No Time to Die review: A moving farewell to Daniel Craig’s 007
James R | On 19, Nov 2021
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Cast: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch, Jeffrey Wright, Ana de Armas, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz
“We have all the time in the world,” says James Bond (Daniel Craig) to Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), as they drive through winding coastal roads outside of Matera, Italy, in the prologue to No Time to Die. It’s a remark that immediately sets us on edge, as it recalls the wounded trauma of George Lazenby in his first and final turn as 007, and No Time to Die doesn’t let us feel comfortable for the rest of a 163-minute runtime that feels like no time at all. The film’s title, and the design of its eventual villain’s lair, led many to speculate that the “No” would be a reference to Dr No, but the script tips its hand early on with that nod to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service instead, and that sets the tone for a decidedly emotional closing chapter for Daniel Craig’s Bond.
The fact that “emotional” and “James Bond” don’t usually go together highlights just what this incarnation of 007 has achieved. While Casino Royale gave us a hard-hitting, ruthless Bond who recalled James Bourne’s hands-on approach to conflict, it was Quantum of Solace that became the definitive Craig outing, as his 00 agent became motivated less by national duty and more by personal revenge – a bold swing and a miss (and a rare direct sequel) that nonetheless made it clear that Craig’s stint in the famous tux was more serial than spectacle, and that this would be a tenure with a distinct beginning and end point. If Skyfall was a Bond film about Bond, and what it takes to be 007, No Time to Die is a Bond film about the Bond the person.
Craig’s 007 has always been a particularly fallible figure, missing jumps and picking up injuries in the line of duty. It’s telling that the most intuitive form of humour in his blockbusters isn’t a cool, suave quip but the sheer ridiculousness of how far he’s willing to go to get the job done; he’s aware of how bonkers each stunt is, and so is everyone else around him, but it never stops him actually doing it. He’s also a dogged, determined hero; he’s spent the majority of his time as 007 running after other people, rather than the other way round, which gives his set pieces a propulsive energy quite unlike anything else previous Bonds have brought to the casino table. No Time to Die is the logical outcome, and poignant reverse, of that formula, as we see Craig’s Bond for the first time really vulnerable and on the back foot – one of the standout scenes is a moment when he makes the rare decision not to do something.
All this is performed with remarkable poise, craggy charisma and real soul by Craig, who is the most complex and interesting James Bond to date. But there’s no doubting that this old dog is still able to throw a mean punch. Director Cary Fukunaga, who came to the project soon after a dazzling single-take action sequence in the Netflix series Maniac, crafts some of the most striking set pieces of the modern 007 era, most notably a car chase early on that creates an unbearably tense atmosphere out of simply having an Aston Martin standing still, as the bulletproof windows gradually threaten to cave in. From soldiers scaling down the side of a twilit skyscraper to a claustrophobically mist-filled forest and a garishly lavish Cuban party, it’s a sumptuous affair, thanks to DoP Linus Sandgren (First Man, La La Land). His intense colour palette highlights the heartfelt highs and lows of the saga – backed up by a refreshingly orchestral score from Hans Zimmer that swooningly embraces past themes from Casino Royale and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, while Johnny Marr channels Vic Flick’s quintessential guitar riff.
A scene-stealing turn from Ana de Armas as new CIA agent Paloma is one of the undoubted highs, as she leads a barnstorming shootout with exuberant joy, and Lashana Lynch is immediately iconic as Nomi, a 00 agent essentially brought in to fill Bond’s shoes, after he left the spy life behind with Madeleine at the end of Spectre. Nomi carries herself with such competence and confidence, and Armas balances humour and action so effortlessly, that you’d gladly watch a franchise based around either or both.
But along with these new characters comes an inevitable bevy of familiar faces from the franchise’s past, most notably Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), whose return is presented almost like Hannibal Lecter. It’s here, as screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Phoebe Waller-Bridge struggle to tie together Spectre’s messy backstory, that the film stumbles, but the cast wrangle every drop of comedy, pathos and catharsis out of their scenes that it just about gets away with it. There’s a concerted effort to give everyone their moment that proves genuinely rewarding, from a cosy supper with Ben Whishaw’s delightful Q and playful but sincere exchanges with Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny to Ralph Fiennes’ enjoyable fierce M, Rory Kinnear’s stalwart Tanner and Jeffrey Wright’s increasingly weary CIA veteran Felix Leiter.
All that is a lot to juggle, which means that the bad guy of the piece – the egomaniacal scientist Safin (Rami Malek) – almost doesn’t get a look in. A Bond movie is typically defined by the quality of its villain, but the most threatening parts of this film aren’t when we witness Safin’s showdowns with Bond, but when we glimpse his creepy behaviour in Madeleine’s workplace or see a masked figure stalking a young family through an icy wood in a chilling flashback. The fact that the plot, which involves a biological weapon, doesn’t have a haunting relevance to the time in which the film was released indicates how much the second half suffers from a villain who fails to make an impression.
No Time to Die, however, is the natural climax of Craig’s term as Fleming’s secret agent, and that means this is a rare Bond film defined not by Bond’s nemesis but by Bond himself. For all James Bourne’s much-trumpeted influence on modern Bond, it’s perhaps Mission: Impossible that that’s inspired this franchise’s run, with 007’s choices and actions building up a cumulative emotional weight that inevitably has to be confronted at some point. That focus on humanising 007 pays off in dividends, as we watch him navigate an ominous web of trust, complicity and consequences with very real, personal stakes.
At its heart is Bond’s connection with Léa Seydoux’s suitably sombre Madeleine. It doesn’t have the spark of his chemistry with Eva Green’s memorable Vesper, but as we reach the culmination of an arc that began with her, No Time to Die explicitly acknowledges and builds on Vesper’s lingering memory, understanding that Bond and Madeleine’s moving relationship is about mutually surviving trauma as well as tender solace. “We have all the time in the world,” he tells her early on, and that line rings as bittersweetly as it did back in 1969. No Time to Die’s achievement is that the fallout of that echo resonates in a way you don’t expect. This is a satisfying farewell to arms that takes Bond into entirely new territory – we knew his name when Craig first said it 15 years ago, but for the first time we feel like we know the man behind it too.
Catch up with 007’s past with our guides to every James Bond film to date – plus where you can watch them online.