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

Oscar Watch: The French Dispatch

Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch was supposed to premiere at Cannes in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic altered that plan. One year later, the auteur’s latest has screened in the French Riviera and it’s probably the most eagerly awaited debut of the festival. The film boasts an ensemble that is to be expected from the filmmaker and it reads like a who’s who of his frequent collaborators and several other previous awards nominees: Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Timothee Chalamet, Frances McDormand, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Elisabeth Moss, Liev Schrieber, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Christoph Waltz, Jason Schwartzman (who shares a story credit with Anderson and others), Bob Balaban, and Anjelica Huston. Yeah, I know.

Early reviews indicate that this anthology (out stateside on October 22) is a loving ode to journalism and that could be right up the alley of Academy voters. Yet some buzz is also indicating this isn’t among his strongest efforts. One thing seems certain: Dispatch is a visual feast that should easily assert itself in several technical categories. That certainly includes Production Design, Costume Design, Alexandre Desplat’s Original Score, Cinematography, and perhaps Makeup and Hairstyling (though that race in particular could be packed this year).

What do all those races have in common? They were all nominations received for Anderson’s 2014 pic The Grand Budapest Hotel, which scored nine mentions (winning for Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Score, and Production Design). Don’t be surprised if this is a major hopeful in those same categories.

As for the massive amount of actors, here’s a fun fact: no performance from an Anderson production has ever been nominated. That seems hard to believe, but his casts often make it tricky to pick a favorite or two to mount a campaign for. Del Toro, Chalamet, Wright, and McDormand have been singled out in some write-ups already. I suspect none will emerge to make the Oscar cut. Chalamet has hope in lead actor for Dune and the same can be said for McDormand with The Tragedy of Macbeth (time will tell).

Now to the biggest derbies. Will The French Dispatch manage Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay nods? The latter seems most possible. And while some European chatter indicates the other two could be out of reach, it’s important to remember that it took a little time for Budapest Hotel to become the Academy player that it turned out to be.

Bottom line: the future is cloudy for Dispatch when it comes to the most high-profile competitions. Some Academy love down the line in the tech races already seems highly likely. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Spectre Box Office Prediction

Three years after the triumphant box office performance of the 23rd 007 entry Skyfall, Daniel Craig is back for the fourth time as James Bond in Spectre, out next Friday. The big question is whether or not it will manage to top the franchise high debut of its predecessor. It could come close or surpass it, as I see it.

Let’s take a little trip down memory lane with Craig’s 007 filmography. His first, 2006’s Casino Royale, started with $40.8 million on its way to a $167M eventual domestic gross. The second, 2008’s Quantum of Solace, earned $67.5 million out of the gate and just edged its predecessor’s haul with $168M. Then – 2012’s Skyfall was a game changer. It made $88.3 million for its astonishing opening weekend and ended with $304M. Worldwide, it took in a cool $1.1 billion, easily setting the high bar for the now 53 year old series.

The studio clearly has employed the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule as Skyfall director Sam Mendes has returned. Christoph Waltz joins the fray as the main villain with Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris returning as M and Moneypenny, respectively. Spectre has already set records in the United Kingdom, where it was already released this week. Reviews have been mostly strong and it stands at 79% on Rotten Tomatoes, though it’s worth noting that critics generally have stated it’s not quite at the level of what preceded it.

This 24th official Bond pic should debut with Skyfall like numbers. On the high end, it could possibly gather over $100M in its first weekend. It could also earn $75-$80M and that would certainly be on the lower end of expectations. My feeling is that it’ll be within about $5M of what the last one made on the same November weekend in 2012 and that Spectre will just manage to outdo it for the largest 007 premiere in U.S. history.

Spectre opening weekend prediction: $91.3 million

For my prediction on The Peanuts Movie, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/10/29/the-peanuts-movie-box-office-prediction/