The movie’s called No Time to Die and has a runtime of two hours and 43 minutes. Someone, somewhere, is having a laugh. But not James Bond, who, for as long as Daniel Craig has been playing that iconic Ian Fleming creation (especially in the most recent films of his 15-year tenure) has tended to be a somber sort. Not a stick in the mud or a walking stiff, mind you; even if Craig’s era of the franchise has felt slightly stripped of outright camp, it hasn’t killed its sense of humor. The movies have simply leaned into what’s proven to be surprisingly vulnerable in Craig’s incarnation. No Time to Die, his final outing in the role, is no different.
This actor’s Bond, with his aqua-pura eyes and bulldog strut, has increasingly had something of the wounded animal about him. Yes, he’s doing parkour across exotic landscapes and fighting by land, by sea, and by air like a one-man national military. Sure, his commitment to his missions has by and large been beyond question (unless the question is why, exactly, he’s been so committed). Yet rarely has he seemed overly excited about the business of being MI6’s number one man. Loss, or something like it, seemed to trail him from the start. In a way, from 2006’s Casino Royale onward, the movies have been catching up to the performance.
This has remained true even as all five of the actor’s turns in the role have reveled in the usual pleasure principles of 007 adventures. The globetrotting locales, high-end cars, and spy-craft fetish objects; the gorgeous femme fatales and one-night stands and even genuine loves. Craig once said he would rather “slash [his] wrists” than be in another Bond film. That was six years and one movie ago. In the same interview, he also said: “If I did another Bond movie, it would only be for the money.”
It’s to Craig’s professional credit that his performance in No Time to Die, which comes out on October 8th, bears little sense of that lack of giving a fuck. It wouldn’t fit this movie, which, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, very much carries the weight of culmination. We all know by now that this is the end of Craig, and wisely, No Time to Die doesn’t put up any false pretenses. As a movie, Bond-related or otherwise, it’s just fine: sometimes intriguing, sometimes not, sometimes boring, sometimes not. It’s a bit more successful if we think of it instead as a tribute to the Craig era, and to the star himself, whose 21st-century Bond will endure as a complicated man along for the ride in the franchise’s otherwise formulaic schemes. It’s like the movie has this in mind, reviving old characters and tropes, giving Bond devotees a bit of what makes the franchise a familiar comfort, while adding a dash of melancholy and a grimness — down to its visual palette and the journeyman staging of much of its showpiece scenes — that even gives the action a twinge of heaviness.
The plot? It’s a plot. A roundelay of “Just when I thought I was out…” antics somewhat kickstarted by an old CIA friend, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), bringing an evil scheme to Bond’s attention, and Bond — Commander Bond, whose MI6 days are technically behind him — roped back in among familiar company. (This isn’t quite where the story starts, but what precedes it would be unfair to spoil.) It’s your usual science-gone-wrong spy movie scheme: A Russian scientist, Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik), has access to a genius technology; he, and it, fall into the wrong hands; you know how these things go. It’s more than enough of an excuse to unite the old gang: Ralph Fiennes as the M of the moment, Rory Kinnear as M’s chief of staff, Ben Whishaw as the plucky genius Q, Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) of 2015’s Spectre, is also back with a bigger role. And on the opposite end of the ally spectrum, we also get the return of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who’s currently a prisoner of MI6 — though, obviously, even MI6 can’t keep this bad of a man down.
More notable than these old friends and foes is the addition of a few new faces, who for the most part amount to breaths of fresh air that the movie winds up needing as it wears on: Lashana Lynch as Nomi, for example, a new 00 agent worth reckoning with. Billy Magnussen as a CIA agent who’s suspicious if only for smiling too much to be an agent. And — best of all — Ana de Armas as Paloma, another very green agency operative, whose surprisingly fresh-faced attitude makes even Bond smile, as if he’s encountered the negative image of himself.
The movie’s big bad that strings it all together into an excuse to see Bond back in action, a terrorist plot involving a scheme that might’ve hit a little differently pre-pandemic — and which, for the current moment, feels distinctly terrifying. It’s predicated on, among other things, the biological risks of being a social species, interacting and coming into contact and even casually crossing paths with others. You can see the pandemic parallels (even if the filmmakers hadn’t exactly planned it that way), but the movie’s more useful and energizing through-line is the emotional metaphor — particularly for a man like Bond who, as anyone who’s followed him over the years knows, has tended to have his strongest ties not to people but to his work. Obviously, the second he does find something that lasts, the movie turns on a heel and uses it against him: Bond wouldn’t be Bond if we allowed him to have a real life.
No Time to Die tries to milk the poignancy from this idea. It even goes so far as to try to move us outright — and for many people it will, no doubt, genuinely be moving, even if the strings are showing, even if we see it coming. The movie could have accomplished this just as well without glowering quite so much. But its commitment to its aesthetic sobriety — even the qualities that make Seydoux such a worthy, interesting international star get their lights dimmed here — seems to be the point. Fukunaga, no stranger to showing off when it counts, doesn’t resist the impulse here, yet he doles out the juiciness relatively sparingly. There’s a good bit of action in a forest dense with fog, for example, but Fukunaga’s craft feels unusually dialed down for him; a climactic gunfight in a stairwell has the appropriate sense of danger, but the emotional stakes, not the tactical excitement, are what really define the scene.
Is it the most interesting way to close out the Craig era of the Bond franchise? Not really — not even with Rami Malek’s villain, Lyutsifer Safin, skulking about in a performance that, more than doing anything to serve this particular movie, convinced me that someone out to cast him in a remake of Nosferatu. (The leap from Lyutsifer to a Klaus Kinski-esque Dracula really wouldn’t be such a leap.) He’s not exactly a foe that seems worthy of Daniel Craig. But this, too, seems to be the point. Complicated, overly talkative, a little too slow and not-infrequently rote, the movie is just the ride we’ve hitched to the Departures gate. It’s Craig we’ve come here to see — and see off. And off he goes.