One of the many tropes that feels familiar from many a Bond film is the moment a villian settles back in a large armchair whilst stroking a fluffy white cat and utters the legend: “Mr Bond, we’ve been expecting you.”
I only this bring up because thanks to COVID and around 18 months of date changes, it seems like we’ve been expecting Mr. Bond for bloody ages which has only made anticipation for this, Daniel Craig’s curtain call as Ian Fleming’s gentleman spy, reach an all time high.
And yet, while Craig’s more damaged and complicated iteration of the endearing action legend has been hailed as one comparable to that of Sean Connery, you can’t help but feel that for his final adventure (and Bond’s 25th), that multiple obstacles have to be navigated to secure that all-important big finish. Spectre, despite it’s killer opening sequence, was admittedly quite a slog and if we’re being honest, Craig’s four film tally pretty much stands at 50% instant classic to 50% meh, so No Time To Die technically has it all to play for.
Oddly surprised that his attempted retirement with psychiatrist Madeleine Swann is interrupted by an explosive assassination attempt and a hail of bullets, Bond find what little trust he has has evaporated like water on a hot plate and so the former spy fors what he does best – big off to Jamacia to booze his way off the grid.
However, of the grid doesn’t mean much to old CIA buddy Felix Leiter and he approaches the one time 007 to aid him for a mission in Cuba to which James begrudgingly agrees. During said mission, James has an awkward run in with his replacement at MI6, Nomi, who reveals that she’s been assigned the 007 number (and you thought turning up at a party with the same outfit was bad…), but even more disturbingly, the whole thing seems to be a set up by incarcerated SPECTRE boss Blofeld meant as another attempted assassination attempt of his tux-wearing half-brother.
Things don’t go to plan, however, and the bungled hit not only brings to light a controversial and terrifying new method to wipe out your foes, but it introduces us to its wielder; the poison-scarred Safin, a man who has links to the past of Bond’s old flame, Madeleine.
The time has come for Bond to finally wade through her secrets to find out exactly what lies in her past as a daughter to a SPECTRE lieutenant to unravel a plot that connects him, Madeleine, Blofeld and MI6 that could have seismic repercussions for the rest of the world. However, further repercussions come to light that shine a light on the secret agent’s future, something that might finally do something to change the cynical outlook of a man who has chosen to abandon trust the way some of us abandons carbs…
The good news is that Craig’s Bond run has broken that alternating yay/nay streak that’s left his historic run a little patchy – but it comes at a cost that’ll most likely be as divisive as any Bond film that’s ever come before. However, what’s interesting about No Time To Die is that the filmmakers, led by True Detective director Cary Joji Fukunaga, blatantly seem to know it and even leans into the fact with numerous references to that other former-pariah of the Bond cannon, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
The result is a capper to Craig’s service to Queen and country that frustrates and delights in equal measure that plays far better if you think of it more of an overlong epilogue rather than a big, blustering, Bondian blowout. Another curious fact is that the moments that fail to satisfy the most are the parts that steer closest to the established franchise order; Craig’s movies have separated themselves by not featuring a huge, end-of-the-world plot, instead having Bond break the metaphorical orbital bone of secret societies, vengeful hackers and sinister bankers and this move into super villainy isn’t helped much by the fact that Remi Malek’s psycho botanist, Safin, is honestly a bit of a non-starter, especially when compared to Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre or Javier Bardem’s Silva. Additionally, Léa Seydoux’s romantic lead still feels under served while basking in the huge shadow of Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd despite the plot working overtime to make her a worthy foil, but surely the greatest issue here is the staggeringly gargantuan running time which frequently suggests that maybe there’s Too Much Time To Die. Could you imagine the casual buffoonery of a later Roger Moore outing stretching to nearly three fucking hours – why the very idea of such a thing makes me break out in a cold sweat…
Taking all that into account, when Craig’s Bond is on form there’s few who can touch him and No Time To Die’s crown jewel is unsurprisingly Daniel himself who turns in his best performance of the series yet hands down. Craig has always strived to make Bond, probably the most famously indestructible hero in the history of popular culture, as internally vunerable as he can and certain plot machinations give him the excuse to give us maybe the most “real” Bond we’re most likely to ever experience. Of course, some people out there will simply reject the concept the same way that some people were horrified that Christopher Nolan decided to give Bruce Wayne actual closure in The Dark Knight Rises, but what No Time To Die manages to achieve with a character who’s been around for so long simply can’t be denied and Daniel Craig deserves every accolade he gets.
His supporting cast of returning characters a still a joy too, giving Bond the surrogate family he never had during his childhood but the addition of Lashana Lynch’s acerbic agent Nomi is a lot of fun, as is Ana de Armas’ excitable beginner spy, even though the movie would be no different if it had trimmed her from a film that boasts a length longer for a dude with a gun than the fantasy epics of either Avengers: Endgame or Lord Of The Ring: Return Of The King.
Yes, No Time To Die is a bit flawed, but not as much as Quantum Of Solace or Spectre and it looks fucking amazing, it has some solid action and provides yet more personal growth to a classic character who is usually celebrated for usually not having any beyond being a smug prick – so if you have a problem with a Bond who feels and yearns for the days where a handy gadget would solve all of his problems, then possibly wait around for the inevitable reboot – but Daniel Craig’s bow from Bondage still remains as challenging as ever. It’s just a slight shame the filmmakers couldn’t do it in half the time…