No Time to Die (2021) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Craig carries it to the end

“No Time to Die”, the 25th film of the James Bond series, sadly does not surprise or thrill me much. While there are a number of impressive action sequences which surely deserve to be watched via big screen, the movie often lags and trudges as handling too many things together during its overlong running time (165 minutes), and the overall result is quite middling even though it is occasionally poignant as the exit chapter for its lead performer, who has always been reliable throughout last 15 years since he strikingly entered in “Casino Royale” (2006).

After the prologue part set in a certain remote place which will appear again later in the film, the movie begins the story at the point not long after the ending of “Spectre” (2015). As many of you remember, James Bond (Daniel Craig) decided to retire and then live a far less eventful life along with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) after defeating and then catching Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) in that film, and everything seems to be fine and peaceful for Bond and Swann as a bit of the song from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) is quoted on the soundtrack. As they promise to each other that they will be more opened to each other, it looks like Bond finally finds someone he can lean on for the rest of his life, but then something unexpected eventually happens to destroy what has been tentatively developed between them, and, after surviving the first action sequence of the film, Bond has no choice but to have Swann leave him as soon as possible.

Five years later, Bond is quietly residing alone in Jamaica with no interest in getting back in action, but then he is approached by his old CIA friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). Leiter wants Bond to help a bit on his latest mission which happens to be involved with Blofeld’s powerful criminal organization, and Bond is not so eager to help Leiter, but then he comes to see how serious the situation really is via Nomi (Lashana Lynch), a young MI6 agent who has incidentally been the new 007 since Bond left MI6. What CIA and MI6 are respectively looking for turns out to be some deadly biological weapon recently stolen from a top-secret lab in London, and it seems that this heist is involved with Blofeld’s organization, which is still active as being run by his close associates.

Despite the stern warning from his former boss M (Ralph Fiennes), Bond eventually decides to join Leiter’s mission, and he soon goes to a city in Cuba where the top-ranking members of Blofeld’s organization will gather for their little meeting. Although he succeeds in infiltrating into the meeting along with a plucky female CIA agent named Paloma (Ana de Armas), Bond soon comes to realize that the situation is a lot more complicated than expected, and that accordingly leads to another action sequence for us.

Along with not only Nomi but also Q (Ben Whishaw) and Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Bond tries to find the mysterious mastermind behind everything, but we already know who that is. He is a dude named Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), and, besides planning something diabolical via that deadly biological weapon as your average James Bond villain, he is also preparing to hurt his opponent a lot via Swann, who has been involved in the situation more than Bond thought.

Now this could be a decent setup for more intrigue and excitement for us, but, alas, the screenplay by director Cary Joji Fukunaga and his co-writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge is often murky and convoluted as dully rolling from one narrative point to another. While there are several brief moments of humor, the movie often feels heavy-handed and ponderous, and I must tell you that I checked the remaining time more than once when I was watching the film along with many other audiences at last night (Don’t worry, we all wore mask as demanded).

In addition, the movie is glaringly deficient in terms of characterization. Compared to how much “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall” (2012) delved deep into James Bond’s personal feelings, “No Time to Die” feels rather repetitive and superficial without showing us anything new about him, and it is also quite disappointing to see how it under-utilizes not only its recurring characters but also several new characters including Nomi, who could be quite more interesting as Bond’s potential successor in my humble opinion.

Anyway, if you just want action, the movie will not disappoint you at all. Besides two aforementioned action sequences, there is also a well-executed action scene unfolded in the middle of a foggy forest, and I appreciate the technical efforts put into a gritty long-take action sequence during the climactic part, which is unfolded in a remote island reminiscent of “Dr. No” (1962) and “You Only Live Twice” (1967).

And I admire how Daniel Craig carries the film to the end. I do not like all of his Bond movies (I was not so impressed by “Quantum of Solace” (2008) and “Spectre”), but he has always been dependable as bringing gritty human qualities to his character, and he surely makes an admirable exit here while completing his character’s dramatic arc over five films as required. Like his predecessors, he definitely leaves his own mark on the franchise, and I am sure he will soon move onto other good things to come into his career.

In case of the other main cast members, they acquit themselves fairly well despite mostly stuck in thankless roles. While Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, and Ralph Fiennes do not have many things to do except merely filling their familiar roles, Ana de Armas manages to steal the show a bit despite her underwritten role, and Lashana Lynch is sadly wasted in contrast. In case of Christoph Waltz and Rami Malek, the movie is not exactly the highpoint of these two Oscar-winners to say the least, and you may come to miss more those colorful megalomaniac villains such as Auric Goldfinger.

Although it is not as boring as “Quantum of Solace”, “No Time to Die” fails to reach to the level of “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall”, so I cannot recommend it, but I must recognize how the James Bond series has tried to change itself via its last five films. Its attempt was not always successful, but that surely brought some fresh air into this 59-year-old franchise, and it is will be interesting to see whether the franchise will go further for more change and adaptation.

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