Sunday 14 November 2021

Film Review: No Time To Die

After a lengthy hiatus, Daniel Craig is back as James Bond for the fifth and final time in Cary Joji Fukunaga's No Time To Die

For the longest time, it felt like Daniel Craig's last outing as 007 would never happen. For starters, while on the press tour for Spectre, Craig famously quipped "I'd rather slash my wrists than play James Bond again" (a comment he'd later regret and retract). Then came a troubled production and swift exit under initial director Danny Boyle; followed by a COVID-induced year or two sitting on the shelf, waiting for an opportune moment to hit cinemas.

Well, that moment has arrived, and after the longest period between Bond films, No Time To Die (all 163 minutes of it!) is finally in cinemas. The question is, was it worth the wait?

Picking up where Spectre left off, No Time To Die opens with an extended prologue in Italy, where Bond and his blonde beau, Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), are holidaying after vanquishing Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and his network of nefarious ne'er-do-wells. However, Bond's retirement plans are promptly postponed when old ally Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) ropes him into an 'off the books' job. 

From here, the plot zips around the globe in classic Bond fashion; from Jamaica and Havana to London and Norway. Along the way, Bond crosses paths with his MI6 replacement Nomi (played by Lashana Lynch), CIA operatives Paloma (Ana de Armas) and Logan (Billy Magnussen), as well as returning favourites, Q (Ben Whishaw), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and M (Ralph Fiennes). 

As Bond films go, No Time To Die has all the right ingredients; eye-popping gunplay and action, tongue-in-cheek humour, and a confounding plot where a dastardly villain (Safin, here played by Rami Malek) intends to topple governments and bring about a better world by offing lots of people. 

The plot is not the strongest, let's get that critique out of the way – something to do with nanobots, a bioweapon and Blofeld's bionic eye (seriously). Malek is just not a great villain either; he's a parody of a Bond villain, with his facial scarring, sinister accent and secret base on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. He's positioned as a 'mirror' of Bond, as someone who shares the same goals but uses different means – you know the drill. 

However, when No Time To Die is firing on all cylinders, it's up there with the very best of Bond. A brief sojourn to Cuba, where Bond teams up with de Armas' character, is a fantastic sequence that pops with sass and style. Likewise, the opening sequence in Matera is stunning – with stuntwork that is second-to-none. Fukunaga's film is interspersed with great moments that pull from other genres; a chilling home invasion recalls Halloween and an interrogation scene feels ripped from Silence of the Lambs. 

Where No Time To Die triumphs is not in its complex plot, but in the emotional department. Rather than getting bogged down in the nitty-gritty of Safin's ploy for global doom, Fukunaga takes some big swings at soaring emotional stakes, which stick the landing – particularly in the third act. 

As a watertight international espionage thriller, No Time To Die is riddled with holes; but as a sweeping romance about two people who are wrenched apart, only to find themselves swept up in a life-or-death plot, it really really works. I genuinely found myself choked up by that ending.

A couple of callbacks to Bond folklore – particularly On Her's Majesty's Secret Service – should clue you in on the tone that Fukunaga is striving for here. Explosions are cool and all, but emotions are better. And what better leading man to embody that ethos than Craig, who gives what might be his best and boldest Bond performance to date.

Shoutout to Lea Seydoux too; this is as much her film as it is Craig's. After a rushed romance in Spectre, No Time To Die takes more time (pardon the pun) to deepen and define Bond and Madeleine's relationship. 

In addition to how it makes you feel, let's not ignore that the film looks incredible too. Fukunaga has partnered with La La Land and First Man cinematographer Linus Sandgren, who injects a lot more life into the frame than Hoyte van Hoytema did in Spectre. Similarly, Hans Zimmer's score is a triumph – and cleverly borrows a couple of cues from Billie Eilish's tender opening titles track to great effect.

The Verdict: 8.5/10

Daniel Craig's fifth outing is a fitting final chapter to his time as 007. It's not his best (that title still belongs to Casino Royale), but No Time To Die is a satisfying conclusion to Craig's interlocking, ambitious storyline. Whoever takes up the mantle next has some seriously big shoes to fill. 

No Time To Die is in cinemas across Australia now.

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