The making and release of No Time to Die — now on VOD — was about as tortured as Daniel Craig’s take on the James Bond character. You likely know the story: For Craig’s fifth and final go at the franchise, Danny Boyle was originally hired to direct, only to walk away over the dreaded “creative differences,” and eventually replaced by Cary Joji Fukanaga — an upgrade! Then, quite intriguingly, Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Fleabag fame took a whack at the script. When the movie finally was finished, its release date was bumped and nudged several times by Covid-19, proving that the only thing that can overshadow the international release of a mega-sensational Bond picture is a global pandemic. That’s why seven years passed between this and predecessor Spectre, which was so-so, but far better than Quantum of Solace, which followed the quite good Casino Royale, although none of them will ever match the majesty of Skyfall. Parsing the previous sentence reveals an every-other-movie-sucks pattern among Craig-as-Bond movies, which means No Time to Die is primed to be one of the good ones, we hope. We’ll see.
The Gist: Summarizing a Bond plot is about as rewarding as teaching calculus to cats, and almost as convoluted, but I soldier ahead: It opens on a wintry day in rural France, where a creep in a kabuki mask spares the life of a little French girl after killing her mother. That little girl was Bond’s current lov-air, Spectre holdover Madeleine (Lea Seydoux), who shakes off the flashback while they’re on a vacation that makes postcards look like superfund sites. In their hotel room sits an antique phonograph complete with a big horn on it, proving the vintage vinyl revival is way out of hand. But, I hear you thinking, where’s the big trademark opening action sequence? Patience, friends. You’ll need to practice it, because this movie is 163 minutes long. Although Madeleine bristles a little at the mention of her name, Bond visits the grave of his very truest true love, Vesper Lynd, where he finds a bomb that nearly takes him out, precipitating some scuffles with bad guys, a motorcycle joyride, a chase in which Bond drives an old-school gadgetmobile with gatling guns in the headlights, etc.
It’s quite the pickle, but Bond gets out of it, because of course he does. It also necessitates his breakup with Madeleine, followed by a credits sequence in which a DNA chain is graphically represented with 9mm pistols as its links, then a subtitle: FIVE YEARS LATER. Bond is retired to somewhere in the Caribbean, Jamaica maybe, I’m not quite sure, because this isn’t one of those hi-tech thrillers in which the locations tick across the bottom of the screen like a digital readout — it’s better than that, less pandering. Anyway, he still points a gun at shadows, because if anyone is justified in their paranoia, it’s post-career James Bond.
What with some rigamarole involving Eurotrash bad guys — one of whom has a bulging glass eye that’s also a nifty electro-weapon — Bond ends up back in action, but not for Mother England. No, he teams with his old CIA buddy Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and his compadre Poloma (Ana de Armas) for an uberkerfuffle at a swank party in Santiago. Notably, M (Ralph Fiennes) has replaced Bond with Nomi (Lashana Lynch), who even gets the 007 classification, because nobody’s gonna get sentimental about shit around here. Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and the last movie’s villain, Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) also turn up, because, like I said, 163 minutes.
The plot ties itself into a knot or three, involving a Russian science man and some biological warfare and nanobots — recently seen in a moronic G.I. Joe movie and even more moronic conspiracy theories about the Covid vaccine — as well as a new villain, the scary, heavily pockmarked Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who makes sure Madeleine gets reintroduced to the plot, since the latest Bond really and truly lets the women in his life hit him right in his mushy heart cockles. Before this all comes to a close with escalating music and explosions and tears, Bond wears a ball cap and drives a Toyota Forerunner, but thankfully not at the same time. You’ve been warned.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: It’s time to rank the Craig-era Bond pictures:
2. No Time to Die
3. Casino Royale
5. Quantum of Solace
NOTES: Sorry, the ending of Casino Royale is still nonsense, in spite of the wrenching Vesper arc, so it doesn’t eclipse the new movie and its considerable third-act bloat. Skyfall transcends the franchise as one of the superior action films of the modern era. And I wish I could rank Quantum of Solace lower.
Performance Worth Watching: Spectre found Craig looking weary in the superspy role. But he seems reinvigorated for No Time to Die, perhaps because he knew it would bring his tenure behind the martini glass to a close. He brought a newfound emotional depth to Bond that might’ve ruffled a few purist feathers — Craig always looks a little shiny, his veins bulging beneath the stoic glare, like he’s keeping all the psychotraumatic stuff of an assassin’s life beneath the surface. Modern times demand as much, lest these movies be the forgettable twaddle of the Brosnan and Dalton years. Craig did Bond right for the 21st century.
Memorable Dialogue: Madeleine gets sentimentally metatextual: “If we only had more time.”
Sex and Skin: NONE. Bond is so sexless in this movie, you’d think he was auditioning for a spot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Our Take: Following the big, fat, disappointing Who Cares that was Spectre, No Time to Die is a welcome sight. Fukunaga is an extraordinary director, and proves himself capable of taking over an unwieldy, high-stress franchise and guiding it with an assured hand. As usual, Bond tears around in old-timey roundish cars — instead of new-timey pointy cars, naturally — and is loaded up with state-of-the-art bang-bangs, and Fukanaga is similarly armed, with long-take fight sequences and plenty of digital trickery, but not so much that you’ll get CGI poisoning.
The primary job of the modern Bond director is to spend a ludicrous amount of money wisely, giving action sequences enough visual panache so the film stands out among its noisy cinematic brethren. And so we have a fittingly teeth-clenching chase down Italian cobblestone streets, an outnumbered Bond outsmarting a bevy of baddies in a misty forest, a tight-scrape escape from a ship headed to the bottom of the Pacific and the true centerpiece, the fists-and-firearms Santiago soiree alongside Ana de Armas — making what amounts to a supersized cameo — in a classic where-exactly-does-she-carry-the-extra-ammo dress.
All this renders the big third-act set piece something of a bloated afterthought, burdened by the wrapping-up-of-many-things that it has to be. It unfolds in the usual concrete Soviet-era missile silo converted into a villain’s luxury lair, complete with bio-poison pools and a few soapboxes for Malek, who looks formidably creepy but is ultimately a bit of a bore — falling perfectly in line with the Craig-era films, which rendered heavy hitters like Waltz, Mathieu Amalric, Javier Bardem and Mads Mikkelsen as dullsville evil masterminds. Pieces of the finale are quite good, but as a whole, it’s merely Just Fine.
Beyond that, Fukunaga nurtures Bond’s emotional journey — such as it is; he’s not a master of brutality like John Wick, but neither is he Anne of Green Gables — down the home stretch. The spy’s inner life remains largely unspoken, mostly a bit of a throbbing forehead vein, but beneath the ceaseless tension of merely being Bond and the countless assassinations weighing on his conscience, he’s retained the ability to really, truly love someone. That’s not nothing.
Our Call: STREAM IT. No Time to Die is a fitting, suitably thrilling sendoff for Daniel Craig as James Bond.