by Maribeth Thueson,NRFTW Contributor
When we last saw James Bond (Daniel Craig) at the end of Spectre, he’d quit MI6 and headed off with his Aston Martin DB5 and MI6 shrink Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). In No Time to Die, we find Bond in blissful retirement. He’s tooling around Italy with Swann, happy, relaxed, and romantic. He’s let down his defenses and let Swann in. “We have all the time in the world,” he says, but we know it can’t last.
Sure enough, when Bond visits Vesper Lynde’s grave (the woman he’s been haunted by ever since Casino Royale) to put her ghost to rest so he can be free to commit to Madeleine, Spectre agents are waiting; there’s a fantastic chase in which Bond rides a motorcycle up stairs and over roofs, and finally escapes by jumping off a bridge. He believes Madeleine has betrayed him to Spectre, and although he reluctantly saves her life by driving off with her in the DB8 as Spectre agents pound it with bullets — and it’s a crime what they do to that car — he refuses to listen to an explanation or to see her again.
Five years later, he’s retreated to splendiferous digs in Jamaica. Ever wonder what Bond does when he’s not saving the world? Why, he goes out sailing and catching fish for dinner. But that can’t last, either. His old pal, CIA agent Felix Leighter (Geoffrey Wright) comes calling with an offer to get back into action. MI6 scientist Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik), who has invented a DNA-based nanobot weapon, has disappeared, and Felix wants to find him before MI6 does. So Bond exchanges his shorts for a tuxedo and we’re off on another adventure.
Unfortunately for us, this is Craig’s last adventure as James Bond. He’s played Bond in five films, starting with Casino Royale in 2006. His Bond is a thug in a tux, never sure of his place in MI6, fighting both his bosses and the villains he is sent to capture or kill, more muscular and less suave and facile than previous versions of the character. Arguing over who is the best Bond is as much fun as arguing over who is the best Star Trek captain, and for many people the answer is Sean Connery, but increasingly, Craig is seen as the best Bond. Ironic, considering that when he was first cast he was heaped with derision, mostly for being blond and not handsome enough. His outings in Casino Royale and especially Skyfall rank among the best of the 27 Bond films, along with From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (in which Bond actually gets <gasp!> married).
No Time to Die isn’t quite there — it’s too long, as it wraps up storylines from previous movies, and the plot is too convoluted — but it’s not far behind. And it includes several moments of humor, which almost certainly must be attributed to Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who Craig requested be hired as a writer to punch up the dialogue and add more humor. They even figured out a new, and humorous, way for Craig to say “Bond, James Bond,” which is no easy feat.
Our old MI6 pals are back: M (Ralph Fiennes), who wants Bond to stay retired; Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), who help Bond behind M’s back; and a new agent, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), whose number is — wait for it — 007. She competes with Bond for Obruchev, and it’s a while before they warm to each other and start working together. Ana de Armas shows up, delightfully, as a new CIA agent who is assigned to help Bond infiltrate a Spectre convention. She kicks ass for a few minutes and then — alas! — is not seen again.
Christoph Waltz reappears as Ernst Blofeld, who despite being in prison, masterminds an attempt to kill Bond using the DNA weapon. He was a great villain in Spectre, but he’s not really the villain in No Time to Die. That honor goes to Rami Malek as Lyutsifer Safin, who has a Dr. No-type secret island where he and Obruchev are manufacturing the DNA weapon in huge quantities so Safin can kill pretty much everyone in the world (because why should Thanos have all the fun?). Malek is supposed to be spooky and threatening, but he’s just not. He doesn’t even show up until halfway through the movie, and his underwhelming performance means that the movie is stuck without a hefty-enough antagonist for Bond to struggle against.
Nevertheless, Malek provides just enough danger for a slam-bang ending, one which reveals Bond’s true vulnerability and Craig’s acting chops. Craig reinvigorated the Bond franchise, making Bond a complicated character who was more than a killing machine who liked his martinis shaken, not stirred. He had our hearts, and perhaps other organs, the moment he rose from the ocean, sexy and fresh, in Casino Royale. The speculation on who will succeed him as Bond has been rife for months, but whoever he, or she, turns out to be, it won’t be easy. They’ll have a tough tux to fill.