[Review] ‘NO TIME TO DIE’ delivers the expected action, has little connective tissue for Craig’s sendoff

0

Preston Barta // Features Editor

NO TIME TO DIE

Rated PG-13, 163 minutes.
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Cast: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Rami Malek, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Jeffrey Wright, Rory Kinnear, Billy Magnussen, Ana de Armas and Christoph Waltz

Wrapping up Daniel Craig’s 15-year run as James Bond is a tall order no matter the amount of shaking and stirring. Just look at the five films he has done.

Casino Royale was a lucky hand and became a 007 favorite. Skyfall rose to that same level by slipping in some Dark Knight DNA into the spy cocktail. However, Spectre and Quantum of Solace were poorly-tailored additions that did nothing but muddied up the possibilities and damn near ruined what came before. (“I’m the author of all your pain?” Please.)

Spectre was not going to be a fitting farewell for Craig, and he deserved better than that. Despite how clunky and nonsensical the films are that surround him, the man always delivers the goods. Craig is a fantastic James Bond, and it’s sad to see him ride off into the sunset. (Although his continued detective adventures as Benoit Blanc in the Knives Out movies are going to scratch that itch. [Insert Le Chiffre’s itching scene from Casino Royale].)

So, here we are, after director changes and pandemic-related delays, with No Time to Die — a clunky and overly long conclusion with no stakes.

The repetitive nature of the series is just impossible to escape. How many times can our hero get called out of retirement? How often can we hop around the globe without much reason other than to show off the world’s beauty and boost tourism? And how many scarred-up villains is Bond going to go toe-to-toe with? These are all issues that I tried to put in the back of my mind while taking in No Time to Die. You have to go into some stories knowing that franchises have their formulas, just like we expect a James Bond movie to have cool gadgets and corny one-liners, which this entry does.

That said, Skyfall did something fresh for the franchise. It caused us to look at our heroes in a new way. Are they truly good people? Is the spy agency that Bond works for – MI6 – known to get its hands dirty? The questions of morality within that installment truly did shake up the franchise. But then along came Spectre to dilute it. With that in mind, that’s a lot of narrative excrement for No Time to Die to shovel. Unfortunately, it had no other choice but to acknowledge what came before. It’s similar to the most recent Star Wars trilogy. Rian Johnson shifted things into a new and exciting gear, but J.J. Abrams returned to close it out by erasing what Johnson did. Of course, it’s a bit different because the shoe is on the other foot, and No Time to Die is trying to correct Spectre without jam-packing the story with story. But it’s clear early on in No Time to Die that the filmmakers had little to no idea of how to keep from doing that.

In classic 007 style, No Time to Die opens with a scene before this year’s popular singer plays over the title credits. In this case, multiple scenes happen before then, and none of it caused me to lean in. It just felt off as if they were inserting deleted scenes. These moments could have been explored in other ways that weren’t so direct. It’s not until after the title credits, when a team of masked criminals scales down a building and breaks in, that I thought, “This is where the movie should have started! Now we’re talking.”

But after a while, that excitement fades, and the movie hits a lull. Then, it will spike back up again and hit another lull—and that carries on until the very end. Those transitional moments in between the action aren’t compelling enough. There’s the occasional sparkle, such as Ben Whishaw as the tech-savvy Q and jokes that awaken you, but it’s inconsistent. I don’t know if it’s because the movie tries to throw all these different tones into one bucket – the Roger Moore-era cheesiness and Skyfall seriousness – but whatever it is, it doesn’t jell together. Let’s leave Christopher McQuarrie to be the master of that with the Mission: Impossible films.

Rami Malek makes a fine villain. There are some scenes where he gets under your skin, especially toward the finale when he’s holding a child. You can feel that wickedness. But some decisions are made in the final moments that go against character a tad and are a bit frustrating.

Christoph Waltz is better in a short scene in this than the entirety of Spectre. Naomie Harris gets nothing to do but a desk job. Ralph Fiennes tries to bring gravitas to his role as M., but the script fails him. It’s all an equation—an equation that was worked out somehow in Skyfall and Casino Royale. But here, you aren’t invested enough to feel the impact of everything. If any impact is there, it’s all from the achievements and lifting from the better films.

Overall, No Time to Die is worth watching for Bond completionists. Some action scenes are truly worthy of note, like watching Ana de Armas kick some tail as an agency newbie. But the wows are all followed with too much disengagement.

Grade: C+

NO TIME TO DIE opens nationwide on October 8.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.