NO TIME TO DIE is the 25th film in the venerable James Bond franchise and Daniel Craig’s last turn as the character. We’ve seen a lot of different iterations of the character and tone throughout the series. Daniel Craig is my personal favorite Bond. I enjoy the earlier films in the series, but I vibe the best with the films in Craig’s part of the series. Daniel Craig is a very good actor and his interpretation of James Bond is the best, in my opinion, because he’s playing a real person, not a superhuman super spy who’s a super stud. The series and the character have evolved into a more realistic tone from the admittedly entertaining camp classics of the past. Please do not get offended when I call the earlier films campy. You know they are. A giant henchman with a mouth full of steel teeth, Bond splayed out with a laser pointed at his nads. Pussy Galore. That’s what the films were and they are definitely enjoyable, but after a time, either the series adapts or it dies.
NO TIME TO DIE was directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Fukunaga, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. It stars Craig, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Rory Kinnear, Ralph Fiennes, Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch, Ana de Armas, Dali Benssalah, Billy Magnussen, and David Dencik.
Among the performances of the actors in the films, there’s not one that fumbles. The casting by Debbie Williams was excellent. She’s been with the series for a while, so she’s cast a lot of the familiar faces and brought on a crew of new all-stars. Lashana Lynch, Ana de Armas, and Billy Magnussen, in particular, pulse with energy and charisma. Linus Sandgren, ASC, does excellent work with the cinematography and the film, as shot by Sandgren, and directed by Fukunaga, is very rich and has a particular depth, with an overall warm golden tone that is occasionally neutral or a cold stone grey when appropriate.
While all the usual spy stuff and madman with a plot to take over the world plot points that no Bond film can do without, there is a lot of really good work with character and emotional resonance.
When you have Cory Joji Fukunaga making your film, you are going to get a beautiful work of art that says things about human nature, both the kindness and the ugliness within human beings. You definitely get that in NO TIME TO DIE. Fukunaga’s work has a level of quality that ensures you are going to get an excellently made film and you are going to get a film made for adults that is also going to have those thrills that you crave. NO TIME TO DIE made me shout in surprise. They got me. The film has thrilling action sequences that have real stakes.
James Bond films have a formula and very specific setups. NO TIME TO DIE gives nods to the expected beats that long-time fans want, but doesn’t linger on them or draw them out. Rather than being the spy from Old Blighty, Craig’s Bond seems to be more of a world citizen than a repressed English stereotype. Daniel Craig is the best Bond because he plays James Bond as a mature man with a working-class background who really likes great suits and martinis. I know that is perhaps not how most people perceive Bond, but I think that is the most appropriate interpretation. Ian Fleming intended the character to be a “dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened” and while I am not suggesting that Craig or another fan-favorite Bond, Sean Connery, are dull, I think that the working class background fits the character best. He’s not a royal or from a moneyed family. It’s like how I feel that the character of Hannibal Lecter was played very well a few times, by Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins. I feel that Mads Mikkelsen’s interpretation of Lecter is the best and closest to the character as written. He’s European, not British. He’s got a whimsical sense of humor. Craig is very British, with a stoic mien, closed-off inner self, and vault of sadness within him. It’s in his eyes and that is what makes his portrayal of Bond so remarkable and one of the most interesting. He’s Bond with a sense of wry humor and a real heart. It’s not a heart that he wears on his sleeve, but you see it when you look in his eyes. You believe that Daniel Craig as James Bond could love like the character loved Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale and who he still mourns in NO TIME TO DIE. This isn’t your Dad’s James Bond.
Léa Seydoux is the lynchpin and the emotional core of the film. The film is a mediation on how hard it is for human beings to trust one another, especially after they have been betrayed. How intertwined the ability to trust is with the ability to love. One can fall in love (or lust) easily, but it’s hard to stay “in love” without that crucial element of trust. For love to last, one emotion cannot exist without the other. Seydoux’s work is an example of a person whose warmth and honesty as a character shines from inside of her. Is it real or is it not? It gives Daniel Craig’s Bond a central issue to wrestle with and you can see him try to read most of the other characters after a certain point in the film, even ones he knows very well because he doesn’t trust his own judgment any longer. Which is something that is very challenging for the character of a man who is also a spy. That’s pretty much what a spy does. They read people so they don’t get killed.
The action sequences and the fight scenes are intense and inventive. You’re going to love the action in NO TIME TO DIE because it is choreographed very well and executed wonderfully. Craig is underrated as an action performer. He moves like a cat even when he’s not fighting and has a physical grace that is rare among actors. He is very aware of himself but at the same time very casual about that awareness which is also rare. Usually, that kind of self-awareness reads as playing to the camera, and Craig avoids that entirely. Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, and Ana de Armas handle themselves very well in the action sequences and with fighting and weapons. One thing that I have to note here is that all the female characters, especially Seydoux, Lynch, and de Armas, are put forth as competent, skilled, and confident women. Seydoux and de Armas, who are essentially in the “Bond Girl” roles, don’t adhere to any of the “Bond Girl” stereotypes, including having sexually suggestive and funny names. I can only assume that the work that Phoebe Waller-Bridge did on the screenplay had something to do with that. All of his co-workers aren’t trying to sleep with him and he’s not trying to mack on them.
Moreover, most of the signature “Q and his funny gadgets” scenes are mostly done away with. Q is given more to do and it’s nice to see him outside of the usual type of scenes his character is stuck with. Ben Whishaw is more interesting than that. Fukunaga does play the fan service hits, but it’s not the majority of the film, so these bits are actually more effective and arresting. When Craig does do the Bond turn and shoot, it’s awesome because it’s not just a pose. The action has urgency and necessity and thus it looks really damn cool. It got a vocal reaction in the theatre. Billy Magnussen isn’t around as much as some of the other actors, but he has his moments and makes a great impression. Rami Malek is once again playing a weird character, but he’s good at it so that works for me. His character is possibly the least developed of all the characters, but I have to be realistic about how much development that character actually needs. He’s meant to be mysterious and so he is. It’s just that with the other characters that have more complex characterizations, he seems a bit out of place.
NO TIME TO DIE is a film that is worthy of Daniel Craig’s excellent performance as James Bond. The series has moved on to a form that is more realistic, but still has exciting action sequences that are key to spy films. The idea that the world is in danger and that spies with a license to kill are out there protecting all of us has been rejuvenated with a plot and performances that have more emotional heft and a realistic base. Did I cry? Yes, dear reader, I did. Was I gripping my seat armrests in terror for the characters? Yes, I was. It is the emotional work in the film that allowed me to feel the action even more than I would normally with a Bond film. The script also zigs when you think it is going to zag, so while you may guess some of what is going to happen, you won’t know everything. Bond films are usually well-worn and comforting, but NO TIME TO DIE challenges you with surprises and real character development. It’s not a cartoon anymore.
NO TIME TO DIE will be released in theaters on October 8, 2021.