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Review: No Time To Die – “ Bond has never felt more real, more human”

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James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux)
drive through Matera, Italy in
NO TIME TO DIE
an EON Productions and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios film
Credit: Nicola Dove
© 2020 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

For anyone left who may not know, No Time To Die is the 25th James Bond film, as well as the 5th and final appearance for Daniel Craig as James Bond. After a troubled production, which saw Danny Boyle leave the director’s chair, leading to rewrites and a release date push-back, Cary Joji Fukunaga (Jane Eyre, True Detective Season 1 and Beasts Of No Nation) signed on to helm the film and it was on course for an April 2020 release. Barbara Broccoli and EON Productions then became the lead players in the movie industry’s strategy on blockbuster releases during the global pandemic. Where many studios such as Marvel, Disney and Warner Brothers chose to release titles online, EON (among others) took the huge gamble to wait, holding out for a financially viable time when they could release the film globally, as costs accrued in their millions month on month. Such is the back story to a convoluted plot that would require a 2 hour 43 minute run time of its own to fully appreciate.

The film’s plot however now feels relatively simple in comparison. Following almost immediately on from the end of Spectre, James and Madeline (Lea Seydoux) are enjoying retirement and a loving relationship together. But for them to truly move on, they resolve to deal with their complex and painful pasts. In a franchise-record long, action packed opening sequence that also includes some much needed character development for Madeline, their tranquility is inevitably rocked by nefarious forces, leaving James not knowing who to trust. The film then moves five years on, almost bringing it in synch with our real timeline, where James is living in sunny exile, enjoying Ian Fleming-esque style in Jamaica. But a visit from an old friend, along with a visit from a new addition to MI6, draws James reluctantly out of retirement and back in to a world he left behind.

James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) in
NO TIME TO DIE
an EON Productions and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios film
Credit: Nicola Dove
© 2020 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

All the supporting MI6 regulars are back, including Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, the delightful Ben Wishaw as Q, Ralph Fiennes as M and Rory Kinnear as Tanner. Lashana Lynch is a much publicized and welcome addition to MI6, who provides Bond with a more than equal sparring partner throughout. There’s a wonderfully high-kicking, if brief, appearance from Ana De Armas (Knives Out) and Christoph Waltz returns as Blofeld. All are on excellent form, giving weight and support where needed.

If there is a noticeable weakness, it is in Rami Malek’s villain Safin. His Bond villain is from the quiet and sinister with non-descript east-European accent school of villainy. He has little to work with and these types of villains rarely stand out in Bond films. You have to go all the way back to 1979’s shark-jumping Moonraker to find Michael Lonsdale’s Drax being one of the only successful examples of a still and quiet Bond villain. For the most part, it is the livelier, brash villains who proved to be more memorable such as Goldfinger’s Gert Fröbe, A View To Kill’s Christopher Walken, Casino Royale’s Mads Mikkelsen and Skyfall’s Javier Bardem. But in the context of all that is going on, and there is so much going on, this is a relatively small criticism. The film is all about James and Madeline.

James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Paloma (Ana de Armas) in
NO TIME TO DIE
an EON Productions and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios film
Credit: Nicola Dove
© 2020 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The two leads give excellent performances. Lea Seydoux finally has much more to work with in this film compared to her character’s arc in Spectre. The relationship feels real and because of this we invest in their emotional journey as much as their narrative one. Daniel Craig gives a Bond franchise all-time best performance that is raw, brutal, funny and tender. Bond has never felt more real, more human and we have never rooted for him as much.

Director, Cary Joji Fukunaga brings his vast talent for storytelling and breath-taking action to the film. A thrilling staircase shootout sequence evoked Matthew McConaughey’s heart-stopping drug-den gun battle and escape in season one of True Detective. The violence in this film is at times extreme, with a visceral desperation that forces you to believe that all is at risk for our hero. Fukunaga’s brisk pacing and balance, with much needed breathers keeps you in your seat relatively shuffle-free for the full 2 hours and 43 minutes. It has been beautifully shot by Cinematographer Linus Sandgren, whose previous credits include La La Land, American Hustle and First Man, making the most of the incredible globe-trotting settings from Italy, Jamaica, Norway and of course London.

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Nomi (Lashana Lynch) is ready for action in Cuba in
NO TIME TO DIE,
a DANJAQ and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film.
Credit: Nicola Dove
© 2019 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

No Time To Die, as with all of the Daniel Craig’s Bond entries, set themselves apart from the majority of previous Bond films because they are films within themselves, rather than just being the next ‘Bond Event’. Previous Bond films may have had much to enjoy, but prior to Daniel Craig’s casting, they had become a box-ticking exercise that usually ran very close to and inevitably became pastiche and self-parody. These last five films however, in the main have a style and narrative that feels fresh and always strives for something new. They don’t always succeed; Quantum Of Solace and Spectre had well documented shortcomings. But they at least tried something a little different. This is a Bond who is far from being a wig on an obvious stuntman, a velour tracksuit, sexist quip or tsunami surfer.

That said, it does also tick many traditional boxes and there is much to keep long-time Bond fans happy. With huge, thrilling action sequences, daft gadgets and villains in secret lairs that Sir Ken Adam would be proud of, there is much for Bond aficionados to celebrate and there are many fan-pleasing nods and references to previous entries in the series. But thankfully it breaks as many Bond rules as it obeys and that will not please everyone. He is nearing the end of his effectiveness or his virility if you like, pending obsolescence hangs like the sword of Damocles and he is more emotional than we have ever seen him. Writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Fukunaga and Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge take a great deal of credit for providing Craig with a script that humanizes Bond more than ever before and we care that much more for it. Bond is human, just like us. And this is where No Time To Die improves on Spectre. The silly gadgets, funny one-liners (thank you Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and vast set ups feel earned and acceptable because there is so much more going on in terms of character and what is at stake. There is real emotion, real danger. No Time To Die is perilous, whereas Spectre felt peril-less.

James Bond (Daniel Craig) in discussion with Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) in
NO TIME TO DIE
an EON Productions and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios film
Credit: Nicola Dove
© 2020 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Unlike past Bonds, who have tended to leave the role in the aftermath of their final film, Daniel Craig was rightly given the chance to say farewell to MI6 and the tuxedo while still in the role, on his own terms, bringing his Bond’s tenure and narrative to a fitting and emotional end. Whether or not No Time To Die will be the global financial success EON hoped for and would have expected pre-2020, will be partially down to factors that wouldn’t normally have to be considered and out of their hands. But what is certain is that No time To Die will shock, divide, thrill and be talked about for a very long time to come.

Thank you Daniel Craig for giving us a Bond to believe in.

Safin (Rami Malek) in
NO TIME TO DIE,
a DANJAQ and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film.
Credit: Nicola Dove
© 2019 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

 

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