As far as the Daniel Craig era goes, No Time to Die comes the closest capturing the suave, cheeky James Bond that longtime fans will fondly remember. At the same time, the film doesn’t abandon the gritty realism that Casino Royale injected into the franchise fifteen years ago. Along with longtime Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, No Time to Die brings two polar opposite talents onboard. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s resume ranges from hard-hitting crime dramas like True Detective to war dramas like Beasts of No Nation. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is best known for her work in comedy, most notably Fleabag. It’s an odd combination, but between Waller-Bridge’s humor and Fukunaga’s intensity, we get the best of both Bonds.
Does that mean No Time to Die is the best modern Bond film? Well, it’s not the breath of fresh air that Casino Royale provided. There also isn’t an action sequence that quite tops the opening or climax of Skyfall. However, Craig gives his absolute best performance as Bond. After playing the role with a straight face for years, Craig lets his comedic range shine through. His most humorous scenes involve Ana de Armas in a Knives Out reunion. He also shares a competitive working relationship with Lashana Lynch as a new 00 agent. The film’s driving force, though, is Bond’s relationship with Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine.
While Spectre had its flaws, Bond driving off into the sunset with Madeleine would’ve been a satisfying way for Craig to bow out. No Time to Die delves deeper into their romance, however. Madeleine emerges as a more complex heroine when a blast from the past comes back to haunt her. Rami Malek is chillingly effective as Lyutsifer Safin, who has a classic Bond plan involving nanobots, poison, and an evil lair. What he lacks is an interesting link to James. The film inevitably builds to a showdown between our hero and villain, but it feels like the real rivalry is between Safin and Madeleine. Bond, meanwhile, shares more antagonistic chemistry with Ernst Blofeld, once again played by Christoph Waltz.
In addition to Bond’s dynamic with Safin, more time could’ve been dedicated to Jeffrey Wright’s Felix and Billy Magnussen’s Logan. These minor problems aside, No Time to Die is remarkably well-passed. The run time clocks in at more than two hours and forty minutes, but it doesn’t play like that. If anything, it feels shorter than Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which was just over 90 minutes. Fukunaga effortlessly moves from set-piece to set-piece, but it’s the emotional stakes that make for such a gripping ride.
Craig has made it no secret that this is going to be his last turn as Bond. Several actors have retired as Bond, but Craig’s exist is the first one with a true sense of finality. It may be the first time in almost sixty years that legitimately leaves us guessing whether Bond will live or die another day. The final act builds to Craig’s most poignant moment since inheriting the role, leaving the character on a perfect note. Sean Connery may always be the definitive Bond, but Craig’s character arc feels the most complete. From Billie Eilish’s hauntingly beautiful theme to the bittersweet closing shot, No Time to Die doesn’t waste a minute.