de facto film reviews 3.5 stars

Every generation has their James Bond(s). For my father it was Sean Connery as a kid, Roger Moore as a teen. The goofier gadgets, bodacious woman and campy storylines were the ultimate escapist fantasy for my father and those growing up in the era. My generation grew up with the James Bond that was largely parodied. Austin Powers was bigger than the spy he was spoofing, Die Another Day had shamed the franchise into new lows, and although the influential aftershock of the Goldeneye video game was still being felt, Bond simply wasn’t the hero he once was. Also, who could forget Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist named Christmas Jones? After a four-year break, enter 38 year-old blonde-with-blue-eyes Daniel Craig. His first entry as Ian Fleming’s classic spy in Casino Royale was exactly the hit the brand needed, and cinema as a whole. A tough, but vulnerable hero that wasn’t bulletproof, and audiences embraced him for it. For the past 15 years, Craig has more than exceled as the 6th actor to don the iconic role, and although his most recent entry, Spectre, failed the capture the magic of the global phenomenon that was Skyfall, it would seem wise to choose to go out on a high note for the star. Director Cary Fukanaga, known his groundbreaking first season of True Detective as well as the excellent Beasts of No Nation, goes for a big-scale epic finale filled with twists, turns and melodrama that, while exhaustive and at times messy, is more than a fitting swan swan for Daniel Craig.

After a tense opening sequence that has more in common with the opening of Scream than it does with a typical Bond opening, we’re introduced to the villainous Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), a mysterious villain looking to get his hands on a secretive DNA-targeting bioweapon. Meanwhile, James Bond has officially retired from his life as a 00 for MI6 and has settled down with Madeleine Swan (Lea Seydoux). Those plans are thwarted when figures from Madeleine’s past come back and force Bond out of his idyllic life.

After the airless Spectre, director Cary Fukanaga implements much more of a pulse this time around for Daniel Craig’s final outing. Beginning with an extended opening — roughly 25 minutes before the titles appear — that includes an electric set piece in Italy with a number of impressive stunts. After the breathless opening, we’re treated to the chill-inducing opening titles, with the theme sung by Billie Eilish who is just superb. It’s this first hour where No Time To Die is perhaps at its best. Methodically paced and scripted with wit — co-writer and Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s fingerprints are most definitely felt–  the first act of No Time To Die is simply thrilling.

Elegantly photographed by DP Linus Sandgren (La La Land), the action sequences are swift and hard-hitting. Craig looks more at home here than in Spectre and although age has infamously done its woes to the stars body, he’s a joy to watch. One particular sequence in Cuba is potentially the best sequence in the film. Also thanks in large part to the introduction of Ana de Armas’ rookie agent Paloma, who, despite only appearing in this extended sequence, manages to steal the entire show around her. Armas shows yet again how unrivaled her charisma is and makes for one hell of an addition to the franchise. The globe-trotting adventure uses the most of its many locations, reaffirming that unique locations in blockbuster filmmaking shouldn’t be replaced over the faux backgrounds used in soundstages across Atlanta.

Daniel Craig gives what might be his best performance as Bond since Casino Royale. Craig conveys more layers of vulnerability than ever before, which contrasts beautifully with his rough exterior. It feels like the actor is once again giving it his all, and the results are apparent on-screen. In a vast upgrade from Spectre, the chemistry between Craig and Lea Seydoux is much better this time around, even if it’s a bit of a stretch in buying her as the love of Bond’s life; especially given the chemistry Craig shared with Royale co-star Eva Green.

Lashana Lynch (Captain Marvel), as the new replacement 007, has a particular bravado to her screen presence that makes her magnetic to watch. Her sparring rapport between her and Craig is always a joy to watch and creates a unique dynamic that Fukanaga, along with the screenwriters, explores quite well. As the new Bond villain, Rami Malek is compelling enough when he’s on-screen. However, unlike some of his contemporaries, most notably Javier Bardem and Mads Mikkelsen, he doesn’t have a lingering presence. Malek doesn’t have much screen time, so for large chunks of the film his character is quickly forgotten.

There’s an aura of melancholy to No Time To Die that lingers throughout the 163 minute runtime, and although that sentiment may not hold up as tightly as the mournful sorrow found in Skyfall, Fukanaga adds grace to Craig’s final bow. Now in his 50’s, Craig portrays Bond as someone who’s truly at the end of his line. Given his line of work, Bond is among the last of his peers, with many of his closest allies dead. The tone of the film matches the world-weariness of Craig’s Bond, with much of the third act feeling more akin to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, even down to the end credits song. The haunting Billie Eilish theme is always effective when played in the score by Hans Zimmer and serves as the soul of the film.

Despite the witty banter and certain plot elements that feel in line with the campier Roger Moore films, No Time To Die plays it all with a straight face making the sillier elements feel that much more out of place. Complete with a neurotic scientist character that feels like he belongs in a 90’s disaster film, some elements feel a bit cobbled together. Malek’s Safin isn’t a particularly interesting villain and his backstory contains a few elements that aren’t quite so easy to digest. While more conceptualized than in Spectre, Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld is still very much an afterthought. While his scenes are compelling, his turn as the iconic villain remains one of the more gratuitous missed opportunity’s in recent film. Despite the grand 163 minute runtime, the ambitious climax feels strangely rushed. While a moving, dare I say tear-jerking, sendoff for Craig, it does feel like the emotions would prove more potent with some more breathing room in the finale.

Daniel Craig ends his tenure as James Bond on a fulfilling, graceful note. While not as sharp or as sophisticated as Casino Royale or Skyfall, Fukanaga gives Daniel Craig the proper farewell he deserves. Not unlike fellow ambitious blockbuster finale The Dark Knight Rises, No Time To Die projects itself onto a large canvas that despite its share of shortcomings, aims high and lands with rousing success.