Super spy James Bond (Daniel Craig) hunts down a vengeful villian obsessed with destroying the world in No Time To Die.
Craig returns for his fifth and final turn as the world’s most iconic British agent. His tenure in the role started out with 2006’s unforgettable action-packed thriller Casino Royale. The next three films in the series never came close to matching the raw power, impact or slickness of the original entry.
Expectations for his final turn in the role might have been lessened if not for the film’s release being interrupted by our seemingly ever-present pandemic. No Time To Die was completed and ready to go just as the industry — and the world — shut down for roughly 18 months. The delay only served to raise the clamor over what became of the tuxedo-wearing, gun-toting, martini-drinking operative.
This time around, Bond’s enjoying the carefree existence of self-imposed retirement until he’s tracked down by his longtime CIA buddy Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). Leiter cajoles him into joining their search for a madman with ties to Bond’s old nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). Their pursuit catapults Bond into an unexpected confrontation with his own past and the hardest choices that he’s ever faced.
You know from the very start that this Bond film is unlike any other, at least of those films starring Craig. The opening scene is decidedly dark and surprisingly somber. Gone is the heart-pounding opening of Herculean heroics etched into the James Bond back catalog. This is something else entirely. Bond is clearly older and steadfastly ready to leave his past behind. He has little care for cute one-liners or pithy remarks — at least for the time being.
This shift in tone unfortunately doesn’t translate into a winning approach for the film’s first 90 minutes. It plods along at a pedestrian pace, trying to woo you with a few over-the-top, poorly conceived stunts now and again. The struggles on screen are quickly overcome by the off-screen struggles of too many writers trying to drag their hero in different directions at the same time. Then, like a passing storm on a summer day, everything changes for the better. A new, tighter plot takes hold, bringing with it lush, vibrant sets; more realistic action; and a pace that would challenge the fastest Bond vehicles to keep up.
There’s an unforgettable sequence in the heart of the creepiest forest filmed since the one into which Dorothy ventured in The Wizard of Oz. The film’s final act instantly reminds you of the franchise’s very first film, Dr. No. The performances include several standouts, including Craig, Léa Seydoux as Bond’s main squeeze, Ana de Armas as a kick-ass agent, Waltz doing his best Hannibal Lecter impersonation and a chillingly cool villain in the form of Rami Malek.
The film does have to overcome several unforced errors, such as the aforementioned initial pacing and ludicrous early stunt work. You’re also subjected to countless head-slapping moments due to some lazy writing, and of course, there’s the unnecessary distraction of the bad guys. The people in charge of this franchise seem to think that every villain has to be saddled with some sort of major physical impediment, lest you fail to recognize their evil without it.
Even so, the tension of the final act is superb, but it also ushers in something else that I never expected to experience in a Bond film — tears. The bumps along the way quickly disappear in the rearview mirror, leaving you alone to enjoy the rest of the ride. What a ride.
Daniel Craig came into the Bond series with a bang, and he leaves it with an even bigger bang.