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MOVIES: No Time To Die - Review

No Time To Die is finally here. But is it worth the wait? We open in Italy. Bond has retired, after the events of Spectre, living an idealistic life with Dr. Madeline Swann. It’s an idealistic fairy-tale set against picturesque locations that’s almost too good to be true. And then the unthinkable happens – Bond believes he’s been betrayed.

It’s a fantastic opening series of events, mostly featured in the trailer – that holds nothing back from showing the best Bond can be - rare has a movie started stronger. Unfortunately the movie never recaptures that high of the first forty minutes or so, falling into the trap of a meandering, plodding affair that hinges on whether or not you buy the central romance between the leads – and as I found that both Craig and Lea Seydoux had zero chemistry in Spectre, none of that is replicated here – Ana de Armas’ Paloma and Lashanna Lynch are both excellent however, and Lynch makes for a very much clear-cut case that there’s actually no point in looking for the next 007 – she’s right there, with both actors stealing every scene that they’re in – even if de Armas can feel rightly underutilised it’s a joy for the Knives Out reunion ahead of the sequel, even if she won't feature in that as it will have, save for Craig, an all new cast.

The first thing that’s noticeable about Cary Joji Fukunaga’s film is its length – it’s 163 minutes long, and unfortunately No Time To Die feels that long. It could have afforded to cut about 30 minutes and still carry much of the same impact, the plot is overly convoluted in its attempt to get started – save for a wonderfully brief Hugh Dennis cameo that earned audible gasps of surprise from my audience – the film feels like it is carrying the weight of a distinctive emotional arc that the franchise had lacked on its shoulders.

It’s mighty ambitious – Phoebe Waller-Bridge was brought in to touch up the script, and Billie Eilish’s memorable theme-song is a much-needed improvement on Sam Smith’s Writing’s on the Wall, that was about as forgettable as the movie itself, even if we’ve heard it for a year now – cemented around one central, core motif – you must burn the past to the ground to let it die, telegraphed in the aforementioned opening act. No Time to Die is not your typical Bond movie, even if Rami Malek’s villain does his usual typical Bond things, he doesn’t show up until deep into the movie and feels like he barely made an impact at all – arguably the weakest Craig-era Bond villain, full stop. Its broader themes are cut from the same cloth as The Last Jedi, sure to be divisive - and given how much I liked that film I just wish this one worked for me on a same level.

It’s a film that lacks the rawness of Casino Royale or the blunt-edged heavy sword of Quantum of Solace that had Bond pointed at the enemy like an unstoppable cannon with no off-switch. There’s a clear arc of his character that runs through the entire series – much of this film feels too heavily invested in being a sequel to everything that has come before; so, if you’re looking for a standalone Bond you very much won’t find it here, or at least – if you do watch it on its own – it won’t have the same impact – gone are the days of the standalone Bond film and I really appreciate the need to inject some continuity.

I almost wish I had liked it more as I do appreciate its emotional touches and the care that’s clearly been put into No Time to Die. I expect it will probably grow on me on a rewatch, as the best Bond films tend to do. But for now – on a first viewing, it left me cold. If you buy into the core central romance between Bond and Swann, then this movie will absolutely work for you – but I just didn’t care about them, and the general plot gave me no reason to stick around – as half-baked as most of the Craig era plots have been.

The dynamics of the central cast are familiar and well developed by this point with the actors fitting back into their roles. Craig gets plenty of humour in this one in a way that suits the character without taking you out of the story, and Ben Whishaw’s Q gets some excellent lines. Although Naomie Harris is underutilised – her interactions with Lashanna Lynch were great, and everything in Cuba with Jeffrey Wright and Ana de Armas is spectacular, even better than the first set-piece on the bridge that saw Bond throw himself off it to escape from the enemy.

This is the kind of Bond where you can tell Fukunaga is having fun behind the camera – the passion he brings to the directors’ chair is evident, and the film looks appropriately stunning on a visual level throughout – the cinematography has always been exceptional and La La Land and First Man cinematographer Linus Sandgren brings his a-game to the table here. Given most 2021 films have had rather underwhelming final acts on terms of a pure visual level – it’s a relief to see that No Time to Die looks spectacular consistently throughout its runtime. But looking good has never been a problem with the Daniel Craig era.

Much of No Time to Die spends its time repeating the same ideas that were fresh in Skyfall (which would have been a better send off for Craig), and even Rami Malek’s villain feels like a half-developed attempt at a another go at capturing what made Javier Bardem’ Silva work so well. This is very much a movie that feels like it best sums up everything about Craig’s era – both the strengths and the weaknesses of it – in one film. Good action scenes in stunning locations, and mostly great character work with A-Listers bringing them to life. But there’s also the bad that comes with it – as mentioned the villains are the weak link about most of Craig’s era (save for maybe Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre and Silva) – the usually weak middle act problem rears its ugly head again, and the plot never fully feels convincing, requiring the utmost of coincidences to work out fully as intended.

As a farewell to Daniel Craig’s era No Time To Die ultimately ends in a whimper rather than a bang, at least for now, but it’s a well-intentioned whimper with some bold decisions that I hope are carried through into the next iteration of the character – whoever that person may be.

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