No Time to Die

No Time to Die ★★★½

If the Daniel Craig era of Bond has taught us one thing, it's that tweaking the tried-and-true 007 formula to add consequences that spill over into your next outing is a double-edged sword. On one hand, those consequences tend to add weight to the films in which they're laid out, but on the other hand, the next film that comes along to build on them tends to suffer. While lasting impact made Casino Royale such a breath of fresh air, Quantum of Solace took all the hits (from what I've heard. I'm not enough of a Bond completionist to watch all 25 of these things). While Skyfall caused some necessary rippling effects in order to be the best Bond film out there (fight me!), those ripples came for SPECTRE with a vengeance. So now, with Craig finally ready to retire the martinis and Aston Martins, it makes sense for No Time to Die to just rip off the band-aid and address its predecessors outright. At this point, the choice just makes sense.

Cary Fukunaga (not sure when he added the "Joji" to his credits, but I'm keeping it old school) takes over the reigns in an effort to both outdo Sam Mendes's best and make up for his worst. While failing to do the former, Fukunaga still manages to salvage the pieces left by the latter into something as entertaining as any of Bond's peak moments. More suited to fringe character work, his style of filming action winds up being a perfect middle-ground between the grit that Martin Campbell introduced and the sleekness that Mendes brought to the table.

What No Time to Die brings to the table from a perspective of new characters, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. A Bond movie is only as strong as its villain, and Rami Malek is only given a rough screentime-to-runtime ratio equivalent to Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs. That doesn't sound so negative, so let me elaborate on that statement by reminding everyone that one of these two actors deserved their Oscars, while the other... is Rami Malek.

Beyond the bulging eyes and stilted speech pattern that naturally make the dude creepy, there's nothing menacing about Malek's presence, and the tired "bio-weapon threatening the world" plot device is about as thin as the motivations for implementing it. To make this the climactic villain of Craig's Bond, especially when so much stock was already invested in Christoph Waltz's underdeveloped Blofeld, just seems counterintuitive. Ana de Armas damn near has as much screen time as the primary antagonist, but she was lovely as always. And as usual, Hollywood continues to waste Billy Magnussen's potential (first Paulie Walnuts, now this?).

The humanity in which Fukunaga normally specializes facilitates his approach to giving this iconic character a proper send-off (at least this iteration, anyway), and Daniel Craig is more-than-up to the task. This isn't the performance of a lifetime or anything, but in a series that has seen him sprint through some moments and sleepwalk through others, the man at least had the drive to show up for his curtain call and fill in the impact missing from his hollow nemesis. No Time to Die doesn't quite deliver on all the goodies one would expect or want from this long-running series, but when a film diverts its attention away from the flashy suits and towards the man wearing them, it becomes difficult to classify that as a mistake.

2021 Ranked.

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