The Pitch: After James Bond (Daniel Craig) left MI6 after the events of Spectre, he attempts to leave his past — and that of his new paramour, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) — behind him. But the ghosts of SPECTRE and his foster brother-turned- supervillain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), remain, particularly once a gene-coded supervirus falls into the hands of a secretive villain (Rami Malek) who has his own ax to grind against the criminal organization.
Reluctantly, Bond re-enters the world of spycraft and intrigue, now competing with MI6 and the new 007 (Lashana Lynch) to track down the virus and stave off global genocide — and close a few holes in his personal story along the way as well.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: We’ve long known that No Time to Die would be Daniel Craig’s last turn at bat as Bond, and it’s certainly been a long road to seeing it; there was the myriad release delays that came from not just the COVID-19 pandemic, but the departure of original director Danny Boyle. (In a magical world where all went smoothly, we would have seen this in November 2019.) But now it’s finally here, a nearly three-hour behemoth directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation), and the results are as action-packed — and final — as you’d expect.
Craig’s era is a fascinating enigma in the world of the series: in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, he’s a brutish upstart, only for Sam Mendes to fast-forward him to an over-the-hill old man in Skyfall and Spectre. The script, by Bond vets Neal Purvis and Robert Wade alongside newcomer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, very much continues in that vein; Bond’s a broken-down old dinosaur, trying desperately to leave the life he’s spent decades living (and killing in), only to find that he can’t ever let go of the past.
It’s curious to watch Craig’s evolution of the character, bringing out even more of a conversational twinkle in his eye than usual; sure, some of that is likely the product of Waller-Bridge’s keen comedic eye (shades of Killing Eve abound in the banter between MI6 members), but some feels like runoff from Knives Out’s Benoit Blanc. Craig clearly had a hell of a time playing that character, and he treats Bond with a similar wild-eyed conspiratorial glee.
More Than Just a Number: No Time to Die also recognizes its status as a milestone Bond movie, with all the nostalgic trappings that entails. We get the classic gun barrel sequence, the gadgets, the leather-bound doors of M’s office; Hans Zimmer’s booming score references both John Barry’s instrumental theme for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and that film’s classic Louis Armstrong track “We Have All the Time in the World.” It’s fitting, after all, since this entry sees his latest attempts to leave it all behind and live life as a normal human being; tragedy may well ensue, but not in the way you expect.
But curiously enough, the Bond film with which it shares the most DNA is Dr. No, with that film’s classic dotted pattern ushering us into the predictably stylish Daniel Kleinman title sequence, set to Billie Eilish’s haunting title ballad. Even the film’s villain, Lyusifer Safin (bonus points for finding a stylish way to call your villain Literally Satan), has parallels with the effete, Asian-coded baddie from Bond’s inaugural outing.
Malek, for his part, is a fundamentally feckless villain, playing Safin with a bug-eyed stare and lilting cadence through his character’s puffed, scarred face. He’s not nearly the presence you’d expect him to be, and you don’t really feel his presence till you’re about an hour and a half in.
But really, Malek, Safin and the plot to end the world are window dressing for No Time to Die’s more direct thematic material, looking straight down the barrel at Craig’s old, creaky Bond and letting him know that he — and people like him — aren’t the center of the world anymore. From Seydoux’s Swann, who gratefully gets more emotional layers to play after her thinly-drawn character in the last film, to Lynch’s tactical, professional take on a modern 007, much of Bond’s time is spent among younger, capable women who can save the world just as well, if not better, than he could.
An extended detour with a beautiful, excitable CIA agent played by Craig’s Knives Out co-star Ana de Armas is especially fun; it’s astounding to see just how much chemistry she and Craig have even when playing decidedly disparate characters from their last collaboration. Just give her and Lynch the reins to the franchise and be done with it, really.
All the Time in the World: With all of those story beats to handle, it’s no wonder No Time to Die, paradoxically, takes a boatload of time to get where it’s going. It’s tempting to trim some of the fat; action sequences go on for quite some time, flashbacks and side-plots take us on seemingly incongruous detours through the story, and the final act is lengthy to the point of exhausting. (It takes us thirty minutes before we even get to the titles, though I love when movies do that. More of it, please.)
Still, while you’re waiting for the plot to move forward, No Time to Die is certainly nice to look at, if not particularly colorful. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren, previously known for Damien Chazelle joints like La La Land and First Man, soaks No Time to Die in the kind of gray brutalism you’d expect from Children of Men (one long-take brawl up several floors of a staircase in Safin’s ornate lair gives off real Cuaron vibes). Many more action scenes take place in overcast swamps or fogged-up forests, or the crisp nighttime streets of Cuba — fun, considering Fukunaga’s steady command of action, but occasionally hard to track. Still, when Bond is allowed to pile up bodies in the warm Grecian sunrise, or facing down villains in a bizarre zen garden built out of missile silo, No Time to Die approaches brutal blockbuster beauty.
The Verdict: No Time to Die has a lot resting on its shoulders: It’s the 25th Bond movie, the farewell bow to a respected actor who redefined the role in myriad ways, and also an acknowledgment that both the series and the character need to adapt to the times. In juggling all those balls, it drops a few, and grows more than a little fatigued by the time that two-hour mark hits. Fukunaga’s direction is crisp and assured, if occasionally languid, and the script creaks under the weight of its myriad responsibilities to both its star and franchise.
Try as it might, it works overtime to set up a new chapter for the saga, a blank slate upon which the creatives that come next can paint a new vision for 007. Craig’s legacy (Craigacy?) in the role is a frustrating one, borne of intense highs and some of the series’ lowest lows. In all its splendor and frustrating weightlessness, this feels like Craig’s tenure in a nutshell.
Where’s It Playing? No Time to Die (finally) shakes and stirs its way to theaters October 8th.