Allow me, first, to share a memory:
November 2006. EoM editor Crystal Davidson and I journeyed to the Magic Johnson Capital Center 12 to see the latest James Bond film, Casino Royale. I was fan of the films (had even seen all the Brosnan Era films in theaters), whereas Crystal was familiar with the films, but had only seen Die Another Day (2002) in theaters. Where I was enthusiastic to get the theater, Crystal was delighted to be out of the apartment and not at work. By the end of Royale, we each had a new favorite song (Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name) and certainly a favorite Bond. He was unlike anything either of us had seen before and we couldn’t wait to see his next adventure. That this Bond, portrayed by actor Daniel Craig, was just starting out implied such incredible possibilities and, 15 years later, Craig and company delivered. Not only is his Bond my newly-minted second favorite (Bronson, who first appeared in Goldeneye, is my favorite of the series), but Craig’s films tell the kind of stories the approaches taken by the previous entries in the anthology toyed with but never quite accomplished: they feel like the original Ian Fleming novels. With No Time To Die, the 25th entry in the series as a whole and Craig’s fifth and final outing, audiences say goodbye to Bond in a way that feels undoubtedly earned, triumphant, and bittersweet all at once.
At the end of 2015’s Spectre, James Bond and Dr. Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux) walk off into the sunset, their pasts firmly behind them. But they learn that no one’s past stays truly too far from them when Bond is attacked while they visit Italy seeking closure. Five years later, Dr. Swann is no longer in his life and a retired Bond is drawn back into the spy game for one last mission when CIA friend Flix Leiter (Jeffery Wright) calls on the ex-spy for help related to one of M’s (Ralph Fiennes) old projects. As the past collides with the present and the fate of the world is at stake, Bond learns better than most that there’s no time to die.
No Time To Die was originally set for release in October 2020 and received several push-backs until its eventual November 2021 theatrical opening. During that time, many theories popped up about who the big bad played by Rami Malek would be as all the audience had was the name “Safin” and had learned, thanks to the terrible approach in Spectre, that not all bad guys are who they say they are. The fact that this would be Craig’s last Bond film generated even more theories about how the story might end considering his films are stories unto themselves, unlike the rest of the series. I mention all of this because, after waiting literal years for production, release delays, and then for home video to finally screen NTTD, the film was spoiled for me two days before I would watch it. As such, there will be no specific details offered regarding the plot or the characters. If you’re coming to this wanting to learn those details, sorry. NTTD can be discussed without diving into such details and, as such, that’s what you can expect moving forward.
As crafted by Neal Purvis (Casino Royale), Robert Wade (Casino Royale), and Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation), NTTD seeks to address any loose threads from the Craig Era begun in Casino. To do this, unfortunately, they use aspects of Spectre that, upon reflection, aren’t the strongest portions of that standalone film, one of which being Blofield’s relationship to Bond. Strangely, it’s also the smartest thing they could do because it enables them to craft a story that recenters NTTD to include the characters beyond Bond. This causes the audience to generate legitimate concern for characters (M, Moneypenny, Q, and the other members of Team Bond M, Moneypenny, Q, and the other members of Team Bond) whose general safety is rarely questioned. The Craig Era has never shied away from having there be consequences to actions — Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), Judi Dench’s M — but this film is the first time when it truly feels like anything could happen and, for once, Bond might not be the most equipped person to deal with it. The inclusion of Lashana Lynch’s Nomi, the new 007, might seem like a tried-and-true tactic of replacing the lead character only to have the newbie needing to be saved, except, even here, the writers balk at the expected. Nomi is whom Bond was in Royale — young, vicious, mission-focused. Her inclusion isn’t about replacement, but as a mirror to just how far Craig’s Bond has come from who he was and how close he is toward who he wants to be. If Skyfall (2012) and Spectre didn’t prove it, Craig’s Bond has two wolves within him, and NTTD answers the riddle of which one will win. The end is satisfying in a number of ways. The only weakness is that Safin is never truly fleshed out and seems, by all accounts, to be a Dr. No cut-out from character design to hideout design. Without a commentary track discussing it, one might never really know if he is and it doesn’t matter, either. Like Spectre, NTTD works best when it’s not focused on the villain and his plan to cull the world, but on Bond and his defiance to his last breath. Want another clue of Bond’s continued determination to succeed even in the darkest of circumstances? Pay close attention to the lyrics of the theme song from Billie Eilish. It’s far quieter in tone from the previous four films, lacking in bombast or energy, but the lyrics make it plain that Bond isn’t giving up nor is he inert. It’s a slow build to an intransigent end. All that said, any film that pairs Craig back up with de Armas (playing an effulgent undercover agent, no less) is positively a win in my book.
Bonus features time. Please do pay attention as the details matter.
Be advised that there appears to be a segmentation between which versions receive which content. Universal Home Entertainment sent a 4K UHD copy, denoted as “Collector’s Edition,” for home review and it includes all the available materials: four featurettes and a 45-minute retrospective titled “Being James Bond.” According to the press notes, the bonus features are included on the 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD editions, except none are included on the Blu-ray at all, only the 4K UHD disc. So it’s possible that the Blu-ray Combo Pack may include no bonus features at all. I can’t speak to the digital edition as the code that came with my review copy can’t be activated yet. I presume that the four featurettes will be included with the digital edition, but it may depend on which retailer you pick it up from as Movies Anywhere, for instance, doesn’t always have access to bonus features, where services like Vudu or iTunes may. That said, according to the press notes, the retrospective is only available on the 4K UHD edition, but it’s unclear if that’s the physical edition or if that includes the digital edition as well. If you’re a fan of Bond, specifically Craig’s Bond, you’ll want to watch “Being James Bond” as it’s a surprisingly candid look at Craig’s casting, the press reaction, his process shooting the films, and more from Craig himself and 007 producers, Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. When Casino Royale hit, I was not only spending less time reading up on films, I was in graduate school, so I missed most of the public (re: British) outcry to his casting and wasn’t aware of the reputation for being a brisk interviewee. Frankly, the Bond Craig’s given us across five films has the kind of depth that makes the character worth revisiting beyond the signature gadgets, stunts, and babes that the 007 films were originally marketed on. Sounds like this was the plan from the outset of crafting Casino Royale, and learning just how much Craig was given the freedom to influence its story beats is not only fascinating as a general film fan, but a longtime 007 fan.
The other four featurettes are more standard in their approach as they break out the film into the standout set piece in Matera, Italy, how they approached the stunts, the global locations, and the design of the character. What sets these featurettes apart from others is, frankly, is the level of accuracy and safety that director/co-writer Fukunaga brings to his set. How often are you aware that a glaciologist is included to discuss the science behind a set piece? Audiences have begun to expect bigger and better from their Bond films and, in hearing from the glaciologist as he explains how the ice featured in the opening stunt sequence is used and how it functions highlights just how deep the creatives go to develop their set pieces. You get a really deep dive of this in the 11-minute featurette “Anatomy Of A Scene: Matera,” which will tickle the fans of Bond’s cars as they see the different versions used in the sequence; but it’s the six-minute “Keeping It Real: The Action Of No Time To Die” where you get to look at how all the stunts were accomplished. Some included stunt teams and others were conducted by the actors themselves. Do your best not to absorb Wright’s authentic excitement as he discusses the stunt he took part in within a real set designed to look like it was submerging under water. When he asks “is this real life?” with a twinkle in his eye, you’ll believe it. A particular treat is the 11-minute “Designing Bond” featurette as each of the major players, cast and crew, offer their thoughts on the characters through the lens of the costumes and locations. So often audiences just look at characters and see the performances, but what they wear and how they move through the locations communicates just as much. This featurette really puts a nice shine on the often overlooked aspect of filmmaking from general audiences.
Whether Craig is your first Bond or your sixth, No Time To Die is both a solid 007 adventure and fitting bookend to the Craig Era. I hope that the new Bond is given the chance to reinvent the series as much as, if not more than, Craig did. There’s plenty that works in the spycraft films that’s been updated and utilized by other series ranging from Mission: Impossible to the Fast & Furious franchises, so there’s no reason why the same couldn’t be done with Bond. Why? Because nobody does it better.
No Time To Die Bonus Features
- Anatomy Of A Scene: Matera – In true Bond fashion, there is an incredible pre-credit sequence featured in No Time To Die. A breathless chase shot in Matera that starts on foot, then motorcycle, then car. Not just any car either – the iconic Aston Martin DB5! Through interviews with Daniel Craig and director Cary Joji Fukunaga, plus on-set interviews with key members of the crew, we discover how the filmmakers shot this breathtaking sequence. (11:33)
- Keeping It Real: The Action Of No Time To Die – In a world full of CGI-heavy action films, the Bond franchise proudly stands out from the crowd for always shooting practical stunts, without the use of special effects. In this piece we see how No Time To Die continues with this tradition with its amazing action sequences. (6:15)
- A Global Journey – Exotic locations are synonymous with all Bond movies and No Time To Die is no different. As well as returning to Bond’s spiritual home, Jamaica, for Daniel Craig’s final outing, we also go on a global journey taking in Italy, Norway and Scotland. We’ll hear from Daniel Craig, Cary Fukunaga, other key cast and filmmakers, on what it was like filming at these spectacular locations. (7:50)
- Designing Bond – Production designer Mark Tildesley and costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb, along with cast and other filmmakers, discuss the inspiration, challenges and trials of concepting and making such remarkable sets and costumes for the iconic Bond franchise. (11:05)
- Being James Bond* – In this special 45-minute retrospective, Daniel Craig candidly reflects on his 15-year adventure as James Bond. Including never-before-seen archival footage from Casino Royale to the 25th film No Time To Die, Craig shares his personal memories in conversation with 007 producers, Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, in the lead up to his final performance as James Bond. (46:40)
*4K UHD Only
Available on digital November 9th, 2021.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD December 21st, 2021.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.