It’s a bittersweet experience walking into the final installment of a film franchise you’ve enjoyed for 15 years. Something about the finality of a series you’ve seen grow and develop over the years hits you in the feels. Yes, I know Bond’s been around for close to 60 years. And yes, I grew up watching Bond movies like everyone else. I was nine when Goldeneye came out, and saw all of the Brosnan films as well when they hit theaters too. But to be honest those just didn’t register on any emotional level for me. I simply didn’t care about the character or the franchise unless I was playing as him on N64. That was until Daniel Craig came along.
When Casino Royale came out in 2006, I didn’t care at first. Then I saw it on screen for the first time, and I was astonished. Bond had evolved from superficial puppet to a real boy. Gone was the stupid use of gadgets he was so overly-reliant on. He no longer coasted off the talents of others better than himself. He wasn’t some dumb jock manchild who got lucky most of the time. And sayonara to the stupid sequences like windsurfing on a tsunami. Bond was a resourceful, hardened badass with a vulnerable soul. And sure movies like Quantum of Solace and Spectre weren’t great. But for the first time, the stories were serialized, and the character grew from picture to picture. We found out more as an audience about 007’s past, his present, and here, with No Time to Die, his future. Each movie would get more and more personal (with the exception of Spectre, which was a setback – but more on that later). None of that ever happened before Daniel Craig. And for that reason, necessary as it might be, it’s hard to say goodbye. However, thankfully No Time to Die makes it a farewell to remember.
The less you know about the story the better, so I won’t go heavy into the plot summary. Suffice it to say, Bond is pulled into action by his CIA friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). His adventure leads him on the trail of a deadly madman, who may have a connection (or several) to a few of the people in Bond’s life.
With No Time to Die, we have a movie that’s almost as personal as what we got from Casino Royale and Skyfall. It’s one of the few Bond movie’s that’s able to successfully have it’s cake and eat it too, by presenting a cliched apocalyptic terrorist threat, but focusing on personal relationships and how they impact Bond. And so much of this success of that balance needs to be attributed to the brilliant direction from True Detective director, Cary Joji Fukunaga, who also co-wrote the screenplay and the story for this one, along with longtime Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, and the astonishing Fleabag herself, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. But Fukanaga, from a directorial standpoint, gracefully shifts between thrilling, to dramatic, to campy at times, but does so without ever getting over-the-top. And that I appreciated. For Bond purists, you have a few ’60s Bond gadgets and terrorists trying to blow up the world. For the people who preferred the grounded, Bourne-like 007 pioneered by Craig, you have the amazing gritty scenes of high stakes gun fights and bone-crunching beatings you got from Casino Royale and Skyfall. In fact, there is an incredible long-take sequence so good that it’s on par with anything from (ironically enough) previous Bond helmer, Sam Mendes’ last film, 1917. It’s a perfect balance that works so well, which I hope carries over into the next iteration of 007, whenever that will be. In other words, Eon Productions would do itself well to bring Fukunaga back.
On a story and character level, there’s a lot about No Time to Die that just really works. Everything we’ve seen from Casino Royale to Spectre matters and adds up to give you the story you see in this film, and the final form of character growth for Craig’s Bond. In fact, I hated Spectre. I really wanted to just forget it. But this is an incredibly rare situation where the next chapter in a movie series doesn’t ignore the biggest misstep in the franchise, but leans into it and course corrects it to the point where Spectre now has to matter to me. And God help me, No Time to Die was actually successful in making me give a damn about Spectre. That’s how flawlessly relevant it makes all the other films in the Craig canon, and how seamlessly well it ties everything together. It’s almost as if the film acts, not just as a final swan song for Craig as Bond, but for this entire story and its characters from this five-movie era all together.
I mean Madeleine Swann was a character I seriously didn’t give a damn about since her introduction in Spectre. And within the first 10 minutes of the film, Fukunaga uses suspense and techniques on par with a Scream slasher film to actually get you to fear for her life. And throughout the movie and by the end of it, you actually care about her and her impact on Bond in a way you never did from the previous movie. That’s powerful! And the incredibly talented Léa Seydoux just sells the hell out of it.
On the supporting side as well, Ana De Armas is wonderful as Bond’s CIA insider, Paloma, but we don’t get enough of her. In fact, that’s a phrase that I’ll be applying to every character that isn’t Bond or Swann; Lashana Lynch as Nomi, Raimi Malek as Safin, Wright as Leiter, Christoph Waltz as Blofeld, and the entire MI-6 team we’ve grown to love over the years (Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, and Naomi Harris). All of them are wonderful, and yet, I felt like I wanted them to do more.
But make no mistake, there’s a perfectly understandable reason as to why we don’t see this, and it’s because at the end of the day, this movie — this era in the Bond franchise — is about one name, and one name only. Bond. James Bond. And with this being Craig’s final time in the tux, the focus should rightfully be on him. And boy does he deliver. You’d think that after all these years playing the world’s most famous MI-6 agent, Craig would have given you everything and there’d be nothing left. But that’s where you’d be wrong. You haven’t seen everything yet, because No Time to Die is where Craig gives you everything! This is a soulful, bare performance as Bond. The growth the character has amassed over the past several years is on full display behind the piercing blue, vulnerable, tortured eyes of a man fighting tooth and nail to keep a scrap of what little he has left in the world. It is a performance that represents and fully understands what made his version of Bond stand out above all others — a sense of true humanity. This is Craig at his finest, and a reminder that he is leaving an indelible mark on this franchise’s long-standing history, and one that must set the tone and the blueprints for all those succeeding him. There’s no going back after Craig’s version of 007.
As far as the film’s flaws go, I will say that as enamored as I might be with No Time to Die, I don’t think I can put it above Skyfall or Casino Royale on my Craig film ranks, because 1.) those films are just classics, and 2.) there are a few issues with it overall. The first being that it feels the length of its runtime. It’s all worth it, and everything on screen is compelling so the length won’t feel like torture. But it certainly doesn’t breeze by in the same way a movie like Avengers Endgame does. The second is that it doesn’t make use of Raimi Malek’s acting talents. In fact Skyfall‘s success is measured so much by the cat and mouse game between the compelling Javier Bardem and Craig, that it just sucks you in. An actor as talented as Malek should be able to go toe-to-toe with Bond, or be as sympathetic and menacing as Bardem’s Silva. And there’s some sympathy for him for 2/3 of the film. But he then devolves into a very trite and cliched archetype of a villain in the final third. It’s disappointing to say the least.
Having said all that however, this is at it’s core, an emotional and utterly satisfying end to the 15-year era of 007 that made me actually care about James Bond. It delivers some stunning action, yet stays incredibly personal and true to it’s well developed main characters. The story flawlessly connects all pieces of the puzzle we’ve seen so far, allowing for the MI-6 crew and Bond to arrive at their best, most logical conclusions. It succeeds because it knows what made this era of Bond unforgettable: the human vulnerability of a flawed yet noble hero. And none of that would be possible without the brilliant work of the amazing Daniel Craig. So with that, I say, thank you Mr. Craig for giving me a reason to care about 007. Whatever comes next for the franchise, the high bar you’ve set for this character has made me incredibly optimistic about the fact that someday soon, James Bond will return.
Overall Score: A-
No Time to Die hits theaters October 8, 2021.