s obsession with Christine , but in the end I’m not exactly sure just what they’ve got going on here.
Speaking of Madeleine, I generally like Léa Seydoux as an actress in other films but I just didn’t care for her as Bond’s love interest. For one, she always looks like she’s about to cry every two seconds, even when she’s on holiday in a sensational location! Looking at Madeleine just makes me miss Eva Green’s Vesper so much, and I feel like Bond has a genuine chemistry with Vesper and they look like they’re having fun together as a couple. Now, even though she’s given an origin story, a privilege very few Bond girl is afforded to, it’s hard for me to be invested in her narratives.
SPOILER ALERT! [highlight to read] Then there’s Madeleine’s daughter that got Bond transfixed upon meeting her. ‘She’s got my eyes… Am I the father?’ Now, Bond didn’t right out say it, but he’s so obvious about it that Madeleine kept saying ‘she’s not yours’ a couple of times. I don’t know why the writers think the scene is supposed to be romantic, but it’s so cringe-worthy!
As for using nanobots to infect certain people based on their DNA, essentially making certain people to be killer weapons is quite eerie during pandemic as certain people can be ‘silent killer’ if they’re carrying the virus and spreading them unknowingly. The fact that a psychopath like Safin having access to this and harvesting them in an island somewhere does sound scary. At the same time, the whole villain hellbent on taking over the world just gets tiresome, I mean you’d think after 50+ movies they’d find a more creative reason for compelling villainy. Also, what’s up with the scientist Obruchev (David Dencik) who’s portrayed in such a silly, cartoonish manner. Let’s just say I wasn’t sad when he meets his inevitable end.
No Time to Die is the first Bond film to come out in the #MeToo era and Time’s Up movements, so the producers enlist Phoebe Waller-Bridge as one of the screenwriters to steer the franchise to be more progressive. Now, I have no problem with that, and having someone like Nomi is a great addition to the franchise as her character arc still feels organic to the story. I’m not sure everything about the more ‘radical’ storyline works for me though, SPOILER ALERT [highlight to read] honestly I’m not sure about the whole ‘Bond being a father’ narrative. I mean, given the plethora of women he’s bedded, you’d think this shouldn’t come out as too much of a surprise, but still it feels a tad forced, especially since the big reveal comes as Bond is about to be killed off.
As for Fukunaga’s direction, I feel like it’s going to be a divisive one as despite some dynamic action sequences and Bond himself being put through the wringer, it’s a largely melancholic and somber affair. The Japanese-American filmmaker has said in interviews that being an ‘outsider’ gives him an advantage that British filmmakers might not have in making this film. The bombastic car chase in the beginning and the shoot-em-up in Safin’s nanobot factory in the third act feel familiar but with an edge. I appreciate the way he shows Bond’s weariness and defiance with style (like when he didn’t care if he live or die when his DB5 was riddled with bullets), but yet manages to make the super-spy human. For a super long 2 hour 43 minutes running time, it actually didn’t feel overly tedious, which in and of itself is quite a feat.
Visually speaking, the film is gorgeous to look at, shot by DP Linus Sandgren. It’s got all the globe-trotting vistas to tick off the escapism box. Hans Zimmer‘s score has some decidedly familiar sounds, blending Monty Norman’s iconic Bond theme, one of John Barry’s famous motif and Billie Eilish’s theme song, fusing a rousing, suspenseful score with tender, sentimental elements.
I mentioned that there was no compelling human drama in Spectre and that it was a largely soulless affair. Glad to report that it’s quite the opposite here as it’s one of the most emotional Bond movies where things comes full circle for Craig. So to answer my question if the film delivered, the short answer is YES. Unlike his predecessors, Craig’s Bond films shares a plot thread that connect them all, which is quite unprecedented for the franchise. Thus, while Craig’s tenure does not end in an all-time-high fashion, I can say that it’s a bold and memorable finale for a game-changing Bond era.
Have you seen NO TIME TO DIE? Let me know what you think!