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Review: ‘No Time To Die’ sends Bond off big, for better and for worse

“No Time To Die” is an entertaining Bond film with all the requisite elements, just one that’s pushed to the absolute max in terms of both spectacle and narrative bloat. (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios)

This review contains spoilers for “No Time To Die.”

From the very first scene, it’s clear that this is going to be a very different Bond movie. Just as  “Casino Royale” ushered in the Daniel Craig era with a vicious, brutal introduction to the character, “No Time to Die” begins with… well, it doesn’t begin with Bond at all.

This is the only Bond film that I can remember where, prior to the traditional opening scene, we’re thrown into a flashback with a different character. It’s a slow, methodical opening, something that feels like it was ripped out of a home invasion thriller rather than a Bond film. From there, the film takes its time building up to the action: we’re reunited with James (Craig) and Madeleine Swann (Leá Seydoux), we see them lounging around Italy, there’s a visit to Vesper’s grave, and then the chaos starts.

I would hazard a guess that it takes about 25 minutes to reach the film’s variation on the famed opening credits sequence. The message is clear: this is a film that is in no rush to tell its story.

Daniel Craig as James Bond in “No Time To Die.” (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios)

At 163 minutes, “No Time to Die” is extraordinarily long – the longest Bond film and an unusually long blockbuster film in general. Truth be told, no Bond film has had this much to cover or wrap up before, so it makes sense. Its length thus seems deliberate and purposeful, though in this case, that doesn’t mean that it’s not messy as hell, yet it’s a genuine attempt at slowing the pace and savoring Craig’s final rodeo. There’s plenty of narrative downtime and an emphasis on pathos that I’ve gathered is already proving to be a bit of a sticking point for some fans. It’s action-packed, of course, but there are numerous stretches where there’s really not much moving the plot forward at all. We see Q preparing for a date at his flat (there’s an off-handed, easy to miss and easy to censor bit of representation that the Hollywood studios love so dearly). Bond makes breakfast for… okay, I won’t spoil that yet.

This run of the Bond franchise, in which continuity and an expansion of the classic formula rule the day, reaches a strange little apex here with its emphasis on these characters as human beings – as people with daily lives who just so happen to be world-saving colleagues. For those of us who have embraced this Craig era of Bond, we’re fond of Ben Whishaw’s Q and Naomie Harris’s Eve Moneypenny beyond their mere role in the franchise’s formula. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga embraces that, and it’s appreciated.

Léa Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann in “No Time To Die.” (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios)

It is also tasked with being “James Bond Rises: Endgame,” the monumentally maximalist final chapter in the Craig saga that remixes elements of everything that came before. The lingering shadow of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and the “Casino Royale” days is still there, but “Skyfall” and “Spectre’s” DNA haven’t been shaken yet, with the film focusing on Bond’s legacy, potential family, and obsolescence. Though my mock title for the film is meant to be slightly ironic, this film does feel influenced by popular culture’s biggest and most popular season finales, featuring all manner of jumps in time, new wrinkles in the personal equation for the characters, extinction-level stakes, and emotional farewells. 

As others have noted, the plot is, for all intents and purposes, fairly dumb and often needlessly circuitous, ballooning the length to even more absurd proportions. I remember a rumor at the time of its initial delay, all the way back in March of 2020, that MGM preemptively pushed the film in because of unfortunate narrative similarities with the COVID pandemic. Well, uh, seems plausible. I didn’t hate Rami Malek’s performance here as much as most, but his Safin is a pretty sub-standard villain with a personal motivation that doesn’t always gel. While the film spends time on its characters in a way that’s charming, it does become a bit of a slog at times when “No Time to Die” gets especially talky, with so many characters involved in pursuit of this technology that… yeah, I’m not going to even try to explain it. You can’t expect every Bond film to be as fine tuned as “Skyfall” or “Casino Royale,” but this one is even more scattershot than “Spectre” at times in terms of pacing and rhythm – though I like that much-maligned film, so it’s not a sticking point.

Rami Malek as Safin in “No Time To Die.” (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios)

Despite long stretches of very little action, what’s there is really pretty sensational. Director of photography Linus Sandgren and Fukunaga craft some gorgeous images, though nothing quite at Deakins’s level with “Skyfall,” and there are some moments of violence that are surprisingly bracing. It’s clear James hasn’t lost his touch for punishing his opponents in grueling fashion since “Casino Royale.” And after getting sidetracked by the confusing demands of Malek’s plan, motivations, and the twisted events leading up to it, Fukunaga delivers an absolutely stunning long take in the final set piece – a brilliant piece of choreography that hits that visceral sweet spot. In those moments, complaints be damned: it’s an entertaining Bond film with all the requisite elements, just one that’s pushed to the absolute max in terms of both spectacle and narrative bloat. 

The ending will obviously be the film’s lasting legacy; it commits to being distinct and unique until the final frame. Truthfully, I think saying “SPOILERS” gives you a pretty good clue of what’s up here. No Bond film has ever needed that warning before, so I think you can guess where this one’s going. Not to mention the fact that Fukunaga and company pull from the Tony Stark Send-Off playbook: once that kid shows up, sorry, but you know James is a goner. It’s a bold and rewarding choice, and it’s the aspect of the film that makes me think this could grow on me over time. How this lands will really depend on your subjective experience with this iteration of the character: how much you care about Craig’s Bond, how invested you are in his relationship with Madeleine, and so on. I found it touching, though I wonder how it will land with audiences used to Bond reigning triumphant. But then again, this entire run has been rooted in a subversion of everything we expect from a Bond film – this one just carries that idea to the bitter end. 

And even if Craig’s flesh-and-blood rendition of the super spy is blown to smithereens, the film is very explicit that the story of James Bond – the myth, the 007 number, the idea behind the man – will continue, passed down as a legend for generations. As the end credits emphasize, James Bond will return, but it may be a long time before we see a version this singular and committed to its own approach, for better or worse, again.

Star Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

“No Time To Die” is now playing in theaters.

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