Everyone has their favorite incarnation of James Bond, Ian Fleming’s iconic British spy with an eye for the ladies, fast cars, cool gadgets, and a martini that’s shaken, not stirred. Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan have all brought their own distinctive style to 007, with varying results. But Daniel Craig has been my #1 Bond since 2006’s Casino Royale, aka one of the best Bond films yet made. So I was delighted to find that Craig’s 007 is getting the action-packed, emotionally powerful sendoff he deserves with No Time to Die. The film brings the character arc that began with Casino Royale to a satisfying and fitting conclusion.
(Spoilers for prior films in the Craig/Bond series; only minor spoilers for No Time to Die.)
It’s worth taking a moment to revisit why Casino Royale worked so well as a fresh take on a well-worn franchise. It brought 007 firmly into the 21st century while still remaining true to the character. Even Craig’s physical appearance was markedly different from the tall, dark, and handsome incarnations that came before. This Bond was more of a rugged street tough who’s learned to adopt the trappings of refinement. The cinematography, production design, and even the music reinforced that portrayal.
Essentially, Casino Royale is an origin story, as Bond takes on his first mission after earning his 00 status. The franchise has always trafficked in exciting car chases and spectacularly elaborate action sequences, but director Martin Campbell opened his film with a novel, parkour-influenced scene where Bond must chase down a suspect on foot through an active construction zone. Sure, that four-way final hand in the high-stakes poker game against Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) was ridiculously implausible, but this is a James Bond movie, where the improbable happens all the time.
Above all else, Casino Royale was a tragic love story, as our stoically cold-hearted, womanizing spy met and fell for a woman who showed herself to be very much his equal: Her Majesty’s Treasury agent Vesper Lynd (played to perfection by Eva Green). Vesper’s eventual betrayal and death was the catalyst that transformed this fledgling Bond into the cynical, hard-edged 007 we know and love. That loss also drives the action of the four subsequent Craig films: Quantum of Solace (2008), Skyfall (2012), Spectre (2015), and now No Time to Die.
No Time to Die builds on the events of Spectre, which sees Bond being suspended from MI6 after carrying out an unauthorized mission to stop a terrorist bombing in Mexico City—based on a posthumous message from Judi Dench’s late, lamented M. The new M (Ralph Fiennes) finds his agency in competition with a rival, privately backed intelligence service led by C (Andrew Scott).
Things get complicated, as they always do, leading to a showdown between Bond and archvillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), a criminal mastermind who heads the titular SPECTRE. (Ian Fleming’s original character inspired Dr. Evil and his cat, Mr. Bigglesworth, in the Austin Powers film series.)
Blofeld is behind an attempt to infiltrate a planned global intelligence surveillance system so that SPECTRE can access information about any investigations into its criminal activities. The film ends with Blofeld captured and Bond driving off into the sunset with his romantic interest, psychiatrist Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux). She is the daughter of Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), first introduced in Casino Royale as the liaison for the criminal origination that featured prominently in Quantum of Solace.
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, No Time to Die takes place about five years after Blofield’s capture and imprisonment. Per the official premise:
Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.
The film opens with a flashback to Madeleine’s past, when a masked intruder seeking revenge for Mr. White’s massacre of his family murders her alcoholic mother but spares Madeleine’s life. Cut to Madera, where Bond and Madeleine have come to put their pasts behind them. This involves Bond visiting Vesper’s tomb, but the symbolic moment is rudely interrupted by SPECTRE assassins. Believing Madeleine betrayed him (technically, she is a “daughter of SPECTRE”), Bond leaves her. Five years have passed by the time Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) turns up.
The mission this time is to track down a kidnapped MI6 scientist, Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik), who has developed a nasty nanobot bioweapon coded to a specific person’s DNA. The nanobots can infect anyone with a single touch, but they are fatal only to the intended target(s). MI6 is also keen to retrieve Obruchev, and Bond’s MI6 counterpart is Nomi (Lashana Lynch), who inherited the 007 number after Bond retired. Awkward! The stakes become even higher when the agents learn that the bioweapon has fallen into the hands of new archvillain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).
No Time to Die has all the classic tropes we’ve come to expect from a globe-trotting Bond film, with plenty of excitement and spectacle, as well as touches of humor (and oh, those cars). Fukunaga knows his way around an action sequence, and it shows.
True, there’s nothing quite as fresh and exciting as that parkour chase scene, and I would have loved to see more of CIA agent Paloma (Ana de Armas of Knives Out fame), who assists Bond when he infiltrates a SPECTRE gathering in Cuba. She proves herself more than combat-ready—and then we just jump to the next exotic locale, never to see Paloma again. And frankly, Safin doesn’t make for a particularly interesting villain, even though Fukunaga intended him to be Bond’s most dangerous, intelligent, and worthy adversary yet.
But that’s not what this film is ultimately about. It’s not trying to one-up all the previous Bond films in terms of villainy, gadgetry, action sequences, romantic conquests, and so forth. Thematically, it’s essentially an exploration of past trauma, damaged relationships, and family, wrapped in spy thriller trappings. That’s refreshing new territory for a James Bond film, and Fukunaga takes the time to let the story breathe between action sequences in order to fully explore those themes (hence the film’s 2:43 run time). Craig’s swan song as Bond turns out to be the most personal and intimate look at 007 we’ve seen since, well, Casino Royale. The bar has been set very high for his successor.
No Time to Die is currently playing in theaters. We strongly recommend only attending movies in theaters if you have been fully vaccinated and wear a mask for the duration of the film.
Listing image by United Artists/MGM