No Time to Die Review: Farewell to a Spectacular James Bond
Cary Joji Fukunaga, who created the script with Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, as well as Phoebe Waller-Bridge from Fleabag, is directing No Time to Die. Vesper Lynd’s death in Casino Royale appears to have hardened Bond’s heart to future emotional commitment, as seen in his first spectacular action sequence in which he visits her grave. Bond’s relationship with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), his love interest from Spectre, lies at the heart of No Time to Die’s emotional narrative.
Are your ex-love interests making contact with you? Reminiscences of the past? Is Bond willing to let anyone inside his heart? With his customary love-them-then-leave-them attitude toward women, this all sounds sacrilegious. In part, the appeal of Bond has been his constancy, how he continues to cycle through nefarious plans and love affairs, hardly flinching over either. In No Time to Die, Daniel Craig makes it clear that he’s not interested in playing Bond that way. Instead, he plays the character’s super-spy coolness as a barrier against his deteriorating emotional state. If you liked Craig’s previous performances, this will feel like a logical next step for his character. The film’s premise revolves around Bond’s desire to retire, presumably realizing that he can no longer serve as a sentimental assassin for the government. This version of Bond, therefore, could only appear when he was bidding goodbye.
Fukunaga doesn’t abandon the series’ basic beliefs because of this. The great filmmaker behind Beasts of No Nation and the first season of True Detective combines impressionistic framing with grit and realism, and he creates stunning set pieces in Southern Italy, Jamaica, and Norway for the IMAX giant screens, which are well worth seeing if you can. Fukunaga also embraces Bond’s retro silliness, something that most recent films have avoided. As in Dr. No, the film’s soft-spoken antagonist Lyutsifer (a hammy Rami Malek) develops his nefarious plan from a remote island hideaway. Meanwhile, megalomaniac Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) returns with a bionic eye to spy on his adversaries.
Fukunaga does a good job of blending hilarity and tragedy, but considering the film’s length, he has plenty of area to work with (163 minutes, a record for the series). While doing so, he avoids the cliche of the “Bond girl,” who is reduced to a mere sexual prop. Lashana Lynch plays a new agent who takes over Bond’s former post after he decides to retire. Other recurring characters include Madeleine and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). Though Lynch’s entrance as a Black female 007 could have been viewed as gimmicky, the actress appears unfazed, meeting wits with her predecessor on a level playing field. She appears to exist largely as a gesture to the series’ future as it seeks for its next Bond; the film goes to great lengths to make it clear that she will not be Craig’s permanent replacement. This time, Bond is aided by rookie agent Ana de Armas, and their flirtatious antics are fuelled by mutual admiration.
As a result of these narrative changes, Craig’s version of Bond has shifted from a cool, serene creature of the British empire to a wounded animal who struggles to trust anyone. It doesn’t matter if this incarnation lasts after him; part of the fun of seeing him work has been seeing him find new ways to express himself while still staying true to the character’s core appeal. Car chases, explosions, and an arch-supervillain bent on world conquest are all there in No Time to Die. But it’s also a film that, as it bids farewell to its hero and asks its audience to grant Bond a tragic vulnerability, is poised to bring tears to your eyes for reasons I won’t give away. I was more than willing to comply.