I spent a long time trying to figure out how to tackle a review of a film that is less a traditional James Bond movie and more a victory lap, greatest hits package, and blaze of glory all in one (and that isn’t a criticism). To mark the final film featuring Daniel Craig as Bond (his fifth outing), No Time to Die is all about wrapping up something that no other Bond movie has attempted: a multi-film story arc that began with a severely rough-around-the-edges Bond as he first receives his double-0 status in Casino Royale to the years-retired seasoned veteran who is drawn back into service to help an old friend, meet the next generation, and tie up several of his own loose ends, all while looking good doing it.
When we first see Bond in this installment, he’s deeply in love with Madeleine (Léa Seydoux), whom we met in the last film (the underwhelming Spectre). But he soon discovers that he’s been betrayed by his lady love (perhaps for good reason), and he ends his time at MI6 unceremoniously. Cue the lush new title track by Billie Eilish, and the film jumps ahead five years, when we find Bond living in seclusion in Jamaica until the previously mentioned old friend, the CIA’s Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) comes to visit with a dodgy underling (Billy Magnussen) to recruit Bond to do a little light espionage that they can’t do themselves. He’s briefly but explosively teamed with a dazzling young agent (Craig’s Knives Out co-star Ana de Armas as Paloma) to kidnap a scientist, who turns out to be the key to moving forward a secret plan known only to a few, including Bond’s old boss M (Ralph Fiennes) and the film’s primary villain, the mysterious Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who has use for Madeleine and her MI6 access.
The actual plot of a Bond movie rarely matters and is usually used as an excuse for a great deal of action, pretty ladies, gadget demonstrations, and social drinking. But since Craig’s Bond movies are all connected, there’s a bit more to be gained from paying attention to the various story threads and side missions (of which there are many in this 2-hour 45-minute movie). But it still doesn’t feel entirely necessary, especially in the case of No Time To Die.
Because the film is actively ending an era, the job of a team of screenwriters and director Cary Joji Fukunaga (director of the legendary first season of True Detective; Beasts of No Nation) is to wrap it all up and walk us down memory lane in the process. At this point, so many of these characters/actors feel like old friends. Fiennes was a welcome addition in Skyfall, but I especially love catching up with fan favorites like Naomie Harris as Moneypenny (now an agent), Ben Whishaw as Q (now confirmed gay), and even the great Rory Kinnear as M’s right-hand man Tanner. We even get to revisit the last film’s villain Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who still has useful information in his brain (and false eye). Perhaps most importantly, we are introduced to the new 007 (at least in this film, if not moving forward), Nomi (Captain Marvel’s Lashana Lynch), who represents the next generation of double-0 agents. After squabbling with Bond about his working for the CIA, the two actually hit it off famously.
Perhaps rather strange for a Bond film, No Time To Die is also a love story, an element that worked much better in Casino Royale and feels a bit forced and unnecessary in this installment. Speaking of things that don’t work, Malek isn’t just creepy and not nearly as menacing as he clearly thinks he is, but he’s irrelevant to most aspects of the movie. He doesn’t really show up until about the halfway point, and his riddles and threat level are both duds. The only thing interesting about him is that his villain’s lair is actually built inside a mountain on a secret island. Is there anything more “Bond villain” than a frickin’ secret base inside a secret island mountain? I think not. The world-ending tech in this movie (a deadly chemical agent that uses specific DNA code so that it’s only dangerous to certain people who inhale it) is ridiculous and about as threatening as Malek.
Still, despite running too long (even just 15-20 minutes less would have made a huge difference), No Time To Die gets the unfathomable task done: ending things definitively for this James Bond, highlighting Craig’s strengths (he remains the best actor to ever play the character) while reminding us why this collection of films was different, in mostly positive ways. The action is solid, but it always is, and the spectacle is worthy of a franchise about to turn 60. I had a great time watching this, and there’s something here for both die-hard and casual Bond fans alike. It ranks around the middle of Craig’s work as the character and that’s still pretty great. You may even get a little emotional by the end, as it becomes time to say goodbye.
No Time to Die is now in theaters.
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