No Time to Die not only marks a milestone as the 25th film in the series but it’s also not afraid to take some twists, turns and, yes, risks in a long-delayed entertainment that sees James Bond not only out to save the world from evil forces again but perhaps, amid a pandemic, the theatrical exhibition business itself.
It has been six long years since we saw Agent 007 on the big screen. In 2015’s Spectre, Bond was last seen driving away in his Aston Martin DB5 in Italy with new love Madeleine Swann.
Since then, the world has survived the Trump presidency, if not Trump himself, and the passing of two immortal Bonds — Roger Moore and Sean Connery — marking the end of two distinct eras of the nearly 60-year-old Bond screen legacy.
And now, after pandemic-related release delays totaling a year and a half, another Bond era also comes sadly to an end. No Time to Die marks Craig’s fifth and final turn as Ian Fleming’s suave and never-stirred secret agent. In a highly successful 15-year run, Craig has taken the series on its most serious and humane ride, an especially emotional roller coaster for the usually unflappable spy we first encountered in 1962, when Connery starred in Dr. No. This edition expands on all that and leaves us wanting more, but if you wait — as all Bond fans know you should — until the very last image on the screen, four special words give us the promise that there is more to come.
Getting there, however, will put you through the ringer. With Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and Spectre, there have been shared themes in the Craig 007 era, particularly trust, betrayal, secrets, lies and a distinct connection, or through line, among all of those films. In other words, Craig’s arc is not just the usual previous pattern of stand-alone stories. And let me assure you, this is definitely not a stand-alone, even if it means Craig has left the building.
No Time to Die — which, at 2 hours and 43 minutes has the longest running time of any of the 24 films that preceded it — also brings us back to Bond’s relationship with Madeleine, played again by Lea Seydoux. Her reappearance marks the first time a Bond love interest has actually returned, believe it or not.
How all this will be received is to be seen, as this is perhaps the most unique and uncertain environment in which any Bond film has ever been launched. The importance of the legendary British character is undeniable in his home country as witnessed by the fact that no less than two future kings of England attended the royal premiere in London on Tuesday night.
That this longest-running franchise in movie history is still going strong is a miracle in itself, but after seeing the latest edition, screened simultaneously for critics in 20 countries around the globe (a studio exec sitting in back of me at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre today said they all had a code, “The Lion Is Roaring,” to give the cue to start the movie), I have to say much of the credit for keeping it vital has to go to Craig, who truly humanized James Bond, gave him more complexity than he ever had and brought him firmly into a new century.
With the deaths of Connery and Moore, there is a different kind of profound loss we might be feeling as Craig’s Bond heads for the exit and the series moves into brand-new territory with an as-yet-unknown choice taking up the mantle of one of the most iconic screen characters of all time. This review will be as spoiler-free as I can make it because No Time to Die deserves to be seen by fresh eyes. And as Craig said in a taped video at the film’s start, it should be seen on the biggest screen possible because that is where it was made to be seen.
Interestingly, this is the first 007 film to be directed by an American, Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective), and even that milestone would not have happened had producers and would-be director Danny Boyle not parted ways on plans for the Oscar winner to steer the course of the 25th. Fukunaga does a terrific job managing the action, a compelling love story, as well as a tip of the hat to tradition and the time honored moments we love in Bond movies.
Story-wise, Fukunaga has collaborated with Bond film veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who have written all of the Craig Bonds — they have had seven times at bat overall in the series. And with her recent successes, the team invited Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Fleabag and Killing Eve fame to add her own unique touches, a welcome female voice in the proceedings that has an impact onscreen.
As I said, this film starts just about where the last one ended as we reunite with Bond and Madeleine in the hilltop city of Matera in southern Italy. Just before we get there, we see a terrifying flashback sequence involving Madeleine as a young girl, the meaning of which becomes clear later in the picture.
As is customary, the idyllic moments Bond and his love are sharing soon take a turn and devilish forces put 007 in danger as a thrilling motorcycle chase morphs into an Aston Martin chase and questions of trust come into play. Soon Bond puts Madeleine on a train, never to see her again. Roll opening credits, which come at the 25-minute point.
Cut to five years later, and there is some sort of kidnapping in a London lab involving a Russian scientist who has some material others clearly want.
Bond finally has retired, left the service and is living la vida loca in his beloved Jamaica. (It’s a perfect choice for Craig’s last fling as Bond since the location also was used memorably in Connery’s first film, Dr. No, as well as Moore’s first, 1973’s Live and Let Die and was the locale where Fleming penned all the novels). But as you might imagine, his bliss is short-lived.
CIA agent and longtime buddy Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) shows up and, as with Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III, drags Bond back into action. The superspy heads to Cuba to rescue the scientist, but the mission turns out to be a bit more complicated than he first thought. And obviously there is a new villain to stir the pot.
Safin, played to the brutal hilt by Rami Malek, intriguingly has his own past experiences with Madeleine, a plot device that adds a layer or two to the normal relationship Bond has with his villains. It also gives Seydoux more to play with than many leading ladies in the series ever got, though no one is about to forget the late Vesper Lynde from Casino Royale, especially Bond. And don’t fear, his seemingly-immortal nemesis Blofeld is back, with Christoph Waltz (last seen behind bars) using his wits and eye-catching talents to make trouble from inside prison. Always fun to have that guy around.
Among the familiar faces, Ralph Fiennes gets a bit more to do as M (though I still deeply miss Dame Judi Dench in the role — at least there is a brief painting of her to be seen). Naomie Harris continues to capably play his right hand, Moneypenny, with a little more urgency than normal and importance, as women in No Time to Die serve as much more than eye candy. You can put new cast member Lashana Lynch’s Nomi in that category as well.
Lynch plays the scrappy and much-younger M16 agent Bond first meets in Jamaica. And she is very fun to have around, especially when she reveals that she has taken on the 007 moniker since Bond retired.
Ben Whishaw’s gadget guy, Q, is back and we get to know him — and his hairless cat — on his home turf for a change.
Back as Tanner in his fourth Bond film is Rory Kinnear, who provides needed support in his mostly-brief onscreen moments.
Among other new cast members, Dali Benssalah’s lethal Primo, henchman to Safin, is the Oddjob of the bunch. Ana De Armas gets to reunite with her Knives Out co-star Craig as Paloma, a feisty CIA agent he encounters in Cuba. Billy Magnussen turns up accompanying Leiter to Jamaica as Logan Ash, a guy who plays it by the book, or so it seems. David Dencik is the Russian scientist Valdo. And of course among the stars of any Bond film are the far-flung locations, this time including the aforementioned Jamaica, Norway, Italy and London.
Fukunaga stages some fine chases, explosions, stunts and a big, hourlong finale on Safin’s isolated island fortress, but there is as much emphasis on the human beings here, their conflicts and complications and complexities, as there is on the fast-moving thrills.
Hans Zimmer gets his first go-round at composing a Bondian music score, and John Barry must be smiling from beyond at the nifty homage to his work from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Its memorable song, sung by Louis Armstrong, figures in this story nicely.
The title song here, another must-have “star” of any Bond film, is “No Time to Die,” sung by Billie Eilish, but you knew that since she and brother and co-writer Finneas promoted it well over a year ago with a music video when they thought the film was coming out then. It is properly haunting, and Eilish has the perfect kind of voice for a Bond film vocal.
The film’s huge global rollout begins on Thursday, when it opens in the UK. It debuts through MGM and UAR on October 8 (at last!) in the U.S. Of course, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson produced.
To this Bond fan, No Time to Die holds a special place in the canon. See it in a theater.
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