With “No Time to Die,” Daniel Craig ends his 15-year tenure as James Bond with a film that, for the first time in the franchise, offers a real sense of closure for an actor leaving the 007 role.
In the past, an actor’s time as Bond would end unceremoniously. Connery was done after “You Only Live Twice” and was replaced with George Lazenby for a one film with “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”
After fan backlash, Connery was coaxed by a big paycheck with “Diamonds Are Forever.” Roger Moore took over in 1973 with “Live and Let Die” but aged out of the role by 1985’s “A View to Kill.”
Timothy Dalton had his two shots at the role in the late 1980s, but contract issues prevented a third go. The 1990s ushered in Pierce Brosnan with “GoldenEye” but his final film “Die Another Die” was hated by fans and critics. A complete reboot was called for.
Starting with “Casino Royale” in 2006, Craig’s era of Bond has been distinctly different from all previous incarnations. Most notably, his films are telling one continuous story with returning characters, themes and ongoing plot threads.
While in the past there have been recurring characters, such as M, Q, Miss Moneypenny and the villainous Blofeld, and the occasional callback, each Bond film felt like a standalone adventure. This is why it has been so easy to simply replace the actor because there’s been no true continuity.
Bond through the years has always remained the same. As a character, he rarely grows and, if he does, the changes are reset by the next film. Craig’s Bond has had an arc, so this film had to put a bow on his time in the role. The screenplay credited to Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and director Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge provides a sense of finality in a poignant finale that provides an emotional wallop.
There are a lot of returning characters, including the expected M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw), Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), as well as CIA operative Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and Madeleine (Léa Seydoux), Bond’s love interest from the previous film.
In addition, there are new characters, including an effective new double O agent (Lashana Lynch); an enthusiastic young CIA agent (Ana de Armas); Rami Malek’s Lyutsifer Safin, the latest villain with dreams of world destruction; a henchman with a bionic eye (Dali Benssalah); and a CIA agent who is a big fan of Bond (Billy Magnussen).
That’s a lot of characters to juggle leading to a lengthy two hours and 45 minutes runtime. The length is rarely felt though because Fukunaga keeps things moving and tells a character-driven story rather than an action-oriented one. That isn’t to say there aren’t some terrific action sequences.
There are actually two openings, with the first being a flashback of young Madeleine that plays like a horror film, so much so that you question if you walked into the wrong movie. The second pre-opening title sequence focuses on a retired Bond’s idyllic life with Madeleine being disrupted when his past comes back to haunt him. This leads to a fun and thrilling chase scene featuring the iconic Aston Martin.
Later, there’s a cheeky and energetic bit of espionage and combat in Cuba that is a showcase for the excellent de Armas. Her screen time is limited but highly memorable. There’s also an atmospheric shootout in a fog-filled forest that is oddly beautiful.
And while it isn’t an action scene, there’s a Hannibal Lecter-esque conservation between Bond and a captive Blofeld that is thrilling in a different way. Waltz’ brief but chilling performance is better than his entire appearance in “Spectre.” Malek’s Safin is equally chilling with a soft, direct manner of speaking. He’s also not above threatening a child.
Surprisingly, “No Time to Dies” also makes direct references to “On Your Majesty’s Secret Service” with the recurring line “We have all the time in the world” and the use of the Louis Armstrong song inspired by that line over the close credits. Though separated by decades, the two films provide a nice symmetry.
While this is definitively Craig’s last turn as Bond, there’s a way to move forward with this continuity without having to recast and reboot. While this would be a story without a Bond, it wouldn’t be without a 007. Die-hard fans might balk at this idea but the universe from Craig-era Bond does have interesting characters left to explore — notably Lynch’s Nomi and de Armas’ Paloma. This could be a way to go at least for one film.
At the very least, if there is a hard reboot, it would be nice to keep on Fiennes’ M, Whishaw’s Q and Harris’ Moneypenny similar to how Judi Dench’s M carried over from the Brosnan years or how Desmond Llewelyn played Q from 1963 through 1999.
However the producing team decides to move forward with the franchise, they have delivered a solid swan song for Craig that might, for the first time, have you asking if we even need another film.