Before No Time to Die, when Casino Royale brought Daniel Craig to the role of Bond, there was a lot of trepidation. Not just because he had blonde hair but because the little-known actor wasn’t quite the classic feel of Bond. Then it was released and it was clear that this guy had something that made him Bond. Over the next three films, Craig and the folks behind Bond did the unthinkable: they turned him into an actual character and decided to develop some continuity.
No Time to Die is the culmination of that effort, pulling together Craig’s time as Bond into a cohesive whole, even if that very clearly wasn’t the plan from the get-go or, if it was, the plan changed dramatically. The movie brings back thread lines from throughout Craig’s films while attempting to still function in that sweet spot that makes a Bond movie so unique. So what does a Bond film with an actual character developed over a series of films look like and is it any good?
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No Time to Die
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Release Date: October 8, 2021 (Theatrical)
Unlike any Bond film before it, No Time to Die is functionally a direct sequel to Spectre. The film picks up a bit after the conclusion of that movie, with Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) in prison and Bond traveling the world in retirement with his new love, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). However, things turn sour and Bond is once again left alone until he’s pulled back into the spy game when someone steals a top-secret bio-weapon that M has been developing off the books. Working alongside a returning Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and eventually paired up with the new 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and Q (Ben Whishaw), Bond must stop the world-dominating plans of the evil Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) while reconnecting with Madeleine.
From that plot description, this movie sounds like any number of Bond films. There’s a big evil person with an evil base and delusions of grandeur. And, at times it is. The film is crammed full of exotic locales, stunning human beings, fast cars, gadgets, and, of course, action. But the movie’s nearly three-hour run time means there’s a lot more to unpack in it. It spends that time on Bond as a man: his inability to trust, the death he drags along with him, and the ongoing look at Craig’s Bond as a “blunt instrument” in a time when he is becoming more and more outdated. That latter part is sprinkled throughout the film as Bond is used as a stand-in for an old view of British rule while the world moves on. In short, there’s a lot to unpack here and I’ll leave it at that since this is a review and not an analysis.
The easiest statement to make about No Time to Die is that it is a good movie. It works, even if it could have been tightened up a smidge here and there from its impressively long run time. Below you are going to read a lot of words that pick it apart but above all of them is the fact that this is a fun ride from start to finish, full of high-end Bond action that’s well-directed and fun to watch. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga has a steady hand behind the camera, constructing tense action sequences and building up emotional gut punches with aplomb. A tense sequence in a stairwell takes the classic/cliche single-shot hallway fight sequence and moves it vertically, playing with action tropes but making them something new. The film isn’t quite as visually stunning or groundbreaking as Sam Mendes’s work on the previous two films but it holds its own.
The movie also deftly walks the line between classic Bond and Craig’s more grounded take, a feat that both Quantum of Solace and Spectre struggled with. Given the focus on Bond as a character, this is obviously important and the film weaves one-liners, martinis, and tuxedos together with an emotional core you wouldn’t expect. Bond is never too dour but he isn’t leaning into Roger Moore territory this time either. It’s the sarcastic emotional shield over a killer’s action and it’s sprinkled in just enough to make Bond Bond but not lose the “Craigness” of it all.
Part of that is the fact that the film is an even bigger celebration of Bond’s history than the nostalgia-laden Skyfall. There are hints and nods to previous films all over the place, but also blatantly obvious callbacks as well. The film takes liberally from Ian Flemming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, though it twists the story cleverly in fantastic directions. To this end, it also steals from the film of the same name, which just so happens to be Bond’s most human story pre-Craig. The theme from the movie is used throughout the score (as are callbacks to Vesper’s theme from Casino Royale and Skyfalls‘s music) and there are visual cues all over the place. For the Bond fan, the film is simply a litany of fantastic references worked in (though the Garden of Death from Flemming’s You Only Live Twice novel is completely wasted). There are even meta moments, commenting on the series itself, like when Safin returns to his evil base and we actually get to see it being set up by workers, poking fun at Bond’s trope of massive volcano bases springing up out of nowhere.
That all being said, the film often struggles under its own weight and the desire of the filmmakers to turn this into the epic conclusion of a five-part film series. The problem is this obviously wasn’t the plan from the start or, to be more precise, Quantum of Solace‘s failure led to a soft reboot mid-run and what we’re left with is No Time to Die attempting to tie off storylines that don’t want to connect. Even worse, the film truncates other storylines so that it can play out its own story. It is a valiant effort but often we’re watching characters who we’re supposed to feel have connections that we never really got connected to. It is hard to blame the film for this fault as it’s more the messy construct of the previous movies but the weight falls on Not Time to Die.
Sadly, what I can blame the film for is wasting another great actor in a Bond villain role. Waltz as Blofeld in Spectre was a genius turn but he wasn’t used correctly and the same can be said for Malek as the Dr. No/Blofeld hybrid Safin. The film wants to set him up as Bond’s mirror, a tragic orphan who went dark instead of turning to the light of British imperialism. It is an interesting concept but the movie is struggling to do so much other stuff that Safin gets a bit left behind. While Malek is absolutely fantastic in the role there’s not enough of it for him to make it something great.
The same can, unfortunately, be said for Bond’s female counterparts in the film. A lot was said about how Ana de Armas and Lynch were a new type of Bond
girl woman and they do both kick some major ass but it is all in the shadow of Bond himself. Lynch’s 007 is clearly a highly trained ass-kicker but as a character, we don’t get much else than someone jealous of James Bond. Meanwhile, Armas features more as a cameo in the most traditional Bond sequence in the film, poking fun at Bond’s ditzy past companions but only there for a fleeting moment. This isn’t, in and of itself, a bad thing. They both honestly work within of a film about James Bond and Armas’ scene is really quite fantastic. However, within the context of a shifting society, it’s unfortunate that the move would not pass the Bechdel test.
That said, the film is about James Bond both in terms of plot and themes. Craig is fully invested here and may deliver his best performance as Bond as he’s allowed to both play within the role and deliver far more than any actor before him. Revealing more would drop major spoilers but he is given more emotional scenery to chew than all the other Bond actors before him combined.
That’s because No Time to Die makes big, bold, clever decisions. These are decisions that remap what a Bond film can and should be. In an era that is moving further and further away from the sexist playboy, this film is almost a mea culpa by the Bond franchise. Its entire existence is not just to be a Bond film but a Bond film that shows the world has moved on from the past Bond and is in need of something new.
That’s not an easy feat at all. So while No Time to Die may have its flaws in continuity and construction it can’t be denied that it achieves its goal. This isn’t just a send-off to Daniel Craig’s Bond, but a send-off to Bond as we know him. That might sound a bit scary for fans of the franchise but as the credits finished rolling a comforting statement does come on the screen; one that has been at the end of every Bond film from the start: James Bond will return. He just might not be the same.