No Time to Die | The Last Duel
Stubborn men and wonderful women.
MOVIE REVIEW /// No Time to Die
Movie summary: James Bond has left active service. His peace is short-lived when Felix Leiter, an old friend from the CIA, turns up asking for help, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology. (IMDb)
Daniel Craig's Bond has definitely had his ups and downs, pretty much perfectly alternating between good/great and mediocre/poor, with No Time to Die slotting in after the mess that was Spectre to send off this incarnation in fine style. It's an ending that I think most people won't see coming too, mainly because it goes where previous Bond movies haven't gone before.
Then again, that seems to be a hallmark of Craig's time as Bond, with a greater focus on continuity between the movies forming a grand arc for the character to follow and new supporting members of the cast to come in and help flesh out the world. other Bonds may have had little bits and pieces carry over during their time in the role, but - as far as I can remember - never substantial that greatly influenced the next movie released.
No Time to Die picks up where Spectre left off, with Bond and Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) trying to live out their lives in peace and unfortunately getting dragged back into a world of gunfire and violence pretty bloody quickly. It turns out that Madeleine has a secret from her past that has now come back to haunt her present, which drives her and Bond apart.
That secret is Rami Malek's Lyutsifer Safin (Lucifer Satan, get it?), whose family was killed by Madeleine's father, Mr White (Jesper Christensen from previous movies), and killed her mother in revenge, but let a young Madeleine live. Now, he's back and... wants to take over the world? It's never really explained what the motivation is for his actions other than a craving for power, while having a connection to the woman Bond loves.
Safin is definitely the weakest part of No Time to Die, although it's nothing to do with Malek's performance - but yet another evil, disfigured villain who has virtually no personality traits other than a strange accent and a plan for world domination feels very old now. It's not a great role and I can't really see any actor doing much more with it thanks to their being so little 'it' to play with in the first place.
Also, the movie makes the mistake of bringing up Vesper Lynd (Eva Green's character from Casino Royale), which only served to remind me of just how good they were as a couple, with Craig and Green having absolutely electric chemistry. This isn't to slight Seydoux's talents as an actress, but that same spark just isn't there and it does detract a little as it does make you wonder why Bond falls so hard for her.
I really think it would've been better to just not look back at Vesper at all and find some other way to reference Casino Royale if they really wanted to, or even play up the loss of Judi Dench's M in Skyfall as something from his past he couldn't get over. But pointing out to the audience that the main character had a much better relationship in a previous movie doesn't help to sell you on why you should care about his current one.
Still, it's nice to see the supporting cast get further fleshed out, and by two new female characters too in Lashana Lynch's Nomi and Ana de Armas' Paloma. I really liked Lynch as the new 007 and was glad to see that No Time to Die didn't take the easy route of making her and Bond rivals, but just competitive colleagues instead - they both want to be considered top dog, but are more concerned with completing their missions than acting out towards each other.
And I really, really, really love Ana de Armas as Paloma, who is such a fun character that I wish she was in the movie more. I mentioned Craig's chemistry with Eva Green above and there's a lot of that between the pair here too - I know they worked brilliantly together on Knives Out too, so maybe the actors just get on really well as people off-camera, because that's definitely how it comes across on-screen.
As for the action you'd expect for a Bond movie, I felt a little weird about it here because it felt both very well done, yet a little dated. While some of the sequences played out, I couldn't help but feel that the Mission: Impossible series surpassed this standard years ago and - in my opinion - both the MCU movies this year are clearly a level up from what we see here too.
Again, the action isn't bad, but it doesn't feel quite as special either - I don't know if it being primarily gunplay was the issue, it just felt like it was very well executed, but lacking a little creativity. In No Time to Die's defence, there's a truly fantastic sequence on a stairwell near the end and a brilliant, but brief showing for Paloma, but them standing out so much only highlights how... 'non-special'(?) the rest of the action is.
I also want to just highlight something that I noticed very clearly and that a lot of other people seem to have done as well: how much seems to be inspired by the Metal Gear Solid games, including a nanovirus that kills targets based on DNA much like FOXDIE from the games, along with infiltrating a guarded, bleak island military base that could've easily passed for Shadow Moses if there was some snow around.
That previous paragraph will mean nothing to most, but it's an interesting to think about how newer, younger directors may be influenced by different forms of media than previous generations. After all, James Gunn has openly acknowledged his love of the Mass Effect games, in addition to stating that Knights of the Old Republic as being his single favourite piece of Star Wars media - both are stories about 'found families' saving the galaxy; how much were the Guardians of the Galaxy films influenced by those games?
Despite the MGS-like ending (there's even a lengthy ladder climb, for crying out loud!), it wouldn't work as well is it does if we didn't care about the characters and I'd have to say that No Time to Die is actually my second favourite performance of Daniel Craig as Bond after Casino Royale. I really think he wanted to give it his all in this final outing as the character, which fits with how Bond is feeling too when the finale comes around.
It'll be interesting to see how the next film starts following this movie, as I think the Craig Bond movies will ultimately be considered their own unique little arc, with both a definitive beginning and ending for this incarnation of the character. No Time to Die might not be challenging for the title of 'best Bond movie' any time soon, but I will say that it definitely gives you more to think about than most of them.
No Time to Die is a satisfying end to Daniel Craig's time as Bond, even if it still can't come close to the perfect first movie that was Casino Royale. This wraps up as many of the ongoing plot threads as possible, while still telling a somewhat coherent plot, although Rami Malek's Safin is a fairly weak villain - fortunately the supporting cast steps up in excellent fashion to really make you feel for Bond's fate and wonder where the series will go from here.
[8/10 - Very Good]
MOVIE REVIEW /// The Last Duel
Movie summary: King Charles VI declares that Knight Jean de Carrouges settle his dispute with his squire by challenging him to a duel. (IMDb)
Ridley Scott has form for historical epics - Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven (that is, the directors' cut) - and The Last Duel is another that for long stretches feels like it could reach that same level of quality, but ultimately falls short. This movie's biggest problem seems to be that it sometimes forgets what it's about, to an almost comical extent at the very end.
It's easy to avoid spoilers for that too, as it's not giving anything away to state that the film centres its climax on Jodie Comer's Marguerite and the horrific treatment she endures at the hands of a patriarchal society in 14th Century France. It would make sense to focus on her reaction to the events that unfold in the climax rather than one of her male co-stars, which is unfortunately what happens.
The reason I found it so comical is that it's almost as if they realised in the edit that what they'd done was a mistake, quickly shifting the frame back to her for one brief shot before it fades to black and the credits start. Being generous, you could say it was intentional and keeping with The Last Duel's themes to show how women are overlooked and considered secondary to men to this day, but I doubt it.
At the opposite end of the movie, right at the very beginning, is another major issue I had with the film, which is how much the story jumps around with very little explanation or connective tissue to keep things flowing nicely. It's only the first ten minutes or so where I felt this issue hampered things, but it didn't really set the film up with a good start.
And for the most part, The Last Duel is a very good movie indeed. The main trio of Comer, Adam Driver and Matt Damon are all excellent in their roles, supported ably by an equally good - and often hilarious - Ben Affleck. As far as the performances go, there's very little to quibble about here and I could easily see awards nominations when it gets to that time of year.
The plot is split into three chapters after the oddly-edited 'prologue', all titled 'The truth according to ___" and the name of the respective character - Damon's Jean de Carrouges first, Driver as Jacques Le Gris second and Comer's Marguerite last, whose chapter title fades partially at first to simply read 'The truth'. This structure has both its strengths and weaknesses, which are part of the movie doesn't satisfy as much as it really should.
The biggest strength is obviously getting to see events from different points of view, including Le Gris' version of events confirming he is guilty of the crime he is accused of - at least, by modern standards. These different viewpoints are made especially strong by some very subtle differences at times, which can even be as minor as lines being delivered in a different tone of voice which changes the meanings of entire scenes.
While this is exceptionally well done at times, there were some scenes where I wondered why we were seeing them again and some where only one of the main trio were present. It felt like The Last Duel was trying to ram home a particular point or make the audience feel a certain way as if it didn't trust the audience to really get what was going on otherwise.
This is a long movie and it doesn't feel like it deserves that running time, like you could cut smaller scenes here and there and save around twenty minutes without losing anything of any real significance. The cast's performances and the technical quality of the movie that you'd expect from a Ridley Scott movie are enough to get you through, but it does come across a little like something Bilbo said in the Lord of the Rings: "thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread."
I would still recommend seeing The Last Duel, if only for how enjoyable it is to watch such a great cast deliver brilliant performances for two and a half hours. Plus, if you haven't seen many movies that are structured this way (go watch The Handmaiden, my favourite movie of the past few years, if you haven't!), you might enjoy it more than those that have - it's surprisingly funny at times too.
The Last Duel is an odd movie, enjoyable for its duration thanks to some excellent acting from Comer, Driver, Damon and Affleck, but ultimately a little unsatisfying. It often feels like the movie thinks it's better and more clever than it really is, so probably isn't something you'd want to watch again any time soon, but you won't feel that you wasted your time watching it either.