Cast: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga.
The road of Daniel Craig’s fifteen-year tenure as Bond hasn’t always been easy. Thanks to the excessive desire to be like xXx, Die Another Day sank the Bond franchise with an inflation of silly ideas and poor CGI, while Craig’s first outing Casino Royale felt like a desire to bring Bond back to what Fleming wrote, as well as catch up with both Jason Bourne and Christopher Nolan’s suddenly very en vogue take on Batman.
Now in his fifth go around, Craig is saying goodbye to Bond, and while the debate of who should be the next one still continues (Sope Dirisu, obviously), after the longest delay in the franchise’s history, the fifth and final Bond is finally here.
The film requires mysteries to be unpacked, so we shan’t ruin the suspense by giving away the twists and turns, but needless to say that like Casino Royale and Skyfall, this is a high point of the series. Craig’s comments on playing Bond around the time of Spectre appeared to be that of someone suffering from burnout. Having played Bond back to back over four years with no other role in the meantime – save for a little Star Wars voice cameo – it was clear the lad needed a break. Thanks in no small part to his turns in Logan Lucky and Knives Out, it appears that he’s filled with the same enthusiasm he had when he originally took the role.
This Bond is much more in line with previous versions, finally finding the personality that at times eluded Craig in previous installments. The film has a personality that doesn’t feel the overtly edgy need to shun the silliness that has defined Bond in the past. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that technology now is overtly terrifying and science fiction-y that they now have to embrace more bizarre things in their films just to keep up with reality.
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga, who brought us the wonderful Beasts of No Nation and the must-see first season of True Detective, directs this film with flair. He is one of the writers, and clearly has a grasp on what he wants this film to be. There’s a confidence in his direction, from the slow build-up in the opening, to the moments where the film simply breathes and lets character work take over. Fukunaga isn’t afraid to go in some weird directions, some bold directions, and to let the real stakes of the series come to the fore once more.
This, all underlined by a score from Hans Zimmer that is at once loving to the series – listen out for a fantastic cue from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – and embracing of brassy new themes alongside the working of Billie Eilish’s haunting titular theme.
Ana de Armas pretty much steals the film with limited screen time, as does a returning Christoph Waltz, more energized this time in his role as Blofeld, perhaps because he can play up the malicious evil and not worry about not saying he’s playing Blofeld.
Rami Malek isn’t given much to work with, and even with it, does very little with it. It’s a role that feels like it was once much more and they hacked it to pieces, probably because Malek is neither physically nor emotionally imposing. He lacks the campy joy of previous villain Javier Bardem, or the unrelenting terror of Mads Mikkelsen. He’s decent, and he gets the job done, but there’s none of the panache that everyone else is bringing.
Luckily Lea Seydoux keeps things on track as returning love interest Dr. Madeleine Swann, her expressive eyes telling us more than words ever can, and offering us a reminder that Craig’s Bond works best when he runs on emotion.
The film is long, and its many subplots and detours might not be for everyone, but this is a swan song for Craig and as such it gives him a chance to really go for broke in the role that will continue to define his already impressive career.
All in all, this is a Bond film through and through, and while it continues to bring to light the trauma Bond feels, it also has a sense of being fun and not shying away from more outlandish moments. It’s triumphant, it’s bold. It’s Bond, James Bond.