'No Time to Die' review: Daniel Craig waves a long goodbye to 007
Craig, Daniel Craig hangs up his tailored suit in his final James Bond film, leaving questions of where the series is headed next.
Daniel Craig makes his royal exit in "No Time to Die," a handsome if entirely too long James Bond adventure that struggles with James Bond's place in the modern world.
And just what is that place? There once was a time when there was nothing cooler than a debonair British super-spy with a license to kill. The tailored suits, the cool gadgets, the fancy cars and the colorful bad guys all helped shape this cinematic fantasy world that we'd dip our toes into every few years or so. But in 2021 — nearly 60 years and 25 films into the franchise — is James Bond still the hero we crave? Does the series need an update, or an all-out retirement?
For Craig, "No Time to Die" is a retirement party, and that retirement can't come soon enough. Craig is a suave, serious Bond, more grounded than Pierce Brosnan and less hammy than Roger Moore, and likely the best to wear the suit since Sean Connery.
But for all its GQ aesthetics, the Craig period — five films over 15 years, the longest tenure, timewise, of any Bond — has been a dour, muted one for the series. Craig never seemed too pleased with the checklist of Bond-isms that come with the job, and in "No Time to Die" when he's called on to order a drink shaken, not stirred or introduce himself last name first, first name last, he looks like his eyes are going to roll so far back into his head that they'll go permanently white. For as good as he looks in Bond's suits, he's never seemed all that comfortable in the role.
In "No Time to Die," the conversations about Bond from the outside world — about James Bond's casting, and whether or not the role is exclusive to White males — come seeping into Bond's reality. After he steps away from active duty, Bond's 007 handle is reassigned to a Black woman, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), an internal decision at MI6 and an external one for the filmmakers to drag Bond kicking and screaming into modern times. See, folks, people are listening to your tweets! In terms of narrative, it gives Craig's Bond something to push up against.
As the film opens — a dazzling car chase through the streets of Italy is part of the 25-minute pre-credits sequence — Bond is lovesick after leaving Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), whom he accuses of betraying her. He lays low for five years and then comes back to ward off a bioweapon in the form of a deadly airborne disease coded specifically to individuals' DNA; picture COVID, but weaponized, and you're on the right track. (The film was made pre-COVID, but winds up being scarily timely.)
Rami Malek plays the villain, Lyutsifer Safin, whose speech pattern is so affected and thought out by the actor that he comes off as an attention-starved theater kid, not a guy who poses any credible real world threat. Malek's line readings — and it's a role that's mostly dialogue-driven — are definitely a choice, and his Lyutsifer is bizarre, but it's hard not to chuckle whenever he is on screen.
Christoph Waltz's Blofeld is wheeled out at one point with such grandiosity and buildup that you might feel bad for not remembering what previous Bond film he was in; it was 2015's "Spectre," which I definitely had to look up. (Some sort of "previously on James Bond" refresher may have helped jog the memory of non-Bond obsessive.)
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (TV's "True Detective") stages some impressive action set pieces, especially one in a dense forest, and there's a great sequence with Ana de Armas as a bubbly CIA agent who brings some much needed levity to the film. When she and Bond stop to take a drink in the middle of a shootout, it's a reminder that these movies should be fun.
But "No Time to Die" is obsessed with being heavy and consequential, and bringing meaning to the Bond character and his actions. It all circles back to the question of what do we want from James Bond, and what should we want from James Bond. Do we want anything from James Bond? These movies definitely hold a place in our collective cinematic memories, but what is his relevance, if any, to today's landscape?
It's a good time to ask those questions. And "No Time to Die" does its job by clearing the slate for those answers to be found and for a new era to begin — when the time is right, whenever that may be.
'No Time to Die'
Rated PG-13: for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong language and some suggestive material
Running time: 163 minutes
In theaters Friday