“Bond. James Bond.”
These immortal words have played a part in my life going back to early childhood and all those sleepovers at my great aunt’s house in the mid 80’s, where she had a good number of the Connery / Moore flicks on VHS that I would always get to check out whenever my sister and I were dumped there, giving my folks a break from the constant child-rearing of the day. Those memories and experiences planted ‘Bond’ in my mind as a hero to watch, and over the decades, watch I have.
Over the last 50 or so years (and over the span of 27 flicks, so far), I’ve come to appreciate the unique aspects that each actor who portrayed the dashing British secret agent brought to the role. The line-up of Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan have helped maintain the longest running Action franchise in cinema history and it shows no signs of slowing, merely evolving, as they always seem to do with every change of the lead.
In addition to having (now) seen every OFFICIAL Bond film in existence, I’m also a big fan of the original Ian Fleming books, with almost all of them having a place in my current library, titles getting dusted off every few years for a reread (probably due for another soon). Having said that, I can’t help but to be reminded of the moronic fanboy kerfuffle that erupted when it was first announced in the mid ’00’s that Daniel Craig (Layer Cake) would be stepping in to replace Pierce Brosnan as Agent 007 after the hilariously awful Die Another Day (2002), in a fresh new telling of Casino Royale (2006). It was funny to me that everyone was losing their shit over Craig being a blond when all the other versions of the character before were dark haired and swarthy. And, in all fairness, the character is written as dark haired too, with a comma of hair that always seems to fall loose across his forehead, no matter what. That being said, I think that physically, hair color aside, Craig actually looks the most how I think Fleming intended (though he did write, on more than one occasion, that literary Bond closely resembles old-school American crooner Hoagy Carmichael). But after folks saw the newly updated and surprisingly good Casino Royale, those stupid protests were put to rest, as Craig came in like a beast and made the role his own. Now, after 5 entries of varying quality (all entertaining in their own ways though), Craig is done. Finito. Kaput. He’s outta there! He’s taking his Walther PPK and going home, forever done with the character he come to inhabit over the last 15 years to great success. And we can let him go, regardless of his reasons. In my opinion, he came to the role fresh and made it his own, especially considering that for the first time in the history of the franchise, all 5 of his Bond films are narratively connected (though not originally conceived that way), not stand-alone adventures like the vast majority of the other titles. Craig made his ‘Bond’ work in the newly grounded take and he brought a brooding, world-weary pathos to the character that we hadn’t seen before. But, like all things, it would eventually come to an end. And this was Craig’s.
The story goes like this – Shortly after the events of Spectre, ‘Bond’ (Daniel Craig) and ‘Dr. Swann’ (Lea Seydoux) have drifted off into blissful retirement. In their travels, they arrive in Italy so ‘Bond’ can visit ‘Vesper’s grave and put her ghost to rest, allowing him and ‘Swann’ move forward in life and romance. They are quickly set upon by Spectre thugs, prompting ‘Bond’ to understandably lose trust in his current squeeze and we see him vanish into the ether a hunted man. 5 years later, there’s an attack on a high-security research facility and a key scientist is kidnapped, along with his invention; a deadly nano-bot virus that targets specific DNA when programmed. ‘Bond’, now living in Jamaica, is contacted by his old CIA pal ‘Felix Leiter’ (Jeffrey Wright) and is eventually convinced to join the search for the missing scientist, as a mercenary operative for the Americans with no ties to MI6. After a snatch mission in Cuba with a plucky CIA recruit named ‘Paloma’ (Ana De Arma), during which he crosses paths with his code-number’s British replacement ‘Nomi’ (Lashana Lynch), it becomes apparent that there’s a new player in town, in the form of ‘Safin'(Rami Malek), a cunning and mysterious figure from the past seemingly intent on harming Spectre (nothing wrong with that), but then also potentially harming the world (everything wrong with that), through the use of a deadly new technology. Throughout the many chases and gunfights, Bond has new revelations that weave through the themes of family, revenge and sacrifice.
Now, do I think that this curtain-call for the character, as portrayed by Craig, was a fitting send-off? Read further, Dear Reader. Let’s get into this.
As usual, I made sure a note pad was with me when I got around to checking out No Time to Die and ahead lie my scribbles.
But first be warned – I WILL be discussing *SPOILERS* below, it’s just how it is.
Cool? Ok then. Let’s go!
–Old school scope intro. Music. Writer / Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) continues the theme of ‘what’s old is new’ motif that previous director Sam Mendes applied to Spectre (2015), to mixed success, in my opinion. As with all Bonds, we kick this one off with the classic gun barrel / scope intro, set to a very classic 60’s sounding Bond theme. The only difference is the lack of the dripping blood animation following the inevitable gunshot. It worked for me.
–Horror movie opening scene. We see a scene discussed between characters in Spectre play out in flashback, in which a masked killer arrives at the Norwegian home of a young ‘Madeleine Swann’, Bond’s future lady love from the last flick, as portrayed by Lea Seydoux. This stalker is intent on exacting revenge for the death of his family at the hands of her father (evil ‘Mr. White’ (Jesper Christensen) from first two Craig Bonds*), on orders from the sinister Spectre organization. His initial arrival is quiet and eerie. It also worked for me.
*Wait a sec…in Quantum of Solace (2008), wasn’t ‘White’ revealed to be a member of the other nefarious crime syndicate, QUANTUM, which was being manipulated by Spectre? He wasn’t a part of Spectre directly. Or do I have that wrong?
–Plucky kid. The little girl playing young ‘Madeleine’ (Caroline Defaud) gave a sense of capability, as though she’d been trained by an adult and some of it actually stuck. Plus, she fights back in an appropriately vicious manner that I appreciated.
–Not sure Vesper’s worth the attention. Yes, ‘Vesper Lynd’ (Eva Green), ‘Bond’s deceased-by-her-own-lungfuls of water first love from Casino Royale, comes up yet again. They’re still trying to sell the idea of a deep loss for ‘Bond’, that looms like a spectre (ha, see what I did there?!) over any future he hopes for with ‘Madeleine’, but I never felt the emotional connection that ‘Bond’ and ‘Lynd’ had allegedly formed back in ’06. It just didn’t feel earned. The flick follows ‘Bond’ to ‘Vesper’s burial site on a rocky hillside in Italy, where he takes a few moments to ponder solemnly. Until…
– Boom! Damn! Classic Spectre! And ‘Vesper’s fucking mausoleum explodes in ‘Bond’s face. Literally. It’s a good blast too.
–Love the hearing loss. After ‘Bond’ is knocked ass over tea kettle by the blast, things go all murky in the hearing department, so much so that when he’s set upon by Spectre thugs, he doesn’t even notice them coming until he’s winged by a bullet. Even the music was dulled until events onscreen called for sound to return.
–As usual, awesome motorbike chase. That. Right there.
–Into a cool car chase. Also, that. Right there.
–Sweet use of classic gadgets. Aston Martin DB5. Going back to the classic 60’s Bond flavor being injected into the very modern story, ala Spectre, I liked the rough and tumble use of the decked out DB5. It’s all about the gatling guns, baby!! Though the cluster bombs and smoke screen were sweet too. Numerous old-school gadgets are introduced, with modern consequences.
–Cool credit sequence. Not sure about the tune though. This is a solid credit sequence, employing some eerie imagery and effects. Unfortunately, the titular theme song by Billie Eilish falls totally flat for me, rubbing shoulders with Sam Smith’s godawful ‘Writings on the Wall’ for Spectre, which did that already flawed flick no additional favors.
–Dr. No suits! This HAD to have been deliberate, as haz-mat suits worn by two characters look almost exactly, and hilariously, like the ones worn by the evil ‘Dr. No’ from Bond’s first cinematic foray…um…Dr. No (1962).
–I love me a good, high-tech heist scene. We lead from the intro credits into a group of high-tech, ninja-like Spectre operatives infiltrating a top-secret research facility in downtown London. It was cool.
–Ana was kick-ass + adorable. Gone too soon. Ana De Armas (Blade Runner 2049) is a drop-dead Cuban cutie who has only recently come to my attention. She shows up here as plucky, eager beaver CIA recruit ‘Paloma’, enlisted by ‘Felix Leiter’ (Jeffrey Wright) as Bond’s contact in Cuba while he hunts for the missing scientist. She’s basically a glorified cameo, but she was great! I would’ve loved to see a whole flick with her and ‘Bond’ on some crazy espionage adventure. On top of being cute, earnest and bubbly, she also kicks some serious ass when the time comes and it was awesome! Also awesome is the fact that, unlike loads of other ladies that drift into ‘Bond’s often fatal orbit, she actually fulfills her mission and lives to fight another day! A nice little subversion of expectations with that.
–Classic theme again. I heard the theme…again. Whoop, whoop. Moving on.
–Good back and forth with Fiennes and Craig. Ralph Fiennes (Strange Days), as Bond’s former boss ‘M’, and Daniel Craig are proven masters of their craft and it was a treat to see them engage in some antagonistic bickering on ‘Bond’s return to MI6 in Act Two.
–Holy shit! An F-bomb! Yep, finally. After 26 flicks, the series FINALLY gets around to dropping the word FUCK into the dialogue (though such filth was also considered for, and possibly deleted from, Dalton’s ‘Bond’ in License to Kill (1989)) and it somehow seemed fitting that Fiennes is the one to drop it.
–Kid’s dull. So, after the flashbacks are done, we get another kid that turns up as ‘Madaleine Swann’s modern-day daughter, who we eventually find out is *SPOILER*…’Bond’s little rug rat (surprise, surprise). That’s all fine and dandy, narratively speaking, but the twins they cast to play little ‘Matilde’ are so not engaging, mostly standing around looking stunned when not babbling en francais. You’d think the child of 007 would be directed to show some range or energy, but nope. Not here.
–Nice play on the gun barrel opening. During the climactic action scene, Bond makes his way into a large, tubular corridor, pausing to fire a bullet directly at us, at some goon lurking behind the camera. A VERY obvious throw-back shot that I was just fine with.
–Slick one-take action scene. As Fukunaga deftly proved in Season 1 of True Detective, he knows how to craft dynamic single-take long shots and he drops an impressive one into ‘Bond’s unrelenting assault on the sinister research facility in Act Three. Very cool.
–Downer send-off. Appropriate…but also not. OK, major fucking *SPOILER* ahead…’James Bond’, for the first time in the entire franchise, dies at the end. On one hand, given the way Craig and the various filmmakers over the years have portrayed him as a borderline sociopathic and spiritually damaged individual, it kinda makes sense. But…this is still ‘James motherfucking Bond’ here! The character, on The Big Screen, is immortal, in our hearts, if not onscreen. But, to the writer’s credit, they do lay out some serious obstacles for our intrepid British hero that logically do aim him in the self-sacrifice direction. And self-sacrifice he does!
–Not sure. And that’s the mental state that fell over me as the credits rolled. I do understand that since Craig would not be returning as 007 by choice, why not close out his successful tenure with a grand, permanent vacation-style exit. But I also couldn’t help but to wonder why Bond couldn’t just ambiguously disappear into retirement after so many years of torture, both physical and mental. His arc didn’t need to be tragic. And yes, I do know that the presence of annoyingly feminist writer / actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge on the Writing Team could leave fans annoyed that the series went all ‘woke’, disposing of a classic alpha-male protagonist in favor of a trendy female 007 replacement (who also happens to be black, if we’re ticking off the PC diversity checklist), but on the flip side…why the hell not? It’s all just fiction and fiction is malleable. There is something to be said for changing things up and I do have to commend the several writers (Waller-Bridge included) and Fukunaga for having the balls to alter the established formula, fanboys be damned. Sometimes that approach back-fires (*cough, cough*…The Last Jedi…*cough cough*), but here I think they MOSTLY rode the line nicely, resulting in changes or events that felt true to the previous four movies.
In a nutshell, I liked quite a bit of, but didn’t love, No Time to Die. There’s definitely a lot of good stuff that plays out over the weighty 2 hour and 43 minute run-time, but there’s other things that maybe could’ve benefitted from a reconsideration in the Script phase.
On the Good side, the film looks great (solid cinematography and lighting), the action scenes are genuinely exciting, the sound design is robust and to me, the cast felt like they were giving it an honest effort to successfully close Craig’s incarnation out.
On the Not-So-Good side, the flick is too long, the Bad Guy’s motivations are muddled, the plot at times is too busy for its own good and, oddly, the score by the usually reliable Hans Zimmer is unremarkable, save a few nods to the classic 60’s themes (which is surprising given how gorgeous and memorable his work on Dune Part 1 also was this year).
And of course, there’s the element of ‘Bond’s demise. That’s the elephant in the room with this flick and it will largely govern how you’re left feeling when the credits roll. Getting over the initial bummer and looking at the situation narratively and objectively, I’m actually ok with how this version of ‘Bond’ is concluded, overlooking any gender politics that may be lurking below the surface. It makes the 5 Craig-era Bond flicks a nifty self-contained package deal, as they can now all be viewed as one over-arcing, albeit tragic, storyline…and that’s cool. And its not like this is the Death of James Bond (well, ok…it sorta is), but we know that in a few years time, a fresh new face will be chosen and we’ll be off on another set of stylish espionage adventures starring a new version of the iconic hero.
If I’m pushed to rank the Craig Bonds, this is my order of preference –
Casino Royale (2006)
No Time to Die (2021)
Quantum of Solace (2008)
But as I mentioned earlier, there’s cool, entertaining shit on display in each and every one of those movies, top to bottom.
Good job, Daniel Craig, and thank you for everything you brought to James Bond, 007! Retire from the character proudly…ya done good, sir.