Over the last two features of Daniel Craig’s now five-film tenure as James Bond, the franchise has been overtly concerned with justifying its own existence. Both celestial fall and Spectrum explicitly dug into whether the “shoot first/have sex later/ask if there’s time after the shooting and sex” ethic that has defined 007 for most of the past 60 years remained relevant.
Yet it was also legitimate to wonder whether the Bond series had survived its usefulness as the quintessential source of cinematic spectacle. Its once undisputed supremacy for over-the-top action was slowly overtaken by fantasy franchises, and eventually even the fast furious series; spy rivals like Thick headed and Impossible mission delivered their own ass-kicking heroes. Perhaps the slam-bang escape had evolved too many other practitioners for Bond to still feel…essential.
So rather than taking on the contestants in his own previously safe turf, the Bond films starring Craig zapped in a different direction. With Craig in the role, the films delved into not a wild escape, but a sense of consequence. They supported and informed each other, from the traumatic death of Vesper Lynd to Eva Green in Casino Royale and moving through Blofeld as the primary villain in Spectrum. no time to die doubles down on that approach, in that it seems its purpose, more than just a brand extension, gives Craig’s Bond a full arc.
The postponement of Spectrum here includes Bond’s relationship with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), who seems set to become The Real Thing before an ambush leaves Bond wondering if he can trust Madeleine. Five years later, he lives alone and has retired from MI6 when he is contacted by an old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and embarked on a mission to retrieve a deadly bio-weapon that can target individuals based on their genetic code.
The doomsday scenario feels like familiar serial material, and indeed, there’s some vintage Bond genetic code on display here, like the huge secret lair on a remote island occupied by our megalomaniac. of the day, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), and a cadre of anonymous, disposable henchmen led by another distinctive, somewhat tougher henchman. As an action movie, however, it can tend to feel a little thin. Little in director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s oeuvre points to a setup with big set pieces, and aside from the pre-credits car chase through the winding streets of Matera, Italy, most of the punch here is left with fights and shootouts – rugged enough stuff, but not exactly packed with a “wow” factor.
This is because the lion’s share of no time to dieThe 163 minutes of James Bond are dedicated to unpacking James Bond’s various relationships as they have taken us so far: with Madeleine, with Felix, with M (Ralph Fiennes), with Blofeld (Christoph Waltz, getting just enough screen time to make Malek’s nastiness purr pale in comparison). Craig is more than up to the task, finding great performance moments in a man of action who still can’t figure out when and how to care about anyone. His Bond is a work in progress, confident enough in who he is to be able to handle the fact that his “007” designation has been passed on to someone else since his retirement – and a woman (Lashana Lynch) to boot.
The question is, will audiences primed for a new James Bond adventure, after six long years and multiple release date delays for this film, accept this change in direction? We don’t have a new “Bond girl” for our hero to fall into bed indiscriminately, though Craig Knives out co-star Ana de Armas makes an impression as a fellow agent who wreaks havoc while sporting a plunging neckline; a Bond saying “I love you” is a different breed of cat. A few jokes come out of Craig’s dialogue, but it’s fair to say that no time to die isn’t as interested in being “fun” as most of its predecessors. While this is indeed Craig’s farewell to his days as James Bond, it concludes what feels like its own run on the show, and has found a unique answer to the question of whether James Bond can still count. As compelling as this story is, it will be interesting to see how much of the franchise’s next step will focus on the future, versus how much it will be about trying to rekindle past glories.