No Time To Die makes sure that Daniel Craig’s James Bond goes out in a blaze of glory; it is just a shame that in between the action sequences, the film can be very dull at times. I wish that No Time To Die was tightened up (it is by far the longest Bond film in the franchise’s 25 film history, with a running time of 2h43m) because when the film drags, it is painfully slow. It is interesting to me reflecting on No Time To Die because there is a lot to like about it, but its flaws take away from the overall experience.
I knew No Time To Die was going to be different right off the bat and was intrigued because of this, as instead of a big action set piece to open the film, No Time To Die opens with a flashback of Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) as a child, where a man comes to kill her father, who is not home, so he kills her mother instead. When this man has the opportunity to kill Madeleine, he relents and saves her. Flash forward to shortly after the events of the previous Bond film Spectre, and we find Madeleine and James on a romantic escape in Matera, Italy; however, the past will not let them live in peace. Although we have seen cars and motorcycles race in small Italian towns before, I really liked some of the inventive shots here, especially when Bond takes a motorcycle up an impromptu ramp or watching him do donuts with his car while guns blast from the headlights (it was nice to see the use of more gadgets in this Bond film).
Fast forward five years and my favourite bit of camera work take place, as a group of assassins walk down the outside of a building, using an inventive tool to cut through the glass, taking us inside a lab that contains a bioweapon that is DNA encoded to wipe out certain people, while being harmless to others (for now at least). We have our MacGuffin! We find Bond retired in Jamaica, enjoying life until his old friend from the CIA, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) shows up and asks for his help in finding the scientist who created the bioweapon, who has also disappeared. Bond declines Felix’s invitation to help, only to have the new 007 show up (Lashana Lynch) to let him know what is going on. Not impressed with her attitude and threat to shoot him in his good knee, Bond decides to help Felix and find the scientist and bioweapon. That is the setup for No Time To Die; I won’t go into any more specifics about the plot (as the film has a graphic that plays before it starts saying “No Time for Spoilers”, so I will respect that), but here’s what I thought worked well throughout the film.
The heart of No Time To Die is the relationship between Bond and Swann and both Craig and Seydoux are electric when they are on screen together. I wish more time could have been spent with them, especially in the second act when they are at Swann’s childhood home, as they have definite chemistry on screen. There is a very long stretch where they are separated between the first and second act and No Time To Die does suffer for it.
I loved that director and co-screenwriter Cary Joji Fukanaga as well as screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Phoebe Waller-Bridge take characters and elements from the previous Bond films (most notably Casino Royale and Spectre) and make use of them in No Time To Die. Too often, I always found that throughout the 25 film history of the franchise, whoever was Bond at the time was always in a standalone story, that had loose ties to previous films, so when they refer to Vesper Lynd or show a painting of Judi Dench’s M, it was nice to see. Seeing characters like Felix Leiter and Blofeld return gives the story some weight and dramatic heft that would be missing otherwise.
I absolutely loved the locations used in No Time to Die. Materna, Italy, Jamaica and Norway (I love the roads and bridges that are seen in this short sequence before the vehicles go on an off-road adventure) are featured. I also like the island they used for the climactic showdown. Director Fukanaga knows how beautiful these locations are and we get some wonderful panoramic shots at times to highlight these locales.
The best part of No Time To Die is the sequence when Ana de Armas shows up. Her character Paloma is so much fun when she is on-screen as a CIA agent on her biggest mission yet, especially when she admits to Bond that she only has three weeks of training. They kick-ass together, have some fun banter and bring some much-needed levity and fun to a movie that at times takes itself too seriously. It’s the most playful sequence of the film and definitely one of the most memorable.
While I liked lots of things about No Time To Die, the few things I did not care for really weighed it down. The villain Safin is extremely dull. He talks quietly and very deliberately, with zero emotion in his voice, causing the dialogue to be slow and boring. Monotone is a very apt descriptor for Safin as the character admits that he does not get angry. He almost came across to me as a fan of James Bond as he sees 007 as a mirror to himself in the lives they have led. I never got the feeling that he wanted to hurt or kill Bond; he just wanted his evil plan to come to fruition, so I was never really scared of him. Also, Rami Malek is not physically imposing, so when they have their inevitable fight, it is not a long one. An interesting decision the screenwriters made was to have Safin not truly show up until the second half of the film. Although we know that he is running things in the background, until he shows up in Dr. Swann’s office, he is mostly absent. It makes it hard for me to really despise or feel emotion towards a villain when he is not on screen and has a very dull personality.
Ralph Fiennes is one of my favourite actors but in No Time To Die his character looks tired and reduced to saying clichés like “C’Mon Bond. Where the hell are you?” I wish he was used more, but when his “M” was on screen, his expressions reflected mine at times, which were disinterest and boredom. Naomie Harris is an extremely talented actress and a great Moneypenny, but she is very much in the background in No Time To Die and wished she was utilized more.
As I said earlier, I loved the action sequences, but there is a lot of character development in between these set pieces that, unfortunately, a lot of the time, brings the movie to a crawl. The slowest part of No Time To Die is surprisingly the third act, which takes place on an island where the bioweapon is being manufactured. In a sequence where Safin tries to threaten Madeleine drags and when Nomi and Bond are infiltrating the island, it seems like we are watching every step in slow motion. It also doesn’t help that the island conveys a sense of calm and tranquillity, as people are tending to gardens or working in water. It was an interesting dichotomy, but it just did not work for me.
At the end of the day, No Time To Die is a worthy addition to the franchise, but it is far from being one of the great Bond films. I’m happy that Daniel Craig got to do one final film as the iconic character and that it was in a good film (I always feel bad that Pierce Brosnan had to end his time as Bond with arguably the worst film in the franchise). So I raise my glass filled with a vodka martini, shaken not stirred to you Daniel Craig, Cary Joji Kukanaga, Sam Mendes, Marc Forster, Martin Campbell, the screenwriters as well as the cast and crew of the Craig era films.
I think the perfect way to end my review is to use a Jack London quote said in the film, which is this: “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”