Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond comes to an end, and, spoiler alert, does not have a happy ending. And yet it does.
Prior to Craig’s debut in 2006’s Casino Royale, the first Bond movie in years to follow the source material, continuity was alternately ignored or stretched to the breaking point and beyond. We were to believe that Sean Connery’s Bond was also that of George Lazenby, then Roger Moore. Moore’s aged Bond somehow became the younger, more intense Timothy Dalton’s Bond. Going from Dalton to Pierce Brosnan was not as much of a leap. But the age of the ageless character had long expired by the time Die Another Day dropped.
Craig’s tenure has been a long, self-contained story with maybe some nods to the previous installments. But No Time to Die brings Craig’s Bond full circle, beginning, as in For Your Eyes Only, with a visit to a lost lover’s grave. Picking up soon after the events of Spectre, Bond and Madeline are in Italy where he is going to retire and spend his life in something like wedded bliss. In another nod to a previous Bond, he informs her, “We have all the time in the world.” Had I not seen the trailer, I would have taken that as a cue that Madeline was about to meet the same fate as Tracy Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But instead, we go for Moore’s ill-fated trip to Tracy’s grave, where, like Moore, Craig is caught in a trap. Unlike Moore, there’s no dumping Dr. Evil down a smokestack. No, Blofeld is working from a distance (and apparently from inside his prison cell), and wrecks both Bond’s and Madeline’s lives. Five years later, Bond is alone in Jamaica, done with the spy game, when Felix Leiter shows up. Leiter doesn’t trust his State Department sidekick and recruits Bond to infiltrate Cuba to lay hands on a missing scientist working on a genetically targeted plague. Blofeld once again reaches out from his prison cell like a daft version of Hannibal Lecter to kill Bond, but the Russian has betrayed him. Instead, every Spectre agent at a party in Santiago is killed. Bond, with the help of a beautiful, enthusiastic, and, most importantly, deadly CIA agent, misses the Russian but grabs a sample of the plague.
It turns out when he returns to Britain to confront M that, not only is there a new 007 in MI6, but M apparently had a hand in the creation of the plague. Bond is reactivated and paired with the new 007 to go after Safin, a vengeful man whose grudge against Spectre encompasses the entire world. Bond is also thrust back into Madeline’s life and gets a final confrontation with Blofeld in prison. It careens, as a Bond movie inevitably does, toward Safin’s secret lair where he’s about to make Covid 19 look like an outbreak of noro virus or a bad flu.
No Time to Die is one of the better installments in the Bond franchise. Like all the Craig movies, it is intense and full of change for Bond. It also avoids some of the silliness of previous movies, including Spectre. There are some poignant touches such as Bond and Leiter on one last mission. When Blofeld tries to invoke their shared past and calling them brothers, Bond angrily informs him that his brother’s name is Felix Leiter. It does not end well for Blofeld.
And speaking of Blofeld, in the absence of his cat – Seldom are angora cats doled out for prisoners to fondle while they scheme – there is a hilarious reference to Austin Powers. You might say Mr. Bigglesworth makes a cameo.
The cast is nearly perfect. Craig, is of course, second only to Connery as Bond, some would say the best Bond. I’m willing to go back and research. The usual supporting cast lighten the mood. Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny is more like Samantha Bond’s ball-busting lady friend than Lois Maxwell’s flirty officemate to Bond. We get to see Ben Whitshaw’s Q at home nervously preparing for a date when Bond and Moneypenny interrupt him. Then there’s Lashawn Lynch as the new 007. She’s not given as much to do as she might have been. However, if, as some want, they went with a female 007 going forward, they could continue this continuity to explore her character. She is as intense and cynical as Craig’s Bond. And, of course, Christoph Waltz is clearly having a blast as Blofeld. In fact, he only agreed to come back if Craig did. The two have great chemistry, and one wonders how many outtakes their scenes together took.
Ralph Fiennes as M is, as Judi Dench before him, given a bit of an arc of his own. The crisis is partly his fault, and in one scene, he is seen staring at a painting of his predecessor wondering if he’s going to get fired. To one side is her predecessor, Robert Brown’s M. (I would have preferred Bernard Lee’s.) And the relationship between M and Bond is more antagonistic. Whereas Dench was a patient mother with an out-of-control son, Fiennes’s Mallory has to deal with counterpunches from Bond, who no longer is beholden to him. At one point, he informs Bond that taking a job with the CIA, despite Leiter’s involvement, “stings.”
Rami Malek is the perfect psychopath in this one. He is helllbent on revenge, and his daddy issues are different from Blofeld’s. He informs Madeline (and later Bond) that they have made him do the things he’s doing. Everything in Safin’s world exists in service to his blind rage, and he’s too obsessed to realize he’s already had his revenge against Blofeld.
Daniel Craig will not return, and neither will his version of James Bond. That story has come full circle. But James Bond will return.
My vote is for Tom Hardy or Henry Cavill.