The Daniel Craig era is over and rather than lamenting the end of the actor's tenure as the most famous spy on the planet, I left the theater with a sigh of relief. Though his arrival was a breath of fresh air, Craig's portrayal of the character has slowly emanated this morose, unbearable fugue — one that a new face and a revitalized start for the franchise can hopefully Lysol away.
As a life-long Bond fan I will openly admit that my favorite Bond era was when Roger Moore was at the helm and I think that informs a lot about my apathy for Craig, especially in his later movies. Casino Royale was a great restart and Skyfall will remain an iconic moment for the series regardless of its issues but every other film has been middling to bad. Spectre especially was a nightmare of dull action, ham-fisted emotion, and a pathetic attempt at linking Bond and Blofeld as family because every modern blockbuster series needs every character to be associated somehow.
No Time to Die picks up where Spectre left off with Bond and Lea Seydoux's Madeleine Swann escaping the murderous world from which they left to bury the past and start anew. But Swann, the daughter of a Spectre agent, has secrets. And when Spectre comes knocking, Bond tosses her on a train and, disappointed for some reason that the daughter of an enemy agent might be hiding something, disappears.
From the trailer I knew this would be a huge problem with the movie. And the fact Bond is playing mum about Vesper and his own past makes it a little hypocritical that some vague misunderstanding leads to him entirely throwing Madeleine aside; especially after everything they've gone through.
So already the impetus for the plot is a little weak. Five years later Bond has been living off the grid in the Caribbean when he's approached by his old CIA pal Felix Leiter (played by Jeffrey Wright). A weapon of mass destruction being developed by the British has been stolen, and the CIA suspects SPECTRE is behind it. Bond is then approached by MI6 and new double-0 agent Nomi (Lashana Lynch) to help retrieve it. Taking the side of the CIA, Bond plunges into an exciting cat-and-mouse game between the CIA and MI6.
This is where the film really shines as a SPECTRE party plays host to a massive action sequence and a lot of fun dialogue and Bond moments. After this — everything goes downhill.
There's little action for a long time as we are instead treated to long scenes of people quietly saying boring dialogue in rooms. None of the character interactions feel particularly natural. Craig's always been great at playing an emotional and vulnerable Bond but here it all feels empty. Perhaps it's the fact that his relationship with most of these characters has never been developed well enough. Perhaps it's the fact that the emotional core of this movie is his love for Swann, who he has so little chemistry with.
Or maybe it's just the fact that the bad guy in this film is terrible.
Rami Malek is a great actor who does the best he can with the material he is given but this villain is awful. He has a connection to Swann that honestly raises more questions than it should (if this man killed her mother, why did Mr. White not track him down twenty years ago and kill him? Why, when Mr. White killed himself in Spectre and asked Bond to look after his daughter did he not mention the insane assassin connected to her and still roaming around?). His plan is to kill a bunch of people with a weapon but we have no reason why. He never has a moment like, say, Javier Bardem's character in Skyfall to show his little tics and give you a sense for his evil or insanity. Regardless of any other facet of the movie; I think Lyutsifer Safin, the guy with a name only a villain could have, is the worst part.
There are a dozen other issues: The Macguffin is something out of Metal Gear Solid. MI6 needs to do a better job checking its prisoners. The ending goes on way too long and has no tension or excitement. A major diplomatic dilemma introduced toward the end is never addressed again. The egregious use of CGI where practical effects could have been used.
But there are some good points. Some fun gadgetry gets used, Bond setting up traps Rambo style during an action sequence in a forest was fun, the directing from Cary Joji Fukunaga is assured and often gorgeous. There are a few quiet moments that, in a better movie, might have been powerful new directions for the character of Bond but in this felt dead on arrival.
No Time to Die utilizes the soundtrack of On Her Majesty's Secret Service quite often as if it's attempting to evoke the emotion and game-changing nature of that iconic film (some, including myself, would say it's the best film in the franchise). And the thing is, as much as Craig wants to be the vulnerable Bond, George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton have already done it, and arguably, better.
And it's hard, I think, to pair an attempt at the emotions evoked from OHMSS with a plot that parallels Moonraker in a lot of ways. It's hard to have actual emotions in a plot that sounds, as I said above, like something out of a video game or cartoon.
No Time to Die ties everything up with a nice ribbon, allowing for the Bond franchise to refresh itself and not be attached to Craig's continuity. That's probably the best thing this movie could have done. Hopefully the next iteration of the beloved franchise returns to the fun, dapper, and practical-action laden films that made James Bond a household name and an icon for so long. Were they to continue in the Craig vein, I don't see how they'll be able to stand out in a world where John Wick and Ethan Hunt exist.
No Time to Die in theaters October 8th.