What a ride it has been for Daniel Craig. He first slid into the tuxedo of the dapper 007 back in 2006. Fifteen years and five movies later Craig wraps up his terrific run with the 25th installment in the James Bond franchise, “No Time to Die”. Due to several reasons (a global pandemic chief among them), we haven’t had a Bond film since 2015. That’s a long time, but I’m happy to say it was well worth the wait.
I was pretty lukewarm on James Bond movies until Craig came along. His first entry “Casino Royale” blew me away. I like his second film, the flawed “Quantum of Solace” more than most. I loved his third movie “Skyfall” but was more mixed on his fourth, “Spectre”. With “No Time to Die”, Craig is given the chance to end his tenure on a sky-high note. And boy does he.
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, “No Time to Die” comes packaged with everything you want from a Bond movie – big action, even bigger characters, plenty of style, and a special dash of heart. But Craig’s movies have added grit to that list. His Bond carries the weight of loss, and his pain often pushes him outside the bounds of agency protocol. That emotional burden and his willingness to cross the line are traits that set his 007 apart from all the rest.
This near $300 million sequel comes with a collection of old familiar faces as well as a few new ones. And once again this latest world-saving mission takes Bond (and us) to locations across the globe – Italy, Jamaica, Cuba, Norway, and of course London. And then you have the story itself which is not only thrilling blockbuster material, but it nails the tricky task of completing Daniel Craig‘s story arc. And it does it in an profoundly satisfying way.
The film begins with James having retired from MI6 and enjoying what resembles a normal life with Madeleine (a returning Léa Seydoux). But while on a romantic getaway in the exquisitely shot Matera, Italy, the couple are reminded why they’re always looking over their shoulders. Assassins sent by the nefarious crime syndicate Spectre ambush James leading to an exhilarating action sequence through the heart of the scenic city. Bond and Madeleine manage to escape, but he suspects her of betraying and the two split up.
Five years and one Billie Eilish Bond theme later, James is living in seclusion on a beach in Jamaica when he’s contacted by old friend and CIA field officer Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). Felix needs Bond’s help tracking down a kidnapped scientist (David Dencik) who has developed a DNA-targeting bioweapon known as “Project Heracles”. Obviously, in the wrong hands the bioweapon could be catastrophic. And those hands happen to belong to Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), a soft-spoken yet vengeful terrorist leader who has an axe to grind with Spectre and has a rather gnarly connection to Madeleine’s past. And just like that, Bond is back in the game.
From there the road gets curvier. Bond butts heads with MI6, particularly M (Ralph Fiennes) and a brash young 00 agent named Nomi (Lashana Lynch). The devilish Ernst Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is still running Spectre from prison. And of course Madeleine resurfaces, now working as a psychotherapist for MI6, a job that puts her right in the crosshairs of the string-pulling madman Safin. And there are even more characters with parts to play including CIA agent Paloma (a wide-eyed and delightful Ana de Armas) who assists Bond in Cuba. And of course Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) make welcomed returns.
But this is very much Bond’s movie. Not just in the traditional sense, but personally and emotionally. From its action-packed earliest frames, “No Time to Die” has a different pull than Craig’s other films in the franchise. Part of it may be psychological. We know this is Craig’s last ride and that realization inevitably adds some extra feeling for fans. But it’s also a conscious move from Fukunaga who manages to keep his film tonally in-tune with the others while putting a warm and empathetic spotlight on the weary and pained super spy. It’s a slippery balancing act, but Fukunaga nails it.
Also, the movie looks amazing. Whether he’s capturing a location or shooting an elaborate action sequence, Oscar-winning DP Linus Sandgren always gives us something worth looking at. I mentioned the stunning opening in Italy. There’s also an impeccably shot edge-of-your-seat car chase/shootout in Norway. And of course, the big finish which features one particularly jaw-dropping close-quartered gunfight up a flight of stairs. Sandgren is constantly treating us to one breathtaking shot after another and frequently reminding us of why movies are always better on the big screen.
But what may be most impressive is how the movie flies by despite a hefty running time of 2 hours 43 minutes. I only checked my watch once and that was out of curiosity rather than boredom. Much of it has to do with Fukunaga’s crisp pacing and steady mix of drama and action. He never lets things get bogged down. At the same time, he never loses sight of his characters. Again, it’s a balance the film maintains that keeps it lively and engaging.
So how does “No Time to Die” match up with Craig’s other Bond movies. Well, I’m not ready to put it next to the superb “Casino Royale”, but it’s only a step or two below it. Not only has Cary Joji Fukunaga made a good Bond movie, but this is the kind entertainment I look for out of blockbusters. But perhaps most important for 007 fans, Fukunaga gives Craig a swan song that does him and his fifteen years spent On Her Majesty’s Secret Service justice. It’s a top-to-bottom fabulous finish for (dare I even say it) my favorite Bond of the franchise. “No Time to Die” opens today in theaters.