AT THE MOVIES: Time for enjoyable send-off for Daniel Craig's James Bond with 'No Time to Die'
No Time to Die begins where its lackluster predecessor Spectre left off, with James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux) off the grid and enjoying just being lovers in Italy. These low-key romantic scenes initially had me wary. Bond and Swann weren’t compelling as a couple before. Hinging so much of No Time to Die on their relationship seems like it would be a recipe for creating an immediate emotional barrier between them and the viewer. However, the screenplay smartly spends time fleshing out Swann's perspectives (she's even the sole focus of the movie's prologue) to make her and Bond's dynamic work. No Time to Die doesn't just deliver a good movie, it redeems elements from a bad movie!
Anyway, like Magneto in one of the X-Men: First Class sequels, Bond’s attempts at tranquil living come to a close when violent trouble comes knocking in the form of an ambush by Spectre agents. Their sudden arrival, seemingly the result of something from Swann’s past, drives a wedge between the two lovers, with Bond choosing to return to retirement, now solo. However, the actions of mysterious villain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) drags Bond out of his bubble. This new adversary has a scheme that’ll make Bond question whose good, who's bad, and what’s important to him. Shockingly, a James Bond movie also makes time for pretty ladies, extensive car chases, and lots of gunfire.
As evidenced by the decision to incorporate two drastic time jumps before the 15-minute mark is reached, No Time to Die crams a lot into its story. After all, this is "the epic conclusion" (as the TV commercials say) to Craig's time as Bond, so everything and the kitchen sink gets thrown into the mix. Still, even over a 163-minute runtime, I kept wishing there was more room for things to breathe. A big plot turn involving M and questions regarding his morality especially proves underwhelming in how it ends up getting resolved in too hurried a manner. How can you accentuate the traditional atmosphere of uncertainty in a spy thriller if you won’t let the uncertainty simmer?
However, more often than not, No Time to Die provides ample space to admire the toys it's dragged out of the James Bond toy box. Best of all, the decision's been made to make this a more restrained character-driven mission. We get some really fun action scenes in here and there's certainly no shortage of spectacle. But the primary focus of No Time to Die gets established in a prologue establishing Safin not as a baddie who can nuke a city but through the visual language of a slasher movie villain, complete with Safin donning a mask. With the camera lingering on the intimate struggles of an adolescent character trying to endure Safin's rampage, No Time to Die makes it clear this is a film about surviving violence rather than just relentless hollow fistfights.
Working as nicely as the themes in this installment is the cast, headlined by Daniel Craig. Having reaffirmed his range in recent projects like Knives Out, Craig returns to the world of 007 with no fears of getting typecast in this role, allowing him to focuses on providing just the right balance of vulnerability and confident moxie as Bond. Craig continues to be a great leading man for these films while the supporting players in No Time to Die prove equally commendable. Lashana Lynch, as the new 007 for MI6, is a great foil for Craig, Lea Seydoux does strong work injecting tangible humanity into Vesper, and Ben Whishaw continues to be a delight as Q. Stealing the whole movie over two scenes is Ana de Armas, whose excitable novice secret agent may seriously be the best thing to emerge in the entire Daniel Craig era of James Bond features.
The considerate care and ambition in No Time to Die don't result in a perfect movie. Certain major developments in the plot needed extra time to breathe and other aspects of the movie, like some clumsy pieces of editing or Hans Zimmer's occasionally intrusive score, could've used further fine-tuning. But No Time to Die still emerges as a highly enjoyable blockbuster that delivers plenty (sometimes too much) bang for your buck and more effective poignancy than I was expecting. Die-hard fans of this franchise need not fret, the Daniel Craig era of James Bond movies has come to a satisfying end. Now, onto the era of endless Knives Out sequels!
A lifelong movie fan and writer, Douglas Laman graduated from UT Dallas and is currently a graduate student at the University of North Texas. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.