Fifteen years on from Casino Royale, few will deny Daniel Craig’s stamp on the James Bond franchise has been transformative. In the star’s latest and last, all that has come before finds reprisal. There’s room too for one last push at progression. No Time to Die crackles with the energy of its exquisite cast and heaps bombast and spectacle into a melting pot long since boiled over. It’s rather too daft for it’s own good, and can’t quite best Skyfall in a ranking of Craig’s five stints, but proves a belter nonetheless.
It wasn’t Covid-19 that first delayed No Time to Die, the twenty-fifth of Eon’s takes on the tales of Ian Fleming. Certainly, the pandemic pushed back an April 2020 release date but, long prior, it was the departure of one time director Danny Boyle that first rocked the boat. One imagines that the Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire auteur would have made his own personality felt in a Bond film more so than his replacement – Cary Joji Fukunaga – ever does. Instead, it is Craig’s own voice and vision that appears to pulsate through the film. The actor may once have declared suicide as preferential to making another Bond after Spectre but the adoration Craig displays here speaks far louder. When it comes to signing himself out of the franchise, nobody would have done it better.
Moving on from the mess bequeathed Fukunaga by Sam Mendes last time around, No Time to Die does a much better job than Spectre at tying together Craig’s five feature stint in the driving seat. Less retcon, more well earned ebb and flow. There are recalls to all in the run – some more blatant than others – and reprisals for characters long since left behind. Certainly, among the many pleasures of Craig era Bond has been the enhanced roll afforded an engaging and continuing supporting cast. Naomi Harris, Ralph Fiennes and Rory Kinnear each prove hugely welcome in returning here, whilst Ben Whishaw’s Q will be exponentially missed if the next step for the franchise does indeed prove to be a complete reboot.
Should this be the case, troupe newcomer Lashana Lynch will have been entirely short changed. And audiences along with her. As Nomi, Lynch brings style and panache to a role that’s cool, fierce and a tad underwritten. The same cannot be said for the scene-stealing Ana de Armas, whose goofy CIA diamond surely benefitted from additions by co-writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Also joining the fray here is Rami Malek’s scarred Lyutsifer Safin. A debt to outlandish Bond baddies past, he’s a villainous megalomaniac too familiar and half baked to ever really stir fear. The charisma’s there but where’s the threat? A horror tinged opening establishes both the vengeance that drives Safin and his link to Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) but it’s a fair leap from there to his later obsessive and anal desire to wipe out millions with neither mess nor dirty hands.
For all the forward steps proffered by No Time to Die, an elevation of silliness is a notable, albeit often entertaining, plod to the reverse. Daft but deadly gadgets return to the fore and the sense that Fukunaga has no time for reality to get in the way of spectacle is palpable. This is fireworks cinema through and through. A fantasy, all glitz, glamour and designer grit. That’s no bad thing if you’re prepared to be swept along for the ride. Certainly, an Italian road race in the first ten minutes proves breathlessly exciting, while a Havana based shoot out later on plays like the most elegant of dances. Albeit one with machine gun massacres. Whereas Edgar Wright would have set it to something fast and funky by The Dammed, here Hanz Zimmer’s score is dutifully orchestrated. Some things don’t change.
Where the franchise goes from here is anyone’s guess. Surely it’s a matter of how brave Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli are prepared to be in abandoning the mound than whether they will. No Time to Die might never feel brave itself but there’s such confidence in the execution that you know the time for change is rife. As for the present, Craig sails out on a high. He’s rarely been better and never so definitively owner his own show. Craig banished his naysayers way back in 2006. Fifteen years later, it’s hard to believe such critics ever existed.