Bonding experience: Daniel Craig's richly layered performance in 'No Time to Die' just might attract Oscar's attention
"No Time to Die" - ★ ★ ★
"No Time to Die" might be the closest that James Bond ever gets to becoming a Shakespearean figure.
In his fifth and final role as Agent 007, Daniel Craig slams his character into Aston Martin overdrive, summoning forth the brooding, introspective British government employee found in the pages of Ian Fleming's popular novels.
Then, Craig takes the character into bold and brave new dimensions, transforming Bond into a humanized force of nature keenly aware of his age and his own mortality. It's a dense, conflicted performance emanating with regret and sorrow, a character richly layered and filled with the sort of dramatic integrity that justifies Oscar's attention.
Fret not, for Craig doesn't shirk on the action expected in 007 adventures. His sheer physical presence easily equals that of Sean Connery's catlike persona during the 1960s. (Craig's on-set routine reportedly has been to work out for four hours, show up for work, go to bed and repeat.)
Yet, Craig's bravura Bond faces a tough mission to keep us connected to a periodically sloggy, 2-hour, 43-minute running time with director Cary Joji Fukunaga either unwilling or unable to pare down his sprawling epic to 007 fighting weight.
"No Time to Die" qualifies as a traditional Bond movie, but it clearly aspires to be the "Gone With the Wind" of espionage thrillers. Its daringly lengthy pre-titles opening segment -- traditionally an action-packed, throwaway mini-adventure introduced in 1964's "Goldfinger" -- telegraphs that this is not your grandparents' -- or even your parents' -- James Bond.
Fukunaga pushes "No Time to Die" into uncharted realms of nuance that try to expand from traditional 007 expectations, but he can't quite achieve it.
Earlier, lighter Bond fare could get away with henchmen comically missing Bond after firing a kajillion machine-gun bullets at him; meanwhile, Bond's aim remains impressively deadly. That overused cliché doesn't sit well in this more realistic world. (Here, 007 seems to easily wipe out an entire island of poor marksmen, but he takes a long time to do it.)
The plot -- and there will be NO spoilers in this review -- kicks in when Bond reunites with his old CIA colleague Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and meets a new agent named Paloma (a movie-stealing turn by charismatic Ana de Armas) to thwart a SPECTRE plan to use a nanobot-created weapon called Project Heracles, capable of spreading a global DNA virus. (Note: Production began a year before the COVID-19 pandemic.)
"No Time to Die" begins with Léa Seydoux's Madeleine as a little girl witnessing her mother being killed by a home invader avenging his murdered family at the hands of Madeleine's father, a SPECTRE assassin.
A slick film edit later, a grown-up Madeleine is on a romantic trip with Bond in Italy where he tells her in his Aston Martin, "We've got all the time in the world," which is the last thing 007 says to his murdered wife at the end of Fleming's 1963 book "On Her Majesty's Secret Service."
I'm OK with that. But using Louis Armstrong singing "We have all the time in the world" from George Lazenby's 1969 one-time shot as Bond in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" is at best syrupy nostalgia and, at worse, messes with Craig's alternate 007 universe. Call me a purist.
"No Time to Die" suffers no shortage of interesting supporting characters, among them Nomi (Lashana Lynch), an MI6 agent recently reassigned the code name 007; SPECTRE leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), now in a padded cell, where he appears to be channeling Dr. Hannibal Lecter; and Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), the main supervillain with lizardlike mottled skin and a subtle snake hiss in his voice.
I can't address a couple of specific misjudgments in "No Time to Die" without violating a critic's creed to preserve key surprises for audiences. You may very well already know them.
It is a fitting finale feature for the actor who saved the 007 franchise with 2006's "Casino Royale." He leaves a big shoulder holster to fill.
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Starring: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Rami Malek, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Jeffrey Wright, Ana de Armas, Christoph Waltz, Naomie Harris
Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Other: An MGM release. In theaters. Rated PG-13 for violence, language, suggestive material. 163 minutes