More than 18 months after it was originally slated to hit theaters, No Time to Die is finally set to be unveiled for audiences, which will surely lead many to wonder if the wait was worth it. Confirmed to be Daniel Craig's final adventure as the spy, the extended wait for release has only added more undue pressure on this latest installment, with tremendous odds being stacked against it. Even with all of the outside challenges No Time to Die has had to face, the film gives audiences almost everything they'd expect from any entry into the series, while also finding unexpectedly emotional moments to tug on the heartstrings of fans who have been in Craig's corner since Casino Royale.
James Bond's past has a way of catching up with him, once again forcing him to ostracize himself from all of the people close to him, until a threat emerges that requires his specific skill set. As is the case with most Bond films, he won't entirely be left to take on this threat alone, yet some of his MI6 colleagues aren't as happy about him coming out of retirement as others.
While we're omitting the specific details of villain Lyutsifer Safin, played by Rami Malek, and what his nefarious plans are that are so treacherous, it's largely because the film's biggest setback is the unremarkable nature of the villain's motives. The previous film in Craig's tenure, Spectre, saw the return of the iconic villain Blofeld (played by Christoph Waltz), there's little about Safin that stands out either as a fresh take on a Bond villain or a way in which he might have channeled a figure from the franchise's history. Safin's plans are to do bad things for the sake of bad things, despite his character claiming that these are acts of revenge. Given the number of colorful and compelling villains that the Bond franchise has delivered over the years, Safin is an underwhelming antagonist for Craig to go out on.
Despite the disappointing nature of the Safin, it almost seems like it was an intentional move on the part of the story and filmmakers to pay so little attention to Bond's foe, allowing us to spend much more time with Craig's take on the spy. Audiences have seen Bond in all manner of intimate situations over the decades, but No Time to Die arguably shows off his most emotionally intimate moments and vulnerabilities, none of which betray the image of the lothario he's been portrayed as over the years. Craig's Bond is as refined as ever in No Time to Die, feeling just as comfortable taking a few moments mid-gunfight to down a few drinks and throw off flirtations as he is when confronting the parts of himself he's spent his life trying to bury.
Similarly to Bond's foil largely being unmemorable, as are the action sequences and set pieces, though this shouldn't be considered a detriment to the overall experience. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga does manage to craft a handful of tense sequences, yet none of them feel especially showy. Whether Bond is being pursued through an Italian villa or fending of threats in a fog-soaked forest, each sequence serves a narrative purpose and is engaging, even if they lack the spectacular and dazzling cinematography seen in Sam Mendes' previous two films. Even the sequence that leans into the trend of passing for a one-take shot as Bond ascends a staircase doesn't let you know that it's borrowing this structure while you're in the midst of it, likely only dawning on you what you've been witnessing when the camera finally does cut to a different angle. This ultimately seems to have been the approach to the entire film: tell an effective, efficient story without being too overt about it being Craig's final outing.
Even with that overall restraint of attempting to deliver one last, satisfying adventure for Bond fans, even those only somewhat familiar with Craig's tenure will surely be delighted. Returning figures like Ralph Fiennes, Jeffrey Wright, Naomie Harris, and Ben Whishaw hit all of the character traits we've enjoyed in previous films, while Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas manage to make their own stamps on the series without ever detracting from franchise veterans. Instead, these newcomers add an exciting alchemy for Craig and company, reminding audiences that for as much as this is Craig's swan song, there's still plenty of life left in the concept.
No Time to Die manages to serve audiences nearly everything they'd want from a Bond film, whether it be the debut or final entry of a performer, while somewhat managing to avoid series pitfalls. The plot ends up feeling nonessential, as does Safin's entire trajectory, yet we're still given multiple surprisingly touching moments with Craig, making for an earned sendoff for the actor whose initial casting for Casino Royale was met with backlash from devotees. No Time to Die likely won't be the favorite installment among fans when it comes to Craig's legacy, but it surely offers the actor the opportunity to showcase all of the skills in his arsenal that he so rightly deserves.
Rating: 4 out of 5
No Time to Die hits theaters on October 8th.