Daniel Craig has been James Bond to the public for 15 years. He therefore ties with Roger Moore as the longest serving bond, and yet where Moore managed 8 outings as double O, Craig has only managed five. The seven year wait for his final film was made all the more interminable by the several covid-inflicted delays to the release date. This came after the disappointment of Spectre, which failed to capitalise on the wave of excitement stoked by Craig’s (and perhaps Bond’s) best film, Skyfall. So does this long-awaited final film end Craig’s tenure on a high note or with another let down?
A key feature of all great bond movies is a powerhouse opening sequence, and No Time to Die certainly delivers. After a bravura sequence of tension that plays like a cross between a Giallo film and a scandi noir, we catch up with Bond (Daniel Craig) and Madeliene Swann (Lea Seydoux) enjoying retirement. However, as usual, his violent past is not far behind him. The resulting action scene is not only viscerally exciting but also far more emotionally involving that previous similar sequences. Bond becomes despondent, angry, even despairing, and his emotions fuel the action. The action feels involved in the drama of the film, not like a divergence from it. We segue into a referential and gorgeous titles sequence featuring Billie Eilish’s morose and moving theme song.
With such a powerful opening twenty minutes, one might reasonably wonder if the film can possibly keep up this high standard throughout it’s notoriously lengthy runtime. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite. There are some astounding sequences and very rewarding risks taken throughout the film. Highlights include a charming visit to Qs house, the action sequence in Cuba, a subdued gunfight in the woods, and of course a bold, memorable and fitting climax. But the narrative can feel perfunctory, the action repetitive and the drama slight. It doesn’t have the clarity or drive of Skyfall, nor the style. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography is often gorgeous and occasionally very memorable, but he’s no Deakins.
Craig’s final performance as Bond captures everything that made him special in the role. He’s humorous, suave, and quietly expressive in his gaze. He articulates over a decade of heartache and pain whilst still exuding the ruthlessness that made him the harder-edged Bond needed for the 21st Century. He’s ably supported by returning cast Ben Whishaw who takes full ownership of his role as Q, Ralph Fiennes who’s looking a little absent as M and Naomie Harris as the charming but underutilised Moneypenny. Jeffrey Wright makes a welcome return whilst Christoph Waltz is still tragically awkward in what should have been perfect casting as Blofield. Lea Seydoux brings humility and strength to a role that in lesser hands could easily be a simple damsel in distress. It’s a fraction of what she is capable of, but is more than the role could have hoped for.
But it’s the new cast that really shine. Anna de Armas is very briefly present as a young intelligence officer with an upbeat attitude the amusingly counterbalances her efficient lethality. Lashana Lynch is a powerhouse as the new 007. She’s funny, she’s charming, and she looks convincing when she fights. She makes sense as Bond’s replacement in MI6, both a continuation and a modernisation, though the script could have made her a little more effective in the story. Finally there is Rami Malek as the villain of the film. His cold and calculated demanour recalls the very first official Bond Villain, Joseph Wiseman’s Dr No. Malek is sufficiently menacing but the idea of a bond parallel is a bit over trite now, and makes one long for the fat megalomaniacs of the past. At least we get a secret island base.
Much as been made of this being the “woke” bond movie which raised all sorts of expectations and curiosity. In fact the progressive credentials of the film illustrate how ludicrously little some viewers are willing to tolerate in the move towards progressiveness. There’s no sequence where Bond is sat down and lectured on consent, there’s no lengthy debate on trans rights or how affirmative action may be necessary to challenge systemic inequality. No, there’s a black woman in it. And another woman refuses his advances and he accepts no for an answer. That’s it. That’s the high watermark of progressive bond. This is not to critique the film at all, which does feature some very engaging female, gay and ethnic minority characters and visibility is very important. But the fact that this film would stoke any kind of controversy is absurd.
And so another James Bond takes his last stroll across the screen framed by a gun barrel. We’re to receive no news on Craig’s successor until the new year, allowing audiences to perhaps reflect on Craig’s tenure. Three of the five bond films he has been involved in have good cause to be included amongst the best, and he has good reason to feel proud of his contributions to the character. Craig’s Bond has been far more vulnerable and unpredictable than his predecessors. Whomever takes over the roll shall have a hard time replicating his charm, humour and ferocity. No Time To Die is a fitting end for one of the best to take the role.