THE STORY – Recruited to rescue a kidnapped scientist, globe-trotting spy James Bond finds himself hot on the trail of a mysterious villain, who’s armed with a dangerous new technology.
THE CAST – Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz & Ralph Fiennes
THE TEAM – Cary Joji Fukunaga (Director/Writer), Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Phoebe Waller-Bridge
THE RUNNING TIME – 163 Minutes
By Josh Parham
James Bond has and always will be one of the most unique franchises around. With a legacy that spans nearly six decades, it has found new directions, as well as old patterns, to thrive in any era a new film releases. There’s an extraordinary amount of expectation for any actor who inhabits this famous role, but there has been something distinct about the tenure of Daniel Craig. His modern interpretation is the longest on record, and as such, his impact on the series has been enormous. It’s been well documented that “No Time to Die” would be his final bow as the character. One can definitely feel that thesis statement throughout this film, which ends up being an enthralling and finely crafted sendoff.
Picking up shortly after the last film’s events, Bond and Madeleine (Leá Seydoux) are enjoying the bliss of each other’s company until a suspected betrayal drives a wedge between them. Bond goes off to live an isolated life, officially retiring from the service. However, allies from his past once again call upon him, and Bond feels compelled to be drawn into a sinister plot. The web of intrigue includes the mysterious Safin (Rami Malek), hellbent on hunting down those closest to Bond while also involving himself in acquiring a deadly weapon with the potential of catastrophic annihilation. Joined by a new agent Nomi (Lashana Lynch), Bond must stop mass destruction again while also reconciling with the demons that haunt him.
Craig is in a rather unique position with his final entry into the beloved franchise. While nearly every actor has exited the role on their own terms, this is the first time the last entry has been planned with any kind of foresight. Perhaps this is what elevates his performance to something with much more emotional pathos than has ever been seen before. He still perfectly embodies the physicality and the shrewd coldness that has always marked the character. However, a vulnerability comes through in a way that feels unique to Craig’s abilities as an actor. He comes tantalizingly close to the heights of his debut in “Casino Royale,” and here, he provides a turn that is brutal yet soulful at the same time. He infuses the role of James Bond with a tenderness that is much appreciated, particularly with the recognition of his final endeavor.
As much as the leading man has been an essential fixture in this series, so too has been the supporting players around him. The love interest and the villain are always the two biggest staples of a James Bond film, and Seydoux shows much improvement from her first appearance in “Spectre.” Her chemistry with Craig can still be stilted at times, but the complexities of the role are more fleshed out this time, and she handles it well. Malek delivers a genuinely unsettling turn, though one does feel his presence is underused. It’s a quieter, almost nondescript, portrayal and a far cry from the flamboyance one would expect from a Bond villain. He does slightly underwhelm, but he carries a significant screen presence at the same time.
The rest of the cast delivers fine performances as well. The returning core of allies are in top form once again, with Naomi Harris’s Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw’s Q, Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter, and Ralph Fiennes’s M all delivering consistently compelling work. Some of the newer additions are solid without ever making a meaningful impression, most notably Billy Magnussen and, to a lesser degree, Ana de Armas. She has some fun interplay, but it’s a small role with only ten minutes of screen time in the least exciting section of the story. The real standout is Lynch as the successor to the 007 title, and she holds her own marvelously well. The banter she has with Craig is effectively humorous and provides some of the most delightful moments in the film.
Cary Joji Fukunaga famously may not have been the first choice for director, but his efforts end up creating some uproariously entertaining and truly exhilarating set-pieces. Aided by Linus Sandgren’s vibrant cinematography, Hans Zimmer’s engaging score, and an inventive sound design, the aesthetics are extraordinary and all help to shape the lush environments. There is also an intimacy brought to every frame, even the large-scale action scenes that can have a grounded realism amongst the bombast. One definitely feels the care brought to the filmmaking. There are also so many acknowledgments to the previous Bond adventures that will make diehard fans particularly happy. At 163 minutes, this is the longest James Bond film ever, and Fukunaga does struggle with the pacing, particularly after the first act when the momentum has a habit of stalling. Still, his craftsmanship as a filmmaker is suited well to this material.
The script is another aspect with some strong elements, though it oftentimes is the weakest part of the overall film. A crowded list of names that includes series’ regular scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, as well the Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, succeeds at evolving the emotional bonds of the characters in methods that feel more genuine and emotionally impactful. It also wrestles with a narrative that can get convoluted and messy. The dialogue can be intelligent and witty while also being wooden and hollow. The nuance of the characters varies wildly, and while there is an effective conclusion to the arc of this particular presentation of Bond, the road to get there was and is a bit bumpy. Still, the series has seen much worse screenplays, and while parts of the plot could’ve been better, it compensates with the greater attention to character.
“No Time to Die” is, without a doubt, one of the most ambitious Bond films to date. It makes bold choices that push the franchise in new directions, and it can be exciting and concerning to watch them unfold for diehard fans. However, the strengths of the filmmaking, the care given towards the writing, and the endearing performances make this a success, particularly for Daniel Craig. The film leaves one with a bittersweet farewell to the legacy that Craig has cemented while also maintaining a sense of optimism for what the future may hold. That is a difficult needle to thread, and for the most part, Craig and company have managed to do just that.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Daniel Craig delivers a stoic and emotional performance in his final outing as James Bond. Entertaining set pieces and a good collection of characters. Lashana Lynch is a standout addition with great physicality and humorous banter. The craft of filmmaking is excellent. The directive to give a final sendoff to this interpretation of the character is well-earned.
THE BAD – The screenplay is the weakest element, being inconsistent in the depth of its characters and often convoluting the plot. The pacing can drag, and the momentum stalls at times. Some of the supporting players are not as impactful as others.