In the history of 007’s, where does Daniel Craig fall? I grew up in the Roger Moore era, my parents leaned more toward Sean Connery, and we all rallied for Pierce Brosnan. After a remarkable debut in “Casino Royale” and now with five Bond films under his belt, Craig went from being my #2 007 to claim the top spot. In hindsight, he was the closet representation of the character Ian Fleming created almost 70 years ago. Cary Joji Fukunaga gives the 53-year-old English actor a proper sendoff leaving fans with a thrilling, often majestic (see it in IMAX), Bond adventure that despite its almost 3-hour run time, kept me entertained from start to finish. The climax will leave fans shaken not stirred as it marks the end of an era.
Before the haunting vocals of Billie Eilish fill the theatre with a symphonic performance of the 25th Bond film’s theme, “No Time to Die” begins with a prologue that features Léa Seydoux’s character Madeleine Swann, Bond’s main girl in “Spectre,” as a young child who witnesses the death of her mother at the hands of a masked assassin. Forward to the present day as James and Madeline frolic along the ravishing Italian coast of Matera — a scene meant to be enjoyed on an IMAX screen.
Within minutes, a ghost from the past haunts Bond, an explosive moment rocks the idyllic vacation, and the former British MI6 agent is back at square one, “Who can you trust?” This leads to a gangbusters moment heightened by Monty Norman’s iconic theme featuring 007’s traditional Aston Martin DB5, as he shoots his way out of a trap in a quintessential moment that represents all things Bond. Electrifying!
Fukunaga succeeds at accomplishing two things. One, remind fans what we love so much about this character, and two, give Craig a vehicle that showcases how the Chester, England-born actor went from the new kid on the block to the best Bond ever after “Casino Royale,” “Quantum of Solace,” “Skyfall,” and “Spectre,” led to the all-encompassing performance in “No Time to Die.”
The plot involves the old “weapon of mass destruction falls into the wrong hands” trope, which is given a technology refresher that involves Nanobots, and a clever way to use your own DNA against you. Think of it this way. What if someone injected you with a strain of the Coronavirus that left you asymptomatic, and only spreadable to certain individuals targeted by their DNA. A little too close for comfort in this pandemic-driven era yet fitting as a relevant and frightening threat.
In great Bond tradition, the villain is comical and over the top as Rami Malek — who I was secretly rooting for more than once — plays Lyutsifer Safin (obviously his parents weren’t privy to “The Best Baby Name Book”) an ultra-chilled baddie with facial scars (seems to be requisite for 007 villains) who elicits compassion from viewers despite his maniacal scheme. As a bonus, Christoph Waltz reprises his role as facially disfigured SPECTRE mastermind Blofeld, who does a fantastic Hannibal Lecter impersonation.
Returning faces include Ralph Fiennes as M, head of Secret Intelligence Service, and his colleagues, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as tech wiz Q, and Rory Kinnear as Chief of Staff Tanner. Jeffrey Wright (in a role that’s too small) is back as Bond’s CIA friend Felix who reunites with his British counterpart, so the gang’s all here for a greatest hits package.
We may be surrounded by all these familiar faces, but “No Time to Die” is elevated by the new additions to the franchise, specifically Lashana Lynch as the female 007, literally, as she’s been commissioned with Bond’s old code number. Lynch, who you may remember as Captain Marvel’s best friend Maria Rambeau, finally gets to strut her stuff with a lively performance that puts her on a level playing field with Bond. It’s great to see her side by side with Bond, two 007’s for the price of one.
Billy Magnussen shows up as the annoying CIA agent Ash, who can’t stop smiling while gushing over Bond (he’s a big fan), and Ana de Armas from “Knives Out” appears as CIA operative Paloma, who like Wright, is featured too briefly in the film. The cast is rounded out by the over-the-top accented David Dencik, the bumbling mad scientist commissioned to carry out Safin’s world-dominating scheme.
Fukunaga delivers a rousing finale to close out the Daniel Craig era complete with romance, exotic locations, cool gadgets, plenty of thrilling shootouts, car chases, and a definitive performance by Craig who gives us the most vulnerable and down-to-earth representation of Ian Fleming’s character. For many, he will always be “our” Bond, …James Bond.
(3 ½ stars)
Now showing in theaters.