Like the entire Daniel Craig era of Bond, No Time To Die, Craig’s final performance as James Bond, is a mixed bag. It’s a very silly movie wrapped in serious clothes, it wants to be another link in the Bond chain while also serving as Craig’s swan song, and it wants to expand the world of Bond while still being a “James Bond movie”. It is not equally successful at all of these things. At its best, No Time To Die is slick, suave, just fun enough, and rooted in Craig’s understated but deeply emotional portrayal of James Bond—who this time around feels the most like “James”, the guy who has to live beyond “Bond”. At its worst, No Time To Die is overlong, tiresome, deeply stupid, and incapable of really landing the emotional beats. It’s a film with four credited screenwriters, including director Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and that underwent an eleventh-hour director change, and it FEELS like a film with four credited screenwriters and an eleventh-hour director change.
The best element is now what it always has been: Daniel Craig. He has always played Bond with a frank brutality that belies his suits and suavity, and here Bond is at his most hollow, most beyond it, most dead dog tired. After a classic action-packed open, we find Bond in the present—the films picks up somewhere in the soonish aftermath of Spectre and then leaps ahead—retired, once again, living off the grid in Jamaica, and actually seeming pretty okay with it. When his old life does come knocking, it finds Bond not a man raring to get back into the action, but an irate crank annoyed to be bothered with all this mess. This is where Die snaps along at its best, bringing Bond back to London to mix it up with his former cohort at MI6 who have, seemingly, gone to sh-t in his absence. Specifically, M (Ralph Fiennes) seems to have stuck his hand in a particularly poisonous candy jar.
The implication is that without Bond around to push back on orders, M has overreached, and the new crop of 00s, led by Nomi (Lashana Lynch) as the new 007, won’t stand up to him. And this is where Die starts to slide sideways. You can feel the impact of Phoebe Waller-Bridge on the script with snappy lines like calling an American agent played by Billy Magnusson “Book of Mormon”, but also in the dimensional quality of the women on screen. Nomi is as tricky and determined as Bond ever was, and as Cuban operative Paloma, Ana de Armas leaps off the screen, by FAR the most dynamic person in the film not named Daniel Craig. But de Armas only has like, thirty seconds of screen time. And Nomi, for all that she’s vowed to not let Bond get in her way, ends up ceding the floor to him with a deference that belies her earlier ferocity. Ultimately, this is a movie about James Bond, so it has tobe about James Bond. No matter how catchy the zingers or interesting the women, nothing and no one can eclipse Bond in his own movie. (Which is why Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny got demoted from field agent to desk jockey in Skyfall and never recovered.)
And yet the movie he’s stuck in isn’t really worthy of Daniel Craig’s Bond. Craig is DOING IT, he is out here GETTING IT DONE, he is eating his food and everyone else’s food, too. It is only down to Craig’s performance that Die works as well as it does, because this classic Roger Moore-era silly sh-t, with a goofy doomsday device that doesn’t withstand even the slightest scrutiny, an over-the-top villain with an over-the-top lair, and a totally unearned love story that, in hindsight, would only really work had they not killed off Eva Green’s Vesper Lynde. Lea Seydoux is trying, but she and Craig do not have convincing chemistry, “Madeleine Swann” is not an interesting character, and there’s a secret surprise that, again, only works because of Craig’s raw wounded performance. Craig is doing so much he even manages to make the “we’re not so different, you and I” moment with the villain seem relatable, and not an inherently hilarious cliché. Speaking of the villain, Rami Malek is acceptable as Lyutsifer Safin. He’s a classic corny Bond villain that Malek plays with high school theater intensity. Again, if it weren’t for Craig opposite him, he’d be unintentionally hilarious, but Craig lifts everything around him.
Some things, not even Daniel Craig can fix, though. Once again, a mainstream Hollywood film explicitly codes a sidekick as queer, only to devote no energy to making that character feel like a whole person. In this case, it’s Ben Whishaw’s Q, who debuted in Skyfall and did, in that moment, feel as full and realized as Bond. This Q was clearly conceived to be the cyber counterpart to Bond, as dangerous in his digital realm as Bond is in the mortal world. But again, nothing and no one can outshine Bond, and Q has never been so interesting again. Here, he is almost entirely wasted but for a lovely, understated moment at the end. Like Ana de Armas’s brief appearance, that quick but heartfelt beat from Q stands out amongst the goofy noise.
In the end, Daniel Craig’s time as James Bond ends not with a whimper or a roar but something in between—a whoar. He has never been better, his take on Bond never felt more visceral or real, despite all the silliness happening around him. Such a great performance, though, demands a great film, and there No Time To Die cannot deliver. It is serviceable at best, hollow at worst. It does have the guts to go out on a definitive note and not feed the “cinematic universe” beast as so many franchises do now, and Fukunaga packs the film with references to Craig’s definitive era as Bond. However we may remember these movies, we will always remember Daniel Craig as one of the best—THE best—Bond. Die doesn’t manage to build a world beyond James Bond, but it does deliver an appropriately grand stage for Craig to give his final performance in the role. And it’s not nearly as bad as Spectre. At least Daniel Craig gets to out on a better note than THAT.