I’ve always asserted that Sean Connery is the best James Bond with Daniel Craig being a respectable second place. (Pierce Brosnan’s my third fave for those of you playing at home.) But the collective effect of “Casino Royale” (2006), “Skyfall” and now “No Time to Die” (available in theaters beginning the evening of Thursday, Oct. 7) has forced me to flip that order. Craig is now unequivocally my Bond.
“NTtD” is the most emotionally resonant Bond movie besting the likes of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall.” It’s also the second most stylish after “Skyfall.” We’re firmly in Top Five Bond flick territory here, folks.
Bond retired from MI6 at the end of “Spectre” (the weakest Craig entry) in order to pursue a life with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). They’re grappling with their pasts at the beginning of “NTtD.” In order to live happily ever after they must not only make peace with their histories – they need to put them to bed.
Interrupting all this personal growth is a cycloptic assassin named Primo (Dali Benssalah), who’s working on behalf of an incarcerated Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). Bond and Madeleine survive the skirmish, but their relationship does not.
Bond screws off to Somewheresville, Jamaica. His days of fishing and drinking are interrupted by his old CIA buddy Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and Leiter’s new associate Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen). The men recruit Bond to help them apprehend rogue scientist Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik, he played Mikhail Gorbachev on “Chernobyl”), who helped develop a weaponized nanobot technology for M (Ralph Fiennes) only to turn around and sell said technology to Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), a terrorist with ties to Madeleine. The mission takes Bond to Cuba where he teams with Paloma (Ana de Armas) – their goals serve in stark contrast to those of M and newly-named 007 Nomi (Lashana Lynch, “Captain Marvel”).
I’m not terribly familiar with the oeuvre of director Cary Joji Fukunaga. I watched and loved his work on the first season of HBO’s “True Detective.” I’ve always wanted and meant to see “Sin Nombre” and “Beasts of No Nation,” but never did so. His “Jane Eyre” didn’t much appeal to me as I’m not big on stodgy period dramas. (Is it better than that?) I also never watched Netflix’s “Maniac” as it seemed a little too weird and/or existential for my liking despite digging the primary cast.
Coolly enough, Fukunaga brings some of the horror energy I imagine he would’ve brought to “It” (a project to which he was once assigned) to “NTtD” – the opening sequence feels far more like Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s “Goodnight Mommy” or “The Lodge” than it does like something such as “Die Another Day.” Fukunaga also brings some of the style he employed in “True Detective” to “NTtD.” There’s a stairwell shootout done in a oner that definitely calls to mind his best action beat from the HBO staple. (I must also give Fukunaga and his cinematographer Linus Sandgren (a frequent collaborator of David O. Russell and Damien Chazelle) mad props for framing a shot where Craig’s Bond shoots directly at the camera through a tunnel calling to mind the opening credits of all these movies – cool shit.)
Craig is typically great as Bond. There are new shades of the character heretofore unseen, which are more than welcome to this critic. What’s especially fun about “NTtD” is its presentation of women. Bond only sleeps with one woman in “NTtD” – she being Seadoux’s Madeleine. Seadoux is lovely and quite good in the movie, but it’s de Armas and Lynch who really make an impression. De Armas isn’t in the movie much (I suspect she was cast as a lark based on the chemistry between she and Craig in “Knives Out”), but she’s capably funny, sexy and kick-ass with minimal screen time. Lynch is a bad bitch as Nomi. I’d happily watch more movies with her as 007, but sadly it’ll likely never happen.
The movie doesn’t have many drawbacks … here are a few of them. Malek is miscast as the villain. He’s too damned young to be playing this role. Malek is 40 in actuality. Seadoux is 36. Given the relationship their characters have, the actor playing his role should be way older. Javier Bardem would be great in the role had he not already been in “Skyfall.” Where was Benicio del Toro? That said Malek’s still good in the part. It kinda calls to mind “The Little Things” from earlier this year – another film in which Malek was miscast and yet somehow still made an impression. Another flaw is that the action is sometimes too jumbly. It’s often awesome, but when it’s filmed too tightly it’s frenetic in a way that’s less Bourne and more bored.
I don’t know where Bond is gonna go from here, but I certainly thank Craig for his service. His Bond made me cry on the way out too … a feat rarely achieved by this famed spy.