Review by C.J. Bunce
No Time to Die. It’s the 25th official James Bond movie and the 27th if you include the independent movie Never Say Never Again and the first version of Casino Royale, all part of the longest running movie blockbuster franchise that began in 1962 with Dr. No. For those hoping for just one more Daniel Craig Bond movie: note that they should have quit while they were ahead, and rolled Spectre into a Daniel Craig finale. No Time to Die is a slow, plodding retread of the Spectre plot. It has a new main villain and several minor ones, but it’s missing all the style of previous Bond outings. That’s thanks to the studio selecting movie director Cary Fukunaga for his first foray into big-budget cinema and using an over-long script that took five writers to create. After a long wait–it’s been six years since Spectre and this was initially set for an April 2020 release–No Time to Die is finally streaming on Vudu and other outlets at sell-through prices. But you may want to save your money and wait until it comes to Netflix or cable.
You can’t beat Daniel Craig’s first Bond performance in Casino Royale, one of the best of all the Bond films. It was followed by the forgettable Quantum of Solace before the studio settled in on Sam Mendes as the right director for the last two entries, Skyfall and the even better film Spectre. Why didn’t Bond the Broccoli family–the Bond franchise moguls–simply let Mendes finish his trilogy? It’s a misfire reminiscent of viewing the final Star Wars trilogy minus J.J. Abrams for its middle entry. Again audiences return to Bond in love, a concept Bond already learned to avoid in Casino Royale, and a quirk that makes you think nobody in charge had read an actual Ian Fleming Bond novel lately. Here Bond loves and loses and loves and loses. He has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more dangerous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.
Someone thought we were missing the psycho Bond villain and silly antics of the Roger Moore days. As opposed to the dreary story forecasting the End, that kind of humor is more than welcome. The funny Q gadgetry actually is a high point of this movie (which isn’t saying much). This includes machine gun headlights and a powerful watch magnet that makes a cyborg eye explode (finally we get to see Craig handle a car with everything but a boomerang arrow!). Craig gets a few silly quips (a few fall flat as Craig clearly isn’t accustomed to comedy) all in the style we once heard from the likes of former Bonds Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton, and Moore.
Another high point is what Bond connoisseurs recall as the #2 “Bond girl.” This time it’s Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049), who gets the best action scene of the movie as Paloma, what we’re led to believe is a newly trained agent newbie agent. Usually the #2 lead woman would be killed off (like Strawberry Fields or Solange or Severine)… but, happily, not this time. Unfortunately she leaves almost as quickly as she appears. de Armas is the only character who gets to show off a true badass character in the film, but because the movie has too many characters, her role is shuffled off to a replacement 007 character played by Lashana Lynch (Captain Marvel) and then there’s no follow-through, as Lynch gets no key heroic fight scenes as the new 007, but merely follows Craig around. It’s a waste of an effort for a character that could have been rolled up into one with tighter writing.
Those who see Daniel Craig as their favorite Bond will, of course, be sad to see Craig go. His performance as “the man every guy wants to be and every woman wants to be with” would no doubt be familiar to author Ian Fleming, whose character was a rugged, late career spy as Craig has played it (check out our past reviews of the Bond novels here at borg). But his last hoorah doesn’t continue what Craig created, swapping him for a less tough, easily distracted version we already saw fail to save M and die at via Moneypenny’s weapon in Skyfall. It’s not so much fun to watch the picking off of everyone around him, including a wasted death of a key villain and the needless death of more than one beloved Bond character.
We’ve seen Bond return to Jamaica before in Dr. No and Live and Let Die, but more importantly it’s Bond coming full circle, as Jamaica is where Fleming wrote all of his Bond stories, at his real home there he called Goldeneye. But director Fukanaga doesn’t make it clear Bond is back in Jamaica, or where any scenes are taking place, flitting from place to place without any help for the audience. No Time to Die lacks that sweeping, epic cinematography magic of past entries, it’s missing the exciting opening action sequence fans go to the films for, and the story swaps maudlin, depressing fare for the typical rollercoaster ride fun. At 2 hours 45 minutes this ride feels like it will never end. It’s not fair to Ralph Fiennes’ M, Ben Whishaw’s Q, Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny (couldn’t she have made 00 status in the intervening 5 years?), and Rory Kinnear’s Tanner–all who get crammed into an already bloated story.
Also crammed in is Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter, Christoph Waltz as Blofeld, and Léa Seydoux as Madeleine, who feels more like Vesper Lynd part 2. New to the series are Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) as a solid villain, and a few uninteresting others who Bond confronts but takes too long to kill, including a not-quite cyborg with an eye that transmits images. Coincidences and missed opportunities abound. Disturbingly all the villains are deformed, the one Bond movie trademark that seems long overdue for the Broccolis to bring to an end.
Unlike some of the memorable Bond movies, there are no epic action scenes or exotic locales that must be seen in a theater to appreciate. What could have been an exciting send-off just suffers from poor direction and a depressing script. No Time to Die is now on Vudu, available at sell-through prices on various platforms, and here at Amazon on Blu-ray and digital.