BOND: NO TIME TO DIE Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Faces from the past return, another lesson yet to learn. Matthew Kresal happily makes time for Daniel Craig's final outing as James Bond, 007.
In a different world, you would have been reading a version of this review nearly two years ago. That was when, after all, the 25th James Bond film from Eon Productions had its original release date. Finally, after a change of directors, writers, and composers and a release date moved multiple times due to the Covid-19 pandemic, that film, No Time to Die, has at long last reached cinemas. Billed as Daniel Craig's final outing in the role, has it proved to be a fitting send-off for his era as the world's most famous secret agent?

The first thing to say about No Time to Die upfront is that, as much of the Craig-era Bond outings, it is very much a continuation of what's come before. In this case, that means picking up on the plot threads of 2015's Spectre, something that is likely to be controversial in some circles given the cold reaction it received in some quarters (though my recent rewatch suggests Spectre is better than its reputation suggests). Indeed, given the lack of context clues in the opening sequence, it might even be best to give the last film a rewatch before heading into the cinema if you feel you need reminding. You're going to get a lot more out of No Time to Die if you do so.

Because, as promised, this is very much the tail end of the story that began with Craig's introduction in the role back in 2006's Casino Royale. Outside of the sixties Bond films, and of course, the novels from Ian Fleming that serve as the franchise's source, doing an ongoing narrative or building to something isn't something Bond has often done. The Craig era has essentially been an experiment, birthed in the time of both Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy and the early MCU, that's produced uneven results as films like Quantum of Solace and, to an extent, Spectre has shown. No Time to Die finds itself on the right side of the equation, finding solid in-story reasons to continue the narrative threads it picks up and to bring characters such as Jeffrey Wright's Felix Leiter that we've not seen in some time. The influence of Bond's creator is apparent as well, with the film channeling (as did Skyfall before it) the later Fleming novels, with one book previously adapted essentially in name only having its last act receive a 21st-century update for the film's conclusion. Something which is to the credit of director Cary Joji Fukunaga and the writers (including Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade with Phoebe Waller-Bridge).

It also works because of its leading man. Perhaps second only to Timothy Dalton's underrated late eighties Bond, Craig's characterization has gotten the closest to Fleming's wounded man of a secret agent, something which No Time to Die brings out. The Bond of this film is one who not only once more confronting elements of his past through Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) but facing a new threat, as well. All of the things that made Craig so watchable, the man of action mixed with the at times hardly submerged human side, are on full display here, culminating in the film's final act and Craig's final moments on-screen. Perhaps it's because everyone involved knew this would be it for him, but Craig's Bond gets something that both Sean Connery and Roger Moore, in particular, lacked in their final Eon Bond outings: a send-off that brought out their best as performers.

The casting, on the whole, is solid, both with new and returning cast members. Both Seydoux and Waltz solidify their chemistry with Craig from Spectre, both serving as driving factors in the film's plot and Bond's actions within it. The film also builds on Bond's relationship with the team at MI6, including the respectful but antagonistic relationship with Ralph Fiennes as M and the brothers in arms comradely with Wright's Leiter. Elsewhere, there are intriguing moments from the much-discussed Lashana Lynch as 00-agent Nomi, who proves a worthy match for Craig's Bond, and Ana de Armas (Craig's co-star from Knives Out) makes an outstanding but exceedingly brief appearance as Paloma.

No Time to Die has a weak spot, though. To be specific, in the form of Rami Malek's villain Safin. There is, without question, an immensely unsettling quality to Malek's performance, from his quiet and often near-whisper delivery of lines to some well-done make-up work. Yet, there's also something off in his performance, which means that unsettling never translates to menace. It perhaps also doesn't help that, in the final act, his motivations are never quite clear, either. The Craig era has had its hit and misses when it comes to villains, and Safin counts as a miss if a near one.

No Time to Die also takes the Craig era out on a high, production-wise. Mark Tildesley's production design neatly runs a wide gauntlet, from echoing the real world to the last act bringing Ken Adams sets of the 1960s up to date. Linus Sandgren's cinematography makes the film a visual feast, especially in IMAX, from Italian sunshine to the neon lights of Jamaica and Cuba to the muted high-tech glow of Safin's lair. Fukunaga's direction, along with Tom Cross and Elliot Graham as editors, keeps the film moving, making its 163-minute running time go by without hardly noticing. The icing on the cake might be the score from Hans Zimmer (and Steve Mazzaro), which brings back a classic Bond sound missing since David Arnold vacated the composer's chair, as well as quoting some classic Bond scores when appropriate, not to mention weaving in Billie Eilish's hauntingly melancholic title song.

In the end, No Time to Die is to Craig's Bond what Avengers: Endgame was to the first decade of the MCU: a celebration and climax, all rolled into one. And it's a successful end of an era, thanks to some solid choices made by Fukunaga and the writers, not to mention how well made it is as a film. And after nearly two years of waiting, it's nice to know it's been worth the wait to finally see the end of an era.

Previous "BOND: Revisiting..." articles
Dr. No - From Russia With Love - Goldfinger - Thunderball - You Only Live Twice - On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Diamonds Are Forever - Live And Let Die - The Man With The Golden Gun - The Spy Who Loved Me - Moonraker - For Your Eyes Only - Octopussy - A View To A Kill - The Living Daylights - Licence To Kill - Goldeneye - Tomorrow Never Dies - The World Is Not Enough - Die Another Day - Casino Royale - Quantum of Solace - Skyfall - Spectre

Never Say Never Again - The Other Casino Royals - Quentin Tarantino's Casino Royale

The James Bond Films That Never Were: The 50s & 60s - The 70s & 80s - The 90s to Today

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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