There isn’t a better James Bond film than On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Aesthetically, it’s the most vivid looking of them all with some of the franchise’s most visually exciting action setpieces, while simultaneously giving us Bond’s most human quest yet. During his mission, love takes the better of him as he decides to marry the first woman he ever truly adored, only for their marriage to end mere minutes later as Bond’s wife gets killed in a drive-by from Ernst Stavro Blofeld. This was the only time George Lazenby played Bond, but his impact on the series can’t be overstated.
It’s the single greatest spy film ever made, but every other Bond film seemed to have blissfully forgotten its existence (with the exception of For Your Eyes Only’s opening) as if EON wasn’t proud of Lazenby’s tenure as 007.
That changes in Cary Joji Fukunaga’s No Time to Die. As a swan song to Craig’s portrayal of Bond, it couldn’t have been a more perfect choice to commemorate the greatest Bond film of all time, with Craig being considered as the best Bond of them all. And while No Time to Die isn’t without its flaws, Fukunaga crafts a well-earned send-off to the actor that has resurrected Bond by paying tribute to the franchise’s greatest hits in almost every aspect.
The film’s 25-minute long cold open, all shot on IMAX film, establishes its grim tone as Bond and Madeleine Swan (Léa Seydoux) get attacked by SPECTRE while vacationing in Matera. Five years pass, and Bond lives a happily retired life in Jamaica until he stumbles upon Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). The CIA agent tells him about the kidnapping of MI6 scientist Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik) by terrorist Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who plans to use Obruchev’s Project Heracles, a nanovirus capable of infecting anyone’s DNA with a single touch, throughout the world. Whoever thought it was a great idea to release a film about a highly contagious virus during a global pandemic isn’t a genius, but it’ll do since this long-awaited film was supposed to release before the world wasn’t the same anymore.
No Time To Die’s two IMAX action setpieces, the Italy chase and SPECTRE fight scene in Santiago, Cuba, are the movie’s only visually enthralling and exciting action setpieces. Every other action setpiece is as standard as they come, in fact even more standard than 2015’s Spectre’s bland third-person shooter-like action, which shouldn’t be the case for a Bond film.
After the Santiago fight, none of them can match how Fukunaga stages the fight through Linus Sandgren’s IMAX lens, as Bond and Paloma (Ana de Armas) fight past SPECTRE like an elaborate dance through visually dazzling practical choreography. De Armas is primed for a lead role in an action film after her extended cameo here through a perfect mix of well-timed humor and perfectly choreographed gunfights, as she (and Lashana Lynch) deconstruct the dated “Bond girl” trope for good. Craig’s Bond films have never given the audience a clear-cut “Bond girl,” and have instead written compelling and effortlessly badass female characters.
It’s unfortunate, then, that Rami Malek’s Safin is quite an underwhelming antagonist, a weird mixture of Dr. No and Stromberg from The Spy Who Loved Me, but the actor gets very little screen time to make him a legitimate menace. In fact, his motivations are so half-baked that the only reason he’s here is to make Bond go from London to the “Evil Lair” so he can save Swan (again) from being kidnapped by a henchman who does most of the antagonist’s heavy lifting.
Malek is a highly talented actor, but his skills feel wasted in a role that never seems interested in fleshing him out, and spends way too much time telling who the villain is instead of actively showing it. That worked in Spectre to establish the ‘mystery’ of Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld but doesn’t work with Safin, especially when he demonstrates his presence right from the opening scene. Add the fact that we’ve seen an antagonist unleashing a “virus” too many times to count, and you get a pretty underwhelming villain for Craig to end his portrayal of Bond on.
As for Craig, he’s never been better. Bond feels completely vulnerable here, even more vulnerable than in Skyfall, especially when he soul-crushingly says “you have all the time in the world” to Swan, the only line that could ever make me cry in a Bond film. Craig is funny when he needs to be, but always retains a human touch that no other Bond actor had, even Lazenby. Superhuman feats for Craig’s Bond always take a physical toll for him, with Fukunaga constantly reminding the audience that Bond isn’t invincible and could very well bite the dust at any moment, which fills the action with emotional weight, even if the choreography is quite standard.
No Time To Die isn’t a perfect film, but it is still a fun time at the movies fueled by three terrific performances from Daniel Craig, Lashana Lynch, and Ana de Armas, who lift its tonal inconsistencies and plot-holes in favor of superb humor. We get two highly exciting action setpieces and the best portrayal of Bond from Craig, as he says goodbye to his most iconic role yet. We may not have all the time in the world with him, but we’ll retain the memories of his portrayal, as the most accurate representation of who Ian Fleming envisioned Bond to be, even if his casting was initially criticized as “Bland, James Bland.” Sixteen years after Craig’s casting announcement, who’s laughing now?
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