No Time to Die is the 25th “canon” James Bond film and the fifth and final of the series starring Daniel Craig. But in many ways it’s also a cocktail featuring flavors from all over Bond history, notably Pierce Brosnan’s run. It’s no surprise, then, that the film sometimes loses the sort of specificity and grandeur it clearly has license to execute.
Though Craig’s time as Bond started off grounded and more rooted in modern spy blockbuster fare (mainly the Bourne movies circa 2006), the series slowly but surely returned to the zany world-building and melodrama that long defined the lore.
The previous film, Spectre, haphazardly spun its wheels in that respect, focusing more on reliving previous Bond stories than telling a wholly new one. By contrast, No Time to Die strikes a far more respectable balance, though it also loses its footing whenever it reminds the audience that Spectre did, in fact, happen, which is all too often in this nearly 3-hour spectacle machine.
It’s important to note right away that No Time to Die is at its brightest and most innovative when it comes to its set pieces and production design. Cary Joji Fukunaga takes over directing duties from Sam Mendes this time around with cinematographer Linus Sandgren at his side. And the pair clearly have an eye for freshening up the film’s locations with breathtaking creative flourishes, from an isolated cabin buried in snow to a remote island where even the water is poisonous (one of the film’s ample references to Dr. No, the first Bond film starring Sean Connery).
The formula is shaken, not stirred.
For Bond fans who come to these movies mainly for adventure, romance, and stylish action, No Time to Die might become their favorite of the Craig films, or quite close to it. The problem is that the film borrows both the weakest and strongest aspects of everything before it. Though one exception is the score from Hans Zimmer, which is consistently excellent and well-balanced with old favorites and new, sweeping compositions that ring true (and epic). The traditional song intro by Billie Eilish is also a standout, one of the precious few of these to demand full attention.
On the plus side? No Time to Die graciously contains a complete story akin to Casino Royale, to the point where its long runtime arguably feels justified, if not always in the moment around the third act. When it comes to set pieces and action choreography, the film clearly rivals Skyfall and might even surpass it.
Then, there are the negative recollections. We have an absurdly unremarkable villain, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who is about as dynamic and interesting as the bad guy from Quantum of Solace. And, as previously mentioned, the Spectre comparisons are quite obvious in how the mythology gets in the way of storytelling when references to other movies muddle the intended message. There’s simply no reason for a character like Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) to even be in this story, except for the purposes of extended fan service.
No Time to Die has a mostly terrific ensemble cast.
One of the many highlights of these films still includes the MI6 crew. Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Wishaw return to selflessly support the man of mystery, and more akin to Goldeneye, No Time to Die boasts an organic camaraderie among the characters, even with CIA ally Jeffrey Wright back for another bout.
The two newest additions also make big waves for the future of the franchise. Lashana Lynch portrays Nomi, a new “00” who competes with Bond after he returns from retirement. Their rivalry infuses some welcome conflict among the protagonists, an energetic contrast of the old guard versus the next generation. And we also get Ana de Armas as Paloma, an instant fan-favorite who practically makes a whole movie out of just a handful of great scenes.
These are all essential elements of the film’s mission, but the true core is what goes down between Craig and his love interest from Spectre, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). There’s much drama to get through concerning events all the way back to Casino Royale, and the ultimate destination is surprisingly subversive for a Bond film. The journey is a bit rocky, to be clear, but Seydoux manages to land a character who is otherwise written to be almost purposefully underwhelming in every respect.
One, final Bond song.
Craig himself is having more fun than ever, here, as if Logan Lucky and Knives Out propelled him to dig deeper. Clearly channeling a kernel of Brosnan and Moore, his quips and one-liners are almost jarring enough to warrant pausing the film. It takes some getting used to, but on a meta-narrative level, it makes a small amount of sense for this Bond, who started off so stoic and guarded, to have grown into a fatherly, even corny extension of himself, never taking his role as 007 too seriously. It works more than it doesn’t. Perhaps because he’s finally become the man he always wanted to be, before life ground him into a grim killing machine.
It’s nuanced but could be a crucial ingredient in what will make the final scenes hit hardest for viewers who’ve loved this portrayal of Bond since the beginning. And unlike this movie, they’ll have time to live through it all over again, and again, until someone else inevitably comes along to fill the suit.
No Time to Die opens in theaters on September 30 in the United Kingdom and on October 8 in the United States. Watch the full trailer here.