As far as legacies go, Daniel Craig’s will be fondly remembered by fans, regardless of how his last movie would turn out; after all, Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall are two of the best Bond movies and two modern classics. Having rewatched all of Craig’s Bond movies, however, I was reminded that he also starred in one of the worst Bond movies (Quantum of Solace) and one of the most forgettable (Spectre). No time to die is neither the best nor the worst nor will it be a forgettable movie in the midst of extremes; it’s a really good Bond movie whose accomplishments shine a brighter spotlight on its shortcomings, which end up hurting the overall package. That’s not to say that you should skip it or it should be remembered for those flaws, because the movie overall does justice to an actor who helped modernize the character and deliver some of the franchise’s finest moments with an experience that is far better than any of its individual flaws; as with most great movies, it is those tiny details and those missed opportunities that stick out because had those been ironed out then we would have had another Skyfall or Casino Royale to gush about.
The last Daniel Craig Bond movie was directed and co-written by Cary Joji Fukunaga, written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade with Phoebe Waller-Bridge also getting credits for her contributions in the script, and stars Lea Seydoux, Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch, and Ana De Armas alongside returning characters portrayed by the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright and others. Following on from the events in Spectre, Bond is now retired before being called back into action one last time as another villain possesses a world-endangering technology and he plans on using it for villainous purposes. A familiar call to action for Bond to face an enemy that will seem familiar, especially for long-time Bond fans, but also because these seem to be the same events that either start or lead up every Bond film since Casino Royale; furthermore, Rami Malek as talented as he is, isn’t really given a lot as his character has a “seen it before” aura to him. However, the writing’s problems are not defined by the lack of an interesting villain; instead, I saw a lot of set ups for things that never really happened or did happen but in a very awkward way. Most of them are spoiler-related, but there is one I think is safe enough; after the events of Spectre, Madeleine and Bond are living their love and in one of the opening scenes (shown in the trailer as well), the questions of secrets and past are brought in alongside the theme of trust. Do the two lovers know each other as well as they think and, more importantly, do they trust each other? While secrets and past are two questions answered very thoroughly, the theme of trust is really under-utilized; it seems to have an important role in the story, but it feels very surface level and predictable to be a major focus yet it feels like it is. This is an issue I saw pop up a few times over the movie and couldn’t help but feel like there were several versions of events that either were not accounted for or were hastily dealt with so production would move on.
This is not the part where I rant about Waller-Bridge being given a writing role late on because, honestly, I thought that her touches (at least I assume are hers) were some of the most fun moments in the movie. This is a genuinely witty and funny Bond movie, with lots of quick one-liners and good moments of levity, but Waller-Bridge alongside the other writers have brought some great story-telling for No time to die. Regardless of the missed opportunities I described above and failing to nail a few of the themes of the story, No time to die is a really well-written movie from most aspects; there are several features to highlight, but my pick was the dynamic between James Bond and Lashana Lynch’s character Nomi. There is one major connecting feature that binds the two in some highly entertaining banter, an engrossing dynamic, and entertaining dialogue that covers some interesting topics for Bond fans to discuss. Beyond that, the pacing is very impressive considering this is 163 minutes long and rarely felt that runtime; a lot of it has to do with a curated sequence of events and the writing of a good and entertaining story, but most of it has to do with Fukunaga’s directing.
Although most will have heard of his name in connection with the True Detective series (Season One was directed by him), people should not forget that this is the man who directed Beast of No Nation, Jane Eyre, Sin Nombre, and Maniac, which makes him more than a “style over substance” director; I always saw him as someone who tries to balance fun and substance and I think No time to die might be his most balanced in that regard. No time to die is one of the most entertaining Bond movies with some incredible action sequences and great visual presentation. There are lots of practical stunts and effects on display and all of them serve to heighten the adrenaline rush of the action set-pieces, while the visuals serve up a gorgeous, wide-shot-filled, movie that is made to be enjoyed in a movie theater; some shots stand on their own as an entertainment source independent of anything else going on. One of the most brilliant aspects of this has to be Fukunaga’s decisions as a director; for example, the decision to have Felix Leiter’s story play out as a short movie within the larger movie with a prelude, a main mission involving him and standout presence Ana de Armas, as well as a concluding chapter. It just makes that character and the progression of that story satisfying and engaging, while also allowing the audience to get what’s needed for the whole to function as required. There are many small moments here and there that showcase the movie’s quality, in both action/spy-thriller thrills and narrative/dramatic payoffs. It’s also a fitting and worthwhile conclusion for Daniel Craig’s Bond tenure with an ending sequence that is riveting to watch and is the jewel in the crown for one of the best Bonds so far.
In that ending sequence alone, the whole movie can be reflected on what it does best and where it stumbles; there’s a brilliant action sequence, there’s top actors giving it their all and delivering a stellar experience with a memorable ending. However, there are objects and characters set up that never pay off or have switched properties; there are awkward uses of ideas or character traits set up before, almost as if the movie just remembered they were set up and wanted to make them pay off. It’s those stumbles that keep No time to die from being up there with Casino Royale and Skyfall, but being 3rd to those two movies should not be seen as a failure; it should be seen as a success and a proper sent off to Daniel Craig and a fitting offer from an actor who has given us more than a dozen years of service and entertainment. Alas, No time to die was always going to be a bittersweet movie; now is the time to say goodbye to a beloved Bond and start dreaming of a new one and what adventures we’ll go on with them at the helm. It was also bittersweet in the way most great movies are: When you get almost everything right it is far easier to focus on the details rather than the overall success, because had those details been dealt with it would have been a classic. Regardless, I think that a movie with so many production issues, several revised scripts and reshoots, and several delays, not only turns out good but is bound to be a beloved entry in the franchise, that feels like the most Bond thing to happen; despite all the times he has retired or presumed dead or tortured, Bond finds a way and completes his mission.