No Time to Die

No Time to Die ★★★★

"We all have our secrets."

So, after eighteen months of delays, it's finally here - the twenty-fifth James Bond film. I'm a big Bond fan, and regardless of the ups and downs in terms of quality over the years, it's always very much an event film for me, and a cornerstone of modern (and past) cinemagoing. The excitement and anticipation of seeing if it delivers remain, and never more so than this latest entry.
I wasn't that sure Daniel Craig needed another outing after the ending of (the lacklustre) 'Spectre', and most of the ongoing threads from 'Casino', 'Quantum' and 'Skyfall' has been tied up. It seemed like a bit of a cash grab, but it proved to be the grand finale I never knew I needed.
Craig returns as the world's most famous superspy, and he manages to do some of his best work here, bringing some new gravitas and emotion to a role I felt he had exhausted in 'Casino' and 'Skyfall' in particular. There's some quality writing for his character, and it's a great conclusion to his five film story arc.
Lea Seydoux is a big surprise here as returning love interest Madeleine Swann. I wasn't really sold on her deeply mediocre pairing with Craig in Spectre, and it felt a little Vesper lite. 'No Time To Die' manages the feat of supercharging their chemistry. Their relationship has real weight to it, and it always felt like the stakes were real. Seydoux is very much a strong second to Craig's Bond, and one of the film's biggest assets.
The regular returnees are all typically good such as Ralph Fiennes' M, Naomi Harris' Moneypenny, Jeffery Wright's Felix and there's strong turn from Ben Wishaw as Q. The lovely Ana de Armas is a highpoint, but she's sorely underused. Lashana Lynch was fine as a rival agent, but ultimately didn't prove very memorable despite the media interest in her part.
Unfortunately, Rami Malek proves to be the weak link here as villain Safin. He's a fine actor based on his work as Freddie Mercury and in Mr Robot, but I found him a little miscast here. He's not remotely imposing, and delivers a mumbling accent that proved a little difficult to decipher in parts. It doesn't help that his character's machinations are overly complex, and side line his general standing. In fact, the baddies are quite poorly served here, with Christoph Waltz's Blofeld barely registering with his admittedly short screentime.
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga very much puts his own stamp on things, often shooting with what can only be described as a dreamlike quality. The overall look of the film felt very different, and at times seemed like it had wandered in from another franchise. An often murky palette is used, from dust and fog heavy gunplay to the frequent hazy sunsets (obviously a Michael Bay fan), this sometimes had me pining for Martin Campbell's brightly lit, and gorgeously photographed 'Casino' and Deakins' glorious Skyfall cinematography. It's still hugely impressive, but given the template used on it's predecessors, it's a high standard to maintain.
The plot although very current, is not particularly compelling, but it's forgivable due to the strong character portrayals, epic scope, a little misdirection, and Hans Zimmer's terrific score. I wasn't a fan of Billie Eilish's title track, but the final song choice was utterly inspired. There's some lovely callbacks to other Bond films and not just Craig's. From cars to musical accompaniments, it was these nods that helped cement it as a worthy addition to the long running franchise.
The 163 minute running time, while excessive, did feel earned as Craig's swansong. The delays to the release, had me give a free pass on that, craving plenty of Bond for my buck.
From the unusual, beautifully framed opening shot, to the stunning final one, it'll be a Bond film long remembered, and quite possibly the most divisive in it's history. I had mixed feelings as the credits rolled, genuinely sad the Craig's tenure is at an end, but excited to see what a retooled future holds for 007.

James Bond Will Return

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