No Time to Die Review

The five film run of Daniel Craig as perhaps the world’s most famous cinematic character comes to a close in No Time to Die, the 25th feature in the nearly 60-year-old 007 franchise. It began 15 years ago with Casino Royale, which I list at #2 in the canon behind only From Russia with Love (Sean Connery’s second entry).

For those who think the dedicated team behind the series have no time for surprises, be prepared. Like the midsection poker sequence in Royale that stands as one of the finest in Bond history, there’s times where they go all in. There’s also moments that harken back to the Roger Moore days and, in this case, I mean it as a compliment. By the time we reached Craig’s third and deservedly praised Skyfall in 2012, the pics had achieved a level of seriousness that risked becoming too dour.

Despite its considerable flaws, 2015’s follow-up Spectre thankfully remembered that the action and plots in this cinematic universe can be silly. 007’s 25th adventure isn’t afraid to display that. The threat to the world here involves passing a weaponized virus only through that individual’s DNA and those related to them. It’s a little ridiculous and I once again mean that in a good way.

This is not quite the triumph that Casino Royale was. In fact, I’d also rank this a smidge behind Skyfall. The villain is not particularly memorable. Like all Craig films that followed the first, no romantic entanglement will rival the one he had with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. Yet Die achieves the unlikely feat of bringing those fun Moore elements dashed with Timothy Dalton’s more weighty tone. The result is that Craig’s time as the super spy (the longest in terms of actual time but not volume of titles) is easily the most satisfying since Sean Connery’s.

From the jump, we realize Die is going to be a little different. The pre-title sequence begins with a franchise first: an eerie and gorgeously rendered flashback that sheds light on the childhood of Madeleine Swann. As you may recall, she’s Bond’s love interest from Spectre played by Lea Seydoux. Her connections to that criminal enterprise led by Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is expanded upon. In the present day, James and Madeleine are making a romantic go of it. A visit to Vesper’s tomb disrupts both their safety and Bond’s trust in his current relationship.

This all occurs in the lengthy prologue before we hear Billie Eilish’s title cut. Let’s dispense with that. Ms. Eilish has some quality tunes, but her contribution is forgettable and not the kind of Bond tune you’ll be humming leaving the theater or rushing to download for the ride back.

In the serialized fashion we’ve come to expect from Craig’s tenure (something unique only to his), we jump five years to Bond in retirement. And (gasp) he’s no longer 007. MI6 is still going strong but relations with their U.S. counterparts are strained. It’s not the new 007 (Lashana Lynch) or M (Ralph Fiennes) or even his beloved Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) or Q (Ben Whishaw) that convince Bond to emerge from his Jamaican R&R. Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), along with a new eager associate (Billy Magnussen), recruit him for a mission that involves dismantling SPECTRE. Bond hooks up (not literally as Bond’s libido seems to be catching up with his age) with another agent (Ana de Armas) to do so. This culminates in a wonderfully fabulous and bizarre action set piece in Cuba.

All this activity soon puts James in the same space with Madeline again and with Blofeld. And we soon meet Safin (Rami Malek), the head baddie with his own troubled history with the criminal organization. I won’t wax rhapsodic about Safin as I mentioned he’s a pretty weak villain. On the other hand, No Time to Die is not really focused on his story. This Bond story, more than any other besides Skyfall, is really about Bond. That gives us one more opportunity to soak in Craig’s terrific performance that’s spanned this quintet. One could argue the series goes too far in making it all about him. With Craig in control, you’ll hear few complaints from me (heck even Quantum of Solace had some cool stuff in it).

No Time to Die has Cary Fukunaga taking over directorial duties from Sam Mendes, who helmed the previous two. He presides over some amazing looking chases and battles that rank right at the top of what we’ve seen previously. On a slightly contradictory note, there’s one during the climax that was a little too video game oriented for my taste. The screenwriters (with an assist from Phoebe Waller-Bridge) also remember to bring the humor. As much as Safin isn’t much of a memorable character, he does get a moment with a toddler that left me chuckling for a good minute or two after their interaction. The makers also don’t forget that these pictures can be quite weird in their production design. Safin’s Poison Garden is a glorious example.

Additionally, the team isn’t afraid to bring a rare level of emotion to the proceedings. However, it’s not that out of place for Craig’s service. We witnessed a love story in Casino Royale that went beyond his typical dalliances. His connection to Judi Dench’s M (particularly in Skyfall) went far deeper than the same character giving James his orders in the past. In No Time to Die, Mr. Craig’s mission involves the striking visuals that we’re used to. What’s different is that over the five adventures connected to each other, I felt like these missions developed a familial bond that shook the foundation of a franchise in a stirring fashion.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Dumbo

Disney’s live-action version of their 1941 classic Dumbo arrives in theaters on Friday and the review embargo was lifted today. Tim Burton’s take on the flying elephant is the first of four Mouse Factory updates on their animated tales hitting screens in 2019.

The advance word out is quite mixed with a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 51%. No one seriously expected this would contend for Best Picture, but previous Disney updates in recent years have fared well with Oscar voters with technical nods.

Burton’s own Alice in Wonderland in 2010 won Best Art Direction (now Production Design) and Costume Design and landed a nomination in Visual Effects. Costume Design nods were received by Maleficent in 2014 and by Cinderella the following year. In 2016, The Jungle Book emerged victorious in Visual Effects. Beauty and the Beast nabbed nods for Production and Costume Design.

That’s a solid track record. Where’s that leave Dumbo? Tough to say at this juncture. Even the negative skewing reviews have praised the visuals. Yet there will be a lot of competition and that includes the other three live-action updates arriving later: Aladdin, The Lion King, and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Even more potentially serious competitors include Avengers: Endgame and the next Star Wars.

Costume Design and Production Design remain more realistic possibilities. Bottom line: Dumbo could continue the recent tradition of this sub genre getting down the line category attention, but competition will be key. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Dumbo Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (03/27): My Dumbo prediction has dropped from $65.6 million to $55.6 million.

With Tim Burton at the helm, Disney’s live-action rendering of Dumbo flies into theaters next weekend. The elephant tale (based on the Mouse Factory’s 1941 animated feature) is headlined by Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, and plenty of CG effects.

This is the first live-action remake from the studio in two years, following up on the monstrous success that was Beauty and the Beast. That lapse in their sub genre won’t apply to 2019 as there’s three more on the way – Aladdin in May, The Lion King in July, and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil this October.

It’s also not Burton’s first foray remaking Disney classics. 2010’s Alice in Wonderland was a huge hit that grossed $116 million for its start. When it comes to Beauty, Aladdin, and Lion King, they have the advantage of being based on 90s efforts as opposed to a title released 50 years prior.

Expectations for Dumbo aren’t quite as lofty and they’re in the $60-$70 million premiere range. That sound about right and I’ll put it right in the middle of those numbers, similar to what Cinderella achieved in 2015.

Dumbo opening weekend prediction: $55.6 million

For my Hotel Mumbai prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/03/24/hotel-mumbai-box-office-prediction/

For my Unplanned prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/03/24/unplanned-box-office-prediction/

For my The Beach Bum prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/03/24/the-beach-bum-box-office-prediction/

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Box Office Prediction

Nearly two years ago, Tim Burton had the second lowest grossing feature of his career (after 1994’s Ed Wood) with Big Eyes. To cushion the blow, that particular film was a low-budget drama that wasn’t expected to rank among his array of blockbusters.

Next weekend, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children finds Burton back in more familiar territory. It’s a fantastical adventure based on a well-known property (Ransom Riggs’s 2011 bestseller) with dark themes. Sounds like a Burton flick to me! Eva Green plays the title character with a supporting cast that includes Asa Butterfield, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Judi Dench, and Samuel L. Jackson.

It’s been six years since Mr. Burton has had a massive hit – 2010’s Alice in Wonderland (he didn’t direct this year’s flop of a sequel). This is also his first blockbuster hopeful not headlined by Johnny Depp in a little while. Even though it’s based on a novel with a solid following, I’m not convinced this will break out at the box office with its lack of star power and a director whose box office potency has waned.

My Peculiar estimate has this not reaching $20 million. This is under some other prognosticators expectations and would be considered a disappointment for Burton and company.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children opening weekend prediction: $19.6 million

For my Deepwater Horizon prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/09/21/deepwater-horizon-box-office-prediction/

For my Masterminds prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/09/21/masterminds-box-office-prediction/

For my Queen of Katwe prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/09/23/queen-of-katwe-box-office-prediction/

300: Rise of an Empire Box Office Prediction

300: Rise of an Empire is a big question mark as it arrives in theaters this Friday. Will the sequel bring in a large audience almost exactly seven years after the original was a surprise smash?

Zack Snyder’s 300 shocked prognosticators in 2007 with a gargantuan $70 million debut on its way to a $210 million domestic total. The conventional wisdom is this follow-up won’t come close to that kind of performance and I agree with that. Seven years is a long time between sequels and I’m skeptical that there’s massive pent up anticipation for this.

Having said that, the name brand alone should get it beyond the $30 million mark for an opening. I say should because I’m still a little unsure. A $25 million debut wouldn’t shock me… and that would considered a pretty major letdown for Warner Bros. This was originally scheduled to premiere last summer, but was pushed back. The original director Snyder returns as producer and cowriter with Noam Murro taking over behind the camera duties. Newcomers to the franchise Sullivan Stapleton and Eva Green headline with holdovers from the first Lena Headey and Rodrigo Santoro costarring.

300 should find itself in a battle with the animated Mr. Peabody & Sherman for #1. This could certainly capitalize on the goodwill that the first generated and blast past $40 million. However, I’m going towards the low end of predictions and saying it just gets passed the $30M range.

300: Rise of an Empire opening weekend prediction: $31.1 million

For my Mr. Peabody & Sherman prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/03/02/mr-peabody-sherman-box-office-prediction/