A year and a half after it as originally scheduled to open, Daniel Craig’s final outing as James Bond is finally hitting theaters, and it marks my first written review in that much time. And in the interest of full disclosure, my mental and emotional state as a immunocompromised father of two boys too young to be vaccinated affected how I viewed the film. Simply put, I’m not in the ideal frame of mind for suspense thrillers these days, even though in the before time that was one of my favorite genres. As such, the palpable sense of tension director Cary Joji Fukunaga brings to this 007 adventure wasn’t always enjoyable to me, though I certainly admired the skill with which that feeling was created.
The story picks up where 2015’s “Spectre” left off, with Bond having retired from Her Majesty’s Secret Service and taken on off in the trademark Aston-Martin with the lovely Dr. Madeeline Swann (Lea Seydoux). Something is getting in the way of their happiness, but since this is Daniel Craig and not one of his predecessors, it’s not Bond’s wandering eye, it’s the trauma and baggage they both have. Eventually, events conspire to bring Bond back out of retirement and working with both the CIA (in the form of Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter, along with newcomers Ana De Armas and Billy Magnusson) and MI6 (in the form of Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomi Harris as Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as Q and newcomer Lashana Lynch.).
Director Fukunaga can’t quite match the visual and technical skill of immediate predecessor Sam Mendes, but as mentioned above, he’s very successful at ratcheting up the tension, and he also succeeds at making this a particularly character oriented entry. He’s able to do this because Craig may well be the best all-around actor ever to play the world’s most famous spy, and here he really cements to me that he’s in a class by himself with the depth he brought to the role. Frankly, it’s hard for me to care much who replaces him. Where most of the actors who played 007 have largely assumed a persona, Craig’s Bond is a full-blooded character. The edition of Phoebe Waller-Bridge to the list of screenwriters has not only lead to some clever dialogue, it’s helped to craft a fitting end to the character arc Craig has been playing out since 2006. Much like Christian Bale’s Batman, Craig’s Bond is a unique incarnation of the character that exists in his own continuity, walled off from the rest of the franchise. And yet the filmmakers here also expertly bring elements of some of the classic films that give it extra resonance.
The supporting cast is mostly very strong, with Ana De Armas standing out in far too brief an appearance. If there was anyone who underwhelmed me it was the villains. I’m still ambivalent about the version of Blofeld (Christoph Walz), though I was glad to see the character brought back and given some closure. And as much as some people will hate me for this, I’m not sold on Rami Malek at this point. He’s certainly a perfectly cromulent actor, but I have yet to love him in anything (though I concede that this and “Bohemian Rhapsody” may be the only things I’ve seen him in.). For my money Craig’s Bond never found another adversary to match Javier Bardem.
Despite being overly long, “No Time To Die” is a worthy finale to Daniel Craig’s tenure. It’s exciting, intense, and somewhat surprisingly emotional in places. It’s worth the masked trip to the theater if you feel safe going.
-Reviewed by Paul Gibbs