‘No Time To Die’ Review: All Time Craig

Aaron Neuwirth reviews No Time To Die, a long and involved James Bond film that is still a lot of fun, and a fitting finale for Daniel Craig's tenure as the character.
User Rating: 7

It’s always fun for me when Bond is back. For over 15 years, Daniel Craig has had serious fun as James Bond. Yes, his tenure as famed MI6 agent 007 has been framed around the grittier approach to the character, but these films have always been designed to deliver a good time at the movies. This applies to the lesser entries, as well as this final Craig installment, No Time To Die. While this 25th James Bond adventure can’t quite capture the magic of Casino Royale or the firecracker energy from Skyfall, it effectively relies on all that has been built up since Craig first put on his tuxedo. The resulting film takes an enjoyable ride on the way to closure for this iteration of the character.

Jumping into things, No Time To Die uses its extended opening to deliver some cryptic details about where things are headed before placing viewers back with a retired Bond who once again finds himself questioning his choice of love over duty. Yes, it would appear Bond and Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) were perhaps not meant to be together, but a break in that relationship doesn’t equal a ticket back to MI6. Instead, following a time jump, it takes an offer from the CIA’s Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, relishing his return to the series) to get Bond back into business.

It’s really because of this era’s focus on a more elaborate continuity that No Time To Die lasts 163 minutes, the longest entry in the series. Rather than relying on the status quo to allow Bond to simply pick up a new mission and take off, there are a lot of moving pieces already in place to keep things from being that simple. The benefit is watching another Bond film that allows Craig to put in a real performance.

I have a lot of respect for the various actors who played Bond. Regardless of how I would rank them, it’s a huge weight to have on one’s shoulders. For Craig’s films, there’s always been an effort to subvert the formula, as well as allow Craig to dig into the persona and the toll it would take on Bond’s life. While he is still a spectacular spy whose skills are rarely matched, this film does a fine job of letting Bond be vulnerable and caught off guard. It’s an important way to play it, as these films ultimately still follow a specific pattern.

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga may have a lot of story to get through, but at the core of it, this is still a film relying on the same beats as always. The key to making it work is Fukunaga’s understanding that it’s best not to fight it. If there was one main issue with Bond’s previous outing in Spectre, it was the choice to treat a fairly silly Bond story with far too much self-seriousness. No Time To Die could be seen as no less ridiculous in certain ways, but the film is not trying to be above it. As a result, this is a glorious adventure film, with a massive scale, and all the room to go as big as deemed necessary to deliver on spectacle.

The first hour is about as fun as Bond gets. Having a friendly adversary in the form of Nomi (Lashana Lynch), the new MI6 agent that has taken on the designation of 007, means having a chance to see Bond modulate his ego while getting back in the game. Other new characters include brief but effective appearances from Ana de Armas and Billy Magnussen as CIA agents who are seemingly very excited to be working in the field. As a result, the action displayed in these early sections is inventive and perfectly suitable for the film.

Once more of the core plot kicks into gear, the intrigue and emotion remain. MI6 regulars, M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and Q (Ben Whishaw) all find their own ways to spar with Bond. Even Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld returns to serve as a Hannibal Lector type, intending to get under Bond’s skin. All of this, of course, connects to the real villain this time around. That would be Lyutsifer Safin portrayed by Rami Malek. Leaning into abilities to play a creepy weirdo, Malek may not be the most exciting Bond villain, but he at least understands the vibe necessary for his character. Still, he’s really more of a cipher for what the film is trying to get at.

Safin’s evil plot, as usual, involves burning down the world. Bond has to stop his plan from succeeding. That’s what he does. But what else can Bond do? No time To Die is informed by many of the films that came before it. It operates on some nostalgia, a level of sentimentality, and dry wit. At the same time, there’s tragedy and the rough-and-tumble elements that have also defined Craig’s era. Does all of this come together in a way fitting of a Craig finale? Well, it’s certainly a journey that knows how to push some buttons.

That journey is worth it, though, and not hurting is how this entry shows signs of evolution. The screenplay by Bond regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, along with Fukunaga, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, allows No Time To Die to feel in step with the times. The level of agency given to the multiple female roles in this film keeps it from feeling reductive.

With certain expectations of how key showdowns and interactions will go, this movie fittingly allows Bond to be amused by how things can change as much as they stay the same. Even when the film falls victim to specific tropes, it’s hard not to say No Time To Die isn’t attempting to make some progressive pushes that will help serve whatever transition is to come when the next actor steps up to the plate.

Additionally, the film chooses not to explicitly comment on the state of the world today. Honestly, I don’t need Bond recognizing that the real world got as crazy as the villains in his films. 007’s adventures have often relied on the modern state of cinema and the society around it. While that can lead to addressing the world presently, allowing for a personal touch feels more appropriate.

However, outside of the politics of it all, this is a big-budget, globe-trotting movie that takes Bond to Italy, Jamaica, Cuba, Norway, and even a secret evil lair. There are a variety of personalities making sure they leave an impression. Gunfights and other moments aided by a slick handle on the visuals and tone deliver the way they need to. Plus, whether or not the old dog that is Bond needs a real relationship to lock him down, the spine of this movie depends on an effectively realized connection shared by Craig and Seydoux.

Making sure to go out on a high note has not always been easy for this series. In fact, the weaker entries tend to be the endings of the runs for these different performers. No Time To Die may be the final turn for Daniel Craig, but as satisfied as I am with his swansong entry, Bond will return, and I’ll be excited once again. With that in mind, looking at this very full installment of the long-running series, I know it was pushing to get me to feel for this being the end of an era. It ultimately succeeded. No Time To Die may be a shaggier film than necessary, but Craig’s devotion to the character allows him to leave while giving an all-time high of a performance, and that deserves a toast with whatever drink you’d like, so long as it’s shaken, not stirred.

No Time To Die opens in theaters starting October 8, 2021.

7
Good
Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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