Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Writer: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (script), Ian Fleming (characters)
Cast: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Lashana Lynch, Ana de Armas, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Rami Malek, Jeffrey Wright, Christopher Waltz
Producer: Michael G. Wilson
Music: Hans Zimmer
Cinematographer: Linus Sandgren
Editors: Tom Cross, Elliot Graham
Running time: 163mins
What’s the story: Years after the events of Spectre, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is pulled out of retirement by pal Felix Leiter (Wright). His target is Safin (Malek), and uncovering the criminal’s plan will set Bond on a collision course with old boss M (Fiennes) and former love Madeleine Swann (Seydoux).
What’s the verdict: We waited. Then we waited some more. The trailer played before other cinema releases with many a changed date. Finally, No Time to Die has arrived, and is best watched with little foreknowledge of the treats in store. No big surprises will be revealed here, and we will take the opportunity now to say just go see Bond 25. Aka Daniel Craig’s last mission on her Majesty’s secret service. Aka why are you still reading this, watch the movie.
Why the hurry? Simply because Craig’s fifth time in the tux is one hell of a bow out. Not only does it wash away the stale taste of 2015’s Spectre, it achieves something we thought impossible. This latest mission makes you want to rewatch Spectre as part of a Bond binge of the Daniel years. Not that we’re letting the excitement of No Time to Die smoke screen our judgement; this does not reach the heights of Casino Royale or Skyfall.
Whether Craig’s go-round with the license to kill was right in applying psychological shading to a character Ian Fleming called “the shadow” will be long debated and never settled. But, writers Purvis and Wade, plus new recruit Phoebe Waller-Bridge, stick the landing of piling on the emotional baggage while ensuring Bond a healthy ration of peril and world-saving derring-do.
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (replacing a “creative differences” beset Danny Boyle) is a salutary reminder to movie exces that it pays to get filmmakers who understand action to direct action blockbusters. That mountain road chase scene from the trailer, a segment in Cuba teaming Bond with Ana de Armas’ agent Paloma, and an explosive game of hide-and-seek in a misty forest are premium Bond mayhem.
Craig has such potent chemistry with Knives Out co-star de Armas it is a shame this will be their only bit of Bondage together. But we’re not arguing if new franchise owners Amazon want to give Paloma a spin-off movie.
Everyone involved knows they are in a good 007 and bring their A-game. Léa Seydoux does more with her character than she could in Spectre, selling Madeleine as someone who believably holds Bond’s happiness in her hands. Ralph Fiennes sinks his teeth into a compromised M, while Ben Whishaw is a reliably eccentric Q, bemoaning the absence of just one quiet night in before the world explodes. Jeffery Wright makes a welcome return as Felix Leiter, not seen since 2008’s Quantum of Solace. As Blofeld, Christoph Waltz rises above the disappointment of his reveal in Spectre for a Hannibal Lecter-like cameo, still pulling strings from his prison cell.
Naomie Harris appears once again as M’s assistant Moneypenny, although we would have liked back her in the field more. But newcomer Lashana Lynch, a freshly assigned 007 following Bond’s resignation in the last movie, has both the action chops and screen presence to stand toe-to-toe with Craig’s superspy. And how can you resist the middle-finger salute to huffing gammons everywhere that 007 here is a millennial black woman? Remember when the internet choked on indignation over Daniel Craig’s casting? How far we’ve come…
The only person underserved is Rami Malek as Bond villain Safin. No Time to Die goes Marvel Cinematic Universe in being less interested in its villain than in its hero’s personal conflicts. Malek’s character is as much a MacGuffin as his plot to take over the world, via a plan that meant this film had to put space between its release and the arrival of COVID-19 for reasons other than its title. He also follows the Craig-era trajectory of being a villain who is a dark reflection of Bond, rather than a supercilious blowhard who views 007 as a wasp at the picnic.
Yet these are minor grumbles. No Time to Die is an impressive swansong for Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Ian Fleming’s creation. As The Last Jedi divided opinion, some will hate the bold decisions made here. But this is Top 10 Bond, and for those who love their action cinema shaken not stirred there should be no reason to argue with that.