No Time To Die has become almost a symbol of the COVID-19 pandemic that has been ravaging the world for the past two years. There was a collective scoff as the latest James Bond film was the first to move its release date, before any of the several lockdowns. Surely this was an overreaction?
An overreaction it was not as infections rose and films kept moving dates, several times. Finally, in late 2021, we finally saw Daniel Craig's James Bond grace our screens and for a brief moment, everything seemed alright again. So in a way, it doesn't matter whether No Time To Die is a great film, because its sheer existence is tied to our collective experience of a world-changing event and it represents hope and perseverance.
No Time To Die finds Bond retired and separated from Madeleine Swann, with whom he had cosied up in Matera until an apparent betrayal drove them apart. Bond is drawn back into the MI6 shenanigans when a new enemy surfaces and it seems he has a rather close bond with Swann, who clearly has much more to hide than previously assumed.
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, No Time To Die by no means reinvents the wheel. It has all the ingredients of a Bond film, to a fault; beautiful women, fast cars, a villain with a weak motive and a lot of guns. Fukunaga simply asks you to enjoy the ride and not to question anything and No Time To Die is a frustratingly passive experience. If you begin to think about it past its surface level, very little of it makes sense, but it does provide enough thrills to justify its existence.
The other reason No Time To Die is so meaningful to a lot of people is because it's Daniel Craig's last outing as the iconic character. Craig has redefined how we see Bond and has made the character infinitely more complex with a rich inner life, but No Time To Die wastes an opportunity to bring this narrative to a satisfying closure despite an interesting finale. It's a bold, but ultimately predictable ending and one that doesn't feel rooted in Bond's emotional tribulations but on pure nostalgia with a side of fan service.
Craig is still on fine form as Bond, bringing a hefty sense of history and weight to the character. Léa Seydoux is also compelling as Madeline Swann and it's exciting to see a female character explored more, even if it remains a tad shallow. Rami Malek does his best with a weak character and script. His villain, the mysterious Safin, is one of the weakest in Craig's era. He lacks an interesting or even a sane, logical motive and the film, despite the overly bloated, near 3-hour runtime, is too busy with everything else to craft him a proper narrative. Instead, he just pops up every now and then and inconveniences Bond's life, but the stakes simply aren't there.
It's Lashana Lynch who is the star here, as Nomi, Bond's successor as 007. She infuses the character with complex emotions and plays her off as a woman always on the edge and always ready to defend her place in the ranks. She isn't explored enough here, but we should hope to see her again in the Bond universe.
But there is no denying that No Time To Die isn't entertaining. Fukunaga directs the action with a steady hand and an understanding of what has made Bond such a long-lasting franchise. It also feels a little stale, none of the action sequences are particularly memorable and the script, penned by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge lacks imagination. No Time To Die often feels like a competent first draft of a great film.
Not quite the coda and swan song that we wanted for Craig, but a flashy, entertaining action film nevertheless, No Time To Die might have fallen short on the massive expectations. But as stated above, it didn't need to be excellent, it just needed to exist to give us hope and a much-needed boost in the dark times we are currently living through, making it one of 2021's most important films.
No Time To Die is available digitally, on DVD and Blu-Ray now.