No Time to Die (2021)

Cary Joji Fukunaga| 2hr 43min

It has been a long six years since Daniel Craig’s last James Bond film, Spectre, was released in 2015, and it has felt even longer given that No Time to Die was one of the very first films to have its release date pushed back when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. In keeping the timeline of this series somewhat parallel to our own (though obviously falling back a year for the aforementioned reason) there is a jump of five years into the future early on – but not until after we get two prologues, one of which is set a couple of decades ago in the past, and a much longer one which picks right up where Spectre left off, with Bond living a paranoid retirement in Greece. No longer a 00 agent, mistrustful of a world brimming with enemies, and living entirely off the grid, this is the most jaded and guarded that we have ever seen Craig’s interpretation of the British spy.

The process of chipping away at these emotional barriers is gradual, but the shift that occurs does end up feeling all the more earned for the time it takes to cover such an expanse of character development. Over the course of the film we watch the man transform, from a lonely, isolated figure cut off from everything that ever brought him happiness, into a domesticated family man – a role that no version of Bond has dreamed of touching before. Though there is some air of sacrosanct mystique that is stripped from the character in the process, it is replaced with something truly refreshing in the canon: vulnerable, humanistic mortality. The wisecracking man of action we met in Casino Royale is still very much present, but No Time to Die presents us with an older, more mature Bond who takes deadly risks not out of a sense of reckless, thrill-seeking invincibility, but out of a selfless understanding of how one small life might be more important than his own.

Cary Joji Fukunaga hasn’t quite proven himself to be at the level of Sam Mendes yet, but he undeniably has a photographer’s eye, crafting some magnificent long shots in both natural and artificial spaces.

Along with the regular Bond crew of Ben Whishaw’s Q, Ralph Fiennes’ M, and Naomi Harris’ Miss Moneypenny are two new allies: one in the form of Ana de Armas’ fresh-faced, bubbly CIA agent Paloma whose brief team up with Craig calls back to their chemistry in Knives Out, and the other being Lashana Lynch’s spiky Nomi, the new MI6 agent who has nabbed Bond’s old code, 007. During Bond’s retreat into the shadows, these associates and their world of covert espionage has kept ticking along without him, and so it is only natural that he takes its continued functionality as a small hit to his ego. What it does still need though is someone who can secure its ongoing safety, and with a new bioweapon on the horizon he is called back for one last mission.

A delightful cameo from Ana de Armas as a CIA agent, recapturing the onscreen chemistry she had with Craig in Knives Out.

In the tradition of casting established actors with a knack for chewing scenery in the role of Bond villains, the addition of Rami Malek to the cast as poison merchant Lyutsifer Safin pays off more in his flamboyantly damaged presence than in giving real weight to the threat he poses. And as he is written, Safin is a nasty villain indeed, particularly given how invasive his key weapon is in binding its victims to their own inescapable genetic code. The body horror which comes as a result of this devastating creation shouldn’t be surprising given the viscerally violent territory this franchise has previously traversed, and yet it does feel even more intimately disturbing than much of what we have seen before, both for its functional implications and its immediate, visual impact. As a scourge which manipulates the closest possible bonds shared between humans, family becomes both a fragile treasure and a saving grace to this re-inspired Bond, providing a devastating friction in his love and fear of such attachments.

The manufacturing plant may be the single strongest set piece of the film, Fukunaga builds a daunting concrete cavern out of expressionistic angles and stark, low-key lighting.

Stepping into the shoes of Sam Mendes. who oversaw the previous two Bond films, is Cary Joji Fukunaga. Even considering the flaws that plagued Spectre, it is hard to argue against Mendes as being anything less than a brilliant director of set pieces, and as such a high bar is set for Fukunaga – maybe a little too high given the heights of cinematic action that Skyfall hits. Nevertheless, his command over thrilling struggles in sinking ships, high-octane chases through the streets of Greece, and the stark beauty present in one vast, concrete compound set is commendable, particularly in the latter where expressionistic angles and low-key lighting setups create a cold, daunting atmosphere around the ultimate test of 007’s duty of care. Craig’s run of Bond has been defined by a gritty innovation in pushing the character archetype in transgressive new directions, not all of which have landed, but it has also been more interconnected than any others which have come before it. Fortunately under Fukunaga’s care, No Time to Die closes it out with an explosive bang, a stirring farewell, and a touch of poignancy that few action stars would be able to pull off with as sincere a tenderness as Craig.

No Time to Die is currently playing in theatres.

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