The Daniel Craig Bond movies leaned into an aspect of 007 that was rarely on screen before: he was a romantic. For a character that had bedded dozens of women in his decades on film and across multiple actors playing the role, 2006’s Casino Royale offered something different—a Bond who had fallen in love and had his heart broken. While the dictates of the character and franchise demanded that he keep sleeping with gorgeous women, Craig’s Bond always had a heart and a soul and seemed to genuinely care about the women he was with, and that’s where No Time to Die tries to close things out. As messy as the script gets (and it’s a film that feels like a bunch of drafts sloppily cobbled together where no idea was left out), it understands the core of this James Bond and what he wants. While No Time to Die is not the best Craig Bond film, it cements that his run as the character was a success because it created a three-dimensional character where only a male power fantasy existed before. For all of the film’s flaws, the understanding of Craig’s Bond holds No Time to Die together through its bloated runtime and convoluted story.
James Bond hoped to ride into the sunset with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), but when SPECTRE agents crash their beautiful Italian getaway, the two decide they have to part ways as Bond feels like he can’t trust her, or at the very least, SPECTRE will never leave them in peace. Five years later, Bond is existing through retirement, which is disrupted by his old pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), who tells Bond that Russian scientist Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik) is working with SPECTRE to unleash a bioweapon. What Bond comes to realize is that Valdo is actually working with the mysterious Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), a man with not only his own grudge against SPECTRE, but also someone with a connection to Madeleine’s past. As Bond and Madeleine come back together, Bond realizes that this time saving the world may come with a personal cost.
This brief plot synopsis doesn’t mention all the other stuff that’s going on. Since Bond has been retired, there’s a new 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), who feels competitive with James, and on a mission in Cuba to find Valdo, Bond teams up with Paloma (Ana de Armas), a young agent who leaves a big impression in a relatively small amount of screentime, and then exits the movie! Oh, and also Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is back to taunt Bond and he also has a connection to Safin, so you can see how many ideas got crammed into this script, and it’s a little bewildering how many of them just fizzle out. For example, in a scene between Bond and Blofeld, Blofeld teases that Madeleine has a secret that will destroy James. This never seems to happen. It also seems like Madeleine and Safin have some loaded backstory, but again, aside from what we see in the film’s prologue, this never comes to fruition.
For a film that’s almost three hours long, No Time to Die never earns its epic runtime, and perhaps part of the film’s length comes from just trying to clean up the narrative mistakes made by 2015’s Spectre, but it leaves Bond as a character running to catch up to whatever Safin is up to and the audience wondering if Safin has some goal beyond the vague outline of unleashing the bioweapon on the world because reasons (he does not have a goal beyond that; he’s a boring villain and it’s kind of bewildering that Malek would have chosen this role coming off an Oscar win). The plot mechanics of No Time to Die lumber along with perfunctory action scenes to spice things up, and while director Cary Joji Fukunaga has made a very pretty looking movie, it’s one that feels crushed under all its spy intrigue when its heart belongs to the Bond and Madeleine relationship.
That heart—the acknowledgment that Bond is a real character who wants things beyond sex and violence—is what keeps the film pumping and makes you invest in everything else. Even when the plot is at its most absurd and incomprehensible, the film manages to stay fun because Craig has such outstanding chemistry with all his co-stars and because he treats Bond not as a caricature but as a deeply damaged man who desperately wants to find love. If you look at that as his arc from Casino Royale through No Time to Die, you get a real character and a Bond unlike any other in the series, which makes this feel like the end of an era. You know that while the Bond mantle will continue (EON will never stop making James Bond movies), it feels like a real close to this particular Bond. Whatever comes next, it won’t be like these five movies because Craig left such an indelible mark on the character. And I dare to hope that after this there will be no turning back to the retrograde Bond of old, one who has been parodied mercilessly and can’t hope to survive as a viable protagonist in the 21st century.
When you look at the weight that Craig has brought to the role, you can kind of forgive everything else that No Time to Die does wrong. It’s not the best of his movies (that would go to either Casino Royale or Skyfall), but it’s not the worst either. It’s a way to give the character an ending of sorts while we all go on with the knowledge that Bond will never truly end. That’s a tricky needle to thread, and No Time to Die can certainly be a bit clumsy, but Craig’s Bond holds it all together, sometimes through sheer force of will as he’s out here giving a real performance while the villain is playing with poisonous nanobots and dispatching a henchman who has a bionic eyeball. The good stuff in No Time to Die—Bond’s repartee with his supporting cast, the action scenes, Fukunaga’s overall craftsmanship—is just enough to overcome the rickety script issues. James Bond as a character may have all the time in the world, but for Craig, No Time to Die knows that it’s time to say farewell.
No Time to Die opens in theaters on October 8th.