No Time to Die
Daniel Craig farewells his time as Bond in a thrilling, weighty and emotional swansong that isn't afraid to shake and stir the franchise's usual elements.
November 10, 2021
James Bond might famously prefer his martinis shaken, not stirred, but No Time to Die doesn't quite take that advice. While the enterprising spy hasn't changed his drink order, the latest film he's in — the 25th official feature in the franchise across six decades, and the fifth and last that'll star Daniel Craig — gives its regular ingredients both a mix and a jiggle. The action is dazzlingly choreographed, a menacing criminal has an evil scheme and the world is in peril, naturally. Still, there's more weight in Craig's performance, more emotion all round, and a greater willingness to contemplate the stakes and repercussions that come with Bond's globe-trotting, bed-hopping, villain-dispensing existence. There's also an eagerness to shake up parts of the character and Bond template that rarely get a nudge. Together, even following a 19-month pandemic delay, it all makes for a satisfying blockbuster cocktail.
For Craig, the actor who first gave Bond a 21st-century flavour back in 2006's Casino Royale (something Pierce Brosnan couldn't manage in 2002's Die Another Day), No Time to Die also provides a fulfilling swansong. That wasn't assured; as much as he's made the tuxedo, gadgets and espionage intrigue his own, the Knives Out and Logan Lucky actor's tenure has charted a seesawing trajectory. His first stint in the role was stellar and franchise-redefining, but 2008's Quantum of Solace made it look like a one-off. Then Skyfall triumphed spectacularly in 2012, before Spectre proved all too standard in 2015. Ups and downs have long been part of this franchise, depending on who's in the suit, who's behind the lens, the era and how far the tone skews towards comedy — but at its best, Craig's run has felt like it's building new levels rather than traipsing through the same old framework.
In No Time to Die, Bond does need to look backwards, though — to loves lost, choices made and lingering enemies. Before Billie Eilish's theme song echoes over eye-catching opening credits, the film fills its first scenes with the past, starting with returning psychiatrist Madeleine Swan's (Léa Seydoux, Kursk) links to new mask-wearing villain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek, The Little Things). There's patience and visual poetry to these early minutes amid Norway's snowy climes, even while littered with violence. No Time to Die is a lengthy yet never slow feature, and Bond first-timer Cary Joji Fukunaga doesn't begin with the pace he means to continue; however, the director behind True Detective's stunning first season establishes a sense of meticulousness, an eye for detail and an inclination to let moments last — and a striking look — that serves him exceptionally moving forward.
Back in post-Spectre times, Bond and Swan enjoy an Italian holiday that's cut short by bomb blasts, bridge shootouts and other attempts on 007's life — and Fukunaga is quickly two for two in the action camp. No Time to Die segues commandingly from slow-building and foreboding to fast, frenetic and breathtaking in its two big opening sequences, setting itself a high bar. At this point, the narrative hasn't even properly kicked into gear yet. That happens five years later, when Bond is alone and retired in Jamaica (in a nice nod to where author Ian Fleming wrote his Bond stories). His old CIA pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, Westworld) comes knocking, new politically appointed offsider Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen, The Many Saints of Newark) in tow, asking for the now ex-MI6 agent's help to foil the latest nefarious plan — involving a DNA-targeting virus fuelled by nanobots, of course — that's been hatched by terrorist organisation Spectre.
No Time to Die has plenty of time for other magnificent action scenes, albeit fewer than might be expected; a lengthy list of characters, both new and recognisable; and the type of beats that allow Bond ruminate over his accumulated baggage, even when a few routine inclusions also pepper the script. Spectre, the film, gave 007 enough woes from the past — and actually making him grapple with it all, rather than merely throw fists, explode watches and unleash machine-gun fire from his Aston Martin's headlights as though he doesn't have a history, gives this follow-up palpable heft and resonance. In Craig's hands, Bond has become a person first and a suave action figure second. The character still falls into the second category, unsurprisingly, because that's still the gig. But in this iteration, the franchise has evolved past the kind of flicks that gave rise to Austin Powers, Johnny English and their fellow parodies — welcomely so.
Indeed, the best sequence in the film takes a stock-standard Bond setup, gives it a firm update and offers Craig's Knives Out co-star Ana de Armas a killer introduction. There are no bikinis involved as per past series instalments, or double-entendre names. Instead, this team-up between Bond and fledgling CIA operative Paloma takes them to a Spectre party in Havana, lets her steal every second with devastating high kicks, fabulous timing and witty dialogue, and shows the fingerprints of Fleabag's Phoebe Waller-Bridge — one of No Time to Die's four co-screenwriters. Paloma definitely isn't a stereotypical 60s–90s-style Bond girl, either, and neither are Swan, Moneypenny (the returning Naomie Harris, The Third Day) and replacement 007 Nomi (Captain Marvel standout Lashana Lynch). Everyone is human here, not just Bond himself.
In a cast anchored by Craig and his blend of gravitas, pathos, sensitivity, duty and calm, there's barely a weak link. As M and Q, Ralph Fiennes (The Dig) and Ben Whishaw (Little Joe) only pop up briefly, but leave an imprint. Malek isn't a Bond baddie for the ages, yet he makes a chilly demeanour go a long way and easily one-ups Christoph Waltz (Alita: Battle Angel). So much of what makes No Time to Die such a thrill stems from Fukunaga's perceptive choices, however — with ample help from Hans Zimmer's (Wonder Woman 1984) urgent and pulsating score, plus Linus Sandgren's (an Oscar-winner for La La Land) gorgeous globe-hopping cinematography and penchant for long takes (and one particular and glorious upside-down shot). Franchise familiarity bubbles away in the film's veins, expectedly, but Fukunaga knows what to shake, stir, change and challenge, and what makes a moving, ambitious and entertaining farewell.
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