For whom the bell tolls: A review of 'No Time to Die'

Published December 7, 2021, 9:21 PM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

‘No Time To Die’


Any film that’s been billed and publicized as the last of its kind, will always carry a sense of finality, of closure, and ambivalence. In the case of this latest James Bond film, it’s Daniel Craig’s farewell to the character – his fifth and last outing as MI6’s 007, which began with Casino Royale in 2006, followed by Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and Spectre.


So naturally, there’ll be a lot of expectations riding on this curtain call of Craig; as he’s come a long way from his now forgotten, much-criticized entry as Bond. They called him scrawny and ugly, they predicted his Bond films would flop. And I made mention of ambivalence, as while we’re sorry to see him go, we’re also out to make this film a time for rejoicing, a resounding valedictory.



Directed and co-written by Cary Joji Fukunaga (best known for Beast of No Nations, and his TV work on True Detective), this 25th Bond film, sees Bond retired and seemingly enjoying a peaceful life in Jamaica, which of course, is short-lived when ‘friends’ from the past suddenly show up. And before we get to that point, there are prologues which help set the tone, and make foreshadowing an important part of this film.

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One prologue is set in winter, and introduces us to our main villain; while the second prologue, shows us Bond and Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) on an idyllic holiday that gets brutally interrupted when Bond goes to visit the tomb of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green in Casino Royale). This is the reverential nod to the canon of Bond films Craig has appeared in – referring to a Casino Royale character.



In fact, if any Bond film worked as a Part 2 or sequel, this would be the first, in how it directly connects to Spectre. While there is a new villain, we also get Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) reappearing in this film. And while Bond’s confederates in MI6 have always reappeared and helped create continuity between the films; this is a new one, bringing back so many characters outside of MI6. Again, chalk this up to how they’re turning this into Craig’s last lap around the proverbial oval.



No spoilers here, so that’s about as much as I’ll reveal about the film’s plot points, but I will make a stab at assessing this film, and ranking it among the Craig Bond films. With a running time of 2 hours, 43 minutes, one will be investing a lot when watching this film, and I don’t think the long-running time does anyone any favors. Too often, we know where the film is heading, and so I experienced some impatience over the manner in which this meandered, and took its sweet time without revealing anything new.

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Craig is as flinty as ever, and in fine form. This film, at one point, tried to go for the emotional and dramatic over the action sequences, then suddenly seems to realize it’s gone on for far too long without any action, and tries to overcompensate for it with a needlessly extended action scenario on the villain’s lair, that suffers from laziness and implausibility. Can we believe that our villain, Safin (Rami Malek) would hire a private army, and so many bodyguards, and make sure they’re all such inept shooters? Even when a whole row of them are aiming at Bond and using automatic fire, they’ll all miss him, while he casually mows them down with efficiency – without even moving all that fast?


If there’s a new cast member that casts a bright light and genuinely shines, it would Ana de Armas as Paloma – she’s funny, has chemistry with Craig, and handles the action scenes with commitment. The problem is we’re wondering who she is for the ten minutes or so that she appears, then wondering throughout the rest of the film as to where she’s disappeared to. It’s really a cameo that charms us, only to be never used again.



I mentioned Rami Malek as Safin, and he’s one of the weak links in the film for me, a poor excuse of a villain – never displaying a truly diabolical nature as say Javier Bardem did in Skyfall. As Raoul Silva, Bardem was unforgettable, truly nasty. Malek is more creepy, but undefined – and that doesn’t work all too well.



The ‘humanizing’ of Bond actually works, and while we know Sam Mendes did this best in Skyfall, it continues to pay dividends here, making Craig a much more complex Bond than we had in previous iterations. In that sense, No Time to Die provides fitting closure to the Craig era. I’d still keep Skyfall as the Craig film I enjoyed the most; but this one gets my thumbs up, just wished they had done brisker editing, and offered up more Paloma.

 
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