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No Time to Die review - Daniel Craig’s bold, bountiful Bond farewell | reviews, news & interviews

No Time to Die review - Daniel Craig’s bold, bountiful Bond farewell

No Time to Die review - Daniel Craig’s bold, bountiful Bond farewell

Craig’s fifth and final outing as 007 is a genuine gamechanger

Have you seen my licence to kill? Daniel Craig in 'No Time to Die'Images: Nicola Dove/DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM

In order to preserve its impact for the millions lining up to see it, it won’t be possible to truly dissect the boldness and significance of No Time to Die until the dust has settled on the box office, and moves to find Daniel Craig’s successor as James Bond go up a gear. For review purposes, the most astounding aspects of the script may as well be redacted. 

And that’s not such a bad thing. The long-awaited finale of the Craig era is every bit as slippery, emotionally-charged and spectacular as we’d been led to expect; but most striking is the bravado and surprise involved in completing Craig’s arc as the character. It’s gutsy, risky, potentially alienating for some, but definitively seals the actor’s five-film cycle as a complete, standalone Bond history.

A raft of new personnel includes Cary Joji Fukunaga taking on directing duties from Sam Mendes, Phoebe Waller-Bridge joining the writers, and Lashana Lynch’s female 007 (pictured below right). And the sense of a major sea change kicks in immediately, with the customary pre-credits action sequence being replaced by an extraordinarily elaborate and satisfying prologue, involving Bond’s new lover Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). 

It opens with an introduction to the formative moment in Madeleine's childhood that will connect her to the film’s principal villain; this sequence alone is masterfully done – taut, horror-frightening, showing how even as a child Madeleine knew how to defend herself. Then it picks up where Spectre left off, Bond and Madeleine enjoying their new romance in the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Italian town of Matera. And then a seeming betrayal, a moment of rare disorientation for the agent, and a scintillating chase through the streets of the town that includes a mindboggling motorcycle stunt and a top-notch performance by one of Bond’s trusty Aston Martins, firing on all cylinders and with gadgets aplenty.

Whereas pre-credits usually establish Bond as the super spy who’s about to dominate the events that follow, here, for once, there is fallibility, doubt, disappointment. Billie Eilish’s melancholy, fatalistic title track feels tailor-made. 

Fast forward five years. Bond is retired, alone, catching fish in his old stomping ground of Jamaica, until CIA pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) shows up, in need of a favour; just a small one, involving madmen, deadly poisons and saving the world. 

What exactly Bond is getting into remains a mystery for some time, with M (Ralph Fiennes) appearing to lose the plot, two villains – old nemesis Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and creepy, scarred Safin (Rami Malek, pictured left) – vying for attention, Madeleine possibly aligned to one or other, or both. And how can a poison gas meant for Bond kill everyone but Bond?

Like most Bond movies, the dastardly masterplan (a globe-threatening biohazard) doesn’t bear too much scrutiny. Of chief interest here are the themes – of love, loss and trust – that have been brewing since Craig’s first outing in Casino Royale and the death of then lover Vesper Lynd. “We all have our secrets,” he tells Madeleine. “We just haven’t got to yours yet.” He is, of course, his own worst enemy. 

While Bond works out his issues, there’s much fun to be had, not least with his female colleagues. Lynch lends heaps of sass and charisma to the new 007, Nomi, who’s young, confident, highly competent and keen to score points off her predecessor. “I have a thing for old wrecks”, she tells Bond when they first meet, before threatening to shoot him in the knee – “the one that works.” One can see Waller-Bridge looming over Nomi’s shoulder. In Cuba, Ana de Armas (Craig’s break-out co-star in Knives Out, pictured below) is a hoot as newbie CIA agent Paloma, whose nervous excitement belies a stunning skillset. 

The MI6 crew, including Ben Wishaw’s Q and Naomi Harris’s Moneypenny, are as reliable as ever, if a little under-used. But Fiennes and Craig share a beautiful scene together, shot to highlight their characters as two middle-aged men bemoaning the way things used to be (when you could look an enemy in the eye when you kill him), lending a weary dignity to these relics of the secret service. 

Craig gamely plays on his age in some of the fight sequences, sometimes struggling to stay on his feet. From the get-go the actor has lent his spy nuance and a certain surly loneliness, creeping a little further from his shell with each film. Here we see Bond's full transformation –  physically and emotionally vulnerable, caring, chippily hilarious; he's positively human, in fact.

There’s a danger here of course. Sometimes Craig in this film could be any action hero other than 007. Likewise, there are passages of the film – touchy-feely beats – that don’t feel like a Bond at all. 

But the trajectory is deliberate, and brilliantly delivered by Craig, the sublime Seydoux and Fukunaga. The director is best-known for the first, great series of True Detective, of which there are echoes here, not least the hunt for a madman in his cavernous lair – in this case Safin’s concrete island fortress. Every single action sequence carries emotional weight, while the pacing, energetic cutting and camera movement help to make a near three-hour film pass in a flash. 

It doesn’t all gel. Neither Waltz (limited to a cameo with shades of Hannibal Lector) nor Malek are given enough time to really impose themselves, and there’s a messiness to the climactic assault on the island. Nevertheless, this is a meaty, playful, surprisingly touching end to an era, leaving plenty to ponder. 

This is a meaty, playful, surprisingly touching end to an era, leaving plenty to ponder

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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