Returning to the preposterous premises of the 70s but maintaining the serious tone, Cary Fukunaga’s No Time to Die is a big, silly adventure that sends Daniel Craig’s James Bond off into the sunset.
The Bond franchise’s 25th installment finds Bond happily retired with Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux) and on vacation in Italy. When Spectre assassins attempt to kill Bond, he is able to escape, but believes Swann betrayed him, causing their separation.
Five years later, Bond’s CIA counterpart Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) recruits Bond to track down a kidnapped MI6 scientist developing a secretive nanobot technology. Initially declining, Bond changes his mind after encountering the new 007 agent, Nomi (Lashana Lynch).
As Bond investigates, he discovers a connection between Swann, Spectre head Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and terrorist Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek). The further Bond investigates, the more his personal life interferes with his work while once again trying to save the world.
The focus on Bond’s personal relationships is a great starting point, but it gets bogged down in the actual world-altering stakes. Digging into the relationship dynamics and the forces attempting to interfere is a much more interesting story than an overly-complex nanobot murdering liquid. The film distrusts the audience enough to have larger stakes than just ones directly affecting Bond.
Craig delivers his best performance as Bond in this film. While he has lost his fresh energy from Casino Royale as well as his weariness from Skyfall, the film is far more interested in how much Bond doesn’t want to be involved in his former life. Seydoux paints a much more vivid portrait of someone who loves Bond more so than she did in Spectre. The two performers have gentle chemistry than gets better as the film progresses.
Lynch proves perfectly capable as Bond’s replacement, never being saddled with unrealistic expectations or cliches. If anything, she needs more to do. As for Malek, for being the main antagonist, he isn’t on screen very long. His character is discussed more than seen. He has clear motivations, but his characterization leaves plenty to be desired. At the end of the film, nothing about him is particularly memorable.
Returning faces Naomie Harris, Ben Wishaw, Wright, Waltz and Ralph Fiennes all do solid work. As far as bit players, Ana de Armas blows everyone else off the screen. She appears quickly, leaves a lasting impression, and departs with a smile. The film’s energy is never matched than when she is on screen.
Fukunaga proves to be accutely tuned to the practical action of what Bond needs. In typical Fukunaga-fashion, the climax of the film features an extended tracking shot of Bond fighting his way up a stairwell. These directorial flourishes give the film true authorship instead of the plug-and-play directors of past Bond films.
The film also brings back the gadgetry and exotic locales of previous lesser Bond films. These preposterous elements combined with how serious the actors take it, cheapens the impact a bit. Overall, the dumber Bond films can be, the more fun they are. Though I wouldn’t call this film fun, it isn’t grim either.
No Time to Die provides an emotional sendoff for the Craig-era of Bond. It might not reach the top-tier annals of 007 lore, the filmmakers still provide entertainment – which is probably the point of James Bond in the first place.