No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond movie, almost feels like 25 movies in one. So much happens in its complex story—filled with so many sprawling, varied set pieces—that by the time you get to the end, the events of the beginning feel like they happened 18 months ago. Which, if you remember, they were supposed to. Don’t forget, the only reason audiences had to wait six years between James Bond movies was the covid-19 pandemic. Now, though, that extended wait almost works in the movie’s favor. Its 163-minute run time and labyrinthian plot just give us more of what we’ve been waiting for. We’ve waited a long time for No Time and, thankfully, it delivers.
While most previous James Bond movies are more standalone than not, No Time to Die is very much a sequel to the previous films, relying on events from not just the previous one, Spectre, but Casino Royale and the others too. It’s not necessary to remember or rewatch those films, but it’ll help immensely since several characters and storylines return throughout. Things pick up with James Bond (Daniel Craig), now retired, living the good life with his girlfriend Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). Swann’s past, left mysterious in the previous film, quickly comes back though and James is forced to make difficult decisions that bring him back into service.
Bond doesn’t know it but many of those choices are due to the actions of a scarred terrorist named Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek). From the first scene of the film, it’s very clear Safin is the big bad here. Then, almost instantly, the movie goes away from him. Bond is back again fighting agents of Spectre and solving mysteries involving the previous incarcerated villain, Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). Safin, on the other hand, appears in only one more scene before the final act. Bond spends more time fighting with the agent who took over the 007 title, played by Lashana Lynch, than he does brawling with the film’s villain.
That we, the audience, know Safin is behind it all and it takes Bond and everyone around him so long to catch up can, at times, make the narrative feel bloated. One example is a great, run-and-gun action scene in Cuba involving a CIA agent named Paloma (Ana de Armas). She and Bond team up to get some information and kill a whole bunch of bad guys in spectacular fashion, which makes the audience instantly fall in love with her character. Then she says “goodbye” and that it. She’s gone. The mission she and Bond complete is essential to the plot so the scene is not exactly a waste, but it still feels somewhat extra. Important sprinkled with unimportant. And that pattern repeats itself throughout the whole movie: in scene after scene, the character development and plot will advance ever so slightly, while the scenes themselves escalate exponentially like a dozen mini-movies. The slow-developing, slightly repetitive nature can be a bit exhausting. And yet, this is a James Bond movie. James Bond is at his best when he’s being over the top and excessive. More guns, more cars, more motorcycles, more gadgets, more martinis? Yes, please. Those things are the driving force of the entire franchise. And No Time to Die has all of it in spades, even if it’s at times a bit much.
This is all due to the work of director Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective), working from a script he co-wrote with Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) and Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Skyfall). From scene one it’s evident that Fukunaga is delighted to be playing in this sandbox. He revels in all the little James Bond-isms, while framing and lighting them all to feel unique. Almost every single scene is in a new location, with new clothes, environments, and obstacles, all of which add to that dense feeling. There’s a scene in the snow, a scene underwater, a scene in the woods, a scene in a city—it’s always something new. Genres blend a bit too. There are elements of horror, a ton of comedy, and some real drama as well. Is all of it 100% necessary? Not really. But it’s very much paying homage to, while also bolstering, the franchise.
Another thing No Time to Die does very well is humanize James Bond. Don’t worry. He’s still an unstoppable badass, walking up staircases while mowing down bad guys with a machine gun in a single take. But Fukunaga uses the story and characters from the other films to make you care about him as a person, not just cheer for him as a hero. That Bond has a history with Blofeld and Madeleine, as well as M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Q (Ben Whishaw), and others makes him feel like a real human. These are friends, enemies, they have histories, all of which adds a ton of stakes to the movie as the plot finally gets back to what, exactly, Safin is up to.
The performances drive much of that emotion as well. Craig uniquely blends swagger with humanity here, portraying Bond as three-dimensional as we’ve ever seen him. Lynch’s charisma and screen presence instantly make her a worthy friend and foe to Bond and scenes they share sparkle with chemistry. Seydoux, as well, really gives No Time to Die heart, balancing vulnerability with strength in a very realistic way.
Add up those performances, the passion of the filmmaking, the scale of the story, and the links back to the previous films and No Time to Die has a lot to cover, but does it well. You feel its length, but it’s a good thing because it’s one of those stories you enjoy discovering with characters you want to spend time with. The next James Bond film will not be with Daniel Craig but he can go out saying he gave audiences probably the biggest, and definitely the most emotional, Bond movie ever.
No Time To Die will be released in theaters only on October 8.
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