What defines James Bond, the longest running character in cinema history?
Is it the suits that make the man or the boundless charisma that gets him to have his way with women? Does it have to do with the gadgetry he receives from MI-6’s Q-Branch, the exotic locations he travels to or the megalomaniac villains he faces off against?
Depending on where audiences fall on this question, their mileage may vary somewhat wildly with No Time To Die, Daniel Craig’s fifth and final outing as Ian Fleming’s iconic British spy.
It’s a definitive endcap to a nearly two-decade run that began with 2006’s Casino Royale as the series wove an increasingly intricate plotline with devastating emotional impact to Bond and those left in the wake of the trail he made globetrotting for queen and country.
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga cements Craig’s legacy as a premiere, top-shelf Bond with a final chapter that a wonderful job of capping off the good and bad of the previous four films.
Every aspect that could be left open-ended is clearly wrapped up in a neat bow riddled with bullet holes, tears and blood, while delivering on some classic Bond tropes that make No Time To Die reminiscent of early 007 formulaic plotlines.
The film largely takes place five years following the events of Spectre, with Bond in retirement on a beach in Jamaica until old friend and CIA operative Felix Leiter convinces 007 to return to action in search of a missing MI-6 scientist working on a nano-technology that could have devasting global impact. Along the way, Bond encounters the remnants of the Spectre organization with a blood vendetta against him, his former flame Dr. Madeleine Swann and a new foe shrouded in mystery and grudges of his own to bear.
In his final turn as the premiere spy, Craig turns in his most complicated, conflicted and poignant work as Bond. It rivals his turn in Skyfall as one of the best in the entire franchise as Craig carries the emotional weight of constant and perpetual loss around Bond. The five-film series has deconstructed the 007 character than any arc or actor has in the past and the burden has given the ability for Craig to find a depth to the character that bears out magnificently in the final moments of No Time To Die.
For much of the film, it’s a heavier drama that focuses on Bond coming to terms with himself in his retirement while the world changes around him and watching Craig grapple with the finality of moments as they occur is exceptionally special.
His chemistry with Léa Seydoux, who returns from Spectre as Bond’s love interest Madeleine Swann, is somewhat rocky at best, though the screenplay does a much better job of fleshing out her backstory in this installment and allowing Seydoux to find genuine emotion and character motivation to play with.
Her best work, ironically, comes in scenes without Craig where Seydoux is able to wrestle with Madeleine’s demons head on. One striking moment that truly showcases the acting quality that comes out in large segments of No Time To Die is in Swann’s office where she is confronted unexpectedly and directly by her own childhood trauma in a way that alters her performance and sets in motion the remainder of the film in a terrific way.
Academy Award winner Rami Malek imposes an often terrifying, methodical gravitas as poison merchant of sorts Lyutsifer Safin. There’s a pace and control to Malek’s line delivery that exudes a brooding malicious streak bubbling just underneath the surface and highlights just how cunningly smart Safin is in order to manipulate situations to his advantage. Safin becomes one of Bond’s most formidable foes not by physical force, but through psychological warfare.
Though his time opposite Craig in the same scene is rather limited by Bond franchise standards, the impact of their moments together is monumental in the magnitude of the impact on the series, and more importantly, as stand-alone scenes where two terrific actors can play and make the most of some of the best written parts of No Time To Die.
Fukunaga approaches the unenviable burden of summing up the Craig 007 story with an emphasis on creating visually engaging, character driven moments that allow the actors freedom to experiment and create on their own terms, but also have a dynamic energy that keeps audience engagement high.
No Time To Die is the longest of any film in the franchise, which speaks to how much Fukunaga as well as producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson aim to fully close the chapter on Craig’s tenure as 007. While some could rightfully argue that the nearly three hour running time is excessive, the film rarely drags once it gets its footing and audiences actively engaged in the plot shouldn’t feel any pull to check their watch.
Cinematographer Linus Sandgren, who won an Academy Award for his work on La La Land, gives No Time To Die a vibrant palette of colors that come in stark contrast to mood driven visuals from Roger Deakins in Skyfall and Hoyte van Hoytema in Spectre. Much of the look of the film has a distinctly modern interpretation of the visual style from early Sean Connery films like Dr. No and Thunderball thanks to the sharp eye of Sandgren focusing on warmer colors to give No Time To Die an exotic feel.
Sandgren captures both the extravagant locales and intimidate moments with such precision that they truly need to be experienced on the biggest screen possible and many action sequences were designed and are best in the massively immersive IMAX format.
The 25th entry in the Bond franchise features some magnificent and thrilling action sequences from a wild getaway chase in a remote Italian village with 007’s signature Aston Martin DB5 to a sexy and inventive shootout in Cuba alongside Ana de Armas who doesn’t get nearly enough screen-time as her character deserves.
The final act of No Time To Die blends weighty drama with intense action well and all across a large compound that production designer Mark Tildseley and his team make so expansive that it adds to the grandiose nature of Bond villain lairs while also keeping with recent tradition of grounding them within a larger realm of believability.
Billie Eilish’s melancholic title track perfectly sets the stage for what’s to come over the next two-plus hours. With lyrics that capture the impact of the opening preamble, Eilish’s mix of light airy whispers and stronger punches of tone make for an Oscar-worthy song that actually resonates over the course of No Time To Die.
It’s far too early to determine where exactly No Time To Die fits in the larger scale of the James Bond legacy, although it would be hard to see a way another film could do a better job of showcasing Daniel Craig’s immense talent and care for the part as well as create edge-of-your-seat thrills.
It’s not Casino Royale or Skyfall, but No Time To Die sits comfortably on a tier or even half-tier below those masterful films and is definitely worth the time and effort to watch the conclusion to this era of James Bond on the biggest screen possible.