" I guess you used up all the ugly in the family "

MRQE Top Critic

Alias: Season Three

In its third season, Alias pulls off a hat trick with another round of pulpy page-turner adventure —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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It’s a major achievement for any movie to make an audience feel something — anything. But to come to the end of the line with Daniel Craig’s fifth and final outing as James Bond and feel rattled not by the action but by the emotional core of the storyline is quite a testament to the narrative strengths of the Craig installments.

Nobody Does It Better

James and Madeleine
James and Madeleine

Daniel Craig’s version is the best James Bond. At this point, that’s a hands-down statement. But that’s also a reflection of how society has changed during the 59 years since Dr. No hit movie theaters with Sean Connery as the super spy. Craig’s Bond is the end-product of societal changes (AIDS, Me Too and so many other factors) and filmmaking influences that include the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the nine-movie Skywalker family Star Wars saga.

It was a bit choppy, but the Craig series finally broke Bond out of the episodic doldrums of every mission being neatly wrapped up by the movie’s end, polished off with one last kiss, one last double entendre, one last bedroom scene. Over the course of the five Craig movies, there’s been a phenomenal character arc, pushing Bond from being a “royal boar” in Casino Royale to a fully fleshed out distressed husband and British patriot in No Time to Die. And, most importantly, nothing — absolutely nothing — is sacred in this iteration of Bond. That includes the designation of 007, which hasn’t been retired in the aftermath of Bond’s retirement; the number’s been reassigned.

Maybe that revelation is a minor spoiler. But that’s also a new phenomenon for Bond. No Time to Die is a minefield of spoilers, something that simply didn’t — almost couldn’t — factor into the episodic machinery, particularly when a new Bond movie every other year was a virtual guarantee during the Roger Moore days. Credit goes to all the talent involved in this one for staying tight-lipped as the movie experienced one COVID-related release delay after another; after all, Bond 25 was originally supposed to be in theaters in April 2020.

Here, No Time to Die serves not only as a capstone to Craig’s era, but to the 25-movie series so far. Note the portraits on the walls of MI6; there’s Dame Judy Dench’s M. But there’s also Robert Brown’s M. Resurrecting Louis Armstrong’s We Have All the Time in the World, the love song from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the only entry starring George Lazenby), ties things back to the unexpected tragic figure that is James Bond and the storyline of both Lazenby’s entry and Casino Royale.

All Time High

After Skyfall took James Bond to an all-time high (for a while, it was fittingly set at 007 on the Top 10 list of all-time highest grossing movies), buzz circulated the plan was to build the storyline into a trilogy. The initial vision was to have Adele — riding the wave of her Oscar win — perform the theme song for the next two entries, with Sam Mendes returning as director. Well, that didn’t pan out. Mendes returned to direct Spectre, then things went into limbo, which isn’t unfamiliar territory for the franchise.

But here it is now, the completion of that trilogy within the series, this time under the direction  of Bond first-timer Cary Joji Fukunaga (perhaps best known for the first season of True Detective). All the pieces were finally put in place: the Aston Martin DB5, Miss Moneypenny, Q, the gadgetry and even something new. Themes. For this Bond, he grappled with relevance and job security. His was a tactile skill set, the human component of intuition and on-the-ground experience that was on the chopping block in favor of the digital age’s solutions of cyber security and drone surveillance managed halfway around the world.

Revisiting the tool chest of previous Bonds — particularly Moore and Pierce Brosnan — this one also features a few more quips and puns than the other Craig features. Throw in Timothy Dalton’s short-lived stab at a grittier and more human Bond and this one covers the full gamut of all things Bond.

You Know My Name

James and Blofeld
James and Blofeld

One of the elements that hasn’t been getting much attention is this significant fact: Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Flea Bag) is only the second woman to receive screenwriting credit on a Bond film. The sole other was Johanna Harwood, who was credited with co-writing Dr. No and From Russia with Love, plus an uncredited contribution on Goldfinger. That represents a 57-year gap in the franchise’s 59-year history.

While Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have been writing Bond screenplays for a long time now, going back to the Brosnan series, they’ve been getting help from A-listers like Paul Haggis and John Logan. This time, it’s Waller-Bridge and Fukunaga.

Together, they’ve crafted a rock-solid story. Possibly the strongest of them all. This time, the bad guy, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody), has some mighty dangerous viral technology that turns into a brilliant plot point with all sorts of ramifications for the characters interacting with it. That includes Bond, his estranged wife, Madeleine (Lea Seydoux, Blue Is the Warmest Color), and even Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz, The French Dispatch).

Needless to say, the stakes run high. Of course they do. This is a Bond movie and the fate of the free world is standard business. But for Bond, the stakes really have never been higher or more personal.

And that all culminates in some breathtaking creative choices. Simply putting a sentence like that in the context of a Bond movie is pretty spectacular, but it’s earned. This is a 163-minute pressure cooker of action and emotion unlike any other Bond movie. It’s unrelenting and its honesty helps the movie escape the specter of ever feeling the slightest bit manipulative.

It’s quite a creative feat to generate an emotional response that both demands admiration and a conflicting desire to return to the comfort zone of the familiar. One more kiss, one more double entendre, one more bedroom scene.