No Time To Die might feature some of the best action to come out of the Daniel Craig era, but his swan song as the character of James Bond is dragged down by a muddled story and an incredibly boring Bond girl.
Director: Cary Joji Fukuanaga
Summary: Five years after the capture of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, James Bond has left active service for a quiet life in Jamaica. His retirement is interrupted when an old friend, CIA officer Felix Leiter, asks for his help in the search for a missing scientist. The mission becomes more dangerous as Bond confronts an enigmatic villain armed with a devastating new technology.
No Time To Die has had a rough journey getting to the big screen. The movie was about to head into production when the director left, and they basically needed to start from scratch. The good thing that came from that was Craig was able to star in Knives Out while waiting for the production to kick off. Then it became something of a joke when it came to pandemic delays and its multiple false starts when it comes to marketing. The movie is finally here, and the weight of eighteen months of expectations is a lot to live up to. Unfortunately for this movie, it doesn't quite hit the mark.
In terms of action, this might be some of the best we've seen from a Bond movie in a very long time. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga really brings his A-game to this movie, and some of the scenes are just stunning. The opening car chase in Italy, a focal point of the marketing, is one of the best chases put on screen in a while. There isn't an action beat that doesn't work; whether it's a gunfight or Ana de Armas kicking a man in the face while wearing stilettos, it's all great. If the movie were nothing but action scenes, it would be incredible because those scenes all work so well. Fukanaga leans more into the gadgets that have been sorely lacking from the series, and there is some really cool tech that enhances the action scenes.
The cast within said action scenes is mostly great as well. Craig owns this role, and he does seem to be having a good time now that he knows they are putting a definitive end to his tenure as James Bond. Craig has spoken at length about how grueling this series is, so it's good that he's able to go out on a high note. Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, and Naomie Harris continue to be the low-key MVPs of this entire franchise, and this movie does take advantage of them more than the previous movies. We also get the added benefit of Lashana Lynch, who owns every single scene she is in. Someone needs to sign her up to be an action star immediately. De Armas makes quite the impression in her brief scenes, but it only lasts about ten minutes, and then she's gone.
However, while all of that good is there, the things that drag this movie down are massive. The story and the writing are just not up to par this time around. Once again, they are leaning into the plot points of Spectre, which was one of the worst movies of this franchise so far. For some reason, this series has decided to make all of this personal for James Bond, which makes almost no sense. Being 007 is James Bond's job; you don't need to give him a reason to be invested; he already has a built-in story reason for caring about all of this. Perhaps this movie starts off on that note, but they make it extremely personal by the end once Madeleine gets involved. Unfortunately for poor Léa Seydoux, this character is just not interesting, and she becomes a constant link and reminder to the two worst movies in this series. There is a reason that Eva Green has haunted this series since its inception; no love interest has come close, and the near twenty-year age difference between Seydoux and Craig just makes the entire thing creepy.
These story missteps really hurt the villain in the end as well. Rami Malek is certainly trying to do something with Safin, but the movie doesn't seem very interested in actually letting us see him or learn that much about him. His motivations are incredibly basic, and it's a revenge mission that we've all seen a million times over. He might have grandiose ideas, but in the end, he's just another generic bad guy who wants revenge and will do anything to get it. The writing also impacts Lynch, who gets some very awkward lines, and the movie doesn't really give her a chance to shine the way it should have. This movie is almost three hours long, and the fact that some characters feel underdeveloped is just ridiculous with a runtime like that. While the story might be a mess, it does give Craig the out he deserves with this role, even if it can be overly sentimental at times.
No Time To Die fits right into the middle of the Daniel Craig era of James Bond movies. It's not nearly as good as Skyfall or Casino Royale, but significantly better than Spectre or Quantum of Solace. There is quite a lot to like, but the fact that the series has spent the last two movies looking to give James Bond a reason to be 007 is such an odd choice. The character has always been about duty to Queen and Country, serving, and saving people. This James Bond has spent two movies not caring about being James Bond at all, as if he gets no satisfaction out of it. With that, the series seems to imply that the only way to achieve happiness is to have a heteronormative relationship with a woman and 2.5 kids.
Perhaps the next iteration of James Bond could just be 007, show up and shoot the bad guys because it's his 9-5, and it's the right thing to do while using awesome gadgets and wearing nice suits. Maybe this next iteration will examine what being 007 means in a post-colonialism Britain and in the new world of technology. They never really did that despite the latest version of Q that was introduced in Skyfall. For now, this era has ended, and while it isn't ending on the highest note, it also isn't going out with a whimper either.