No Time to Die
The name. The number. The end.
By Louis Balzani
Posted 2:19 pm on Oct 9, 2021
WATCH THIS IF:
- You have any fondness or appreciation for the Bond franchise.
- You need a quality film to use as an excuse to return to the theater.
- You’re hoping for a definitive, satisfying, and surprisingly emotional coda to Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007.
Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you how much I adore the James Bond franchise. I grew up playing the video games, discovered the Pierce Brosnan era through home video, and finally experienced it on the big screen with Daniel Craig’s introduction in Casino Royale. Incredibly, fifteen years have passed since Craig became the world’s greatest secret agent in that landmark achievement of a film, and after nearly two years of delays and setbacks, this era of the franchise’s history is coming to a close with No Time to Die. It’s never easy to see a long-running story you’ve grown attached to take its final bow, but there is some solace in finally knowing that this final film largely does this version of Bond justice.
I’ll keep the plot discussion purposefully light, but damn, James Bond just can’t catch a break, can he? After retiring from MI6, Bond finds himself adrift in the world once again before being dragged back into the game by his closest friend and ally, Felix Leiter. After the kidnapping of a noted scientist working on a dangerous project, suspicions arise that something truly sinister is afoot, and Bond’s spy work begins anew. As another globetrotting adventure unfolds, Bond begins to rediscover what matters most to him, and what is required of him to save the world again.
It makes sense to start our analysis here with the man the whole production is built around; this is Daniel Craig’s show, full-stop. He pours everything he has into his final go at Bond, and it shows. Gone is the listlessness of Spectre, in favor of the most rounded and humanized portrayal of the character yet. If Bond is not more mature, he’s certainly much less frivolous; he sleeps with no one he hasn’t bedded previously, and the character’s devil-may-care attitude has leveled out considerably; I suppose love and retirement can mellow any man. Much of the supporting cast has the chance to bring more to the table as well, with Léa Seydoux in particular faring much better with a meatier part for Madeleine Swann. In general, nearly everyone benefits from the more involved and nuanced character writing…nearly everyone.
The exception comes via the film’s biggest disappointment: Rami Malek’s Safin and the plot surrounding him. With little of interest to say or do, Malek imbues the character with a composed, emotionless menace that’s effective at first, but bland and forgettable by film’s end. His motivations are hazy, his plan is poorly-defined, and aside from one or two threatening moments, his presence isn’t really felt. He’s a more “traditional” villain with his complete sociopathy and isolated base of operations, but it surprisingly doesn’t amount to much. The situation mirrors that of Christoph Waltz in the previous film – an excellent actor with nothing on the page to work with – and it makes Safin one of the least-notable villains we’ve seen to date.
The production elements also highlight the film’s overall highs and lows. The cinematography by Linus Sandgren is among the best of the entire franchise; awash in color and thoughtfully crafted, No Time to Die is a visual feast, and the money’s absolutely on-screen in this regard. Though there isn’t as much of it as you might expect, the action benefits immensely from this approach; in particular, the pre-title sequence is simply outstanding and is surely one of the best Bond will ever see. Emotionally intense and gripping in ways I wasn’t expecting, it sets an exceptionally high bar for the rest of the film, one that it very nearly meets throughout. Less memorable, unfortunately, is the music; Hans Zimmer’s score complements the action and plotting very well, but it’s just that – complementary. It’s not as distinct as anything from the previous four films, and to my ears it’s one of the least-memorable Bond soundtracks of the past thirty years. The aggressively-downbeat nature of the plot contributes to this to some degree, but it nonetheless left me wanting more.
Speaking of downbeat, let’s just get into it – this is the most dour and grim Bond film to date. It had to be this way in a sense, as Craig’s Bond is the most emotionally-scarred and brooding version of the character, but he is saddled with so much heartache that it’s all-consuming at this point. While the approach works and is thematically consistent, it also simply leaves the film lacking in one key element: fun. Thankfully, an all-too-brief diversion to Cuba does allow the film to come up for air; the levity is appreciated, and it allows Ana de Armas to nearly steal the whole damn thing as the bubbly and earnest Paloma. One-liners fly, characters have some laughs, and part of me wishes there was more of this energy sprinkled throughout.
All things considered, though, this is not an easy watch, especially the last hour or so; the days of the grand escapism of 007 are thoroughly behind us at the moment, and that’s a sad realization. To my mind, Bond films represented the apex of escapist entertainment for many decades, but the Craig era is decidedly not that. Over the course of these five films, Bond had evolved into a rather deep and introspective character study, one that gets increasingly morose as the years go by. In no way am I bemoaning this; in fact, we’re fortunate to see the franchise finally enjoy this much depth and emotional resonance. While I do believe there’s value in the world’s-greatest-superspy fantasy of yore, I recognize that we also can’t really have it both ways, and I’m happy that this era of Bond picked a lane and (mostly) stuck the landing.
There’s so much more I could get into, and perhaps I will down the road! For now, just know this: No Time to Die is as respectful and meaningful a “finale” as the Bond character has ever received. Thrilling action, ample emotion, and coy nods to the past make for an adventure worthy of the franchise’s storied reputation, despite some curious lows offsetting its dizzying highs. Yet, for as good as it is, I just can’t shake the feeling that it’s time. It’s time to close the book on this significant chapter in the franchise’s history. It’s time to say goodbye to this deep, fully-realized iteration of the character that we’ve spent a decade-and-a-half with. It’s time to look to the future once again, and it’s time, I hope, to make Bond fun again.