There are spoilers in this review. This is your warning.
It is truly bizarre that No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film and the swan song for actor Daniel Craig in the title role, hinges so many of its key emotional beats on a casual audience recognizing and appreciating needle-drops and narrative references to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the sixth film in the franchise that was for decades considered a black sheep.
Sure, many hardcore fans hail OHMSS as one of the best in the series, but that’s a relatively recent development — a benefit that mostly emerged after 2006’s Casino Royale, Craig’s first go-round, gave modern audiences a glimpse at what a James Bond with feelings might look like — more man than monster, a broken character for a broken 21st-century world. With hindsight, the tragic romance in OHMSS felt at home in the modern era, especially compared to the goofiness that dominates a majority of the franchise. But how many casual fans showing up to see No Time to Die would give half a shit about callbacks to a movie released in 1969? It’s deep lore. It’s nerd stuff.
It wouldn’t be so frustrating if the rest of No Time to Die were interesting or engaging. But that is unfortunately not the case, and thus No Time to Die is a disappointing end to Craig’s era.
The story picks up five years after the end of Spectre (also a mess, and a worse one than this), with Bond having split from the new love of his life, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), in the pre-credits sequence. He’s living off the grid in the Caribbean in the nicest remote beach house one could ever imagine. Soon, a call from his old CIA friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) brings him back into action and at odds with his old pals at MI6, including the new 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch). They’re all after a deeply annoying scientist who helped design a customizable virus that can potentially wipe out the world, as well as the man who employs him, the enigmatic Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).
A lot happens in No Time to Die, but none of it is particularly interesting. Action sequences come and go without creative visual hooks or interesting choreography. The virus plot is vaporware, and Malek’s performance as Safin is possibly the most forgettable for a villain in one of these films; he’s almost as unintelligible as he was in the atrocious Bohemian Rhapsody, too. If it weren’t for Christoph Waltz’s awful turn as Blofeld in Spectre (he returns here, briefly, and remains awful and wasted), I’d say Safin is the worst of the foes faced by Craig’s Bond.
At this point, the revitalized energy that the Bond saga enjoyed after the Casino Royale reboot 15 years ago is all but vanquished, and the film seems to know it. It’s nervous franchise filmmaking, making constant unforced errors as it tries to tell a meaningful story with nothing to ground it. The story keep reaching back to better, more well-regarded films for emotional purchase. It takes all of 10 minutes to remind us about Vesper Lynd, Eva Green’s definitive Craig-era “Bond Girl,” whose singular presence changed the franchise. Outside of Skyfall, which didn’t make much mention of Vesper, all of Craig’s films remain haunted by the loss of Green’s incredible character, and even that movie needed to kill Judi Dench to give Craig someone interesting with whom to spar.
The crux of this movie is Bond’s relationship to Madeleine, who simply does not compare. Their relationship in Spectre was … fine, at best. Seydoux looks great in that film’s blue dress. But the ending of Spectre, in which he gives up being a secret agent to be with Madeleine, has never felt natural. Such inorganic storytelling continues in No Time to Die, and everyone making the film seems to know it doesn’t work.
Almost all of their big moments are the callbacks to OHMSS. It’s EON Productions shaking the five people in the audience who care, screaming in their face: “Remember when Bond got married for one movie and it was fucking great? This is just as iconic!”
No Time to Die is by no means the worst Bond film. Indeed, its flaws are mostly the same flaws seen in a majority of the movies — extraneous action scenes (Casino Royale), convoluted plots (Skyfall), dull pacing (GoldenEye). Its additional flaws, though, do make it a more frustrating experience than the average Bond film. At 163 minutes, No Time to Die is by far the longest in the franchise, filled with unimpressive action sequences that are mostly filmed with too much claustrophobia to follow. The plot ambles along without any urgency. Characters fight and immediately make up through dialogue. There are multiple instances where Bond just sort of walks away from an action scene, or even a chase, before someone drives along to pick him up. So much wasted space, so devoid of tension. On and on, on and on, from beat to beat to beat with nothing to tug the heartstrings or raise the audience’s blood pressure.
I’m writing around saying No Time to Die is boring because, frankly, many of the other Bond films are, too. The franchise was built off quick-turnaround productions and has always been financed by hilariously over-the-top product placement. They’re genre pictures, usually verging on exploitation and rarely high art. Casino Royale gave audiences the sense that the nature of the series was morphing into something more aligned with the mainstream; Skyfall, an even better film, made it seem like the early Craig films were not aberrations. Unfortunately, I don’t see the appeal of No Time to Die to anyone who isn’t really into James Bond by default.
Every promotional cycle for a Bond film in the last 40 years has featured producers insisting that, this time, the women will shine. Times change, though, and even the progressive-for-their-era characters in past movies look shameful now. Perhaps that will be the case for Nomi in a few years, if anyone cares to remember her — which they probably won’t judging by how far down the memory hole past EON attempts at self-sufficient women spies have fallen. Agent XXX? Jinx? Hello? This is worth mentioning not because No Time to Die goes down the wrong path by introducing a new female 007 but because the movie surrounding Nomi gives her nothing to do and is kind of a dead-end. Paloma (Ana de Armas), one of Bond’s connections who assists him with a mission in Cuba, has a lot more character in just a few short minutes of screen time than the new replacement 007 gets with far more attention. Weird.
No Time to Die is just a shame. The end of the film hinges around a moment for Bond we’ve never seen before, although it’s also one big ham-fisted reference to OHMSS. You can probably suss out what transpires in broad terms by nature of the fact that the Bond franchise has always lifted from whatever is popular in the moment, and this one tries to lift heavily from stuff like Logan and Avengers: Endgame. Both of those movies were far better and more introspective about the waning relevancy of their male heroes; they also had much more success introducing women counterparts for them to mentor and from whom they could learn. That’s the key to No Time to Die, I guess: It knows it isn’t as good as it should be. It isn’t even sure how to achieve the emotional pathos of its own predecessor from 1969, so it just tries to borrow it wholesale.
Casino Royale was the first Bond film to show the secret agent’s origin, and Craig’s stellar work as the lead character was filled with the promise of a human hero for a new era. Despite one sequel that lived up to the hype (Skyfall), the others in his run have been genuine disappointments, chasing a success the team at EON seems to have completely misunderstood. In the next few years, James Bond will be rebooted in some form or fashion with a younger actor and an aesthetic in keeping with whatever is popular circa twenty-twenty-whatever. Perhaps they’ll try to do a limited series of some sort or a period piece. The latter has the most potential; who the fuck believes in Great Britain as a world power anymore?
Whatever happens, the Craig era is now over after five films that told an ongoing story about a bleak and traumatized Bond, portrayed by one of the finest actors to step into the tux. Craig’s high points were some of the best the character has ever been. His low points … well, at least they aren’t Diamonds are Forever or A View to a Kill, right? There are worse films on which to end a legacy. Besides, James Bond will return — younger, fresher and in no time at all.