At the Movies with Alan Gekko: No Time to Die “2021”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Action Thriller/Stars: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Billy Magnussen, Ana de Armas, David Dencik, Rory Kinnear, Dali Benssalah, Lisa-Dorah Sonnet/ Runtime: 163 minutes

I think it is safe to say that for close to two years now, the anticipation for Daniel Craig’s final hurrah as Bond, James Bond has been close to over the moon for both 007 fans as well as the casual movie goer. That and this film’s co-scribe/helmer Cary Joji Fukunaga was also facing some heat after coming on board the film in the aftermath of creative differences occurring behind the camera and original helmer Danny Boyle leaving for other projects. Having seen the finished product, I can safely say that those were only minor hiccups in the grand of scheme of things. This is because No Time to Die most assuredly lives up to the potential of being the one mission that changes all that we have come to know from the world famous super spy. Yes every actor from Connery to Brosnan was permitted to place their own distinct shaken not stirred twist on the part, but Craig not only put his own unique twist on the part, but he even made his 5 films into their own saga within the franchise complete with a start in 2006’s Casino Royale, a midway point in 2012’s Skyfall, and now a conclusion in this film and the truth is that anything that is done in the aftermath of this entry is going to be fairly challenging for the shepherds of this series and I’m sure we’ll know soon enough just how they plan to deal with this, but for right now they are going to have quite the task ahead of them and that’s saying quite a lot. Not just about the work done on this by the cast and crew, but about the work that the leading man has done in bringing this iconic character to life over the past 15 years period.

The plot is as follows: Following a fairly faithful gun barrel opening and a pre-credits sequence that I shan’t spoil here, No Time to Die opens 5 years after the secret agent that we all know and (especially women) love as James Bond walked away from active service and getting his vengeance on SPECTRE head Blofeld in order to be with his lady love Madeline Swann…..only for things to rather quickly and tragically go south. Since then, we see that Bond has been living off the grid in Jamaica, but soon finds his comfy and cushy beachside exile upended by the reemergence of an old friend in Felix Leiter who has shown up needing some assistance. It seems that, in the time since Bond left active service, MI6 and the CIA aren’t exactly on the best of terms and since Bond is retired that makes him the best person to approach for an off the books assignment to help locate a missing Russian scientist who has created something that could potentially put millions of people at risk (you know the usual). Of course when Bond agrees to help, he finds himself not only having to deal with his former colleagues, but also a new MI6 agent who has been assigned the 007 code number, a reemerged Madeline with a secret or 2 of her own, the imprisoned for his previous crimes Blofeld, and an enigmatic villain known only as Safin who it quickly becomes apparent will prove to be one of the toughest tests that Bond has ever faced in his time as an agent period…..

Now despite running close to 3 hours (including credits), the narrative in this film is one that hooks you right from the first frame and doesn’t waver at any point after that. Indeed everything we had heard about this movie was that it would make for a riveting resolution to the movies that came before it. Suffice it to say this is one claim that can be verified as the usual Bond shenanigans are blended into a narrative that has the past of the character, with particular regard to Craig’s first outing Casino Royale very much in its sights. It is this wrinkle which we see leads to some significant shifts in the typical formula for this movie which is due in large part to the movie’s script which was given to us by no less than Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Indeed it is this quartet of distinct voices that help to make this movie novel as their voices are all heard, but one doesn’t override the others. Not only that, but there are chunks of this film that feel like they are from a completely difference film such as an opening flashback that makes a certain character’s heartwrenching backstory play like a borderline slasher film in many respects. Suffice it to say this summation of narrative components and voices regaling us with it do permit this film to go down paths few will see coming. However, for all the good that this movie brings to the table there are a few potholes to be found sadly. The plot is quite bulky and there are a few side arcs that get more attention than they should, the tempo is not even by any stretch of the imagination, and that’s not even covering this movie’s issues with its main antagonist. Yet these issues with the movie aren’t entirely a deterrent because the peaks this movie has are definitely peaks that you will remember long after the film is over.

Now from a performance perspective, I’m just going to say it: this is one of the best performances we have ever gotten from an actor in the role of James Bond. Yet not only do we get the typical stoic and wounded animal quality that we have come to expect from Craig’s take on the character, but we also get to see his version of Bond at long last get to show a bicep or 2 that fans have been wanting to see this character utilize. Indeed make no mistake: if there was one key way that this movie was not a typical Bond film, it would be in how Craig shows us a significantly more pathos-drive take on the character this time around. I mean sure there is still a fair bit of action beats involved here, but by and large if there is one movie in the Bond pantheon that I feel this is the most closely related to it would actually be one known as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service since that one, like this entry, took Bond to some….quite distinct places. At the same time, it should also be said that there is quite a bit of legit comedic moments and dialogue including some one liners that would make Roger Moore proud which really enable Craig to lean into his talents as a gifted comedic actor that help to make his moments with the characters portrayed by Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas (both of whom are top-notch in this incidentally even if one is more an extended cameo than the other) that much more enjoyable. Suffice it to say that this film through its moments of comedy, of heartache, and of grimness really truly is a wonderful ode to what people have loved about James Bond throughout the years and the work done here by Craig is just merely the icing on the cake.

Of course it also doesn’t hurt that the rest of the cast in this, by and large, all also manage to do truly terrific work in their own right. Indeed I know a lot of people out there felt that the character of Madeline Swann was perhaps one of the lesser ingredients at the heart of Bond’s previous installment and in all honestly I definitely see where these people are coming from. I mean not only did that movie’s script literally fail to make a persuasive case that this woman was “the one” for Bond, but their chemistry on screen wasn’t exactly the greatest either. No this film doesn’t really come anywhere near giving us the relationship Craig and Eva Green had in 2006’s Casino Royale, but this film also acknowledges that Swann and Bond’s relationship owes a debt to the one he had with Vesper in ways that I won’t spoil here. Suffice it to say that you feel that with their arc in this open that Bond is a lot more open about Madeleine and how he feels about her than any other Bond girl in the series to date and you feel it which then ensures that Seydoux’s performance and the chemistry between her and Craig is better because of it. We also get a wonderfully refreshing and fairly intriguing turn from Ralph Fiennes here as the returning M though this time there is a bit more to M than meets the eye especially when it comes to the current predicament that Bond finds himself embroiled in. Indeed Fiennes plays this angle up with a brilliant mixture of indignation, defiance, yet also weariness and a hint of fear as to just what ramifications his actions may have. We also get wonderful work from the other returning players to this epic saga including Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, and Jeffrey Wright who I feel has, since his intro in 2006’s Casino Royale, made for a truly wonderful modern reinterpretation of iconic Bond ally Felix Leiter. If anything, the one arena performance-wise where this movie, by and large, doesn’t quite work is in regards to its antagonistical forces. I mean don’t get me wrong: Blofeld does prove to be quite the nasty little ghost to haunt both our character and the narrative, but Christoph Waltz’s take on the character has never been quite as good as an actor of Waltz’s talents deserved. Meanwhile Rami Malek’s Safin just seems to float around the peripheral edges of the movie for the most part thus making for a villain that really doesn’t come to the forefront as much as he should. That and the connection he shares with Madeleine is nowhere near as emotional as Silva’s poisonous and homicidal rage toward M in 2012’s Skyfall or the amusing yet unexpected and slightly goofy one had between Bond and Blofeld in this run of films thus making for one truly underwhelming final foe for Craig’s Bond to square off against.

All in all it’s ironic that at the end of the road in regards to this review that I find myself ultimately reminded of the 2nd Bond film that Craig made known as Quantum of Solace seeing as this is a strong entry in the Bond catalogue of films and that one, whilst entertaining, was most certainly not. Be that as it may be, there is a line of dialogue from that slice of cinematic pie that is what decided to enter my mind after I had finished this film and was deep in contemplation in regards to just how exactly No Time to Die managed to land right where it was supposed to and then some. This moment in question would be the moment in the film when, whilst in the middle of schooling that film’s Bond Girl of sorts Camille Montes in regards to the moment of vengeance that, up until that point in the film, she had been patiently and methodically waiting for so long to finally be able to carry out, we see Bond look her in the eyes and tell her to “Take a deep breath. You only need one shot. Make it count.” Honestly I definitely that this same can be written about Craig making the choice to return one more time to the role of Bond for No Time to Die especially since it’s highly known he spent a long time constantly debating about whether or not he should hang up his proverbial license to kill following 2015’s Spectre. Thankfully, we can now rest a bit easier since Craig, Fukunaga, and the rest of their immensely talented cast and crew have managed to make this shot count since this last hurrah for Craig’s Bond is one to remember. Indeed No Time to Die does a wonderful job of concluding Craig’s tenure as the world’s most famous super spy with the snappy bow tie that it always has deserved the right to wear. Suffice it to say this is going to be one movie that is going to inspire quite a bit of debate since Craig’s last bow as this character is permitted to go down avenues the other actors that have played this iconic spy wouldn’t even think of traversing. Yet with how present day Bond has basically been one lengthy narrative this was one heck of a resolution. Suffice it to say that by giving us tributes to what came before whilst also looking ahead, the cast and crew of this movie have given fans of 007 a new masterpiece that will be watched time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give No Time to Die a solid 4 out of 5.