Six actors (seven, if you’d like to throw David Niven in there for the 1967 parody “Casino Royale”) have portrayed Agent 007 in the nearly 60 years since a tuxedo-clad Sean Connery first introduced himself as “Bond, James Bond” in 1962’s “Dr. No.” They’ve all come and gone over the years without a lot of fanfare, so suffice it to say that it feels quite a bit different to have such a big production made out of Daniel Craig’s final turn in the iconic role. Craig’s Bond movies, beginning with 2006’s “Casino Royale,” have all been a little bit different from their predecessors, however. Craig immediately infused his portrayal of the typically cool spy with an emotional vulnerability than made me more human than he’d ever been. The Bond girls, starting with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd, became more complex and less disposable. And the films themselves connected, “Quantum of Solace” being the first direct sequel in a franchise where every previous movie was a standalone adventure. So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Craig’s fifth and final outing, director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s “No Time to Die,” deviates further from the norm, in ways that may alarm some Bond purists. The send-off is in some ways a fitting, and in others a disappointment.
2015’s “Spectre” concluded with Bond riding off into the proverbial sunset with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the psychiatrist daughter of former Spectre agent Mr. White and a woman he has virtually no chemistry with. But powers that be have decided that Bond and Madeleine are hopelessly, tragically in love, and that they need to overcome their past traumas in order to be together. For Madeleine, that means confronting the masked man who killed her mother and almost killed her when she was a child in retaliation for her father murdering his family, a flashback scene that opens “No Time to Die.” For Bond, that means confronting the loss of Vesper Lynd, his previous love who died in “Casino Royale.” It’s while visiting Vesper’s grave that something happens that interrupts Bond and Madeleine’s tranquil holiday, prompting Bond to question his trust in her and causing the pair to separate.
Five years later, Bond has retired to Jamaica, when he is approached by CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, reprising his role) and his colleague Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen) with a job. MI6 scientist Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik), with the approval of M (Ralph Fiennes), developed a bioweapon called Project Heracles. The weapon contains nanobots coded to a specific person’s DNA but infects the person it touches like a virus. Obruchev has been kidnapped, and Felix wants Bond’s help finding him—which he agrees to after discovering that his successor as 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), is trying to retrieve Obruchev for MI6.
The subsequent plot is pretty bloated and meandering, although it certainly has its moments. A lot of the plot elements, such as the nanobot bioweapon or Blofeld’s electronic eye that allows him to see the outside world while physically remaining in his prison cell, are ridiculously silly in a way that feels like a return to some of the very early Bond films. Fukunaga deftly helms some pretty spectacular action sequences, notably the motorcycle/car chase that occurs in the film’s opening act, and Bond’s mission to Cuba to find Obruchev, where he teams up with bubbly newbie agent Paloma (a delightful Ana de Armas) to crash a Spectre party. Like the best Bond films, “No Time to Die” has a solid theme song (by Billie Eilish), wild gadgets, and exotic locations. And like the best Craig Bond films, it seeks to further humanize the iconic figure, first by seeking closure from the loss of Vesper, and later through his feelings for Madeleine.
But these elements don’t coalesce quite as well as they did in better movies like “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall” (still my pick for the best Bond film of all time). It’s obvious throughout that this movie knows that this is Craig’s last Bond movie, and a lot of the more emotional moments, particularly toward the end of the film, feel contrived. It doesn’t help that so many of those moments hinge on the romance between Bond and Madeleine, who continue to be a rather head-scratching pairing, especially when you compare them to, for instance, the red-hot chemistry that existed between Bond and Vesper in “Casino Royale.” While movies like “Skyfall” and “Spectre” tackled both Bond’s past and his relevancy in the present, “No Time to Die” merely retreads on these subjects that have already been explored better in better movies.
“No Time to Die” also frequently feels like a three-hour tour of the Craig Bond era, cramming as many past characters and references in addition to new ones in the film as possible. Besides those already mentioned, Naomi Harris and Ben Whisaw are back as Bond staples Moneypenny and tech whiz Q, Rory Kinnear is M’s chief of staff Tanner, and Christoph Waltz briefly reprises his role from “Spectre” as Bond’s arch-nemesis Ernst Blofeld. A nonsensical plot isn’t exactly a problem for me in a Bond movie, but the villain executing this one, the scarred and mumbling Safin (played by Rami Malek; I’ll just say that I’m not a fan and leave it at that), is stereotypical in all the worst ways. He doesn’t make the events surrounding him all that memorable. Lynch deserves special mention, however. Her initially contentious relationship with Bond naturally smooths into a mutual respect over the course of the film, and she’s funny and tough and steals almost every scene she’s in. Whether Nomi keeps the 007 title or not, I hope this isn’t the last time we see her.
“No Time to Die” is an extremely mixed bag of a Bond movie, and while I was entertained throughout, I have to admit that it would have been a more powerful and fitting end to his run for Craig to go out on “Skyfall.” But this is his show, and he nails his performance, which mixes the classic aspects of the suave agent we know and love with that of an older, world-weary man looking for something more than what the spy life has to offer. The finale is going to be controversial, and to avoid spoilers I’ll just say that I didn’t like it. But I’m always intrigued with how this franchise has grown and changed with the times. The Craig Bond movies have done more work in that department than any previous Bond iteration, and “No Time to Die,” while melancholy, makes me excited to see what the future has in store for 007.
“No Time to Die” is, finally, now playing in theaters. Runtime: 163 minutes. Rated PG-13.