Review: No Time to Die

The release of a new James Bond film is always greeted with keen anticipation; on this occasion though, the mood is more solemn, since the latest instalment also heralds the end of Daniel Craig’s tenure as the gentleman spy. While it’s undoubtedly one of the better chapters in the long-running series, when viewed as a tribute to its much-loved star, the picture proves less appeasing.

The British intelligence agency known as MI6 has been compromised, yet again, after an experimental weapon is stolen from one of their top-secret research facilities in London. Its theft has huge ramifications for global security, not just because of the potential harm it can inflict on humanity, but also due to its secrecy, with only a select few individuals being aware of the weapon’s existence – not even Britain’s Prime Minister has been informed of its development.

In years gone by, MI6 would have called upon the services of James Bond (Daniel Craig) to rectify affairs like this; but the secret agent is now long-retired from the organisation, living off-grid and isolated in Jamaica with no desire of returning to duty. That is, until Bond is greeted by his C.I.A counterpart and friend, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) who informs him of the raid’s connection to SPECTRE, the criminal syndicate believed to have been thwarted five years earlier.

No Time to Die marks the 25th entry in Eon Productions’ James Bond film franchise, the release of which has been a long time coming. Initially set for a global debut in late 2019, delays in development and production saw that date pushed to March 2020, only for you-know-what to see the picture delayed again until September of this year. Australians have had to wait longer still to see the feature, with lockdowns in their two most-populous cities resulting in a six-week delay for the theatrical release.

Those who have been eagerly awaiting Bond’s newest adventure will be pleased to know that No Time to Die has plenty of exciting action sequences, possibly the best of any Bond film. Among these sequences are some ferocious close-quarters encounters with impeccable choreography; intense gun fights between parties that have an unnerving realism; and two sublime car chases – the first through an Italian village in Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5, the second an off-road argy-bargy in a decidedly unexotic Toyota Prado.

Long-time fans of the franchise will be equally thrilled by the constant allusions to the previous Bond flicks, including the aforesaid DB5, as well as Timothy Dalton’s V8 Vantage from The Living Daylights, and the occasional musical reference to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Yet undoubtedly, the most recognisable trademark is Bond’s dry humour, here crafted with the input of another personality known for their sardonic wit: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who is credited as one of No Time to Die’s four screenwriters.

Waller-Bridge’s comedic influence can also be found in the two “Bond girls” making their franchise debut. One is the cool, assured Nomi (Lashana Lynch), an MI6 operative and Bond’s replacement; the other is the giddy, yet resourceful Paloma (Ana de Armas) who is contracted to the C.I.A. The latter is a particular highlight – despite being seen only briefly, Paloma adds a vast amount of liveliness to proceedings with her unique, quirky personality, certifying herself as a protagonist who deserves a larger role in a future Bond instalment.

Although these many qualities help distinguish the 25th film from its precursors, No Time to Die is not one to deviate from the established formula, being closest in spirit to the previous chapter, Spectre. This association is most evident in the lethargic pacing, flowing at a patience-testing speed that ensures the blockbuster seems every bit as long as its advertised 163-minute length would suggest. Still, both pictures remain an improvement on Quantum of Solace and its rapid-fire editing.

There is a greater problem with No Time to Die, and that’sits chief antagonist, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek). In addition to possessing a convoluted plan and opaque motivations, Safin is an uncompelling character, lacking the intriguing backstory, maniacal personality and ruthless mentality of Bond villains past, with a slight facial disfigurement and soft French accent being his only distinguishable traits. Malek himself does nothing to help matters, his performance being bland, remote, and failing to convey even the slightest hint of emotion.

And on the subject of emotion, it’s worth noting that No Time to Die isn’t quite the heartfelt send-off that it’s trying so hard to be. There are numerous stirring moments within the story, yet very few of these moments feel earned, and have seemingly been put forward solely to get a cheap reaction out of the audience. What’s more, because this screenplay forms part of a serialised, five-part narrative, the emotional scenes will only find resonance with viewers who’ve seen Craig’s previous outings as 007.

25 films and very nearly six decades into its existence, the James Bond franchise is one that continues to delight and surprise, with No Time to Die profiting from superbly choreographed action sequences, welcome nods to the character’s past and the contributions of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. This may not be the satisfying denouement that Daniel Craig deserves, but it’s a fitting one nevertheless.

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This review was first published by Rating Frames on November 9th, 2021.

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