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‘No Time to Die’ Review: A Fitting, Emotional Finale for Daniel Craig’s Bond

Dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga — 3.5 Stars

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in "No Time to Die" (2021), directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga.
Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in "No Time to Die" (2021), directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. By Courtesy of Nicola Dove / MGM
By Lanz Aaron G. Tan, Crimson Staff Writer

After five films as 007, Daniel Craig is hanging up his suit and his license to kill. It’s taken a litany of rewrites and a release delayed almost two years by a global pandemic, but “No Time to Die” has finally found its way to theaters. And somehow, despite a bloated script held together by nothing more than a single flimsy strand of scotch tape, director Cary Joji Fukunaga (“Beasts of No Nation”) delivers one of the best Bond conclusions. Craig’s swan song farewell is packed with strong character work, adrenaline-fueled action scenes, and a surprisingly effective emotional sendoff.

“No Time to Die” starts with Bond in unofficial retirement from MI6, enjoying the Italian coast with Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux, “Spectre”). But paradise doesn’t last forever, and Bond is eventually roped back into espionage by his old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace”). He tasks Bond to investigate a kidnapped MI6 scientist developing a bioweapon. What follows is a labyrinthian trail of clues, peppered with extravagant set pieces and new characters like 00 agent Nomi (Lashana Lynch), CIA agent Paloma (Ana de Armas), and a very theatrical villain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).

Clocking in at a whopping 163 minutes, “No Time to Die” is the longest Bond film ever made. Much of that time is spent consolidating Bond’s character arc from previous films — and Fukunaga isn’t afraid to lean into some of the gritty nuances of Bond’s past. For instance, “No Time to Die” starts with a callback to Vesper’s death (Eva Green) in “Casino Royale” — a poignant reminder of how difficult it is for Bond to trust and to love. Betrayal and disenfranchisement, like being left for dead by MI6 in “Skyfall,” have been pivotal moments for the character, and that’s especially visible in scenes where Craig plays Bond as callous and cynical. All of these character choices are carefully selected to guide the audience to a very cathartic and shockingly tender payoff by the film’s conclusion.

“No Time to Die” succeeds when it focuses on Bond’s personal growth, but it juggles too many characters to make a perfectly cohesive story. For instance, the film tries to wrap up the rivalry introduced in “Spectre” between Bond and Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), but their confrontation ends up being little more than a glorified cameo scene. In fact, the whole Spectre subplot in “No Time to Die” could be removed with little consequence to the story. The main antagonist, Safin, doesn’t have much to do either. Save for a brief appearance in the opening scene, he is completely absent for the first 90 minutes. When he does show up, his motivations are unclear and some of his actions simply don’t make sense.

Fortunately, having weak villains doesn’t hinder the film’s action scenes, which are thoroughly entertaining and unlike anything we’ve seen in the Craig era. It’s important to remember that Craig’s James Bond reboot was born to separate the cinematic icon from previous, more whimsical portrayals — to reinvent Bond for the modern era, so to speak. In short, out went the funny gadgets, and in came the self-serious commentary on why we still need spies in the 21st century. With Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty” and “1917”) at the helm for “Skyfall,” that approach worked. In a world where spy films like “Mission: Impossible” blew up the box office by having Tom Cruise climb the Burj Khalifa, the 007 franchise was calculated and methodical. “No Time To Die” takes that grounded approach and throws it out of the window. But for the most part, it’s successful.

In “Skyfall,” Bond quipped about his lack of equipment: “A gun and a radio. Not exactly Christmas, is it?” Well it’s Christmas now, Mr. Bond. Fukunaga throws everything but the kitchen sink on screen including a magnet bomb, an EMP watch, an Aston Martin DB5 with machine gun headlights, and a spy plane that ejects from a C-17. And while it means that there are times when “No Time to Die” feels more like a British “Mission: Impossible” than a follow-up to “Casino Royale,” it’s undeniable that the gadgets bring a lot of no-frills-popcorn-fun.

It doesn't quite reach the technical heights of Mendes’s Bond films (Roger Deakins produced Oscar-nominated cinematography in “Skyfall”), or the storytelling freshness of “Casino Royale,” but “No Time to Die” finds its own worthy place in the Bond canon. Given some of Craig’s comments voicing a lack of enthusiasm after “Spectre,” fans should rejoice that the actor is going out on his own terms. And with a hard-hitting conclusion, entertaining action, and some memorable character moments, Craig certainly ends his time as 007 with a bang.

— Staff writer Lanz Aaron G. Tan can be reached at lanzaaron.tan@thecrimson.com and on Twitter @LanzAaronGTan1.

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