Having hung up his 00 status to start a new life with Madeleine Swann, No Time To Die starts with an old friend pulling Bond back onto the world stage for one last mission. Bond is back, and his timing is impeccable.
No longer on Her Majesty’s secret service, but still looking over his shoulder, No Time To Die picks up right where Spectre left off. On a Mediterranean honeymoon of sorts with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), with the only thing stopping Bond from permanently hanging up his licence to kill being some long-standing emotional baggage.
Despite driving off into the sunset with the woman of his dreams at the end of Spectre, it’s clear from the get go that Bond is still yet to come to terms with his past. The strongest outings for Daniel Craig’s Bond have been those heavy with introspection. So it’s a good sign that No Time To Die, the fifth and final mission in Craig’s tenure, starts off with the burning of secrets written on paper—hundreds of them fluttering through the air as part of a local ceremony.
Retirement is a poor fit for Bond. As his successor Nomi (Lashana Lynch), the new 007 on the block, puts it: he has time to kill, but nothing to live for. This all changes when purpose presents itself through an old friend—Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), perhaps best remembered as the CIA operative seen “bleeding chips” in the Casino Royale. The intel isn’t exactly novel; some bad guys have stolen some bad tech. But then again, that’s all it takes for us to be whisked away with Bond ready to save the world yet again.
The set up may not sound particularly inspired, but director Cary Joji Fukunaga, who took over following the departure of Danny Boyle, has injected the film with stakes that feel staggeringly high. Bond films tend to start off strong with a bombastic set piece, but Fukunaga opts to kick things off with a more restrained opening. Somewhat betraying the urgency of the title, No Time To Die takes it’s time ratcheting up the tension, but is never slow. Instead the film is quite possibly the best paced of all the Craig era films. Each scene is thoroughly engrossing and everything builds to a show stopping finish.
In pleasing contrast to Spectre, the villains here feel ruthless and genuinely destructive. Their motives are loose but their aim is precise. Interestingly, for all their menace, the antagonists also go some way to reviving the campiness of the franchise (expect a lot of hammy eastern European accents).
Whilst the Craig era began with brutal violence inspired very much by the Bourne franchise, the majority of the action in No Time To Die is delivered through spectacular set pieces. This is just as well, because Bond is now decked out with an entire arsenal of gadgets. There’s no denying that this is the most fun Bond has been in a long time. Lashana Lynch as Nomi adds a cat and mouse dynamic to much of the action. Her and Bond are very much on the same side but with subtly different agendas which makes every encounter between the two wonderfully unpredictable. Elsewhere, Ana de Armas shines in a brief but unforgettable sequence as a CIA operative, dressed to kill in every sense of the word.
It’s unsurprising that the women bring so much to the table this time—bringing in Phoebe Waller Bridge late on to touch up the script has had a marked effect. On reflection however, the empowerment is only skin deep. Whilst the women get a lot more to do they don’t exactly have more depth. This Bond is far from progressive, not least because it doubles down on the franchise’s tendency to give its villains facial disfigurements. Rami Malek, with his acid burned complexion, gives us a sinister if somewhat reductive villain in Safin. But surprisingly it is Christoph Waltz returning as Blofeld who steals the show, thankfully being given more room to unnerve here than he was in his previous outing.
But the focus of the Bond franchise has always been, well, Bond. With this being Craig’s final film in the role you’d be right to guess that this film takes one last deep plunge into what makes this character tick. As usual, Craig brings charisma and complexity to Bond, but this time he also imbues the character with an emotional weight rivaling that of his first outing in Casino Royale.
Rich in both action and emotion, No Time To Die is a fitting swansong for Daniel Craig which brilliantly highlights the complexity he brought to Bond. Craig exits the franchise in a similar manner to how he entered it—on a soaring high.
Words by Jake Abatan
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