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Cary Fukunaga's James Bond film 'No Time To Die' falls short of expectations

Daniel Craig finishes his run as James Bond in "No Time To Die," but while Craig's performance is incredibly strong, the film overall lacks cohesion. – Photo by James Bond / Twitter

There’s an unmistakable sense of finality in Cary Fukunaga's “No Time To Die,” the fifth and final performance by Daniel Craig as beloved super spy, James Bond.

Although Craig was initially seen as a far cry from what fans of the 50-year-old film franchise ever anticipated a Bond actor being and faced waves of backlash and rumors the actor proved to be revolutionary and silenced critics.

Fukunaga’s “No Time To Die” is the most emotional and longest Bond film yet (2 hours and 43 minutes), taking place six years after the events of “Spectre”. Bond is enjoying retirement in Italy with his lover, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), when an unexpected event thrusts him back into active duty: Bond must confront an ominous villain with dangerous technology in a mission that forces him to battle the demons he’s repressed for so long. 

What promises to be Bond’s most intimate and high octane adventure delivers only in places. The greatest strength of “No Time To Die” is also what derails it in critical places — that this isn’t a traditional Bond film. Apart from the stylish opening title credits to Billie Eilish’s forgettable title track and a few death defying stunts, the essence of Bond is both there and severely missing.

What works here is the incredible cinematography by Linus Sandgren, who takes viewers from the mountainous city of Matera, Italy to the dense forests of Norway. When the stakes of the plot are at an all time high, “No Time To Die” excels. Couple some great action sequences with the immersive cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s background score, and this is an enjoyable cinematic experience.

Additionally, the performances are simply brilliant. What more can I say about Craig? “No Time To Die” is a showcase of his legendary craft and a testament to the fact that no one will ever be able to fill in the shoes of the actor as the franchise moves forward. Fukunaga carries the baggage of having to pull off the greatest Craig-Bond film yet, and while he doesn’t succeed, he somewhat makes up for it by giving Craig moments of passion and deep vulnerability.

It’s a departure from what you’ve come to expect of 007 and it works brilliantly because the actor handles these scenes with such grace. He bares his heart out, receives bullets and gets punched by henchmen half his age, and yet he still persists to throw in a one liner in the most life threatening situations.

Seydoux is equally brilliant. She shines alongside Craig and her character allows Bond to display his romantic side. Lashana Lynch as Nomi has her moments of snarky banter, but her character doesn’t leave a mark.

Ralph Fiennes as MI6 head “M” and Ben Whishaw as quartermaster “Q” are so refreshing to see, but they’re also sidelined for the greater story. The breakout cameo of the film will undoubtedly be the lovely Ana De Armas as Paloma, who’s a breath of fresh air but leaves in the blink of an eye. 

Fukunaga doesn’t carry the same artistic vision of previous Bond directors and he abandons the franchise’s cinematic trademarks in service of emotions. Fukunaga tries to resolve the longtime dilemma of portraying Bond as an invincible myth or a flawed mortal man –– he leans toward the latter, and it’s a creative choice that will prove to be extremely divisive along with the ending.

While the second half is exciting and the action sequences are breathtaking, the contrived story is riddled with plot holes and clichés that do a massive disservice to the actors and take audiences for granted. 

The Craig era of Bond films post “Skyfall” also suffered from underwhelming villains despite having legendary actors involved. It saddens me to say that “No Time To Die” is no different and it hampers the film greatly.

Taking center stage opposite Craig is Oscar-winner Rami Malek as Lyutsifer Safin, a global anarchist and a “nasty piece of work." Malek’s exciting involvement with the film promised a villain for the ages not only due to his acting prowess, but also because he’s the only American actor since 1989 to play a Bond villain. 

Malek's vampiric eyes and menacing physicality lure you into his performance as Safin, and his eerie presence truly makes your skin crawl. It’s a shame, then, that the script leaves the supremely talented actor with the short end of the stick and the viewers with nothing more than a caricature.

The ingredients of a legendary Bond villain there but never fleshed out: a diabolical plan to launch a catastrophic bioweapon, a mysterious lair housing a poisonous Zen garden and a sadistic ritual of wearing a ghostly Kabuki theater mask while hunting his victims. 

If you’ve been eagerly keeping up with the making of the film, you’ll find that the years of thought that went into constructing Safin’s checkered past and his motives don’t translate at all on screen. Safin’s shadow looms over the events of the film, and yet Fukunaga doesn’t give his villain equal treatment when doing so has been a tradition of Bond films. And if you’re a massive fan of Malek as I am, you’ll be extremely disappointed because he’s only in the film for 10 minutes. 

“No Time To Die” is an inconsistent but mostly enjoyable swan song for Craig. For its gorgeous cinematography, beautiful performances and the emotional weight of its story, it deserves a viewing. And despite its significant flaws and polarizing creative choices, it still serves as the grandest emotional tribute ever for a Bond actor.

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