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 Predictions: No Time to Die

The 15 year era of Daniel Craig as one of cinema’s most famous characters concludes with No Time to Die. James Bond will return… but not with arguably his best incarnation since Sean Connery. Prior to the October 8 stateside bow, the embargo lifted this evening and the results are encouraging.

007’s 25th adventure stands at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes (with 35 reviews out at press time). Many critics are calling it a surprisingly emotional swan song for Craig’s contribution to the British super spy series. There’s also hints that it resembles more of the Roger Moore era of the canon than one might expect (a direction it seemed to be taking with predecessor Spectre). Ana de Armas is drawing raves for her very short amount of screen time. The consensus on Rami Malek’s main villain seems a bit mixed. There’s some complaints about the length (a Bond high 163 minutes).

Yet no one seems to be arguing that it’s a rather fitting conclusion to Craig’s tenure in the part. So will Oscar take notice? Skyfall, the third pic in the actor’s five appearances, probably came close to a Best Picture nod. It did earn five nominations – winning Sound Editing and Original Song (Adele’s title track) with mentions in Sound Mixing, Score, and Cinematography. 2015’s follow-up Spectre (which had less laudatory reviews) managed a sole nomination in Song with Sam Smith’s “The Writing’s on the Wall” where it scored an upset victory.

I wouldn’t be shocked if an internet campaign is mounted for Craig to get a Best Actor slot (kind of as a tribute to the whole run). It’s highly unlikely to materialize. I do believe Die will make it three in a row for the songs with Billie Eilish’s title tune work. Whether she wins is a question mark (Beyonce has a ditty from King Richard that might serve as its main competition). Cinematography and Sound are two other feasible possibilities.

Bottom line: while I don’t foresee this factoring into the biggest races, tech and musical recognition could be coming its way. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

No Time to Die Box Office Prediction

***Blogger’s Note Part III (10/06): I have revised my No Time to Die prediction from $104.1 million down to $94.1 million, which would still set a COVID era record.

***Blogger’s Note Part II (10/03): With the news that Venom: Let There Be Carnage has grossed approximately $90 million out of the gate, it’s go big or go home for No Time to Die! I’m re-upping my estimate from $84.1 million to a COVID era best $104.1 million***

**Blogger’s Note (10/01): A week before its stateside premiere, I have decided to significantly increase my prediction (partly due to the apparent over performance of Venom: Let There Be Carnage). I’m going from $72.1 million to $84.1 million**

Ladies and gentlemen, the second frame of October finally marks the weekend for Daniel Craig’s swan song as 007 in No Time to Die. The 25th official entry in the James Bond franchise was gearing up for release in April of 2020 (Billie Eilish’s title track had already dropped) when COVID scuttled the plans. It experienced several more delays before at last settling on October 8. Craig is back for his fifth and final appearance along with series returnees Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Jeffrey Wright, Rory Kinnear, and Christoph Waltz. On the job for the first time are Rami Malek as the main villain, Lashana Lynch, Craig’s Knives Out costar Ana de Armas, and Billy Magnussen.

Anticipation is certainly present with the culmination of Mr. Craig’s service as the British super spy – one rivaled by only Sean Connery. He’s actually had the longest run as the character in terms of time, though not actual volume of pictures. It seems like eons since moviegoers have had their Bond fix. With the frequent pushbacks, the just shy of a six-year wait is the second lengthiest break between 007 adventures (beaten by the sabbatical of 1989’s Licence to Kill and 1995’s Goldeneye at nearly six and a half years).

Fifteen years ago, Craig defied expectations with the critically acclaimed Casino Royale. It made $40 million for its start but legged out very impressively. Sequel (and it was the first true Bond sequel) Quantum of Solace debuted two years later with $67 million. 2012’s Skyfall marked a high point at the box office as it grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. The premiere stateside is a series best $88 million. Three years later, Spectre kicked off with $70 million.

So where will this golden era of 007 culminate in terms of opening weekend? There’s certainly a range of possibilities. First things first: it will have no trouble eclipsing what Craig’s first foray achieved a decade and a half ago. I do believe the COVID times will prevent the record setting starting number of Skyfall managed (but you never know). It’s hard to totally factor in the excitement for its star’s last go-round. A video of Craig bidding adieu to his costars and crew has been widely circulated on social media in recent weeks.

My hunch is that a premiere in the range of Quantum and Spectre is most likely stateside (I’m sure its overseas haul will be massive). I’m tempted to say a low to mid 60s gross just under them could occur. However, I’ll err on the side of over performance and project low to mid 70s. (PER ABOVE: I have increased estimate from $72.1M to $84.1M to $104.1 million)

No Time to Die opening weekend prediction: $94.1 million

Captain Marvel Movie Review

By the time the strains of “Just a Girl” blare over the speakers during a climactic fight scene, there is no doubt that Captain Marvel has adequately placed itself as a bridge between Avengers epics. That’s not an especially high bar in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it answers the most important question needed before April’s Avengers: Endgame – who’s this new heroine that’s going to help the team we’re accustomed to seeing?

That would be Brie Larson as Vers. She’s part of the Kree alien race with persistent flashbacks to an old life on C53, a planet otherwise known as Earth. Her mentor is Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who helps her hone her mysterious superpowers. The flashback mentor is Mar-Vell (get it?) and she takes the form of Annette Bening as an all-knowing being who may have taught Vers in a previous life that’s fuzzy to her.

Since this is the MCU, we correctly suspect that purported good guys may become bad guys and vice versa. Vers and her team are battling another race called the Skrulls, led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn, always solid). They can take the form of any being they wish, so we see Mr. Mendelsohn in his bespectacled British form and in impeccable creature makeup.

Vers’s interactions with the Skrulls involves a crash landing in Los Angeles. Not today’s L.A., mind you, but 1995 L.A. where relics of the past like Blockbuster Video and two-way pagers exist. This time frame is mined for humor and its soundtrack that includes Nirvana and Salt n Pepa. We also meet Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in his pre eyepatch days and a rookie Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg).

The Earth bound action gets us to a place where we can call Vers the Captain now. And clad in her Nine Inch Nails t-shirt, it get us one step closer to her joining Captain America, Tony Stark, and others decades later.

Captain Marvel is yet another origin story and it follows the tried and true MCU blueprint. Luckily for us, that familiar path includes picking directors (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) that are unconventional choices (they’re known for indie dramas like Half Nelson). It includes humorous touches that work and plenty of them come in the feline form of Goose, who steals some sequences.

Have there been stronger intros in this franchise before? Absolutely. As the first female MCU hero with a stand-alone tale, Larson is spirited. Is her back story as inspiring as what the DCU provided in Wonder Woman? I’d have to say no. And like many MCU pics before it, the villains here are standard – even with fine actors playing them. We will see if Larson’s character can become a fan favorite in this vast world. I’d say the jury is currently unsure. At the conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War, we learned she was needed. Captain Marvel provides some decently entertaining history as to why.

*** (out of four)