As someone who’s only ever seen one non-Craig 007 movie (Goldfinger), I had no horse in the race regarding whether or not a James Bond series of films should cover an ongoing narrative. All I know is that when it comes to this particular series of films, No Time To Die does an excellent job of wrapping up what it’s been building for 15 years now. At least in the last 40 minutes or so.
Through the first two acts, I found myself wondering why they decided to make one more movie in this series after how well Spectre wrapped things up (yes, I like Spectre, okay?). Spectre was cool because it brought together the villains from the previous three films under one umbrella with Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), and Bond’s decision to leave MI6 and ride off into the sunset with Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) seemed like a good bookend to his character arc. So coming back for a fifth movie almost felt like scraping the bottom of the barrel, but for what it was, I thought this film did a good job justifying its existence as a final chapter to this version of Bond.
The action in No Time To Die is predictably great and exciting. There’s a chase across a frozen lake in the first 10 minutes and an extended sequence of Bond doing awesome car and motorcycle stunts in the first 25. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga of True Detective, Maniac, and Beasts of No Nation comes in and helms his first Bond film with relative efficacy, but his strength is definitely the action. There were moments here and there where I found the plot to be too convoluted and the pacing to be too slow, but I think that’s more of a symptom of the screenplay, rather than the director.
What threw me off the most was the characterization of Bond himself. It’s difficult to put my finger on exactly how he felt different from the previous four outings, but there was something that was just off about how he was written. It was less quiet, somber, and confident and more lighthearted and fun. There’s nothing Inherently wrong with that, but it just felt dissonant from the tone of the movie and the way Bond comes across in the rest of the series.
But I think that’s enough with the negatives, because I actually really enjoyed this movie overall. Ana De Armas is a more than welcome addition to this series — she brings the type of allure you’ve come to expect from a “Bond girl,” but with an undeniable charisma and magnetism. Lashana Lynch as Nomi, the new 007, adds a fascinating mysteriousness. Rami Malek even does decent work as the villain Lyutsifer Safin (yes, it’s pronounced the way you think). And as for the returning cast, Ben Whishaw as Q is an absolute treasure and I’ll certainly miss his banter with Bond, Seydoux gives an expectedly wonderful and mysterious performance, Ralph Fiennes is dependably devious, Naomie Harris is wonderful, and Jeffrey Wright is back as Bond’s CIA buddy, Felix Leiter. And of course there’s Daniel Craig himself, who not only still can do all his stunts as a 53-year-old, but also brings the emotional punch that we know he’s capable of as an actor. It’s the perfect mix of old and new faces to let you settle in for this final chapter.
But the best part of it all is that No Time To Die ties a neat thematic bow on this iteration of James Bond. This series has never been content to be just a straight campy action franchise. It’s challenged what action movies are and what we expect from them. Bond is a damaged character and there’s a reason for his tortured, thoughtful demeanor. He doesn’t want to be the kind of killer that he is, but that’s all he can be. No Time To Die finally brings that idea to its breaking point and lets Bond face it head-on, and the results are satisfying.
It’s the reason I mentioned the effectiveness of the last 40 minutes. Until that point, I was more or less down the middle on how I thought about the movie. But with everything that happened in that final act, I was completely won over. Not only does it have excellent, brutal action; it also lets the emotion drive that action as it leads to a crescendo which you could probably predict, but it is effective nonetheless. No Time To Die not only works as a standalone story, but as the culmination of a series that was 15 years in the making and was much better than it ever had any right to be.