Daniel Craig’s stirring swansong from the James Bond series
The end of an era. Fifteen years since 2006’s Casino Royal, and after several pandemic related postponements, No Time To Die hit theaters this year to bring to an end the 5-film series that marked Daniel Craig’s take on the British spy icon. A run that has seen some standout moments for the long running franchise, and also a few stumbles too. Something that pretty much describes NTTD in a nutshell.
Picking up a few years after Spectre, James Bond (Craig) has retired to the surrounds of Jamaica. His relationship with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) having come to an end, with her past having interrupted their life together, fracturing his trust in her. On the other side of the globe, a bio-weapon known as Project Heracles. A virus designed to eliminate individuals, or groups sharing DNA identity, the ultimate in drone warfare. Both M-I6 and the CIA race regain control, and Bond is dragged back into a life he left behind, and a forced reunion with Madeleine, due to her past association with the architect of the theft, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).
The Craig era has certainly been an interesting one, seeking to cast this relic of the dark ages of spy-craft in a new light. A charming cudgel, a tool able to do certain things where other methods (or senses of morality) might fail. Craig perfectly bringing a stoic lethality to the role, with a slight simmer of emotion underneath. In keeping with more modern trends, the 5-film series has sought to expand and build a overarching story, or emotional journey, which at times has worked, other it has not. No Time to Die is the cumulation of that, meaning that it is also subjected to the strengths and weaknesses that have been setup in advance.
The script from Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Phoebe Waller-Bridge is certainly complex, weaving in this final arc for Bond, a new threat, and connecting to everything laid down in the buildup. Even with juggling so much, it often feels unnecessary muddled, with some characters and plotlines feeling rather extraneous (oh hai Blofeld). Your core Bond expectations are met, with refined action sequences, a serviceable MacGuffin, a dry sense of humor, and a sleek sense of style. Perhaps the biggest inspiration on the film is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the solo film featuring George Lazenby as Bond, and perhaps the best one to have really dived into the emotional fallout and trauma that besets Bond when he lets someone get too close. An idea that seems to form the cornerstone of Craig’s time in the tuxedo. The lead delivers nuanced work, a weathered figure, but true to the soul of the character he first sketched over a decade ago. Seydoux crafts an enigmatic figure, but despite her talents, this pairing still pales in comparison to the chemistry between Bond and Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. A deficiency that has hamstrung the last few outings. The returning cast of Whishaw (Q), Fiennes (M), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny), all delight, as does the grumbly gravitas of Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter. Rami Malek is fine as the new villain of the piece, his screentime thankfully kept to a minimum. Billy Magnussen does applaudably douchy work as new state department appointee Logan Ash. But the real standouts are Lashana Lynch as the stylish and savvy new 007, and Ana de Armas as the truly endearing and thoroughly kickss Cuban special agent Paloma.
While NTTD it doesn’t match the sumptuousness of Skyfall, it’s a remarkable step up in aesthetics after after the homogeneous looking Spectre. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren blends richness of visuals with an earthy authenticity. Distinct environments and tones, from the horror tinged opening introducing Safin, to the sun-basked surrounds of Italy, or the neon colored nights of Cuba. Director Cary Fukunaga, handles the action and the pacing extremely well.The film absolutely rips by, despite a rather lengthy runtime. A splendid balance of action and emotion, that manages to maneuver around the various plot points and character beats left to it by it’s precursors.
The switch to 4K has seen some middling transfers, with some standouts that serve as references discs for the format. No Time to Die thankfully fits into the latter category. There’s a depth to the detail and texture of the image that is remarkable. Blacks are deep, contrast also impresses. Color palette has huge range and is naturally presented. It all feels very grand, cinematic (healthy grain), and organic too. Extra features are few, but of good quality, and notably also available in 4K as well as on the included Blu-ray disc:
- Anatomy of a Scene — Matera: One of the standout sequences in the film, the DB5 chase sequence, gets taken apart using footage from the set, as well as interviews with cast and crew, to breakdown how it was filmed
- Keeping it Real — The Action of No Time to Die: Explores the notable use of practical effects and stunt-work in the film
- A Global Journey: Criss-crosses the globe showcasing the various locations featured in the film, most notably Jamaica, and its long-standing connection to the James Bond character
- Designing Bond: Largely built on interviews with production designer Mark Tildesley and costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb, who give a solid and in depth overview about their respective contributions to the film
- Being James Bond: Probably the standout addition here. A 45 minute dialogue between Daniel Craig and Bond head honchos Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli overlaid over footage from the filming of the series. In essence, a retrospective of the Craig era, with an open dialogue and personal tales about their work together, as well as views on the wider aspects of the franchise
The Bottom Line
No Time to Die is a little hamstrung by some of the carryover from its predecessors, but overall delivers a stirring swansong to Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond. Superb action, style to spare, and it might even bring a tear to your eyes. The 4K UHD offers a fantastic presentation, with some choice extra features to enhance the experience.
No Time to Die is available on 4K UHD from December 21st