Just like Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig has been bitching about playing the character that made his career for quite some time now. He’s logged 15 years (five films) playing James Bond, Agent 007, and the last couple of times getting him in front of the camera have produced a lot of whining and some big checks to get him to play along.
Fortunately, his discontent doesn’t show on screen. Craig is officially the all-time best Bond, and No Time to Die is a nice capper for his time with the franchise.
The story is suitable enough considering the Craig mindset on the series: Bond has gotten rather pissy since Spectre (2015), and doesn’t want to be a secret agent guy one day longer. After a long pre-credits scene with his latest love interest, Madeleine (Lea Seydoux), the action cuts to years later with Bond in semi-retirement, catching fish and not giving two shits about running around with guns.
Felix (Jeffrey Wright), a CIA pal from his past, shows up with some disturbing info: There’s a crazy guy out there with a new technology that can destroy the world. James likes fishing, but, after some careful consideration, probably realizes he won’t be able to keep fishing if the world is destroyed, so he reluctantly gets back into the groove with the likes of M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw).
There are a combination of villains this time out, including the return of Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), and a new baddie played rather quietly by Rami Malek. They aren’t as scary as the nasty technology in play. That technology echoes our current real-world predicament in some ways, so that compounds the tension.
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) presides over a couple of the best action sequences the series has ever seen, including an early motorcycle ride and some spectacularly staged car chases. The set designs, including a vast island fortress where the finale is staged, are also well done. Fukunaga makes a good-looking movie.
The past, brazenly aggressive misogynistic undertones of Bond are, thankfully, not really welcomed at the movies anymore. (Some of those older Bonds have not aged well.) This installment features a more grounded, semi-sensitive Bond seriously in love and contemplating stuff like parenthood, and also outmatched by more talented fellow female agents. Ana de Armas makes a quick but memorable appearance as Paloma, an agent on one of her first missions but already throwing kicks better than Bond ever could. And Lashana Lynch shows up as an agent that causes a certain dilemma I won’t give away.
Flaws? A few. Malek is a little dull as Lyutsifer Safin, the main nemesis who spends a lot of time off-screen. The power he wields is memorable, but the way he does it is just a little bit slow and ineffectively melodramatic. The plot sometimes twists around in ways that is a bit headache-inducing, but everything gets tied together in the end.
Craig has always brought of a level of class to the role that outshines his predecessors, pretty big words considering one of those was Sean Connery. The Roger Moore phase was hokey, the Dalton phase was boring and Pierce Brosnan was passable. Some of Craig’s installments stand tall as some of the best entertainment the series produced: solid works of depth, expertly crafted with an always compelling central performance. And a less cartoonish Bond.
It’s fine that Craig is wrapping up this part of his career. His saying he’d rather die than play the role again does sort of taint the enterprise but, hey, he’s sick of wearing tuxes and drinking martinis. Time for some new blood. Part of the fun of this franchise is its tendency to reboot and start anew with a fresh face.
It’ll be very interesting to see where things go in the future. Craig took the role to new heights, and any successor is going to have a tough mission on their hands to match Craig’s dynamic take. Alright, Hollywood: Let’s see what you got the next time.