Film Review: Bond’s Back in “No Time To Die”

james bond 'no time to die' movie poster one sheetBased on a series of thrillers written by former spy Ian Fleming, there’s no more successful film franchise than that of James Bond. The master spy of the British MI6 service with the license to kill denoted by his double-oh identifier – 007 – he’s long been the epitome of Western masculine cultural values. The franchise has also had its ups and downs with Sean Connery, Roger More, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and, for one film, George Lazenby playing the title role. When Daniel Craig picked up the role in the 2006’s Casino Royale it was a rebirth of Bond. Tough, ruggedly handsome, and dangerous, he brought a new level of verisimilitude to our suave spy hero, notably including the splendid Skyfall, one of my favorites of the entire 26-film franchise. No Time To Die is his fifth and last outing as Bond, James Bond.

The good news is that after years of pandemic-related delays, No Time to Die is finally on its way to the big screen and it’s excellent. From the surprise opening scene to the last act of this longest of the Bond films (2 hours, 45 minutes), it masterfully weaves a new and contemporary storyline with old villains, love interests, and recurring characters from the franchise. There are also a lot of subtle nods and homages to earlier films, even to a few lines from Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’ll all make the most sense if Craig’s last Bond film, Spectre, is reasonably fresh in your memory. You’ll appreciate another subtle element if you re-watch Casino Royale too. ‘nuf said on that.

The film opens in a remote area of Norway, with a little girl and her mother threatened by an ominous masked man. The 2011 action thriller Hanna has a very similar opening sequence. That girl grows up to be an important person in Bond’s life, but it doesn’t become obvious until much later in the story. Meanwhile, Bond is retired and living in Jamaica, still alert, still in good shape, but surprisingly without a beautiful woman sharing his bed. Indeed, this modern Bond is far less of a womanizer, a man who appreciates beautiful women but no longer automatically tries to lure them into his bed.

CIA agent and old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) arrives in Jamaica, along with fellow agent Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen), asking if Bond can help find and extract Eastern European scientist Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik). It’s a job that needs to be done outside of normal channels. Bond reluctantly agrees and heads to Cuba to meet up with the beautiful CIA agent Paloma (Ana de Armas) and infiltrate a Spectre party to find Obruchev. The party goes completely sideways and Bond realizes that while Spectre head Blofefld might be in a maximum security English prison, he was still somehow involved in what transpired.

Logan (), Bond (Craig) and Leiter (xx), from "No Time To Die"
Ash (Magnussen), Bond (Craig) and Leiter (Wright), from “No Time To Die”

It’s no surprise when Bond is recalled to MI6 HQ in London for a tense meeting with M (Ralph Fiennes). Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) is also at the meeting, as is MI6 logistics expert Tanner (Rory Kinnear) and Q (Ben Whishaw). It turns out that there’s a lot more to the story than Leiter had revealed; Obruchev is a biowarfare expert and his bioweapon is now in the wild, not safely contained. Not to worry, James is on the job.

He’s soon back with prior love interest Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) on a journey through rural Italy. Except it’s impossible to avoid the reach of Spectre and its malevolent leader Ernst Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). Soon Bond’s back in the middle of chaos, car chases, and explosions. But Blofeld isn’t the only villain in the film. The shadowy Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) turns out to be just creepy enough that you’re initially unsure whether to feel sympathetic towards him or revile him as an evil genius.

As always, the production team did a terrific job with this film, from exotic locales to creepy interior spaces, fast cars, exciting chase sequences, and everything else you’d expect from a Bond movie. Q supplies Bond with some cool gadgets, but they’re modest and believable, not the over-the-top silliness of the worst Moore-era films. More importantly, there’s a lot of heart in this story, it’s far less endless comic book action and much more an action film interwoven with a thoughtful and even introspective narrative about contemporary culture, relationships, and the challenges of aging.

Bond (Craig) and X (Y), from "No Time To Die"
Bond (Craig) and Swann (Seydoux), from “No Time To Die”

No Time To Die has a lot of storyline to work with, not just the four previous Daniel Craig Bond films, but the entire history of Bond starting with the very first film in the franchise, Doctor No, back in 1962. There are questions of whether Bond will be replaced, whether MI6 will retire the 007 code name after Bond retires, and, cinematically, how to end the Craig chapter of the franchise. All are neatly, ably, and appropriately addressed in the film, with a level of gravitas and more than a nod to fan theories and concerns about the film too. Yes, there will be spoilers posted and debated online, but you’ll enjoy the film more if you go in with a knowledge of Spectre and Casino Royale but without knowing the exact No Time To Die storyline.

There are some issues of pacing in the film, however, unsurprising for a movie that’s almost 3 hours long. A few scenes dragged on a bit, but still, I never felt a single scene was unnecessary to the narrative. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga delivers a top-notch action film that serves as a nice homage to all the films that came before it while also neatly wrapping up some storylines, most importantly Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007. I really enjoyed No Time To Die quite a bit and am eager to see it again in the theater. Highly recommended.

Dad At The Movies Note: It’s tempting to say this excellent action film is appropriate for teens and even younger audiences, but it is long, it’s intense, and there are a lot of emotional story elements that might be baffling to younger viewers. No Time To Die is also violent – it’s a Bond film, after all – and there are many tense scenes, including some with a young girl in mortal peril, that could cause a child to get quite upset. Older teens? Definitely. Younger than that? Depends on your child. Maybe go see it first to assess. 

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