“James Bond will return” reads the end credits of every movie in the franchise, but that doesn’t stop “No Time To Die” from feeling like a finale. It is, of course, the last film to feature Daniel Craig (“Knives Out”) as 007, so there was a pressing need to wrap up the character arcs that have carried the movies since “Casino Royale.” But beyond that, every Bond film since “Skyfall” has had to reckon with the idea of Craig aging and ultimately being replaced.
These overarching themes have given the Craig era the chance to do more direct sequels than any previous iteration, but it also holds the films back in some respects. For example, by tying in quite a bit from the previous film “Spectre,” “No Time to Die” demands that you remember a very forgettable plot point from 2015 and recognize a number of the installation’s characters with no refresher. The opening struggles to create tension while wrapping up these leftover threads, making it difficult for the film to get the audience to care about these straggling characters. Several problems with the film result from its attempts to tie back to the other Craig films, which wasn’t necessary in the first place.
Other issues are out of the film’s control. The cinematography has taken a relative step back, but this is unsurprising since two-time Oscar winner Roger Deakins (“1917”) shot “Skyfall.” It’s gone back to a more grainy, handheld approach that harkens back to Craig’s first two films, and it’s not a look that produces particularly pleasing images.
The plot also suffers due to issues that the writers could not have expected. In an unfortunate twist of irony, the villain’s main plot revolves around using a weaponized virus to start mini-pandemics in targeted groups. Yikes! It’s unclear how much of that aspect could have been edited since the film was pushed back in March 2020, though it does seem as if several details of the evil plan were skimmed over to minimize tactlessness when possible.
Most of the new stuff, however, works well in its own right. The action scenes are thrilling as usual, with plenty of fun vehicular chases, gunplay and hand-to-hand combat sequences. The highlight of these moments doesn’t even include Bond — the opening sequence, which features Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”) trying to murder a young Madeleine (Coline Defaud, debut), is incredibly effective at building tension and feels straight out of a slasher film. It also sets up character dynamics that pay off fairly well late in the third act.
Craig’s portrayal of James Bond remains noteworthy. Despite mentioning he would rather die than return to the role after “Spectre,” it always feels like he is giving his best effort at playing the character. He is suave and stoic, but he also shows a vulnerability that we don’t see from Bond very often. It’s as effective as M’s death at the end of “Skyfall,” and it provides a nice arc for the character after his more closed-off reaction to the Vesper’s death in “Casino Royale.”
The film’s best moments include new supporting characters. Ana de Armas (“Knives Out”) teams up with Craig when she pops up in the first half to help Bond take out Spectre agents. She isn’t in the film for long, but she brings a lot of energy to her character and she makes you want to see more of the dynamic between her and Bond.
But the most interesting aspect of the film by far is Lashana Lynch (“Captain Marvel”) as Nomi. She has taken over the 007 mantle for Bond in his absence, and the rivalry between the two characters adds a compelling personal conflict that amplifies the themes the film tackles. It will be interesting to see if this film was a test run for giving Lynch the 007 role permanently in future installments of this franchise — though Daniel Craig indicates creating a new character might be the path forward.
Ultimately, “No Time To Die” gives Daniel Craig a nice sendoff. A bold narrative decision at the end of the film feels like a fitting and emotionally impactful ending. Admittedly, it isn’t the best of the Craig films, but it sticks a solid landing as far as finales go, wrapping up this era of Bond in a satisfying way.
Daily Arts Writer Mitchel Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.