No Time to Die – movie review

No Time to Die is, in many ways, the perfect send-off for Daniel Craig in his last appearance as James Bond. That’s not to say it’s a perfect film, but it pays deep reverence to the work Craig has done in re-defining the character for the 21st Century.

The producers tapped Cary Joji Fukunaga – who recently helmed the wonderfully strange Maniac on Netflix – to deliver this grand spectacle. And while Fukunaga throws in touches of directorial elan, he plays it pretty straight with the screenplay he co-wrote with Neil Purvis, Robert Wade and Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The film opens with a frightening prologue, then another set in Italy before the actual plot gets underway. At a secret MI6 lab, a group of heavily-armed operatives break in. After creating mayhem, they depart having captured scientist Valdo Obruchev (David Denick). Obruchev has been working on something called Project Heracles, a top-secret bio-weapon approved by M (Ralph Fiennes). Now Obruchev – and the weapon – are in the clutches of mega-rich madman Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).

Bond (Craig) is in retirement from MI6 and is slumming it in Jamaica. He left Madeleine Swan (Léa Seydoux) five years ago, but the wound still hurts. That however doesn’t stop Bond’s old CIA friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) from reaching out. The CIA – specifically the oily Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen) – have word that Obruchev will be attending a Spectre get-together in Havana, and they’d like Bond’s help in capturing him. But MI6 have a similar plan and send Nomi (Lashana Lynch) – the agent who’s taken over Bond’s 007 designation – to find what’s happening. After a tense encounter with Nomi, Bond heads to Cuba with Ash and Leiter. There he meets his partner for the evening, the dangerous Paloma (Ana de Armas). But things don’t quite go to plan, putting Bond on a collision course with Safin.

Fukunaga crams a lot into No Time to Die. Even at 2 hours 45 minutes, I felt like the film zipped by. He adds layers to the film, harking back to previous installments of the Craig Bond films, as well as earlier iterations. The film is undoubtedly at its best in the wonderfully-staged set pieces. The Cuba sequence in particular is brilliant. But the unsettling first prologue is incredibly tense, and the ending is suitably grandiose. Linus Sandgren (First Man) provides some fabulous cinematography.

On the down side, I found Hans Zimmer’s score overly intrusive, sometimes even drowning out the dialogue. But the main problems arise from the script. While I generally like that this series of Bond films has gone to some darker and more interesting places (much as I preferred Christopher Nolan’s Batman series over Tim Burton’s), this one is a bit disjointed. The character of Nomi is particularly badly treated, being effectively sidelined for much of the film – and completely sidelined for the final showdown. Safin is more of a throwback Bond villain in the manner of Hugo Drax from Moonraker. The character is rather one-note and I can see why the the disability community raised concerns. The ending – spectacular as it is – raises more questions than it answers.

Craig does his trademark Bond again here. It might not be a stretch for him anymore, but it’s certainly what the fans want to see. As with the film itself, he seems most at home in the action sequences. His chemistry with Léa Seydoux (The Lobster) as Madeleine is lukewarm, but at least the character doesn’t come off as a glib Lothario. As noted, Lashana Lynch (Captain Marvel) and Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) both have to deal with characters sold short by the script. I liked Billy Magnussen as the smarmy Ash, and cheered (just a little) when he got his comeuppance. Indeed, arguably the most memorable performances come from actors in cameo roles – Ana de Armas (Knives Out) as Cuban agent Paloma (the actor is Cuban) and Christoph Waltz (Downsizing), who chews the scenery deliciously as Blofeld.

Despite some missteps, when No Time to Die works, it really works. Fukunaga does a fine job directing this massive undertaking. Does the film send off Daniel Craig in style? For sure! Where does the franchise go from here? Well, I guess that remains to be seen.

David Edwards

Other reviews you might enjoy: