Is Daniel Craig’s last outing as Bond worth your time?
Daniel Craig has finally gotten his wish: people will stop nagging him to play James Bond again. Now he can carry on playing kooky Southern Americans, which is where he clearly belongs if his last few movies are any indication. Let’s be honest, do you want more Benoit Blanc, or more Craig James Bond? It’s Blanc for me.
In No Time To Die, the final entry of Craig’s 15-year tenure as the character, James Bond faces Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) and his plot to commit mass murder using eugenics-based nanobots, whilst resolving his turbulent relationship with Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), and his rivalry with the new 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch).
As a swan song for Craig’s Bond, it’s almost perfect. Everything in the film feels consistent for the character as he’s developed over the series. They definitely had an ending in mind and worked towards it, so the first thirty minutes is mostly setting the stage, but once the film gets into full swing it’s brilliantly entertaining to the end.
Craig brings along an energy that’s been missing from his last two Bond films, the kind he had back in Casino Royale. It helps as well that director Cary Joji Fukunaga recognised his greatest asset – Craig’s eyes. Seriously, his eyes deserve their own honorary Oscar; they communicate more emotion than several actors can pull off with their whole bodies. Emilia Clarke’s eyebrows and Harrison Ford’s pointer finger have nothing on them.
In fact all the actors turn in great performances. Naomi Harris, Lea Seydoux, Ben Wishaw and Ralph Fiennes were all perfect to start with and they remain so. It was good to see Christoph Waltz back again doing his thing. It’s a shame that he only got to turn in two performances, given the significance of his character in Bond canon, and the expanded relationship to Bond they gave him in Spectre, but it is what it is. Rami Malek’s villain was a bit of a disappointment. He’s got very little screentime, and the material he does have to work with is less than stellar. It’s not only as a waste of Malek’s talents, but also fairly bitter to end Craig’s tenure with a fairly middling adversary. Despite her brief time in the film, Ana de Armas as new CIA agent Paloma was the standout in terms of sheer entertainment. If there’s anyone I want to see return in a future movie, it’s her.
I’m not so much of a fan of the credits this time around. It lacked a single central theme like Casino’s cards, Quantum’s sand or Spectre’s tentacles; it instead pulls elements from all the prior Craig movies and combines it with the psychedelic shapes of the first Connery films to create a deluge that’s a bit too crowded for my liking. Even if a retrospective on the Craig era works on paper, I would have much preferred a singular focus on the time and DNA imagery that was relevant to the story being told.
Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is exceptionally Hans Zimmer. This isn’t a criticism per se, I mean Zimmer’s never turned in a bad score in his life. But hearing his hallmarks in James Bond of all things (a series with one of the most recognisable musical identities in cinema history) really jarred for me. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem for many people, but I had to keep telling my brain I wasn’t watching a Christopher Nolan movie.
The script is as good as James Bond gets, which is surprising, given the messy development process and both the original scriptwriter and director leaving the project in 2019. There are all those expected cliches like the “we’re not so different, you and I” speech and Bond butting heads with M, and of course there’s a thousand moments in which the villain should’ve executed Bond et al.
But overall, it’s bittersweet, funny and badass at exactly the right time, with a nice attention to detail in planting and payoff. They also took the central conceit of ‘time’ and really ran with it. Half of the lines reference time in one way or another, delivering a huge amount of both puns and pathos. The jokes got a laugh out of me most of the time, though my fellow audience (both younger and older) didn’t sound impressed.
It’s quite muddled in places despite its relatively straightforward plot, and half an hour too long, though that’s hardly novel for a James Bond film. Still, as far as the ending goes, the writing’s on the wall about halfway through the film so you may start to get impatient waiting for the inevitable. The Felix Leiter subplot could have certainly made up that half-hour that needed to be cut. It ended up being mostly irrelevant in the wider scheme of things, feeling more like box-ticking in their earnestness to wrap up the loose ends of Craig’s era.
I was surprised to see such a great amount of emphasis placed on Bond’s relationship with Leiter. While the character has always been a mainstay in the James Bond canon, the Jeffrey Wright version only featured as a surprise reveal in Casino, and in Quantum in a more traditional capacity. In Skyfall and Spectre he was completely absent, so having him turn up in No Time To Die over a decade later calling Bond his brother while they crack wise about all the adventures they’ve had together feels fairly jarring. Simply implying years of friendship will only go so far – we have to see it to feel anything.
Back to positives, the action set pieces are fantastic. It’s easy to follow, beautifully shot, and inventive, making use of several unique locations and madcap gadgets, as Bond tradition dictates. One strange feature was long-take stairwell shootout (which is now feeling like an obligation in action films). I can never be too mad at these, knowing just how difficult they are to pull off, but it’s a disruption to the visual language of James Bond that brings it further into generic territory than such a unique series deserves.
Finally, the big question: how is Nomi, the new 007 in the film following Bond’s retirement. Thankfully, she’s fantastic – Lynch was full of charisma, physical presence and humour. It seems like the direction was to emulate Craig’s performance in Casino Royale (in fact, one scene directly copies that film’s first action set piece) and it makes a lot of sense for this story. With more material she could undoubtedly hold her own film.
But is that looking likely? The movie was pretty wishy-washy about the whole affair, never firmly establishing her as Bond’s undisputed successor, or declaring a replacement off-limits. Instead, their conclusion is “it’s just a number” which I think is correct and a lovely sentiment, but also doesn’t answer the question being asked. It’s clear they want to leave the door open and gauge audience reactions before going whole-hog in one direction.
For now, I’m satisfied, as this is first and foremost James Bond’s story – the successor to 007 doesn’t really matter in this context. As for the future, I think it’s more likely they’ll reboot the series with a new man playing Bond. ‘007’ movies will feel like a spin-off to audiences, and prove a lot tougher job than just recycling the proven franchise king James Bond.
All in all, this is a better final entry in Daniel Craig’s era than I was expecting or hoping for, a testament to the immense talent of everyone involved in front and behind the camera despite the many setbacks involved. It’s well worth your ticket now, and more than enough proof that the James Bond franchise isn’t ready to be retired just yet.
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