An epic ending to an epic run with the character deserves an epic review.
A decade-and-a-half after catching the midnight screening of Casino Royale, my now-wife and I caught the swansong for star Daniel Craig, No Time To Die. It is fitting that a monumental — and extremely unique — run of the nearly 60-year-old EON Production series closes out what has been an equally monumental and interesting chapter of my life. And now, my life — like that of James Bond’s – is free and ready to move on to greener, greater, unknown pastures.
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga, and cinematographer Linus Sandgren definitely bring a more kinetic feel — including the use of Fukunaga’s long-takes during Bond’s fight while ascending a spiral staircase in the third act — that marks a very American feel to this entry (every single director in the series, up until now, has been non-American. The difference is very palpable).
Opening with a flashback — not a flashback for Bond, a first for the series — the 25-minute long pre-credit sequence finds Bond and Madeleine Stowe (Lea Seydoux) in retirement from spy escapades, and with Madeleine’s urging, Bond settles and old grudge and lets some of his past go. But the past isn’t ready to let go of him, and soon SPECTRE agents interrupts their little honeymoon and the chase is on, and soon after, a distrustful Bond closes yet another relationship form his life, seemingly for good, as series mainstay Daniel Kleinmann‘s opening credits, and Billie Eillish‘s title song set the tone — moody, melodic, and melancholy.
Five years following the opening sequence, the plot is underfoot: someone is stealing DNA information, and all fingers point to the incarcerated SPECTRE head, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Cristoph Waltz). Bond, living a quiet life in Jamaica, is contacted off-the-books by his CIA buddy Felix Liter (Jeffrey Wright), as well as MI6 agent Nomi (Lashana Lynch), a capable agent who has taken up the 007 codename (“What? Did you think they’d retire it?” she derisively asks Bond). The world has moved on, and a new threat from Lyustifer Safin (Rami Malek) is rising to destabilize — and potentially destroy — the entire world.
That’s all the plot I’m going to talk about, as this film — like no other in the series aside from my personal favorite, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — is singular and self-contained, at once referencing past entries in the series, and moving beyond all that continuity into something that is both within and just outside the series itself. Hell, you could probably watch SPECTRE and then No Time To Die immediately after watching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the themes will transition seamlessly. This film, along with George Lazenby’s sole entry, attempted something that no other film in the series even came close to attempting: concluding a James Bond story. Not an entry in a series, but an entire singular story. Audiences weren’t ready for it back in 1969, and it’s interesting to see how ahead of its time OHMSS was, and how audiences have since reevaluated and evolved with it.
The parallels to that prior film goes beyond mere meta-themes: composer Hans Zimmer forgoes his usual bombast to use the OHMSS theme as a motif, and the opening credit sequence parallels that of OHMSS as well, with its imagery of Britannia, coats of arms and, most compellingly, clocks moving backwards. Using the late Louis Armstrong‘s final recording, “We Have All The Time In The World” — the love theme to OHMSS — was also very wistful, as it subtly hinted at that film’s equally controversial ending.
And while I did hear some telling parallels between this film and his sore to The Dark Knight trilogy (especially during a tense sequence in the final act), his is an actual distinct score amongst his oeuvre, and it’s a surprise that after Inception he wasn’t immediately tapped, as that film’s score was his most Bond-like up until now.
As solid as this film is, there are some decisions that keep it from being an “all-time great”. Safin’s presence is hardly felt through the bulk of this film, which is a shame because he has all the characteristics of a classic Bond villain: the megalomania, the ego, the outlandish world-dominating plot, the secret island base (structured on Blofeld’s base from the novel You Only Live Twice, particularly with the poison garden), but he isn’t featured prominently or often enough to feel like a threat.
Malek’s performance, while compared to Joseph Wiseman‘s Doctor No, actually parallels Michel Lonsdale‘s Hugo Drax from Moonraker: monotonous, not easily rattled, and not particularly physically imposing. Safin could easily have walked out of a Roger Moore Bond film and into this one and not have batted an eye. The audience understands how dire the stakes are because the characters keep talking about them, but Safin never actually presents himself as someone who could personally follow through with them; also, he deserved a much more interesting demise. If there’s one thing the Craig films have lacked, it’s a truly interesting death for the villains. Nary an impalement via plutonium isotope rod in sight (*rolls eyes*). Booooo.
Ana de Armas‘s CIA agent Paloma also gets the short end of the stick in a different way, in that she’s so interesting and fun and well-written, and then she disappears after a short appearance. Full of agency, a feisty personality, and a newbie teamed with the veteran Bond, Paloma definitely feels like she was written exclusively by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who collaborated with veteran Bond scribes Neal Pervis and Robert Wade, and the entire sequence featuring Paloma was fun, energetic, and exciting…too bad she exits so early. Billy Magnusson‘s Logan Ashe likewise isn’t seen enough, which is a shame, as he must have it in his contract that he has to exclusively play insufferable assholes, and we could have used maybe one or two more scenes of his dickhead CIA agent.
Finally… I just never bought the relationship between Madeleine and Bond. Not that she’s a poorly written character, or uninteresting and Seydoux does great work with her here… but I never once believed that she would be The One to whom he’d dedicate his entire life. My wife didn’t even remember SPECTRE well enough to recall what made their relationship so strong…I do remember SPECTRE and still don’t buy it.
So it’s come. The end of an era, a definitive end for a character that has done everything from go to space, to fight atop the Golden Gate Bridge, to ski down a bobsled run. It’s great that Craig breaks the Bond actor curse by ending his run on a film that is this strong, but the definitiveness, the compartmentalization of his tenure is likely what will define him. His aren’t like the other entries in that you can throw one on and just enjoy it in its entirety, but is an ongoing arc with a beginning, middle, and end, which has its merits and strengths. Yet.. for once, it would have been nice to see him save the world without having a deconstruct and then reconstruct Bond over and over again. Every one of his films seemed to end with Bond emerging fully formed, only for the next entry to deconstruct him again. There are moments of fun and levity, but his Bond films aren’t what I would call “fun”.
As I wrote earlier, Craig’s run ends as I transitioned to a new phase in my life, almost down the day. This past weekend, coincidentally, the themes to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (both John Barry‘s instrumental title theme, and Louis Armstrong’s ballad) played at key moments to my nuptials, almost as a thematic endpoint before a return to real life. Fittingly, as “We Have All The Time In The World” plays over the end credits to No Time To Die, we too are assured that James Bond, as well, as always, will return. 4/5 Whiskey Martinis.
What’s up, folks? The Belser are here again with another one of my patented movie reviews. Tonight’s selection is the swan song for the longest-serving James Bond actor of all time, Daniel Craig. I watched his first Bond movie, Casino Royale when I was stationed in Iraq, and I’ve watched all of his Bond films in the theaters ever since. I remember the initial hesitation by the public in the regards to Craig being cast as James Bond. There were boycotts and websites and articles with headlines like “Bland, James Bland”. Fifteen years later, he’s considered one of the (if not the) best Bond actors ever. I just finished this movie and I have to say this might be one of the best Bond movies with one of the most controversial endings. More on that later.
After the events of the last film (2015’s SPECTRE), Bond is living comfortably with his love interest from that movie Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux). Bond’s ‘honeymoon’ is short-lived, however, as the demons in the past of both Bond and Madeleine come back to haunt them. After a self-imposed retirement of five years, James Bond returns to the fold to stop a new threat on the scene that has a vendetta against both MI6 and SPECTRE. As the investigation commences, more secrets will be revealed that play not only in the life of James Bond, but also threatens the lives of all civilization on this planet.
I have to say all of the Bond movies I’ve seen with Daniel Craig, this one allows him to really do his best acting. The Bond portrayal in this movie is so much more different than the other ones before. Much more sarcastic and fun loving but he also does some real deep dives in terms of emotion and drama then I’ve ever seen from him before. Really a sight to see. Of course as he returns to MI6, his established crew returns as well: Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Tanner (Rory Kinnear), Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), Q (Ben Whislaw) and M (Ralph Fiennes). The newest addition to the film, Captain Marvel‘s Lashana Lynch, is a new 00 agent that essentially took James’s place during his retirement, and she’s not all too happy that he’s returned.
As for the love interest Madeline, I didn’t really find her all that interesting in SPECTRE but they give her more to do in this film and it sort of makes up for it. Another new addition to this film is Mr. Robot star Rami Malek, as the new villain Safin. In all honesty, you really don’t see that much of him but when you do see him, he is all kinds of creepy and clearly emotionally damaged not unlike Javier Bardem‘s Silva in Skyfall. This character also marks the return of the megalomaniac Bond villain bent on world domination.
As is standard with all the Bond films, the locales are fantastic. It has locations in places like Italy, Jamaica, Cuba and, of course, London. The action and stunts continue to be top notch, though I will say certain scenes are more understated than usual but no less effective. I know another thing that really surprised me is how good the musical score is. While the much heralded Hans Zimmer is the film’s composer, I’m just not a particularly big fan of his music. He did THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy and the DCEU Superman/Justice League movies so I was just expecting a bunch of long drones that’s supposed to be music. However, he kills it in this movie with big bombastic brass just like the traditional Bond film scores. Loved it.
Past Bond Movie References:
Of course just for the sake of continuity, this film makes a lot of references to the previous Daniel Craig Bond films (in particular, Casino Royale, Skyfall and SPECTRE). But it does go beyond that and mentions one of the most celebrated and most controversial Bond films from the past: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with George Lazenby. There are many parallels in terms of the story and plot points between that movie and this movie. As a Bond fan, I was very very happy to hear that familiar score again as well as their familiar title theme sung by the late Louis Armstrong. The villain also uses a special fortress that was used in the Bond novel You Only Live Twice but never in the films (until now),
Now comes the eternal question: Would I Watch This Again? My answer: Hell Yes! This movie is well over two hours and it does not feel it at all which is the best feeling watching a movie. It’s very well paced and you want more as it goes along. I will say this movie has one of the more emotional and controversial endings I’ve ever seen in a Bond film. So controversial that I know people are going to be thinking, “Well, where do you go from here?” Because of the fact this is Daniel Craig’s last film, I’m pretty sure the next film is going to be a soft reboot of the franchise, which is always the case whenever they change the Bond actors. They will use the same supporting actors but a whole new storyline.
As far as the Daniel Craig films go, I would say every other film of his particular run has been fantastic. Casino Royale? Great. Quantum of Solace? Not-so-great. Skyfall? Great. SPECTRE? Not-so-great. No Time To Die? Great. Not only this is movie get the Belser Seal of Approval but I give it my highest honor, THE ALL-STAR, (named after my favorite Snork) as a must-see. 5/5 Vesper Martinis.
007: No Time To Die is currently playing in theaters everywhere.