It would be difficult to argue that there aren’t both pros and cons to the MCU-ification of the James Bond universe — henceforth the JBU — through Daniel Craig‘s five-film, fifteen-year tenure. Where previous outings have carried over little beyond supporting players and criminal organizations, 2006’s Casino Royale kicked off what would become an ongoing narrative as later films were fueled by past deaths, related reveals, and story threads that make each new entry dependent on what came before. It arguably added character depth and drama, but it also prevented the likes of Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015) from finding any life of their own. That last film, in particular, suffers immensely as it tries desperately to connect dots, events, and characters into a grand unified theory of Bond’s life, loves, and legacy. Which brings us to No Time to Die.
The latest Bond film — the last of Craig’s run — is unavoidably saddled with those past choices, but rather than drown beneath the weight of it all, No Time to Die finds its own footing and breathes one last glorious breath into the franchise. Threads are tied off, characters find closure, and it leaves you with emotions few filmgoers will be expecting to find in a big budget action film. That it manages deep soul-searching, tangible affection, and a real punch to the gut, all while also delivering some thrilling action set-pieces, is no small thing.
Spectre ends with Bond and Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) driving off into the sunset, and when we first meet them here the pair are still enjoying the journey through southern Italy. An attempt on Bond’s life, though, leaves him suspicious of Madeleine. He sends her packing and retires to the simple life of a tropical fisherman, but when Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) comes calling five years later to request help in locating a kidnapped scientist, Bond can’t say no. Rather, he does say no, but after crossing paths with the new 007 (Lashana Lynch) he changes his mind and joins Leiter on the mission to Cuba. Things don’t go as expected for anyone, and soon Bond and Swann are reunited before an unlikely face — Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) — whose criminal orchestration from his maximum security prison leads to even more reveals. It seems a new villain, one with lifelong ties to Swann, is on the scene, and as is befitting a man named Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), he’s a very bad man indeed.
At over one-hundred-sixty-minutes, No Time to Die has plenty of time to wrap up existing narratives and characters with satisfying conclusions, but its newcomers don’t quite get the same attention. The film feels neither rushed not overlong, but both Safin and Paloma (Ana de Armas), the Cuban agent who joins Bond on an early adventure, are given the time to truly sink their teeth into their characters. Paloma is a fantastic addition, and de Armas makes a compelling case for inclusion in future Bond films, but as quick as she appears she’s gone. Safin suffers the bigger narrative setback, though, as he’s a villain who gets too little time face time with Bond — by the time they meet for the final time it’s likely you’ll have already forgotten what his beef is.
Bond and Swann share no such problem, and both Craig and Seydoux do strong work crafting a believably affecting love. That early attack tests his trust and offers a reminder of what he’s still holding on to regarding Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) — a woman whose grip on both Bond and viewers over fifteen years can’t be understated — but rather than feel a pale imitation, this current relationship feels true in both words and expressions. It sets the stage for some truly suspenseful beats and thrilling dilemmas for the weary but determined agent.
Those action scenes, a big reason that many Bond fans return film after film, find a more than capable director in Cary Joji Fukunaga and cinematographer Linus Sandgren. No Time to Die makes the expected international journey with stops in Italy, Cuba, Norway, and elsewhere, and the locales offer up exciting chase scenes, shootouts, and stunt showcases. None of them seem quite destined for singular praise down the road — unlike the Venice sequence in Casino Royale, the burning hotel in Quantum of Solace (2008), or the Shanghai fight in Skyfall — but they’re plenty thrilling in the moment as cars, motorcycles, and more are sent careening, spinning, and exploding every which way.
One standout does come during a long stretch on Safin’s island headquarters, an old missile silo and wartime dock, that also features a elaborately designed poisonous garden. The film’s production design (by Mark Tildesley) is on-point throughout with numerous highlights including Blofeld’s secure prison trappings. Hans Zimmer makes his debut in the JBU (you thought I forgot about that, didn’t you) with a rousing score that captures the adrenaline and emotion in equal measure while also finding time to sneak in nods to past Bond themes. Old faces are welcome as Ralph Fiennes (who gets the film’s singular F-bomb and knocks it out of the park), Ben Whishaw (whose Q has finally learned not to plug a mysterious thumb drive directly into the mainframe), Naomie Harris, and Rory Kinnear return, while Billy Magnussen joins de Armas in making a memorable newcomer splash.
For all the faces and bombast, though, the film in many ways belongs solely to Craig. His Bond has been like no other — and hopefully Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson don’t try to recapture that same magic in a bottle with their next choice for the role — as he brings a brutish physicality and raw emotion to the character. His journey through these five films has run Bond through the ringer, often in overly complicated and needlessly dense ways, but his performance has never suffered. His Bond is a tortured soul whose present struggles are eternally at odds with past events and transgressions. It’s a heaviness previously unknown to the character, and while Timothy Dalton’s two-film run touched on similar themes, Craig’s entries have run full-speed with them. His final go sees him flex even more of those emotional muscles while still allowing for the occasional quip and affectionate glance.
The script, from returning scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade along with Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, keeps the running time occupied without dipping too much into obvious filler. The necessary threads are dealt with while allowing time for humor, character, and more. Waller-Bridge’s contributions are evident in some of the funnier, more human moments as well as the comments and reactions surrounding Bond’s effect on the ladies. Both de Armas and Lynch benefit greatly on this front.
No Time to Die is destined to be divisive, albeit probably less so than the still unfairly maligned Quantum of Solace, but the film and everyone involved have made the best (and most, given that running time) of the situation. While we hope Bond’s next go-round sees a return to standalone adventures, Craig’s run needed a proper send-off closing the book on all five films. It does just that in remarkably affecting fashion and gives both Bond and audiences the goodbye he deserves.