Review: No Time to Die is the perfect imperfect end to Daniel Craig’s perfectly imperfect tenure as James Bond

Here it is, at last: No Time to Die – the long-awaited, long-delayed 25th instalment in the James Bond franchise and star Daniel Craig’s final outing as Ian Fleming’s iconic superspy. After 15-years and five movies, Craig is turning in his Walther PPK and hanging up his tuxedo jacket, and with No Time to Die, director Cary Joji Fukunaga delivers a suitably epic, emotional farewell to the definitive 007 of our generation (if not all time).

Admittedly, this isn’t a flawless final mission for Craig – and the ending is likely to divide hardcore fans of the series. Yet No Time to Die‘s shortcomings somehow manage to play in its favour, making it the perfect imperfect end to Craig’s perfectly imperfect tenure as Bond.

When No Time to Die opens, James Bond is retired and living in Jamaica. Predictably, 007’s retirement proves temporary, and when Bond’s old CIA buddy Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) enlists his help to track down a terrifying new biological weapon, the former superspy finds himself drawn back into the shadowy world of international espionage he tried to escape.

It’s a world that’s changed dramatically during Bond’s absence. MI6 boss M (Ralph Fiennes) has even replaced him, with young gun Nomi (Lashana Lynch) taking over Bond’s old codename and the licence to kill that goes with it. Teaming up with his successor – as well as series mainstays Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) – Bond embarks on a global search to recover the missing bioweapon. This leads him to Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), a disfigured terrorist with a god complex whose insane plot endangers the lives of millions.

As Bond goes head-to-head with Safin, he unearths deadly secrets from girlfriend Madeleine Swann’s (Léa Seydoux) mysterious past, and it’s not long before 007’s comeback mission looks like it will be his last.

Right off the bat, let’s be clear: No Time to Die doesn’t reinvent the James Bond formula. Sure, it has fun superficially subverting some of the franchise’s more dated tropes, but at heart, this is a celebration of the best elements of the pre- and post-Craig eras.

So, everything you’d expect to see – blockbuster action, beautiful women, fast cars, cool gadgets, and stunning locations – is on display here, and director of photography Linus Sandgren (who almost reaches the standard set by Roger Deakins on Skyfall) makes it all look incredible. And while No Time to Die is a surprisingly action-lite James Bond flick, for the most part, the set pieces are dazzling and benefit from Fukunaga’s knack for infusing his unique brand of visual panache into otherwise-tired shootouts and fisticuffs.

Deemphasising the action allows the cast more opportunity to shine, too. Returning players Seydoux, Harris, Wright, Whishaw, and Fiennes are dependably solid, while Lynch overcomes a few clunky one-liners to convince as a worthy successor to the 007 mantle, and Ana de Armas feels criminally underused in her brief yet memorable appearance as bubbly CIA recruit Paloma.

Inevitably, though, No Time to Die belongs to Craig. If Casino Royale or Skyfall remain his finest performances as Bond, his turn here isn’t far off, and his visible slide firmly into middle age adds new poignance to his portrayal of 007. Craig has always pitched the role as a delicate balance between coldblooded ruthlessness and haunting vulnerability and this interpretation is perfectly suited to No Time to Die’s more elegiac tone.

Working from the script by Fukunaga and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Craig offers us a portrait of an aging, out of touch man still trying to do his best and move past old failures – heck, just trying to survive, really. It’s disarmingly raw at times and feels like a subtle comment on the inescapable decline of a franchise, a genre, and even a certain kind of social paradigm, which hits home more effectively than self-consciously timely plot elements like health data and bioweapons.

But then, the plot itself largely takes a backseat to Bond’s emotional journey this time around, anyway.

Not only does Safin make for a forgettable villain – hobbled by murky motivations, nonsensical scheming, and tics recycled from other, better baddies – but when you get right down to it, the story is essentially standard action/espionage fodder. Craig’s Bond is arresting enough that you probably won’t care, but it would have been nice for Fukunaga and the screenwriting team to mix things up a bit more in this respect.

They certainly had enough time to do something different; at 163 minutes, No Time to Die is easily the longest movie in the James Bond franchise. Clearly, Fukunaga went with an extended runtime to give Craig the sweeping swansong he deserves, and the movie’s length feels largely justified, although the pacing falters towards the end.

And what an ending it is. This is one area where the creative team has taken real risks, although your mileage will vary over whether the bombastic closing scenes – which have potentially huge implications for the franchise – leave you feeling shaken or stirred.

One thing’s for sure, though: by the time the credits roll, you’ll be in no doubt that you’ve just witnessed the end of an era – the “Daniel Craig as Ian Fleming’s James Bond” era. Craig’s run as 007 wasn’t perfect, but its highlights rank up there with the very best the franchise has to offer. The same can be said for No Time to Die – and that’s why it’s the perfect send-off for a star who, for many fans, will always be the ultimate James Bond.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter or Facebook!

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