‘No Time to Die’ review: Daniel Craig’s epic final entry as James Bond cements him as the best 007 ever [Grade: A-]
With all of the high tech gadgets, beautiful women, fast cars, exotic locations, diabolical villains, James Bond has been a cinematic icon for close to 60 years. For most of us, we knew this character for his suave demeanor, dashing good looks, and campy one liners that we famously made by Sean Connery and Roger Moore. But for the last fifteen years, we’ve grown accustomed to the brooding, dynamic performance of Daniel Craig in the role of 007.
I remember being in the theater seeing Casino Royale in 2006 and was completely blown away, knowing full well that Craig was the Bond of my generation. The tongue-in-cheek backbone of the character was replaced with a realistic, complex spy that made him relatable and different than we’d ever seen Bond before. As his tenure has gone on, Craig’s expanded Bond’s physical and emotional depth as well as embraced the franchise’s past and merged it with the future of the genre. Thus leading to his final turn in No Time to Die, which wraps up everything he’s done over the last fifteen years with a Bondtastic, high octane thrill ride.
Picking up from the events of Spectre, James Bond (Craig) is retired from active duty and eloping with his new love, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). As they are opening up to one another and getting to know each other, they are attacked by Spectre agents sent by Blofeld (two-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz) to kill Bond once and for all. Through a phone message, James is lead to believe Madeleine betrayed him, thus separates from her and goes into isolation in Jamaica for a couple of years. But when a scientist and his destructive work are stolen from a top secret British lab, Bond is brought back into the fold by his old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) to rescue the scientist before he ends up in the wrong hands. As he starts this latest mission, Bond runs into his ‘00’ replacement Nomi (Lashana Lynch), teams up with a young agent named Paloma (Ana de Armas) in her first field experience, and uncovers that this mission connects not just to his government, but to Madeleine’s past in the form of the terrorist Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), bringing everything from James past to come together to save the world one last time.
A lot is going on to set up this climatic ending, but No Time to Die moves at a confident pace and fits perfectly within the consistent themes of the previous four entries in the series. Throughout his time in the tuxedo, Craig’s Bond has tackled grief and the sins of his past more than any of his predecessors. Orphaned at a young age, he becomes a cocky spy with metaphorical armor built around him so no one can get into his head and his heart. It’s part of the job of becoming a spy, in that you get in, finish the job, and have no attachments. But as we saw in Casino Royale, Bond fell in love, but it wasn’t meant to be as she was working for the other side. It made him colder in Quantum of Solace, even as he found peace with the outcome of that mission. By Skyfall, he was an injured man who not only couldn’t do the things he did at a younger age, but saw MI6 and the world for what they are, which is cold and untrustworthy. He returns home to face the place he swore off for decades, only to embrace it as a last chance to save the only family he’s really ever known in M (Judi Dench). By Spectre, James is ready to end this, cut off the head of the snake, finish off this evil that’s chased him for a decade, and disappear for good. But, as he says in the film, “the past isn’t dead,” thus No Time to Die examines Bond in his final form, as a man looking for absolute closure not just for himself, but for the people he loves and for the world he needs to save one last time.
With Craig’s performance in No Time to Die, he has solidified himself as the best actor to ever play James Bond. Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, and Brosnan brought their own spin on this character, but Craig elevated him into a real person with whom audiences could empathize with throughout his tenure. He is as charming and confident as he is vulnerable throughout this whole film as he’s ever been before. Maybe it’s because this latest venture is able to take him to places as a character that Bond has never gone before, but Craig comfortably takes advantage of this opportunity to deliver a real tender iteration of his version of Bond.
Alongside Craig is one of the deepest supporting casts we’ve ever seen in a Bond film. Back are Ben Whishaw as Q, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Ralph Fiennes as M, who continue to bring their A-game since Skyfall as constants alongside their leading man. Seydoux and Waltz are serviceable in their reprisals as well, but their characters were part of the problems of Spectre, though they are handled the best they can in this film. But it’s the new additions to the franchise that really standout with Lynch, de Armas, and the biggest surprise of all, Malek. Lynch, who plays the new 007, is absolute dynamite going toe to toe alongside Craig, as the two start off as friendly rivals that lead to respect and admiration for each other. A spin-off movie should be in the works for her right now so we can dabble more into her character. Speaking of wanting to see more of, Ana De Armas, who was Craig’s co-star in Knives Out, steals the show in a 10-minute sequence in Cuba. As the nervous Paloma, she is a natural fit as she is charming villains one moment and kicking their ass the next, while doing all of this in a designer dress. She continues to show why she is one of the best up and coming actresses we have working right now. And then there is Malek, the Oscar winning actor turned vindictive Bond villain Safin. In a downright menacing, creepy performance, Malek’s presence leaves you on the edge of your seat, wondering what he is going to say or do next. But even in silence, with a small grin on his face, you feel nothing but chills running down your spine, thus making him an effective adversary.
All of these actors benefited from a well-crafted, moving, often funny script written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and director Cary Joji Fukunaga. Waller-Bridge, who was brought on at the last minute to rewrite some scenes and add humor, is imprinted all over this film. Her style of humor is known by many as well as her ability to write thoughtful, provoking characters, thus this is one of the best written Bond films in some time. But beyond the script is the confident directing by Fukunaga and the gloriously lush cinematography by Linus Sandgren, whose wide sweeping shots are mixed with vivid colors to give us the grand scale we’ve grown accustomed to with Bond films. Fukunaga, who was also a replacement choice, is the first American to ever direct a Bond film, and he knocks everything out of the park. He understands that in order to make a great Bond movie, every set piece, every shot, every line of dialogue have to keep the movie moving, otherwise it loses momentum. While that could happen with a 163-minute run time, Fukunaga and his team make this adventure fly by with supreme confidence and precision.
No Time to Die is an epic, breathtaking conclusion to the Craig era of Bond. After close to two years in the waiting for its release, audiences will finally be able to see it and experience the closure that Craig has found with the fitting end to his run as 007. There will be speculation for months now to determine who is the right fit to step into the role going forward in this franchise. While many want to see who it will be, this is not the right time to talk about that because they are massive shoes to fill. Instead, let’s celebrate this crowning achievement in the Bond franchise, which is not only one of the best entries in the series, but one of the best films of 2021. Bravo Mr. Craig, nobody’s done it better than you.
MGM and United Artists will release No Time to Die exclusively in theaters on October 8, 2021.
Photo: Credit: Nicola Dove/MGM