James Bond: Daniel Craig’s last hoorah is disappointing and strangely anti-climactic

James Bond: Daniel Craig’s last hoorah is disappointing and strangely anti-climactic
While Craig is a consummate action star, director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s more radical vision of James Bond is fleeting, his film a rotating sideshow of old characters and plot points

Cary Joji Fukunaga has made a smashing piece of action cinema with No Time to Die – it’s just a shame it had to be a Bond film. For all the delays, the rumours, the months spent building up Daniel Craig’s final farewell in the role, what’s most disappointing about the film is how strangely anti-climatic the whole thing feels. That is, minus a third act curtsy that at least allows Craig to leave the franchise with not only a good dollop of dignity, but a reminder to us all that he gave Bond a soul.

He is brilliant in No Time to Die, in a way that outshines everything around him. His granite-carved features crumple in just such a way, always at the right moment – his Bond contains an ocean of battered emotions trying to reach the surface.

And he will be remembered, too, as a consummate action star, ever since he landed that first brutal punch in 2006’s Casino Royale. No Time to Die is at its best when Fukunaga is given the freedom to match that energy. The director has taken all of his experience in prestige television, including his work on True Detective and Maniac, and delivered a Bond that is so thrillingly tense, it veers into something close to horror. There are scenes in No Time to Die that suggest this might be the franchise’s own Dante’s Inferno – whether 007 is descending into a mist-clogged European forest or a Bacchanalian party in a crumbling Cuban mansion. It’s surprisingly grotesque. And occasionally almost poetic.

But Fukunaga’s more radical vision of Bond is fleeting. It’s a good film that’s been forced to rattle around in the Bond universe like a loose cog. Perhaps Hollywood’s obsession with connectivity, sparked by the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has poisoned the Bond franchise for good. The film’s core premise, credited partially to Bond regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, is generic spy nonsense: a biological weapon of mass destruction is threatening the future of mankind, with all roads leading to an enigmatic villain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek, who gives almost nothing to the role beyond his accent and stereotyped disfigurement makeup) driven by a personal vendetta.

But because we’ve been told, again and again, that this is the final chapter in this Bond’s story, No Time to Die becomes a rotating sideshow of old characters and plot points. The blissful happy ending that he was promised at the end of Spectre, in the arms of Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), doesn’t last long – of course. Christoph Waltz’s now imprisoned Blofeld makes a dutiful appearance. As does Jeffrey Wright’s CIA agent Felix Leiter. Moneypenny (Naomi Harris), Q (Ben Whishaw), and M (Ralph Fiennes) all populate the sidelines. These are strands, characters and ideas that have been pulled together without much thought. They’re here because it feels like they should be, to give Craig his last hoorah.

Lashana Lynch in ‘No Time to Die’

And despite Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s much-publicised contributions to the film’s script, No Time to Die hardly feels like the radical feminist rewrite we were promised. To her credit, the women (minus Seydoux’s character, who’s always sullen) get to have a little fun. Ana de Armas’s newbie agent Paloma feels like the audition for her upcoming Marilyn Monroe biopic, and Lashana Lynch, as a rival 00 to Bond, is such a force of charisma that it feels pointless to look for a new Bond when surely the future of the franchise is already standing right there. But these characters are merely accessories to a film that doesn’t know quite what to do or what it is, but only knows that Craig lies at the very heart of it.

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