No Time to Die

When the honeymooning retired MI6 agent James Bond’s (Daniel Craig) new wife Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) asks him to make peace with the last woman he loved, Vesper Lynd, what ensues convinces Bond of yet another betrayal.  Five years later, he’s wooed out of his Jamaican solitude by the CIA’s Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) to retrieve a kidnapped Russian scientist, beating MI6’s new 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch, "Captain Marvel"), to the punch in “No Time to Die.”

Laura's Review: B+

Daniel Craig's fifth and last outing as James Bond turns out to feature a lot of firsts - the first of the franchise to be directed by an American, the first to open with a sequence not featuring Bond himself and other firsts best left unspoiled.  The film, which has been delayed several times since its original theatrical date in April of 2020 due to the pandemic, is classic Bond on the surface, but like the rest of the Craig oeuvre is more interested in character.

Craig, who took over the role with 2006's "Casino Royale," appeared in one of the worst of the franchise, 2008's "Quantum of Solace," but leaves the franchise his fifth time out in one of its best.  Given that these films are often only as good as their villains, that's really saying something as this succeeds largely due to his performance, the screenplay by Bond veterans Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and director Cary Joji Fukunaga ("Sin Nombre," "Beasts of No Nation") and ‘Fleabag’s’ Phoebe Waller-Bridge delving into deeply emotional territory.  Who knew that the sight of James Bond picking up a stuffed rabbit named Dou-dou would evoke not only a chuckle, but a lump in our throats?

After the Scandinavian prologue which fills in Swann’s back story and establishes Rami Malek's Lyutsifer Safin (a villain, who, while important to Swann is no more than plot device in the global scheme of things), we’re treated to a classic Bond credit sequence set to Billie Eilish’s now familiar theme song before jumping to Matera in Northern Italy where a visit to Vesper’s crypt sets off a three-part action sequence featuring foot chase, a fabulous motorcycle stunt and some Aston Martin trickery, a fusillade of bullets mirroring Bond’s mood.

Five years later we witness an elaborate biolab break-in where ornery Russian scientist Valdo Obruchev’s (David Dencik, HBO's 'Chernobyl') caustic verbal jabs at coworkers are made physical reality by his kidnappers.  This is the man Bond travels to Cuba to retrieve.  He’s met by Paloma (Craig's "Knives Out" costar Ana de Armas), a chipper woman in a bias cut satin gown who tells him she’s had three weeks training and hands him a tux before they enter a dangerous den, a lush party featuring a bionic eyeball which focuses right on James.  In London, Bond learns that the Heracles Project which is causing him so many headaches actually belonged to M (Ralph Fiennes).  Intended as a DNA-based method to protect his agents, it has now been weaponized, nanobots carrying a target’s DNA able to be passed from person to person without harm until they come into contact with their victim.  Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), held in a heavily guarded prison, may have some answers but there is only one person who has had access to him – his psychotherapist, Dr. Swann.

M isn’t in the best of moods, annoyed that Bond chose the CIA over MI6 and obviously upset about his unintentional contribution to the latest global threat, one which will also be politically complicated by the UK’s encroachment on disputed Russian/Japanese territory.  This leads to some strange movements among the tight-knit MI6 family, Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) freaking out Q (Ben Whishaw) by bringing Bond to his home as he preps for a dinner party.  There is also competitiveness between the new 007 and the old, Nomi fiercely competent but by the book, different but equal. and Lynch and Craig make for an interesting pairing.  The film also features Dali Benssalah as Primo (I prefer Bond’s dubbing of him as ‘Cyclops’), Billy Magnussen as obviously duplicitous CIA agent Logan Ash and the return of Rory Kinnear as MI6’s Tanner.

Fukunaga’s done the franchise proud, delivering action, espionage AND heart.  But it is Daniel Craig, whose vulnerable Bond made us feel not only every physical injury but every emotional loss, who brings this one home.

Robin's Review: B

James Bond, the famous 007, retired from the spy biz and lives a harmonious, almost hermit-like, life in Jamaica. That changes when his old friend from the CIA, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), arrives at his doorstep and asks for his help in finding and freeing a captured scientist in “No Time to Die.”

I think the last of the James Bond franchise films I really remember was “Casino Royale (2006),” and I apparently saw “Spectre (2015)” but could not say what it was about. And, thinking of it, the last Bond film that I actually liked was “Diamonds Are Forever (1971),” and I believe it was the second to last in the series to star as the one true James Bond: Sean Connery. (The actor did come back for his swan song as Bond in “Never Say Never Again (1983).)

In this latest entry to the iconic Bond archive, James has been out of the spy business for five years (following a brief set up in the prologue). But, he is a man with a certain set of skills and his best friend and CIA operative Felix Leiter brings him out of retirement to rescue a kidnapped Russian scientist. That is the set up, at least.

What follows are a series of sub-stories and vignettes put together to allow James Bond and the requisite Bond babes to thwart evil plans to take over the world – just like all of the other Bond movies. But, “No Time to Die” is not quite like the others. James is older, now, and his life is not as it once was. What it is now, I will leave you to find out.

I do not think it is a spoiler to say that James Bond does indeed save the world yet again. If he did not, then the fans would be sorely disappointed. But, here there is something a little different – there is more to his life than thwarting megalomaniac bad guys (though he does his share of that, too).

Let me just say that there are unexpected surprises in store for the Bond fans and expected things also – like the reliable gadget-laden Aston Martin. There is also an air of humanity to the players in this installment as familiar characters, like M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whished) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), have a kinder personae. There are also new characters, like the new 007 (Lashana Lynch) and an agent-in-training, Paloma (Ana de Armas), who is capable, deadly and adorable.

To me, a film that is nearly three hours long is, well, just too long, no matter the subject (though there are some rare exceptions). The filmmakers put all the money up on the screen and, while CGI effects are many, there are also many real stunt people utilized to good effect, which is a treat for a fan of that unsung art.

I think “No Time to Die” pulls it off because there are actually three different “stories” going on, moving from one to another so I did not get bored. And, with multiple stories in play you get multiple bad guys to know and hate with Christoph Waltz reprising, too briefly, his role as Ernst Stavro Blofeld. New to the series is Rami Malik as uber-mastermind madman Lyutsifer Safin and I think he is the least compelling Bond villain I can remember.

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga does fine job mustering his huge cast, impressive CGI and good, old-fashioned action to bring us an entertaining and flashy entry to the Bond story. Daniel Craig is reportedly done with James Bond and he certainly goes out with a bang.

MGM/UA opens "No Time to Die" in theaters on 9/30/21 in the UK and on 10/8/21 in the U.S.