The world of James Bond is stirred, shaken and positively blown up in this fifth and final chapter of what you might call 007: The Daniel Craig Years.
Craig, as most people know, will not be returning to the role of the suave superspy. That alone makes this a pivotal movie in the long-running franchise, for no other reason than Craig’s Bond cycle has been the most consistent running narrative, with each movie dovetailing into the next.
This is in high contrast to the Sean Connery/George Lazenby/Roger Moore/Timothy Dalton/Pierce Brosnan years, in which each movie more or less stood alone. One assumes this Bond phase was influenced by the successfully interlaced realms of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.
After a snowy prelude in which an assassin stalks a young girl, we catch up with Bond holidaying with the lovely Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) in Italy, where, in the interest of making their love official, she suggests he say a symbolic goodbye at the tomb of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), the doomed heroine of Casino Royale.
That doesn’t make for the emotional closure anyone anticipated: the pair soon find themselves on the run from a platoon of SPECTRE assassins, their romance in tatters, and all that’s before the opening credits.
Five years later, in the wake of a London assault on a top secret bio-weapon lab, Bond, retired to Jamaica, is approached by his CIA pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, Westworld) for an important mission in Cuba, finding the scientist (David Dencik) who survived that aforementioned assault.
That too takes an unexpected turn, as Bond is compelled to mix it up with his own sleek MI-5 replacement, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), a lively CIA operative named Paloma (Ana de Armas, Craig’s co-star in Knives Out) and a whole nest of SPECTRE vipers.
It turns out all roads lead to the assassin from the opening scene, one Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek of Bohemian Rhapsody), a man who, like Bond, suffered the loss of his entire family. Unlike Bond, Safin intends to take revenge on the entire world for his loss. So yes, his first name is a little on the nose.
There are a few elements to recommend the film, and alas, the mentioning of them would qualify as spoilers.
On the downside, director Cary Joji Fukunaga, who co-wrote the script alongside Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Scott Z. Burns, forgoes the cinematic beauty of latter films such as Skyfall, substituting that movie’s ace cinematographer, Roger Deakins, for the less inspired Linus Sandgren.
Best known for the first season of the HBO series True Detective, Fukunaga tries to duplicate one of that show’s high points with an extended take in which Bond blasts his way through an army of henchmen in a bid to get to the top of the villain’s lair. It fails to impress, however. (This kind of thing was specifically done better in the awesome staircase fight in Atomic Blonde.) If anything, it calls attention to Fukunaga’s lack of economy in storytelling, if the two-hour-43-minute running time doesn’t already make that point. (I don’t think there is a longer Bond movie: the 130-minute Thunderball only feels like it.)
We Have All the Time in the World, the tragically ironic love theme from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, gets an unexpected half-century callback in this movie for reasons that might seem apparent (see the title). It’s notable that this is the song that will stick in your head after you’ve left the theatre and not the Billie Eilish dirge that plays over the opening credits.
I’m not one for nostalgia, especially when it comes to Bond movies. But really (sigh), they don’t write ’em like that anymore.