After something of a mixed bag of films in the role, Daniel Craig bows out from his tenure as James Bond 007 in No Time to Die. Talented director Cary Joji Fukunaga brings together 15 years of storytelling into what is mostly a satisfying and worthwhile conclusion to the arc that began in 2006’s Casino Royale – while acknowledging the franchise at large as well.
After a brief glimpse into Madeline Swan’s past, we’re treated to a few minutes of her and James living out the life they want with each other, in a beautiful Italian coastal village. After we’ve seen Bond go through the ringer, emotionally and physically, it’s nice to see this version of the character doing something rarely seen – enjoying himself. However, Fukunaga knows the audience didn’t come to see Madeline and James: A Love Story (or at least, that’s not all they’ve come to see), and this bliss is rudely interrupted by an explosion and Bond being subsequently betrayed by his local contact. A chase ensues, during which Bond is told Swan is a “daughter of Spectre” – and given his fraught history with women and trust, this is enough for him to walk away.
This opens Craig’s fifth outing as the iconic spy, and what unfolds is one of the best from this era of the character. We pick up with Bond retired in Jamaica, until he is approached by his old pal Felix Leiter – and has his very own Al Pacino “just when I thought I was out” moment – and is drawn back somewhat reluctantly into the world of international espionage. He is also approached by MI6’s new 007, who masquerades as a local until they get back to Bond’s place, where she issues a simple warning: stay out of her way, or she’ll shoot him in the knee (the one that works). The film draws on the continuity established by the last four films (I would suggest a rewatch before going to see this) and builds on it, wrapping up many of the loose plot threads in a somewhat brusque but mostly satisfying manner.
Blending the New and the Familiar
The challenge for those behind the camera in creating a Bond story for the 21st century has been striking a balance between the mythology that surrounds a character who has been a cinematic staple for nearly 60 years, with the demands of a modern audience. Fans of the franchise are very protective of the image of Bond, and the up and down responses to each film with Craig is a clear indicator that not everyone has the right idea. Even a filmmaker as accomplished as Sam Mendes – who made one of the most well-regarded films in the franchise, Skyfall – arguably stumbled with the next outing, Spectre.
It is in finding this balance that newcomer Fukunaga really excels. Balancing a four-film continuity, a near-60 year legacy, and a new narrative including the introduction of a villain played by a recent Oscar-winner seems like an impossible task – but Fukunaga seems to pull it off with ease. This attitude is reflected in the overall tone of the piece – a lot of complaints about Craig’s time in the role have revolved around his lack of humour, but Craig gets the chance to have some genuinely funny moments. A highlight of proceedings is the mission to Cuba, where he meets Paloma (Ana de Armas) who nearly walks away with the whole film. Her plucky, newly-minted operative provides a great foil for Bond’s cynicism and world-weariness. Similarly, the aforementioned new 007 – Lashana Lynch – provides a different sort of challenge for Bond.
A Fitting Send-Off
The film is by no means perfect. At over 2 and a half hours, it does feel fairly long and noticeably sags during the second act. A plot involving Spectre is a novel opportunity to bring back Christoph Waltz and to further tie up some loose ends in regards to plot but overall feels unnecessary. And while some of the newcomers shine, unfortunately, Rami Malek’s villain feels underdeveloped. His initial motivations are clearly stated, but his later behaviour feels largely tacked on and necessitated by his status as a “Bond villain”. Also, the “legacy” characters that have been gradually introduced in the Craig era – Moneypenny and Q particularly – are also given a bit of short shrift in the context of the film.
These gripes aside though, No Time to Die is a beautifully shot, well-written end to the Craig era of Bond films. Of particular note is the beautiful score. This is legendary composer Hans Zimmer’s first foray into Bond, but given his pedigree, it feels like a natural fit. This coupled with great performances from newcomers and established characters alike – anchored by the central pair of Craig and Lea Seydoux – make this one of the most intimate, heartfelt outings for the character, while also making plenty of room for the kind of jaw-dropping, impressive action spectacle the franchise is known for. I think the keyword here is balance. Fukunaga has made probably the most well-balanced film of the franchise’s modern era, if not of the franchise as a whole.
Watch the trailer here:
No Time to Die is currently playing in theatres.