No Time to Die review

No Time to Die wraps the Daniel Craig era of James Bond. It’s the kind of finale that suggests Craig should have hung up his tuxedo and finished his last vodka martini immediately after Skyfall. No Time to Die won’t have fans shaken and stirred as much as the divisive Spectre, but it’s hardly a triumphant conclusion.

Spectre wasn’t the worst ever entry in the series. It just dramatically clashed with the tone of Craig’s other Bond films. Unfortunately, some of the main problems with Spectre resurface here. That’s mainly due to an unnecessary desire to follow-up on one of the poorest received modern 007 films.

Bond headed off into retirement to enjoy life with Madeleine (Léa Seydoux). It can’t last naturally since Bond can’t stay happy. A domesticated life is not the life of a secret agent.

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Seydoux and Craig’s chemistry has never been that convincing. Mostly due to the age difference. Seydoux is a youthful looking 36 who could pass for a 26-year-old while Craig definitely looks 53.

That’s hurt the Bond/Madeleine credibility. In fairness, all the Craig era ‘Bond Babes’ are vying for a distant second place to Eva Green’s sizzling Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. The franchise hasn’t helped matters with constantly references to her and reminding viewers of the standard bearer Craig-era 007 romance.

Because Bond can’t have nice, stable relationships, he gets ambushed and thinks Madeleine set him up. This is a brilliant setup from the screenwriters — four are credited, including Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (It). Bond won’t put his heart on the line after Vesper and at the first sign of trouble, he flees.

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Fast forward five years, Bond is relaxing in Jamaica when his old CIA pal Felix (Jeffrey Wright, What If…?) asks for help recovering a missing Russian scientist. That puts Bond into conflict with the interests of MI6 and his replacement, Nomi (Lashana Lynch, Captain Marvel).

In a dazzling sequence, Bond survives a death trap and nabs the scientist with the help of Felix’s agent, Paloma (Ana de Armas). Paloma is a fun addition to the franchise. The film probably would have benefited from a larger role for de Armas, who already established a…bond with Craig while working together on Knives Out.

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At the halfway point, No Time to Die feels like a legit contender for Craig’s best Bond film and maybe one of the best in the franchise.

Fukunaga staged some breathtaking edge-of-your-seat action sequences, the plot is rolling and there’s an ominous mystery unfolding with Rami Malek’s creepy Lyutsifer Safin lurking in the shadows.

Lynch is a blast as the new 007, leery of her predecessor’s return to the playing field and his unique connection to their supervisor M (Ralph Fiennes). Moneypenny (Naomie Harris, Moonlight) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are back as well to help Bond and Nomi save the day.

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No Time to Die definitely peaks too early on and then a tidal wave of problems engulf the film’s second act. With a run time of two hours and 43 minutes, that’s a long back half to navigate these tricky deep waters.

A lot of the film’s major problems deal with significant spoilers so let’s skip those for now.  Madeleine’s return isn’t helpful as Bond is a character who works best without attachments.

Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld is back as well. It’s a meaningless return thanks to the botched handling of Bond’s archenemy in Spectre. And the No Time crew likewise fails to crack the code to make Waltz’s Blofeld as interesting on screen as he once sounded on paper.

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Safin’s first appearance is his best scene. He has a tremendous agenda early on and it sets Safin up as a third player in the MI6 and Spectre war.

Inexplicably, the screenwriters decide to have Safin accomplish his goal early on. With no other sense of agenda, Safin falls into boring, generic villain territory. This is problematic as Safin starts to feel like a tacked on character. The screenwriters fail Safin with their pacing. Safin’s plan could have slowly unfolded throughout the film, but it’s done so swiftly that he’s got nothing else to do but pose menacingly.

Malek desperately tries to make Safin a memorable villain, but he just doesn’t have enough material to make him more than a walking monologue. Worse, his biggest victory gets wasted five minutes later. That’s a major spoiler though. Let’s say the writers had a killer gut punch payoff to Bond and Safin’s final confrontation and took the cheap easy way out.

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One non-spoiler issue is how the action plays out in the second half. Craig’s Bond has always been more of a wrecking ball brawler. It’s worked for his Bond films that emphasize a rugged grittiness over gadgets, gizmos and wacky plans for world domination.

In this installment, Bond is either a superhero with bullet repellant powers or every bad guy got their shooting degrees from the Stormtrooper academy.

There’s no scenario where Bond feels remotely in danger. He can casually walk in a forest or an alley or briskly climb a flight of stairs with zero urgency to avoid gunfire.

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This superman spy approach starts to wear thin by the final act. By that point, it’s even more egregious with the amount of villains aiming at Bond. Like Spectre, the film significantly loses steam at the point where the film should be its most entertaining.

Craig has been a fantastic Bond. His take stripped down the more outlandish elements more in line with Ian Fleming’s original take on the character. He’s somewhat Teflon in the sense that he manages to shrug off the ridiculous scenarios playing out around him. His take won’t be forgotten soon, but he deserved a better sendoff.

No Time to Die starts off very strong before getting bogged down in Spectre follow-ups and a lackluster final act that really feels like a disservice to the Craig era of Bond films. There’s still some noteworthy thrills, but this chapter in Bond’s legacy was clearly ready for retirement.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Photo Credit: MGM

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