***1/2 out of ****
(for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong language and some suggestive material)
Released: October 8, 2021
Runtime: 163 minutes
Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Rami Malek, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Lashana Lynch, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ana de Armas, Dali Benssalah, Rory Kinnear, Billy Magnussen
With No Time To Die, the James Bond of Casino Royale comes full circle – and so does Daniel Craig as the Best Bond Ever.
Complaints about Spectre (Craig’s penultimate turn as 007) dismissed it for falling victim to “Shrinking World Syndrome,” the dynamic where seemingly unrelated heroes and villains (and others, for that matter) are revealed to have an interconnected history.
This twist (cheaply earned, critics would argue) layers personal stakes onto already-cataclysmic ones. The history always comes as a shock to the hero, too, via a secret the villain has kept until the very moment its knowledge can undercut the hero’s certainty and resolve, and even his very sense of identity.
Trope though it may be, this so-called syndrome wasn’t a desperate reach by Bond producers to somehow Marvel-ize their spy franchise. (Indeed, my only gripe about Spectre is that it was a solid Bond outing that got really lazy with its plot mechanics in the final act.)
If anything, “going there” felt like it had its roots in Casino Royale, a movie that didn’t simply introduce a new Bond but actually had the ambition to begin with his origin, a story that concluded with a formative betrayal that seemed to forecast grander blindsides to come.
This Bond wasn’t going to be a series of sophisticated-if-campy one-offs. Daniel Craig’s tenure started somewhere specific and it was always going to be building towards something more, but with a through-line that we’d see clearly with eventual hindsight. For four films, the series did just that. Now, No Time To Die ends that fifteen-year, five-movie arc in spectacular, meaningful fashion.
The details of how that unfolds are best left a mystery, with the only worthwhile spoiler being a nutshell recap of where Spectre ended: Bond defeated his nemesis Blofeld (played devilishly by Christoph Waltz) and swaggered off into retirement with his new love Madeleine (Léa Seydoux).
Now, as No Time To Die opens, Bond and Madeleine are enjoying a posh Happily Ever After, the kind one might imagine scripted for Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, set against lush international landscapes and sweeping romantic orchestra cues that are straight out of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
That ideal tranquility is about to end, of course, and it does so in grand fashion during a 25-minute pre-Billie Eilish theme song prologue that, as far as Bond set pieces go, ends up being an all-timer. By its end, we feel like things are just getting started (and they are) in this nearly three-hour send-off, a well-paced, always-intriguing affair that never exhausts or drags.
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (whose breakout work came with the Matthew McConaughey Season One of HBO’s True Detective) crafts a classy, elegant ride of exotic escapism while also digging deep into Bond’s damaged heart and soul.
Even as Fukunaga ensures that the Bond franchise will continue to match the Mission: Impossible movies as the most daring purveyor of inspired-yet-insane natural stunt work in modern cinema (magnified on the stunning scale of IMAX cameras and lenses; it’s a must-see in one of those premium theaters), he also invests Bond’s espionage struggle with an existential one, and takes care to center his wounded psyche with sentimental convictions rather than cynical angst.
And Fukunaga achieves all of that while also infusing No Time To Die with the most deft sense of playful humor displayed in the entire Craig run.
Suffice it to say, the stakes are indeed both personal and global as Bond sets out to stop a new arch enemy, Safin. Oozing with perfectly chilling psychopathy by Oscar-winner Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Safin is yet another yang to Bond’s yin, a sadistic reflection of James with similar scars but opposite aims.
The latest Bond girls include the new 007 (Lashana Lynch, Captain Marvel) and Paloma, a green CIA operative played by Craig’s Knives Out co-star Ana de Armas. Based on her one sequence here (another set piece banger in Cuba), the producers needn’t look any further than de Armas if they dared to make the first ever Bond gender-swap in franchise history. She shakes and stirs with physical prowess, chic sex appeal, and absolute magnetism (so long as she could affect a convincing British accent).
The usual crew is here, too – M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and CIA agent / Bond confidante Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) – all whom play their vital supporting roles with the resonance this final Craig chapter deserves.
Had Spectre ended Craig’s run (a prospect that seemed likely, given Craig’s declarations of preferring suicide over another go-round after that film’s grueling shoot wrapped), it would’ve worked as a feel-good capper but, as an ending, it lacked the psychological depth and fragile humanity that Casino Royale so boldly introduced.
No Time To Die, however, is a consequential bookend, not simply content with tying up loose ends but intent on bringing this valiant, mortal reinvention of an icon to a poignant conclusion. By the end, it elevates Daniel Craig’s Bond from the confines of action hero to the realms of legend.