I didn’t think the Bond movies had it in them any longer. After his sensational debut in 2006’s Casino Royale, Daniel Craig starred in two catastrophic duds by anyone’s reckoning (Quantum of Solace and Spectre) and Skyfall, which I found lugubrious but most of the world did not. So the news back in 2018 that he had teed up his final Bond pic, No Time to Die, with the Oscar-winning Rami Malek as the villain, did not fill me with anticipation. And I didn’t care that it was postponed and postponed and postponed by the pandemic, because I was expecting some kind of Quantum of Spectrefall.
That didn’t mean I didn’t want to see No Time to Die. There have been 25 Bond pictures released over the past 59 years, which makes this the longest-lived franchise series in motion-picture history. I don’t think I’ve missed an opening weekend since Live and Let Die, which I saw in 1973, when I was 12. Actually, there are 27 if you count the bizarre spy spoof Casino Royale from 1967, in which Bond is played by David Niven (and, my hand to God this is true, Woody Allen), as well as 1983’s Never Say Never Again. That was Sean Connery’s onetime return to the part in a non-canonical remake of Thunderball made possible by a complicated issue involving the original sale of the rights to the Ian Fleming book—and which is a movie I absolutely love, with maybe the best Bond villain of all, played by Klaus Maria Brandauer.
It’s inarguable that many of them are lousy, far worse even than the bad Craig ones, and a few are utterly unwatchable today and were barely watchable even then (The Man with the Golden Gun nearly killed off the franchise in 1975; A View to a Kill was the ignominious end of Roger Moore’s run; Die Another Day finished off Pierce Brosnan). But all in all, no series of pictures in movie history has offered its viewers such consistent pleasures. The cars, the gadgets, the resorts, the chase scenes, the gambling, the tuxedo, the guns, the girls, the lairs, and that license to kill used with impunity—I mean, if you don’t love Bond, you don’t love movies, and it’s as simple as that.
Still, I didn’t expect much from this 25th Bond. And boy, was I wrong. No Time to Die is fantastic. I’m not sure I have even a word of criticism to utter. It does everything a Bond picture is supposed to do, only it does everything better in aggregate than any Bond movie before it. By which I mean, there’s probably a greater opening chase sequence in another one, and maybe the climactic island lair here isn’t as wildly fanciful as the one in You Only Live Twice, and the countdown to world destruction at the end doesn’t have the memorable punch of the "three minutes… and counting" robotic female voice from Diamonds Are Forever.
But every scene is good in No Time to Die. Every. Single. Scene. The confrontations with Ralph Fiennes’s M are great. The banter with Moneypenny and Q is delightful. And Ana de Armas, who costarred with Craig in the wonderful Knives Out, is dazzlingly captivating in a 10-minute sequence in which she serves as his secret-agent sidekick in Cuba. More impressive still is Léa Seydoux, who was the "Bond girl" in Spectre and here delivers what is, without question, the best performance by a love interest in any of the 25 Bond pictures dating back to Ursula Andress in the first, Doctor No. (The worst? Surely Denise Richards as Christmas Jones—a nuclear physicist played by an pneumatic actress who had likely never heard the word "physicist" before getting the part—in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough.)
All in all, there isn’t a clinker line of dialogue in the script by director Cary Joji Fukunaga, working with Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Those two men also wrote the dreadful Spectre, so I’m going to assume they did the first draft of this and were shown the door so that the screenplay could be improved by the brilliant Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the guiding hand behind Fleabag and Killing Eve. (Whichever one of these four was responsible for the one bloodless Bond crack the spy allows himself after disposing of a bad guy in the film’s final 15 minutes deserves a Nobel Prize.)
If you don’t go see it this weekend, you’re either a COVID scaredy-cat lunatic or someone whose life is so perfectly wonderful you don’t need more fun in it. Hell, I even cried at the end. Now that was a first.
Published under: Movie Reviews