After multiple changes in directors, multiple screenwriters and revisions, and a pandemic, not to mention perhaps an obnoxious amount of reviews on my end, Daniel Craig’s fifth and final Bond outing, No Time to Die, has arrived. The film marks the 25th Bond film, with next year being the 60th anniversary of Dr. No. Judging from the pretty packed IMAX screening I attended last night, Craig’s final outing will no doubt be huge, and with good reason: it’s really damn good. At the same time though, it is one that is going to leave people talking for years, and whether it’s in a good way or a bad way remains to be seen.
Cary Joji Fukunaga’s No Time to Die is smashing, terrific entertainment, and in many ways, it’s what we go to a Bond film for. Yet seeing as this is the 25th one, there is no denying just how ambitious and audacious it is. I found the whole thing- all two hours and 43 minutes of it- to be a really interesting, not just because the story held me thoroughly in its grip the entire time, but because Fukunaga and company give us what feels like a typical Bond movie, but with genuinely shocking and potentially controversial narrative choices. It’s a film that I admire the hell out of, not just because it takes big swings, but because it doesn’t really miss any of them. It’s the kind of film you can sit there and unpack for hours, and maybe if you sit there and pick it apart, you’ll find faults in it. Yet the more I sit here and ponder it, the further I admire it.
Again though, this really is a difficult film to discuss, because there is no way in hell I’m giving anything away. This is the kind of film that needs to be, and deserves to be, witnessed for yourself. But lordy, do I want to talk about it, because everything in No Time to Die feels grand and huge. Its ambition, its set pieces. Even the plot, in that this feels like the first Bond film in a long while where the world is at stake. And… I won’t lie, but the film is so effective in its plotting and craftsmanship that my heart literally raced for the last 45 minutes or so, and I don’t remember the last time a movie has left me feeling such a way.
I’ll dive into the plot, because lord knows there’s quite a bit of it. Following the film’s effectively chilling prologue, we cut to present day, in which Bond (Craig, looking marvelous in his 50’s) and his new squeeze Madeleine (Lea Seydoux) are on a trip in Europe. Both of them care deeply for one another, but also she’s aware of his past heartache for the late Vesper, and he senses that she’s also holding onto past trauma. So in a way, this trip is for both of them to move on from the past and look towards the present. Well, in one of the film’s first genuine surprises, Bond finds himself under attack from Spectre once again, and he can’t help but feel like Madeleine is involved. You might think that Bond would know better, but he’s been hurt before so he can’t be too trusting. So obviously the two survive this, but he puts her on a train, and tells her that they’ll never see each other again.
This is one of the longer openings, but it’s undeniably a great one, not just for the craftsmanship of the action but also because it feels totally Bond (gotta say, I love the henchman with the robotic eye). The prologue too is really unsettling, but for reasons I won’t share. Anyways, this is accompanied by Billie Eilish’s title song, and I’m not really an Eilish believer, but this song is pretty damn good, and the sequence that goes with it is a wonder.
Then, the plot. Flash forward five years, and first we see that a secret lab ran by MI6 is infiltrated and destroyed by what we can only assume is Spectre. Then we see Bond is enjoying retirement on an island (as you’d expect) when Felix Leiter (Jeffery Wright) comes knocking and asks him to not only attend a party but also nab one of the Russian scientists who helped Spectre get what they want. Bond attends this party with a young agent named Paloma (Ana De Armas, re-teaming with Craig after Knives Out), who is brief but leaves an impact. Also thrown into the mix is Nomi (Lashana Lynch), who has now donned the 007 title and is on the same mission, but sees Bond as a competitor. There was a lot of toxicity towards Lynch’s casting, because the assumption was that she was taking over the mantle. She isn’t, but Lynch really does make quite the splash here, and I hope to see more of her.
I’ll dance around a few details, because they’re pretty big details, and I’ll say that eventually Bond finds his way back to MI6. Here they discover that someone is actually working against Spectre, and is hellbent on unleashing a poison that is transmitted through DNA or something. I don’t know, they explained it better. So he soon finds himself coming face to face with Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) again, as well as Ms. Swann. Ms. Swann in particular should be mentioned because she faces the looming threat of Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who has ties to her past and also plans on unleashing this virus thingy. It all leads to a sensational, intense and emotional finale at Safin’s lair, which is a remarkable feat of production design.
Yeah, the film is two hours and 43 minutes, and maybe I’m being kind because I’m a devotee. Yet this film didn’t really have a moment in that runtime that sagged. Its action sequences are a knockout, its characters are established and likable, even if some are briefer than others, and the movie dazzles the eye. The cinematography from Linus Sandgren (La La Land) is a wonder. I liked all of No Time to Die, but at about the halfway mark, when I realized just how risky and interesting it all really was, I started to really like No Time to Die.
I wasn’t joking when I say that my heart raced for the last 45 minutes or so. It truly did, and it’s because this is the first film of its kind in years where it feels like literally everything is at stake. Not only is the plot pretty massive, but also, Malek, while kind of brief, is undeniably creepy. There is so much to talk about with No Time to Die, and that’s kind of the beauty of it. In giving us the 25th Bond film, they’ve given us one that is definitely going to be a conversation starter; one that people are going to dissect and pick apart for years. In ways (and hopefully this doesn’t scare you from seeing it), it reminds me of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, in the boundaries that it pushed. I really like that movie, and I really like this one too. In time, I could grow to fully love this one too.
No Time to Die does a beautiful thing that hasn’t been done before with this series: it gave us a full-blooded arc of this particular Bond, for 15 years, and we’ve grown to know him and love him, perhaps just as much as Sean Connery. Craig leaves the franchise on a high note, giving us a fabulous adventure that takes us for a spin and will probably ruffle a few feathers. I have no idea what the franchise will bring next, but whoever takes over the series has massive shoes to fill.