No Time to Die  Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga . Starring Daniel Craig and Léa Seydoux. Plugs: Bond film bountiful. Nearest: Cottonwood Mall.

 Ian Fleming’s fictional (and phenomenally successful) superspy James Bond returns in the new film No Time to Die. In the course of over 50 years, 25 films, and six actors, the spy code-named 007 has gone through many adventures, from the bottom of the sea to the moon and all points in between.

Along the way he’s foiled many outrageous plans (including hijacking a space shuttle and contaminating the gold in Fort Knox); battled many outrageous villains (including Jaws and Dr. No); and met many outrageously beautiful women with outrageously creative names.

 Film studios are always looking for ways to breathe fresh life into venerable franchises. Audiences —not to mention Bond fans specifically— have come to expect a certain formula. There’s nothing inherently wrong with formulaic films —note the presence of Halloween Kills, currently in theaters, a retread of the 1978 horror original— but it does create a challenge to make it “the same but different” (as the whimsical Hollywood axiom goes).

 No Time to Die checks all the requisite boxes: dashing actor, beautiful women, double-crosses, high-tech gadgets, amazing stunts, maladjusted villains, exotic locations and so on. This time the action skips around from London to Italy, Norway, Cuba and Jamaica, with a correspondingly diverse range of transport —plane, boat, submarine, you name it.

His iconic Aston Martin car does a turn that would make anyone who played the video game Spy Hunter proud. This time out Bond is slightly less reliant on technology, though there’s still plenty on display (and the phrase “Blofeld’s eyeball unlocked” will leave an impression).

 Speaking of gadgets, I especially noticed the sound design. This is an element of many television shows and films that’s easy to overlook but is nonetheless an integral part of the experience. Sure, the sliding doors on the starship U.S.S. Enterprise look cool when they slide open, but what really makes them memorable is the iconic swoosh! And Darth Vader wouldn’t be quite as menacing if his voice sounded like Bobcat Goldthwait instead of James Earl Jones on a ventilator. In No Time to Die there’s a plethora of countdown beeps, gizmo whirs and weapon clicks; they don’t distract from the film but are fun to note when you pay attention to them.

 The first 15 minutes is pack full of shooting, sex, spies and ‘splosions, not necessarily that order. The plot is a bit convoluted, perfunctory and doesn’t make a lot of sense anyway so I won’t spend much time on it.

But basically the story begins with a masked man menacing a woman and her daughter at a remote, snowy home. Arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz, reprising the role from the last film) is imprisoned in one of those Hannibal Lecter-type contraptions but is still somehow managing to enact his dastardly plans. There’s a Russian scientist who has developed a terrifying DNA-based nanobot pathogen, a menacing Rami Malek who oversees an island with a giant pool of toxins and neon lights sticking out of it —because it looks cool— and much more.

 Daniel Craig’s James Bond is more down-to-earth and vulnerable than previous versions. It’s well known that this is Craig’s last turn as James Bond, and the filmmakers have imbued No Time to Die with a weary but engaging wistfulness that reflects this. His is an agent who keeps being pulled out of retirement to rejoin Her Majesty’s Secret Service and save the world yet again.

This time out he’s a bit more introspective and socially enlightened. Bond is joined this time by not just one but several ass-kicking female companions, one of whom (played by Lashana Lynch) —at least temporarily— replaces his 007 designation. This is nothing new, of course, and fierce females have been a trend for years, including in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Kill Bill (2003), Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), La Femme Nikita (1990), and many more. But it’s not everyday that strong women hold their own alongside Bond.

 Craig retiring the role is implicit in the plot, though contrary to memes suggesting that a sexism double standard prevented questions from being raised about how old is too old to play James Bond, there was indeed considerable controversy in 1985 about whether Roger Moore, then 58, was too long in the tooth to portray Bond in A View to a Kill. Speaking of acting anomalies, for an interesting, breezy look at how George Lazenby (a car mechanic turned model with no acting experience at all) came to play Bond —just once— see Becoming Bond, streaming now on Hulu.

 Bond movies, like Academy Awards shows, are known for often being bloated beasts. No Time to Die is a long film that to its credit doesn’t show its two-hour, 43-minute runtime because it moves along briskly enough to keep our attention.

The film is well done all around: the acting is impeccable, the direction assured, the stuntwork spectacular, and so on. It’s well-crafted engaging escapism that reflects and pays tribute to Bonds of both past and future.

Benjamin Radford

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