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- No Time to Die
- Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
- Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge
- Starring Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux and Rami Malek
- Classification PG; 163 minutes
- Available in theatres starting Oct. 8
All right, let’s get this out of the way. The new James Bond thriller No Time to Die will leave you shaken … and stirred! It has a licence to … thrill! Its long delay was worth every … Moneypenny!
There, I think I got most of that hacky movie-critic yak out of my system. Which is not the easiest thing to do, given that the 25 official Bond movies have sometimes traded on those same hoary 007-isms (I’m looking at you, Pierce Brosnan era). I would also like to say that’s not so much the case with No Time to Die, which has been marketed, for longer than anyone wanted, as a deadly serious capstone to Daniel Craig’s up-and-down deal with the intellectual-property Devil. But this film, more than any other Craig entry, is an adventure caught between two Bonds. It is both eager to distinguish itself from the series’ shaggiest shenanigans but also happy to embrace them whenever it feels things threaten to get too heavy. The result is an overlong and conceptually loopy thing – but when it works, which let’s say is, oh, I dunno, 83 per cent of the time, it offers one helluva view … to kill! (Sorry, sorry).
It also requires a thorough understanding of 2015′s Spectre, which is unfortunate, given that the film – released what seems like an entire Bond-actor lifetime cycle ago – is the second-worst of the Craig canon. (Quantum of Solace is the worst, for those ready to fight). To simplify things: at the beginning of No Time to Die, Bond is still with Madeleine (Léa Sedoux), the daughter of evil uppity-up Mr. White, who himself was working for super-evil criminal mastermind Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who happened to be James’s foster brother, and … wait, I’m getting too deep into things, which is a sin often shared with No Time to Die’s script. Let’s make things Roger Moore-epoch easy and just say that Madeleine and James are now fighting a foe, the ridiculously named Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who has a shared dislike of Blofeld. As well as an unplaceable accent and a severe facial deformity to match the biggest Bond villains.
Don’t worry, though: the story, which also ropes in James’s CIA buddy Felix (Jeffrey Wright) and the whole MI6 crew (including a new 00 agent played by Lashana Lynch), doesn’t occupy much of the film’s pleasure centres. Those are instead provided by a series of thrilling action set-pieces that wed spectacle with genuine emotion. I may not have much invested in which evil organization’s flunkies are chasing James to capture which MacGuffin, but No Time to Die makes sure that my eyes are following each and every oh-whoa stunt. As well as guaranteeing that I actually care about whether (or, really, how) Bond gets out of this one.
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga is the first American to ever direct a Bond film, which I suppose must say something about No Time to Die’s sensibility, aesthetic and/or its place in the British cultural vortex. Yet the director isn’t here to add his own unique touch so much as ensure he delivers what audiences expect, and to generally the highest level of craftsmanship. Fukunaga’s best-known work, the child-soldier drama Beasts of No Nation and the first season of HBO’s True Detective, wrung propulsive action from humanity’s darkest corners. I suppose there are hints of that slick cruelty in spots of No Time to Die – Safin’s secret-island HQ has a thing or two to say about the toxic legacies that parents leave their children – but mostly, Fukunaga is here for a good time.
And a long time. At 163 minutes, this is a mission that takes no shortcuts, even if they’re narratively advisable. Blame the four writers – including Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who might be responsible for the half-a-dozen genuinely funny jokes – credited with ensuring that the screenplay ties up every loose end of Craig’s tenure. Or lay the fault with Fukunaga, who stretches out his finale to include what appears to be a wholly unnecessary single-take homage to Goldeneye (the N64 game, not the movie). Either way, the length is ultimately a small price to pay for an extremely handsome, no-expense-spared globe-trotting kill-fest.
Definitely not shouldering any blame are the performers. It is only a day after the film’s world premiere – simultaneous critic screenings were held in London and on both North American coasts Tuesday, to maximize franchise fealty – and Malek is already getting dragged. But I’ll play Lyutsifer’s advocate and argue that he’s reaching, sometimes successfully, for the wackadoo heights that a Bond villain requires. No one will ever top Mads Mikkelsen’s ice-cold Le Chiffre from Casino Royale, but Malek recognizes the cartoon he’s been tasked with playing and embraces the ludicrousness. The same goes for Waltz, far better in smaller doses as an imprisoned Blofeld, who here gets to play Hannibal Lecter to Bond’s Clarice Starling. Meanwhile, Craig’s Knives Out co-star Ana de Armas pops in for a far-too-brief appearance as a CIA newbie, knocking absolutely everyone dead.
And Craig? He’s as impressive as ever, letting James be a brick wall and big ol’ softie, depending on the story’s obligations. No Time to Die doesn’t offer him the rough-and-tumble intensity of his Casino Royale debut – though it does briefly allow him to pay homage to, I think, Nicolas Cage’s characters in both The Rock and Con Air – but it does cement his legacy as the second-most charismatic actor to ever convince audiences that alcoholism and murder are super cool. Mission accompli- … ah, I almost let another Bond banality slip out. I’ll do better next time … to die!
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage.