Although it leans into the tropes of what we come to expect from the institution that is a James Bond film, and in some ways this 25th entrant is possibly the most self-aware of the pack, No Time To Die keeps largely in tune with the mentality of the wave of Daniel Craig-led films; the fun is sporadic, the scope is expansive, the calamity is high, and it offsets the serious material with a certain melodramatic flare.
To discuss plot specifics would be doing Cary Joji Fukunaga‘s film a disservice, but the basic outline centres itself around a retired Bond and his ultimate return to agent form at the request of Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), a CIA ally, which understandably irks Bond’s former MI6 superior, M (Ralph Fiennes). Throw in the continued presence of terrorist organisation Spectre (this film continuing their dominance from the last name-same feature) – which includes their incarcerated leader, Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) – and Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), an independent enemy of Spectre, and you have all the more reason for Bond to return to his 00 post. And that would be all well and good if he hadn’t been replaced, with the new 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), asserting her dominance in a manner that immediately separates her from the standard “Bond girl” archetype.
The emotional developments for Bond are what truly sets him apart in this iteration, and it’s the ultimate uncovering throughout that is best left experienced blindly by hopeful audiences. The questioning of his career choices plays a large part in his motivation throughout, something that extends to his current relationship with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and the continued presence of his unresolved trauma surrounding the death of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green‘s Casino Royale counterpart who defined what it was to be a love interest in this series). The chemistry between Craig and Seydoux doesn’t unfortunately crackle with the type of energy that their pairing should have – especially in comparison to the aforementioned Green – which proves one of No Time To Die‘s sorest points, as so much of the script (a collaboration between Fukunaga, Neil Purvis, Robert Wade, and Fleabag‘s Phoebe Waller-Bridge) banks on the story’s trajectory revolving around their supposed devotion to one another; even Ana de Armas‘ singular scene appearance as Paloma, a CIA agent assisting Bond in a wild Cuban shoot-out sequence, earns more chemistry points, with her reckless and bubbly rookie agent injecting a genuine spark into the film’s oft overblown temperament.
Though so much of No Time To Die intends to delight fans with its action sequences and international scenery – if ever there was a film that inspires travel, it’s this – it also feels unfocused in its narrative, with so much constant movement playing havoc on certain characters and their supposed importance. Lynch is dynamite as the new 00, but scenes of Nomi and Bond trying to set aside their egos to work together feel like products of the cutting room floor, whilst Malek, whose wide-eyed, softly spoken delivery feels tailor-made for villainy, is let down by a story that doesn’t make use of his menace; similarly, the conflict that should be driven by his destructive weapon is a minor element, as opposed to the forceful presence it should ultimately hone.
Whilst the film’s pacing and execution is occasionally lacking, No Time To Die can’t be faulted as the bombastic swan song it lovingly intends to be. Craig’s made no secret of his appreciation of the conclusion regarding this role, but he’s emotionally connected and engaged throughout, lending a genuine humanity to the character that so often has been shielded by flashy weapons and innuendo. No Time To Die doesn’t always land its sizeable punches, but when it works, it works, and as much as one can lament over the fact that it’s not as grand as it could have been, even a Bond outing that takes a few steps back from its potential is still an action event worth going to the cinemas for.
No Time To Die is now screening in Australian theatres.
*This review originally appeared on The AU Review. It has been re-published with the author’s permission.