Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Daniel Craig's admirable departure from Bond

   Remember when we didn't take Bond movies seriously? Time was all we wanted from a Bond movie was nifty gadgets, charm, beautiful women, one-liners, and an out-sized villain, preferably working with Spectre.
  That's why the series could survive the switch from Sean Connery (still the best Bond) to Roger Moore to Pierce Brosnan to Timothy Dalton — and that's not even a complete list. The point: Fulfill the formula, add a few new wrinkles, and we were happy.
  Daniel Craig, the latest Bond, is about to pass the torch to another Bond, which greatly raises anticipation for No Time to Die, Craig's last swing at 007. We already know that Craig’s Bond has the power of a clenched fist. His is not a winking Bond, happy to let us in on the joke. 
   Craig has given us a Bond for our distraught, deracinated time, a bond minus joviality and bonhomie — but now with the capability of loving, and, thus, being hurt.
   Some of No Time To Die qualifies as old-style fun. Moreover, the movie's prologue and early scenes totally satisfy our craving for more Bond; i.e., they're full scenic glamor and incredible action.
    A quick summary of the set-up: An assassin's attempts to kill the wife and daughter of a man who slaughtered his family. The movie then leaps ahead to find Bond in love and vacationing in a rocky Italian village. His companion: the daughter (Lea Seydoux) who was spared by the killer in the movie's opening.
    The movie eventually begins unfolding a complicated plot involving a deadly biological weapon that can be tailored to target specific individuals -- or to wreak mass havoc.
   I don't mean to suggest that I didn't enjoy the rest of this overly long Bond, which clocks in at two hours and 43 minutes and ends with a sense of resignation that fits our moment of national and international fatigue.
   Director Cary Joji Fukunaga guides Craig's final bond to a noble end and provides enough of everything else that we want from a Bond movie to make the journey worth taking.
    No Bond movie is complete without seeing Bond in formal wear. He turns up in a tuxedo in Jamaica where he encounters a glamorous spy played by Ana de Armas
    Critics once argued that every Bond movie rises and falls with its villain. A good villain meant a good Bond -- no matter who donned  the 007 mantle.
   This time, Rami Malek upholds the banner of evil, opting to make Lyutsifer Safin a soft-spoken man with a bad complexion and an unquenchable taste for vengeance. Lyutsifer’s ambitions are big, but his personality seems small.
   Muscular and sometimes brutal, Craig receives able support from a large cast. Christoph Waltz makes a brief appearance as Blofeld. Jeffrey Wright portrays Felix Leiter,  CIA man, and friend of Bond.
    Ralph Fiennes continues to bring weight and gravity to the role of M. Naomi Harris again turns up as the ever-loyal Moneypenny, and Ben Whishaw returns as Q, the inventor of the gadgetry that gives Bond his advantage and a tech whiz who monitors Bond's moves.
   The movie even adds another 007. Because Bond has retired, MI6 has awarded his 007 designation to Nomi (Lashana Lynch), a newcomer who may gain a foothold for future Bond movies.
   The movie ultimately heads toward a remote island (where else?) from which Lyutsifer plans to launch a world-threatening attack.
    With improvements in budget and special effects, the Bond movies have been able to increase their scale with each new addition, and let's face it, scale has much to do with why we keep going to Bond movies. 
   Fukunaga doesn't shortchange us on locations -- even if we feel that Craig's last turn as Bond has more to do with what the movie is about than any threat Lyutsifer poses.
   For the record, Billie Eilish sings No Time To Die, the song that plays over the opening credits.
  No Time to Die tends to lag a bit around the three-quarter mark and it sometimes feels driven by fumes of determination, but when it's done, No Time to Die has brought Craig's tenure to a strong and worthy conclusion.

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