Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond that began 15 years ago with the elegant Casino Royale, ushering in a tough, charismatic 007 ends five films later on more of a whimper than a bang. Entertaining, if overlong, a weak villain and a third act that could have used a rewrite that put some thought into where you might go when you’ve written yourself into a corner betrays Craig’s swan song. He deserves better than this; so, does Bond.
After two prologues, the first involving the little girl who will grow up to be Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), Bond’s Spectre and continuing love interest and the other setting the scene for Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), Bond’s future nemesis. The first prologue is more basic Bond as an idyllic Italian vacation with Madeleine goes awry and the secret agent finds himself facing down a small battalion of miscreants, an exciting lead-in to the franchise’s fabulous and fabulously old-fashioned credit sequence that unreels to Billie Eilish’s eponymous title song – a fine addition to the ongoing franchise soundtrack.
When the plot finally engages, Bond has been long separated from MI6 when his old CIA associate Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen), a Leiter associate with a supercilious grin and unctuous manner – Bond makes a crack about him looking like something out of The Book of Mormon, apt but would Bond really be up on his musicals? – come calling. How can he get out when they keep pulling him back in? What seems like a simple assignment and a momentary intrusion into a lazy retirement is something else, indeed. Bond’s assignation in Cuba, partnering with tyro operative Paloma (Ana de Armas), is anything but straightforward, as once all the bodies accumulate, it leads Bond back to his old life.
What unfurls is a complicated plot that reunites Bond with his ex, Madeleine; old arch-enemy Blofeld (Chrisoph Waltz); and his old MI6 gang, M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and Q (Ben Whishaw). A new agent, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), holds the 007 designation, but it isn’t long before it seems as if nothing has really changed over the years. Bond still has a talent for raising M’s blood pressure and alternately annoying and charming everyone else. But there is one significant difference: He is in love with Madeleine and that makes him vulnerable.
For most of No Time to Die‘s nearly three-hour running time, the action comes so fast and furious that there is barely time to register the plot and the hackneyed romance or wish that if Bond is going to be involved with someone young enough to be his daughter, it ought to be his ass-kicking equal like Paloma or Nomi, and not a psychologist from a SPECTRE family with daddy issues who really gets Blofeld.
But once Bond lands on Safin’s island lair – is there some realtor that specializes in these kinds of places? – even as the action continues apace, things slow down. Now, is when Safin, who has been barely a blip in the movie, rises to the forefront and gets a chance to monologue. Enemy-wise, the Craig years started with Mads Mikkelsen’s elegant, deadly Le Chiffre and ends with Malek’s petulant, mumbling psychopath with delusions of grandeur – what a come down.
It only gets worse from there, saddling Bond with a sentimentality that does not suit the character and ending with – well, put it this way: When the crawl finally comes, “James Bond will be back,” you will be forgiven for thinking, “Yeah, good luck with that.”