No Time to Die, 2021.
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga.
Starring Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Ana de Armas, Billy Magnussen, Rory Kinnear, David Dencik, Brigitte Millar, Dali Benssalah, and Priyanga Burford.
James Bond has left active service. His peace is short-lived when Felix Leiter, an old friend from the CIA, turns up asking for help, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.
The latest entry in the iconic 007 franchise, No Time to Die, finds an intersection between relatable human emotion and over-the-top villainous plotting for world domination. Taking over the reins from Sam Mendes (who had previously done one of the best entries in the history of the character, Skyfall, and Spectre one that would be better off forgotten if the stories weren’t so connected), Beasts of No Nation director Cary Joji Fukunaga has crafted a grand-in-scope (and not just because of the 163-minute running time) swan song for Daniel Craig’s interpretation of James Bond that’s more than happy to take homage and fan service to what has come before (occasionally interjecting well-placed humor) and shake it with showstopping action sequence packaged with high personal stakes (the likes of which never seen before with James Bond, at least on screen) that stir.
Still haunted by Vesper’s betrayal (played by Eva Green in Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale) and the circumstances surrounding the doublecross before her death, James Bond is making a genuine effort to live out a peaceful life of romance in Italy with Madeleine Swann (a returning Léa Seydoux, more than a beautiful woman to save). Part of that comes with attempting to forgive and let go of the past, leading to a sequence at Vesper’s gravestone that quickly launches into a spectacle of exotic car chases, gunfire, rope-swinging, vehicular swerving with attached machine guns rapidly blasting; it’s pretty much everything that exemplifies 007. There’s also heartbreak involved as the aftermath sees the two love birds eternally splitting up.
In kicks the traditional splashy opening credits montage, this time a song of the same name written for and performed by the goddess-like talented Billie Eilish that’s both meditative and tormented, complete with startling imagery hauntingly and hypnotically visualizing treachery and time. As expected, the arresting video package also signifies that No Time to Die will be about regret. It’s about the passage of time itself and how every man, including fictional heroes put on a pedestal for 50+ years, should make the most of their time. Mortality and fulfillment elude no one, not even James Bond. And the most profound route to take with a character like James Bond spanning 50+ years is one that deconstructs that legend, humanizes it, exposes vulnerability, and dares to trek uncharted storytelling grounds. In that respect, No Time to Die makes good on showing an old spy new tricks, triumphantly reaching devastatingly stirring heights.
The road to that third act can occasionally feel like a generic henchman’s car getting flipped off the ground.
Co-written by Cary Joji Fukunaga alongside Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (of course, based on Ian Fleming’s characters), No Time to Die also introduces new characters ranging from Lashana Lynch’s Nomi as the new holder of the 007 ranking. For reasons that won’t be explained here, James Bond does spend a good portion of the film in retirement but certainly not out of action (Quantum of Solace‘s Felix returns, still played by Jeffrey Wright, and brings him up to speed on malicious developments). Nevertheless, Lashana Lynch asserts herself in the role with style and charisma, further tempting the intriguing possibility of a woman-centric Bond film (even if such a thing would go against certain trademarks of the character, which are somewhat irrelevant to the discussion anyway since the story here does an admirable job demonstrating cultural modernism with lore). She is given multiple moments to shine on missions, similarly to Ana de Armas as another gorgeous but physically capable professional partner for James Bond (with the latter of which receiving one of the coolest bits of action in the entire movie, dropping to the floor and pulling off multiple headshots in clockwork succession).
Then there is Rami Malek’s Japanese Noh mask-wearing Lyutsifer Safin, a villain with his own island, tragic backstory, a strange interest in deadly plants, and schemes to play God that involve working with a shady scientist on a secret project called Heracles that eerily comes with resemblances to the transmission of a particular virus strain. Rami Malek is serviceable at expressing the character as a psychologically off-balance and vengeful monster, but there’s not much else going on with the character outside an intense prologue. Christoph Waltz doesn’t necessarily have much to do either returning as an imprisoned Blofeld, but his ridiculous gadgets and menacingly quacky demeanor strike more of an impression with considerably less screen time. Safin has moments of pure evil and significant connections to the overarching saga, although it’s tough to label him a memorable foe.
Of course, there are also returning team members such as Ben Whishaw’s gadgets expert Q, Ralph Fiennes’s bossman M, and Naomie Harris’s field officer Moneypenny. They all contribute and don’t feel lost in the shuffle, nor do any fresh characters. Simply put, there’s plenty packed into one movie, arguably a bit too much sometimes as the middle slightly meanders. Such things are offset with the usual globetrotting around the world (complete with rich cinematography of every locale from Linus Sandgren), nicely spaced-out action sequences, and a moving score from Hans Zimmer (frequently busting out an orchestral version of the titular Billie Eilish song, consistently swelling up at the right time for gravitas).
Whenever No Time to Die is concerned with personal stakes, it’s an extravaganza with worthwhile meaning. One can’t help but wish it was a tiny bit more like its third act, figuratively taking the character of James Bond mature places. Faults and all, No Time to Die is an epic, sweeping love story stuffed with bombastic action, contemplating time, regret, and mortality. It may not be the best 007, but it’s for damn sure the most emotional.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com