Not the best Bond film, but arguably the best Bond.
No longer a double-O after leaving the service, James Bond (Daniel Craig) lives day to day and night to night. After being contacted by his old friend in the CIA Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), he learns a dangerous new weapon has fallen into enemy hands, but M (Ralph Fiennes) refuses to acknowledge the source of the weapon… or if it really exists at all. Former Bond acquaintance Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) learns she has a connection with Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), the thief who stole the technology, but her real worth is her sole access to MI6’s best asset, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). Operating outside an untrustworthy system, Bond must tap old friends and new adversaries to save the world again, even if it pits him against the new 007 (Lashana Lynch).
Starring in five films over fifteen years, Daniel Craig’s curtain call as licensed-to-kill James Bond 007 is nigh. The initial jokes about “James Blonde” faded quickly after the impressive Casino Royale, but Quantum of Solace was a step backwards (hamstrung by the 2007/2008 Writer’s Strike) until Skyfall made up for it. After ripping through some legal red tape, “Quantum” was properly changed out as the stand-in for Spectre it was — as well as tapping Christoph Waltz for the new Blofeld — before retconning Craig’s stint as Bond into some master plan dating all the way back to his betrayal by Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Reportedly a direct sequel to Spectre, will Daniel Craig’s final film as the British super spy live up to Skyfall or fall flatter than Quantum?
As the longest Bond film to date, No Time to Die falls into familiar plot patterns while giving Daniel Craig his best opportunity to play the title character in ways his predecessors were never given, including the very end. The action sequences, destruction, and gadgets are all here, but the intrigue falls short due to a dull Bond girl in Madeleine and a thin outline of a villain in Lyutsifer Safin. While better than Quantum and Spectre, it fails to live up to the potential of Royale and Skyfall, undermining this Bond series-within-a-series; Craig nevertheless wrings every ounce of anger and angst out of the super spy, making his portrayal an impossible act to follow.
One exception to this critique is the too-brief appearance of Ana de Armas as Paloma, an newly trained operative recruited to assist Bond during a mission to recover both the stolen technology and its chief architect. With an American accent and an eager attitude, Bond doubts her usefulness until it becomes obvious Leiter wouldn’t entrust just anyone to such a mission. In a scene almost too good for the rest of the film, it begs having de Armas either reprise her role or do what Halle Berry’s Jinx Johnson from Die Another Day was meant to do: be spun off into an American spy series parallel to James Bond. For those in the know: Paloma is the polar opposite of Ana’s character Marta sharing the screen with Daniel Craig in the excellent Knives Out.
Far from a misfire, too much of the final Craig Bond film is firmly status quo, as if to suggest the next incarnation will be less of a developing character and more of what Ian Fleming invented: a man with a boring name who gets the job done and never changes. It makes one wonder if the traditional final credit “James Bond will return” is more of a threat than a promise.
No Time to Die is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong language, some suggestive material, and Q finally learning what a “computer sandbox” is.
Three skull recommendation out of four