Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB
United Kingdom/USA, 2021. Eon Productions, B25, Cinesite. Story by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, based on characters created by Ian Fleming. Cinematography by Linus Sandgren. Produced by Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson. Music by Hans Zimmer. Production Design by Mark Tildesley. Costume Design by Suttirat Anne Larlarb. Film Editing by Tom Cross, Elliot Graham.
Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond has been spent with the character operating mostly outside the strictures of what his MI6 bosses have in place to control him, and his darker, grittier take on the role has been the portrayal of a miserable rebel barely making his way back from the abyss that his years on Her Majesty’s secret service have plunged him into. At the beginning of this thrilling conclusion to the actor’s stint in the world’s busiest tuxedo, Bond is as far out of the game as he ever could be, once again betrayed in love (by Spectre’s fabulous Bond girl, Léa Seydoux as Madeleine Swann) and determined to retire to a life on a fishing boat while another agent (Lashana Lynch) takes over the 007 designation. Old habits die hard, however, and after MI6’s laboratory is broken into and a bioweapon that could end life on this planet is stolen by bad guys connected to SPECTRE, Bond is recruited by his CIA contact and friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) to help find out who is at the bottom of the scheme. Simple in description, but the magnificent spiderweb of a script sets up a number of characters on trajectories that it cleanly follows through on, while delighting a crowd hungry for exciting action with as many noisy sequences of mayhem as can be fitted into the film’s generous but swift 163-minute running time.
There’s a trip to Cuba where Bond is given the assistance of delightful and capable secret agent Paloma (Ana de Armas, a reversal of Britt Ekland’s delightful and incapable Mary Goodnight, and de Armas’s genuinely funny performance is one of the film’s highlights), while back in England Madeleine reappears as a psychiatrist who is the only doctor to whom a now-incarcerated Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is willing to speak. Bond has brushes with death in Matera, Italy, the Caribbean Sea, rural Norway and an uncharted island between Russia and Japan (actually shot on the Faroe Islands), each stage of the voyage adding another character complication that must be processed and revolved before finally facing off with ultimate villain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), a madman with the age-old Bond villain plans of remaking the world in his image. The rich and complicated plot brings in a great deal of characters and never underuses any of them, Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Q (Ben Whishaw), M (Ralph Fiennes) all get to really do stuff, the new 007 is given the opportunity to prove her quality without upsetting Bond’s dominance of the story (which, of course, is an unavoidable requirement of a Bond film) and all the new characters resolve their arcs by the time the film reaches an ending worthy of grand opera. The plot in which they are all enmeshed is not as clean, there’s a vague sense of Safin’s plan and the layers of his collaborator’s involvement requires multiple viewings to sort out, but the propulsion of physical violence, dazzling production design and expert cinematography soothe whatever concern this Big Sleep-level confusion might cause.
Audiences will be shocked at the highly controversial final moments of this magnificent adventure, but Cary Joji Fukunaga’s sturdy direction actually plants the emotional atmosphere of the ending from the opening scene and works slowly towards its inevitability, you might not like it but there’s no way you can accuse it of coming out of nowhere (and you can easily argue that it has been inevitable since the beginning of Casino Royale). There’s no knowing where this series will go from here, but keeping up with the times has never been a problem for the cinema’s greatest franchise, so we bid this leg of the journey a fond farewell and wish them all the time in the world to come up with something magnificent for the future.