No one is unaware of the irony of sitting in a cinema — most seats blocked off with yellow tape reading “CAUTION” — to watch the latest James Bond outing, No Time to Die.
Certainly the people at Warner Bros. office here have taken every precaution so that patrons will be able to safely enjoy this movie as it should be seen: on a big screen, one larger than, say, your laptop.
It’s a worthwhile pleasure to recall: seeing action splashed across a billboard-sized screen, and as this — the 25th in the Bond series and fifth (and last) starring Daniel Craig as MI6 agent 007 — unfolds from a great opening chase scene into the credit song by Billie Eilish, we are momentarily submerged into a cinematic environment we have all missed for so long.
As Bond entries go, this one at first seems par for the course — but it’s not. It begins with a rift between James and his current squeeze, psychologist Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux), somewhere in Southern Italy, preceded by a flashback to a menacing masked figure from her childhood: a gun-wielding villain known as Safin (Rami Malek) who, nonetheless, saves her from an icy early grave.
Bond is a little at loose ends, exiled from MI6 and somewhat discombobulated to find that his old number, 007, has not been retired but bestowed upon new recruit Nomi (Lashana Lynch).
There are a few good comic asides about her eagerness to move up the MI6 corporate ladder. Bond’s old CIA friend, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), shows up in Cuba, as does fresh CIA asset Paloma (an ass-kicking Ana de Armas), and a new mission is afoot: track down a batch of nanobot DNA called Heracles developed inside an MI6 lab, then stolen by Dr.Obruchev (David Dencik), a theft possibly orchestrated by the jailed, loony head of Spectre, Blofeld (Christoph Waltz).
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga with a moody, autumnal sense of style, and co-scripted by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, you expect good things from No Time to Die, and it delivers. It’s a satisfying culmination to a five-part Daniel Craig 007 era. More importantly, it manages, in one swoop, to raise the personal stakes for Bond. There’s much more to lose here, even if there is no time to die.
Certainly, No Time to Die tidies up the unpleasant memories of Spectre, which had Waltz as an evil mastermind but somehow failed to knock it out of the park. Craig is retiring his license to kill, so care has been taken with all the moving parts here (even at 2:43, the pace rarely lulls).
In Craig, we now say farewell to a much more emotional Bond (he gets faklempt over Madeline, among other things), one who is allowed to act older onscreen (his hearing doesn’t recover from a sonic blast as quick as it might have decades ago). And we open up into a world that now has a Black Ms. Moneypenny, a wobbly-legged M (Ralph Fiennes), a gay Q (Ben Whishaw), and very little tolerance for casual sexism, though casual violence is still very much okay.
In other words, Bond has moved on and modernized, and that’s maybe a good thing. It means all possibilities are open for the franchise, going forward.
Craig is not only more emotional than past 007s, he’s the most buff Bond ever. The guy seems like he’s constantly working muscle groups at the gym, even while revving up his classic Aston Martin and mowing down enemies with concealed machine guns and explosive road pellets (some old-school favorites). Will the next Bond be as fit, or is even that trope up for reinvention?
Jeffrey Wright is always a welcome sight, and so is De Armas, whether in action, wearing one of those slinky ‘60s Halston-type dresses that you wonder can still stay on her frame with all the side-kicking, or trading charming quips with James. She’s one we’d like to see more of.
Seydoux’s Madeline has grown on us, even as her loyalties are constantly in flux, and Malek does a respectable turn given that his character is a clichéd mash-up of every single Bond villain that preceded him. The new wrinkle is that he’s not evil per se, as therapist Swann sees it; he’s just “damaged.” The usual grumblings and grievances motivate these guys (they’re always guys): the world is full of stupid people, half of them don’t even need to exist, yada-yada-yada. And so… attempted Thanos finger snap. Bond to the rescue.
Will there be a more compelling reason for evil to exist in the new Bond frontier, after Daniel Craig exits? Will 007 find new enemies to fight, new people to love, after a natural (maybe) worldwide pandemic has revealed how vulnerable we all really are? Is it time for the standard bird’s eye drone shot of Bond films to zoom out even further, take in a bit more of the planet, and find out who our common enemy really is?
Time will tell. For now, it’s enough to enjoy this coda, in an actual moviehouse, where the stakes indeed seem a bit higher.
No Time to Die opens here Dec. 15, released through Warner Bros.