No Time to Die Review: Shaken Not Stirred

There’s an old saying that goes “your favorite James Bond is the one you grew up with”. I think that for the most part, that’s true. Certainly, everyone will have an affinity for the first Bond they ever saw. However, it must be said that at this point, regardless of who your favorite Bond is, Daniel Craig is objectively the best one to ever do it and it’s not really a close competition. Each actor has brought something different to their interpretation. Connery was suave, Moore was humorous, Dalton was cold, Brosnan was mix of what came before but Craig has been what Bond never really was. A fully fleshed out human being.

Daniel Craig’s Bond has had what no other Bond had. A character arc spread throughout his films and No Time to Die is the culmination of everything this man has been through since he became a 00 agent in Casino Royale. And what a culmination it is. This is a fitting farewell to this version of Bond and a even more fitting farewell to Daniel Craig.

We knew Craig’s Bond would be different from the moment he told that bartender in Casino Royale that he didn’t give a damn whether his martini was shaken or stirred. That movie gave us a Bond we had never seen before. He had a harder edge, he had actual emotions and with Vesper he had something in his life other than the next mission. Vesper Lynd’s betrayal in Casino Royale has been a specter (pun intended) looming over Craig’s Bond throughout his entire run. The anger, the inability to trust, the focus to just get the job done. It all stems from that betrayal. Even as the Craig movies have added more classic Bond elements as they’ve gone on, that character arc has been a through line across all his films and it comes to a head here.

It’s fitting then that the film kicks off with Bond visiting Vesper’s grave, ready to finally move on so he can fully commit to his new life with Madeleine Swan whom he met in Spectre. It’s at her grave where Bond is ambushed by Spectre agents, leading to an incredible chase sequence that ends with Bond assuming Swan is responsible since she was the only one who knew where he was. After the opening credits, the film picks up 5 years later with Bond retired in Jamaica. It’s here that his old pal Felix Leiter comes asking for help on a mission involving a captured scientist and a bio-weapon of mass destruction.

Bond being back in action reunites him with M, Moneypenny and Q. As ever, their interactions are terrific. The dynamic between them is great as the MI6 crew bounce between helping Bond and being annoyed by him. The best relationship Bond has in the film is with Nomi, who has replaced him as the new 007 in his retirement. The way they play off each other is excellent, with both of them showing an annoyance at the other’s presence and a clear respect for one another’s skills. Bond isn’t upset at being replaced as 007, even claiming it’s just a number as if the writers knew that having a new 007 would anger a subset of crazed weirdo fans online, and Nomi isn’t upset that Bond is back. Instead, they both just really want to be left alone and not have the other get in the way. They don’t fight, and they don’t argue. They take some friendly jabs at each other but the respect is always there and seeing them slowly warm up to each other is a pleasure.

Another addition to the cast is Ana De Armas who I feel deserves special mention. She isn’t in the movie for long but she absolutely makes the most of her screen time. She is simultaneously, cute, charming, funny, badass, and stunning all at once. She’s only in a fraction of the near 3-hour film but is one of the absolute best parts of it and makes a strong case for being one of the greatest Bond girls of all time despite the short length of her appearance. This might be an odd comparison but she is the Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross of Bond Girls.

As expected of a Bond film, the action is terrific. The opening pre-credits chase sequence is thrilling and all the subsequent action scenes have their own unique properties that make it difficult to even determine the best set piece in the film. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga does an excellent job framing each sequence so all the action is clear while being frenetic at the same time. There’s a couple of shaky cam sequences that are somehow crystal clear viewing, which might be a cinema first. There’s a particularly great shootout near the end that has the camera behind Bond, shot close to his shoulder in a way that resembles a video game but by keeping the camera so close to Bond in this sequence, it puts us closer to the action, it makes the stakes feel as high as they should feel in a climax but it also makes it feel more personal.

One thing the film does extremely well to make sure each action scene hits as much as possible is the way it’s spaced out. No Time to Die is 2hr43 minutes. The longest Bond film ever. A lot of that run time is devoted less to action and more to character. It never once drags because this version of Bond is a terrific character. The film isn’t afraid to halt the action for smaller, quieter character moments, something not a lot of Bond films do but Craig’s version deserves it. Pacing is never an issue though and is in fact one of the strongest aspects. Action scenes don’t just happen because it’s a Bond movie, they get built up to, as if the movie itself has as much reverence for James Bond action as the audience. They have weight to them because of how they’re built up. We care more when characters are in danger because of how the film treats those characters before the action hits. It makes it so we’re not just cheering Bond on because he’s Bond and that’s why we’re watching in the first place. We’re cheering him on because the film, and Craig, make us genuinely care about whether the good guys make it.

For all of it’s grandiose Bondness, this is a movie about James Bond the man. Specifically, the man that Daniel Craig has made him. This is a film in which a man who has been unable to let go of what happened to him in his past must go on one last globe trotting adventure that all stems from other people’s past. Star Wars: The Last Jedi was about letting the past die, No Time to Die is about what happens when you don’t let it. Everything in the film is connected to the past both in plot and in the filmmaking itself. Safin, the villain played with terrific menace by Rami Malek (who I feel is actually a little bit underused), has an evil plot that stems from him being wronged in his past. It’s all neatly interwoven with Madeleine’s past and even of M’s. It’s fitting for a Bond who has been hung up on a single event from Casino Royale to go out in a movie that’s thematically linked to how our pasts can determine our future.

Beyond the thematic connection to the past, this movie is full of celebrating the past of the Bond franchise. Not just Daniel Craig’s run but the entire thing from 1962 to now. This is just as much a celebration of Craig as it is Bond himself. It’s a Bond movie through and through. Each Craig movie has slowly added more and more of the classic Bond tropes but in ways that felt organic and that is fully realized here. There’s gadgets, girls and exotic locals. There’s a villain who threatens the entire world order. There’s Spectre, there’s Blofeld, there’s Aston Martins. None of it feels forced. Most importantly, none of it feels like it’s there because it has to be. They’re all the familiar Bond tropes we love but they serve a purpose besides fulfilling a Bond quota. None of it feels tired either. The tropes are there but as Daniel Craig’s era has made a habit of, they’re subverted. They play out in ways you don’t expect and there’s a few great humorous exchanges that play with the fact the filmmakers know what the audience will expect to occur in a Bond movie. It’s Bond as we’ve always known but it’s also different. There’s plenty Bond moments in there that play out like classic Bond as well. It’s a wonderful mix of keeping it fresh and modern but respecting and honoring the past.

The film is full of nods and callbacks to past movies. From things as simple as Bond making a Connery style quip after defeating a henchman to a shot that recreates the classic gun barrel sequence. Of course, there’s the classic Aston Martin DB5 but most of the callbacks are subtle. They are there to be picked up on and will no doubt get a pop out of all the hardcore Bond fans like me when they spot them but they never take focus away from what matters. Which is giving Daniel Craig the send off his version of James Bond deserves.

Is this a perfect movie? No. It might not even be a perfect Bond movie and if I’m being honest, it’s not my favorite of the Craig era, I still think Casino Royale is his best followed by Skyfall. There are some quibbles I have like a character betrayal I saw coming a mile away and while Safin’s initial plan is sound and makes sense, the final portion of it is never really fully explain. I didn’t really know what his end goal was and I wasn’t completely sure why. While Malek is great in the role, I do feel he could have been used more. When he is on screen, he projects a great aura of menace and he has the makings of a great Bond villain but he’s not around enough to reach the upper echelon with the likes of Goldfinger or Le Chiffre.

The biggest problem I have isn’t even the fault of No Time to Die. It’s because of Spectre. That film never really did a good job of making Bond’s relationship with Swan believable. When he retired at the end of Spectre to be with her, it never really made sense why she was the one he would settle down with. Maybe it’s because of just how great Vesper was in Casino Royale that no other Bond girl can top her but it was also Spectre’s failure to make that relationship work. Léa Seydoux is good in the role and this film does a better job of portraying their relationship but because Spectre did such a poor job of establishing it, I’m still left with that bled over feeling of why her.

None of those problems really detracted too much of my enjoyment from the film, especially when it accomplishes what it set out to do so well and that’s to bid farewell to the greatest James Bond we’ve ever had in a way that he deserves. Craig’s run as Bond has been about bring the super spy down to earth. The action in his films has been grittier, more visceral. The relationships with his supporting cast have been deeper and more grounded. Bond himself has been more human under Craig. That all continues here. Every aspect of Craig’s Bond is here. It’s here to be celebrated but it’s also here to serve the ending of this Bond’s story.

This is a celebration of, in my opinion the greatest movie franchise of all time; this is a celebration of Daniel Craig and everything he has brought to the role. Daniel Craig revitalized the franchise and brought into a new era, he turned a character that for as cool and iconic as he was, mostly two dimensional and reinterpreted him as fully fleshed out vulnerable man. It’s only fitting that his final movie would spend just as much time exploring the character of Bond as on the action. This is a fitting farewell to Daniel Craig and tribute to everything that came before as well. James Bond will return but if he didn’t, what a way to go out.

Rating: Paddington is Providing James Bond with Gadgets

This review used our old rating system, The Paddington Scale. To learn more please read this post

Published by Matt Fresh

30% Water, 70% James Bond movies. Matt is a writer, gamer, film enthusiast & silly person. The winner of various fictitious awards, he's fluent in English & pop culture references.

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