First things first, I am very glad cinemas are open again and audiences are finally able to see some of the movies that have been long-delayed. Even back at the start of the pandemic in early 2020, there were full on trailers AND advance tickets available for the THEN long-awaited James Bond movie NO TIME TO DIE. At that point it had been nearly five years since SPECTRE was released and was considered a disappointment by many, and there was a lot of excitement with a new director (Cary Joji Fukunaga, who made the very admirable JANE EYRE a decade ago), some promising looking action and stunt-work, and, GASP, IMAX footage! Everyone knows that IMAX footage makes every movie better!
But then the world had to go on pause for a while and with it, this was one of the many big movies where we just had to wait it out. Like all film fans, we just watched and watched the release dates change and even wondered if this October release would happen. Dear reader, it did, and I got to actually sit in a theatre with snacks and my trusty notebook this week and watch the movie.
And with all of that said, this 25th entry into the James Bond series is one of the biggest disappointments in the series to date and a sad followup to the already stagnant SPECTRE that feels like it was released twenty years ago. This has been one of the largest delays in a Bond movie in its near 60 year history, and all the cracks are starting to show. While things get off to a promising start with a near 25 minute curtain-raiser leading to the traditional Bond animated credits, I thought there would have been more of a return to SKYFALL or CASINO ROYALE where it balanced the new and the old ideals perfectly. Boy was I wrong.
The story picks up a bit after SPECTRE and opens with a flashback to a young Madeline in a winter home involving a mysterious man and a shootout. This being a Bond movie, it’s totally acceptable to understand a shooting sequence where you fire directly at a bad guy with what looks like a 9mm pistol, hit him in his body several times, falls down several stories and STILL survives. Although preposterous, this flashback then moves to adult Madeline (Lea Seydoux) with James Bond (Daniel Craig) in Italy who has had a long-overdue wish to see the grave of Vesper Lynd. There, an explosion happens, Bond magically survives and it turns out this is an ambush, which leads to a big chase all throughout an old town.
These opening sequences are really exciting, and it helps that it’s in a really old setting where time seems to have stood still. You have probably seen the shot in the trailer where Bond “flies” his motorcycle up a flight of stairs and right into a village, and it’s a shot that earned a few audible gasps at my screening as it feels so old-fashioned. One sequence in particular involves James and Madeline escaping in an Aston Martin and being pinned down by gunfire. The aggressive sound design of bullets repeatedly hitting a window and starting to pulse through (this effect also worked really well in the recent action movie COPSHOP involving bulletproof glass) all the while James is waiting to believe a story Madeline is telling, is very effective. The movie also wisely uses a theme from ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, which to date is still my favourite Bond movie.
After that sequence we still feel some kind of betrayal from Madeline and the two separate, and five years pass (why does seeing the “Five Years Later” title on screen make me groan?). Clearly, much has changed and there’s even a new 007! She’s named Nomi (Lashana Lynch) and her primary goal is to be incredibly judgemental and irritating to everyone around her. Bond tries to assimilate into the game once again with new people and a new potential threat involving the baddie Safin (Rami Malek) who has a type of unique virus that is so difficult to write about as it does have some odd connections to what we are going through right now, but as this was made a few years ago it’s a total coincidence.
It is around here where NO TIME TO DIE falls apart, even though it does pick up a bit again in Cuba involving Ana De Armas (KNIVES OUT) in an action sequence so good you wish she would have been an official Bond girl, but with the introduction of Nomi and some of the newbies into the story, the entire movie just kind of stagnates. Nothing takes off the way that it should. As more of a spiritual sequel to the over-bloated SPECTRE, you can really feel it in its 163 minute run time, which will push to nearly three hours in cinemas with previews. I am never one to really comment too much on running times in movies, but for NO TIME TO DIE, less is more.
Even Daniel Craig, who is always a reliable actor who has had his share of hits and misses, seems kind of bored and uninterested here. With delays aside, he has been with Bond for 15 years and this is showing now just like Moore in A VIEW TO A KILL back in the 80s. He has aged, his hair has went back a bit and he also has a real lack of chemistry with Lea Seydoux, who I also felt was under-used here. I just saw her at a movie at the Toronto International Film Festival called FRANCE where she completely captivated the screen for its entire running time and was given a lot of time for her great performance, and here she seems like she doesn’t even want to be in the movie.
I watched CASINO ROYALE and SKYFALL again recently in anticipation for NO TIME TO DIE’s release, and one thing that stood out to me is the classiness of those Bond movies. There was THEN new technology but there was still a nod to the gentleman spy of the 60s, part of Ian Fleming’s original design, even if that is flawed and looked differently at now. I know that times have changed but storytelling is storytelling, and all of the modern design of this Bond picture left me uninspired. I know Bond fans will see this either way and come to their own conclusions, which is great, but for this Bond fan it’s time to get back to the roots.
BORING TECH NOTE: Although there is some talk about the large-scale digital photography and “You must see it in IMAX”, I chose to see it in a regular theatrical presentation and while a lot of it looks great, nothing “large format” stood out to me in the cinematography except for a few action sequences in the opening act. You’ll be fine seeing NO TIME TO DIE on a “regular” big movie screen with a good sound system, should you have one near where you live.
NO TIME TO DIE is now playing in theatres across North America.