No Time To Die review: A decisive, daring conclusion for Craig’s Bond

B25_25594_RJames Bond (Daniel Craig) prepares to shoot inNO TIME TO DIE,an EON Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios filmCredit: Nicola Dove© 2020 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
B25_25594_RJames Bond (Daniel Craig) prepares to shoot inNO TIME TO DIE,an EON Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios filmCredit: Nicola Dove© 2020 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. /

15 years after he first stepped into James Bond’s iconic tuxedo in Casino Royale, Daniel Craig has taken his last bow as the 00-agent with a license to kill in No Time To Die, his fifth and final outing for the franchise.

Though No Time To Die‘s numerous interwoven stories often feel as if we’re watching a limited series stuffed into a movie’s runtime, sharp directing from Cary Joji Fukunaga and a willingness to take the franchise in yet another new, unique direction make the film a satisfying conclusion to Craig’s tenure as Bond, and one of the historic franchise’s more memorable, cohesive installments.

Picking up in the wake of the events of SpectreNo Time To Die sees James Bond (Daniel Craig) living in idyllic retirement bliss with his lover Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), until an ambush from the mysterious Spectre organization drives them apart. Five years later, Bond is forced to reunite with his old flame to stop the spread of a potentially world-destroying programmable virus from falling into the hands of terrorist Safin (Rami Malek) who seeks to use the virus not just to enact revenge on Spectre, but take down Bond once and for all.

At a lengthy two hours and 43 minutes, No Time To Die is the longest Bond movie in the franchise’s 27-film arsenal, and it shows. Fukunaga has no qualms about shoving as much plot into the runtime as humanly possible, creating an at times overcomplicated narrative that feels nearly operatic in its grandiose shifts from movement to movement as Bond wades through the final chapter in his journey. Paradoxically, the efficiency by which Fukunaga uses the significant runtime does make the overall viewing experience taxing, because though the film is long, it economizes its time – while we didn’t find ourselves thinking that sequences could’ve been cut, there’s just so much movie it will likely make for difficult repeat viewing.

Another casualty of the gargantuan runtime is the film’s sizable ensemble cast, who receive uneven screen time and aren’t always used as effectively as they could be. No Time To Die, as the end of Craig’s tenure, reunites Bond with familiar faces from past films: namely, Jeffrey Wright’s Felix, who first appeared in Casino Royale. Though Wright is always a delight, Felix’s involvement in the narrative feels convoluted and tertiary at best and ends up coming off as a very transparent bid to pay homage to Craig’s Bond era without making the effort to incorporate older characters in a more seamless or relevant manner.

This is also frustrating because Felix’s tertiary role similarly sidelines Ana De Armas’ Paloma, a green CIA agent who is introduced to Bond by Felix during a mission in Cuba. As Paloma, De Armas is bleeding with effortless charisma, endearing charm, and just enough naïveté to make her a fresh, exciting personality to pair with the haggard and world-weary Bond. However, because she exists only where Felix exists, and Felix himself is barely involved in the grand scheme of things, Paloma is relegated to a mere 7 minutes or so of screen time – an utter travesty considering she’s easily one of the most memorable figures in the franchise’s entire history.

The other new player in No Time To Die is Lashana Lynch’s 007, a dry, quick-witted MI6 agent who is given Bond’s old mantle after he retires. The duo (predictably) butt heads – Lynch’s 007 is a by-the-book, no-nonsense agent unenthused at the prospect of working with the older, surly Bond, who similarly isn’t jazzed about the fact that he’s been all but replaced without fanfare at his old position. Though they make for a passable enough duo, Lynch’s 007 isn’t a particularly affecting character, and because her writing lacks the spark of Paloma or the familiarity of someone like Q or Moneypenny, she’s more forgettable than anything else, which is a shame, because outside of Bond and Madeleine, she’s the supporting character with the most screen time.

However, No Time To Die is without question Bond‘s film – though he’s moved across the chess board by the typical spy thriller plot conventions, the story at the heart of the film is more interested in exploring his inner life, love, and family – which infuses his swan song with a personal touch and emotional core often lacking in the cool, slick films that Craig’s Bond era have become known for. Though we’re still not entirely sold on the romantic chemistry between Bond and his paramour Madeleine, the film’s dedication to exploring their relationship (especially with the additional revelation of Bond’s young daughter near the film’s halfway point) allows Craig a new vulnerability and depth befitting of his final act.

Where we struggled with No Time To Die‘s attempts to ingratiate Casino Royale‘s Felix into the narrative, we didn’t have a similar issue with the film’s use of Vesper – Bond’s tragic love who sacrificed herself after betraying him several films earlier. The inclusion of Vesper and her lasting impact in Bond’s life goes a long way to create a sense of symmetry within his five films – not just a series of action flicks linked by the same protagonist, but the tumultuous journey of a damaged man trying to navigate his perilous lifestyle. Though it’s a small moment, his final goodbye to Vesper (and the inclusion of her delicate piano theme, originally composed by David Arnold) is a stirring touch that speaks to Fukunaga’s fundamental respect for and understanding of who Craig’s Bond is as not just an agent, but a man with a beating heart.

Not nearly as compelling is Rami Malek’s dastardly Safin, a run-of-the-mill terrorist bent on global destruction who feels remarkably impersonal and out of place in a film so interested in the inner workings of James Bond as a person. Though he’s serviceable enough to jumpstart the plot, Safin is utterly forgettable and does little more than perpetuate unsavory and outdated ideas about people with facial scarring as monstrous villains to be feared. It’s disappointing that such a tepid villain would mark Craig’s last outing for the franchise, considering his first film featured Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre, one of the most terrifying entries of the modern Bond era.

Still, even with a lackluster villain, No Time To Die is a satisfying, thoughtful, and at times genuinely compelling conclusion to Daniel Craig’s run as Bond that’s just as full of emotional beats as it is action set pieces. While the narrative may bite off more than it can chew and the supporting characters suffer for it, No Time To Die does justice to Daniel Craig’s James Bond – definitively closing the door on the first truly modern incarnation of the character.

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