no_time_to_die_ver18No Time to Die

  • Year:  2021
  • Director:  Cary Joji Fukunaga
  • Series Rank:  #3
  • Bond Girl:  Léa Seydoux (Madeleine Swann)
  • Bond Villain:  Rami Malek (Lyutsifer Safin), Christoph Waltz (Franz Oberhauser), David Dencik (Valdo Obruchev)
  • Bond Support:  Ralph Fiennes (M), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny), Ben Whishaw (Q), Rory Kinnear (Bill Tanner), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter), Lashana Lynch (Nomi), Ana de Armas (Ploma)

SPOILER-FREE

Those two words immediately above are why this is less a review than a collection of thoughts that I decided to go ahead and write about this film.  I hadn’t actually intended to go ahead and review this even though we had decided to go ahead and see the film on opening night because at the time we generally see films on opening night (7), for some reason, no one but us ends up on the left hand side of the aisle where we always sit, so we felt okay with being out.  But, with the way this closes out Daniel Craig’s magnificent run as Bond, it seemed wrong not to write something.  And yet, so much of what is great about this film is about how much the people involved clearly love the series and how well this works as a conclusion to what is its own series within the franchise.  To be able to write a real review is something that isn’t to be done immediately after seeing it when you don’t want to spoil it for other people but years later when you can talk about what the film as a whole means and what it does and there is no good way to do that without talking about all the things the film does that you don’t want to tell other people about before they see it.  It all reminds me of that magnificent moment at the end of Skyfall where you learn that Naomie Harris is Moneypenny.  You want to tell people about how much that scene means to the franchise as a whole and yet you want people to be able to discover it on their own as well.

It’s worth noting how we got here, especially since both Connery and Moore have died since the last film came out.  Connery started us off with fun and a bang and gave us seven films in total that average a 75.6 (just on the cusp between good and very good).  After one solid Lazenby film, we got seven Roger Moore films that peaked with a film that was the first Bond I saw and made me love the franchise but then faltered so badly that his film as a whole don’t even classify as good (60.5 average).  Two solid Dalton films got us nothing more because idiotic viewers couldn’t grasp how much better they were (and he was) than what had come before and four Brosnan films gave us diminishing returns for a 67.5 average.  Now we have had five Daniel Craig films and they average a magnificent 87.8.  To reflect on what a truly amazing accomplishment that is, especially given the varying quality of what had come before them, I have, as of this morning, seen 1457 Action films and only 32 of them even match the average of what the Craig films have given us.  Every one of the Craig films is in my Top 60 all-time in the genre and the three best (including this one) are all in the Top 25.  The Craig films have been made with top-notch directors, have utilized amazing technical talents (I predicted that Hoyte van Hoytema, the director of photography on SPECTRE would be an Oscar nominee before too long and I was right because he was nominated two years later for Dunkirk) and are great reasons to go to the theater (if you feel safe doing so).  This film is no exception.  The sound work, especially in two scenes after explosions and when the villains are attacking the car, will definitely be among the Nighthawk nominees if not the winners and the D.P. this time, Linus Sandgren, already has an Oscar (La La Land) and should have won a second (First Man).  The action scenes are incredible (if you need a reason to see it in the theater, the motorcycle ride up the stairs almost matches the helicopter barrel role in SPECTRE).  There is also some great editing that works not only perfectly for the action scenes but transitioning in the more dramatic ones as well.  There are complaints that the film is too long (“164 minutes is more than enough time to die” said one tweet I read) but except for maybe cutting a bit in the Norway chase, I felt the film earned its time.

While the film focuses mostly on characters that we already know from previous films, it does give us a few new characters and those are interesting doorways into the film.  One of them I won’t discuss except to say that like the last film, I think they made a slight misstep in casting because I never doubted for a second where that character’s arc would take us.

Lashana_Lynch_James_BondThe first is Nomi, the new 00 played by Lashana Lynch and I was surprised by that because, having only seen her previously in Captain Marvel, I wouldn’t have guessed she was British.  She’s fantastic, confident of herself, good in action and not ready to back down before Bond in the slightest.  If I considered her a Bond girl, she would have to be near the top because of sheer force of will.  If the Bond producers have any good sense, she will be in the next film, no matter who the star is, but really, the star should be her.

ramimalekThe second is Lyutsifer Safin played by Rami Malek.  Malek is actually part of the few missteps that the film makes.  It seems like the filmmakers decided that after two international Oscar winners playing villains they should get another (Malek is American but born just a couple of years after his family emigrated from Egypt) but they didn’t give him enough to do.  His motives remain vague and that leaves him as a bit lacking as a villain (not a fault of his performance – just the writing for his character).  What’s more, the marketing made it clear that was him in the opening scenes which is thrown off a bit by his age and by the actions when he first returns in the film.  In a film with top notch technical work, great directing, solid acting and mostly solid writing, the scenes with him just don’t live up to their potential and that’s on the script.

ana_de_armas_no_time_to_dieBut I’ll end here with Ana de Armas.  I was mostly unfamiliar with her before she starred in the last Daniel Craig film, Knives Out, but she won me over there (and I can’t wait to see her play Marilyn Monroe in Blonde).  We don’t get much of her here, but what we do get is fantastic, from the humor, to the dress to the action scenes.  She is also a reminder that what the Craig series has done so well is not be like the other Bond films.  In previous Bond films, there would have been extra scenes and he almost certainly would have slept with her.  But it’s unnecessary and would just be a distraction.  The Craig Bond films, while acknowledging the history of the franchise (see the next paragraph) have also found ways to move on and do new things that are different as well.  What’s more, the de Armas scenes provide humor in a film (and series within the franchise) that isn’t that full of humor (although more on that below as well).  She’s been played up a lot in the marketing given her brief screen time but when you see her kicking ass in that dress and then the pause in the middle of it all with him, you understand why.

But, as I mentioned, a lot of what makes this film so good are the aspects I can’t write about, at least not without spoiling them for people who haven’t seen the film yet.  From visual reminders of characters who are gone to lines (or even music) that hearken back to important Bond moments to the main supporting cast that has been so well established (Wright, Whishaw, Harris, Fiennes, Kinnear), this film works so well precisely because it comes where it does in the series.  I had written in my review of SPECTRE that I would have been okay with the series ending there, but what this film does is so much better.  It even hearkens back in unexpected ways (Craig gets off a line towards the end you would except from an earlier Bond and it’s both awful and great at the same time).  It earns every moment of its runtime precisely because it knows what has come before it and embraces that instead of hiding from it like the earlier Bond films did.

I’ll close with this (in a review that is more of a review than I thought or intended it to be): this film is not as good as Casino Royale or Skyfall for the reasons that I have listed above.  But it is a great film for all the reasons I listed above and far more that I made clear I won’t discuss.  What’s more, unlike other franchises that started again like Star Trek or X-Men, we aren’t expected to just accept what we see on screen; this series of five films has earned the emotions it pulls from us as we watch this film.  The moment that made it for me, on an emotional level, is when a character who has always called him 007 suddenly calls him James and it’s amazing what a simple, small thing like that can do to you when watching a film.  This is the conclusion the Craig Bond films were meant to have.