- by Jeff Beck
No Time to Die: A Familiar, but Thrilling Final Outing for Daniel Craig's 007
After 15 remarkable years, the era of Daniel Craig's James Bond is coming to a close with the latest entry in the franchise, "No Time to Die." In 2006, the world was blown away by "Casino Royale," a reboot that proved to be one of the very best (if not THE best) film in the entire series, and while there was a bit of a rough patch that followed with "Quantum of Solace" (made during a writers' strike) and "Skyfall," the franchise came back strong with "Spectre" in 2015. Now as we bid farewell to Craig's incredible, brooding portrayal, it's finally time to see whether the six long years since the last film have resulted in a suitable sendoff for the man who's work has been largely responsible for breathing new life into the infamous secret agent.
As the film opens, we witness a flashback in which a young Madeleine Swann's mother is murdered by the vengeful Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who ends up saving the child's life when she falls under some ice. In present day, we find Madeleine (Lea Seydoux) and James (Daniel Craig) happily living together in Italy, with the latter having retired from his position at MI6. However, that quickly comes to an end as James is ambushed at the grave of Vesper Lynd by assassins of Spectre, eventually causing him to leave Italy under the assumption that Madeleine betrayed him.
A few years later, a scientist (David Dencik) is kidnapped from an MI6 lab, along with a deadly bioweapon that can target specific DNA called "Project Heracles," which had been approved by M (Ralph Fiennes). James, now living in Jamaica, is contacted by his old CIA friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), who wants his help to track down the scientist. He turns him down, but after being contacted by the new 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), he decides to accept Felix's offer, entangling him in a deadly affair in which millions of lives hang in the balance.
So was it worth the wait? Overall, I'd have to say it definitely was. It's hardly the best Bond film, but what screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge have given us here is an emotionally-satisfying, exciting, and solidly-entertaining entry in the franchise that delivers exactly where it needs to. The only somewhat slight criticism of the story, and it's not even necessarily a bad thing, is that this is a pretty standard Bond film. That is, it follows a very familiar set of beats: a madman wants to do something very bad, Bond and co. have to track them down, and ultimately infiltrate their lair and stop them. However, despite being a familiar template that we've seen time and time again, it works well enough for the film, because, as mentioned, it still delivers where it counts.
Where the film truly shines, aside from the emotional aspects of its narrative, is in its stunning action sequences. This is the kind of thing we've come to expect from these films, and yet, the writers and stunt teams always manage to come up with scenes that continue to make our jaws drop, and "No Time to Die" is no exception. With its intense vehicle chases, shootouts, and fights, there's certainly no shortage of spectacle throughout the entire epic ordeal, giving the film the action edge it needs without smothering the narrative.
Speaking of epic, this latest entry in the franchise sets a new record as the longest Bond film in the series' nearly 60-year history at 163 minutes. This immediately raised a big, red flag when it was announced since action films tend to be too long in the first place, but surprisingly, the film moves along quite well, setting a smooth pace that deftly balances the story and action throughout, which was a pleasant discovery given that some of the previous films had trouble doing so with shorter runtimes.
The film's biggest drawback lies in its villain, Lyutsifer Safin, as played by Rami Malek. It's true that he's your typical antagonist that wants to do something bad (in this case, kill millions of people with a bioweapon), but even a somewhat shallow character like that has allowed a lot of actors to have fun with it in the past, including Gert Frobe ("Goldfinger"), Jonathan Pryce ("Tomorrow Never Dies"), Sean Bean ("Goldeneye"), and others. Malek simply appears to be sleepwalking through the role, never emoting very much, and ultimately leaving little-to-no impact on the film. Malek is a fine actor, but there's so much more he could've done here to give us a memorable villain.
All things considered, "No Time to Die" is a pretty good entry in the franchise, and a fitting sendoff for Daniel Craig, who has been hailed as one of the best actors to play the part. It has its share of faults, but it overcomes them by providing plenty of excitement, and a compelling story that keeps your attention throughout the record-setting runtime. As to what comes next, we can only imagine who'll be the next to slip on 007's tux. Will it be a well-known name, or perhaps someone who is at the same place Craig was in his career when he won the role? Either way, they definitely have some very big shoes to fill. 3/4 stars.
Starts tomorrow in theaters everywhere.
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