Hiring Hans Zimmer for a project is a spoiler in itself. Here, the legendary German composer has been given essentially the same responsibility that he had on "The Dark Knight Rises;" being a companion to a character on their last legs, holding out a hand when they need it the most, and providing support when they're all by themselves. Besides star Daniel Craig himself, Zimmer's score has perhaps the greatest impact in the moving final moments of "No Time to Die," the actor's fifth and final film as Commander James Bond; a melodrama masquerading as a muscular action picture.
It's a second bite at the cherry, almost. Because Craig sat on the fence about his future as Agent 007 the last time as well, "Spectre" was hastily dressed up as a swan song. Forgettable as that film was, you're going to have to remember certain elements from it if you want to understand what's going on in this one. That might be a difficult task, considering that an entire American presidency has run its course in the six years since "Spectre" disgraced our movie screens.
"No Time to Die" is almost worth the wait. Overlong and often very silly; visually stunning from start to finish and, in its final act, unexpectedly emotional, director Cary Joji Fukunaga's film isn't so much concerned with reinventing Bond as it is with reshaping the world around him.
"No Time to Die" opens with a glorious pre-credits sequence set in Italy and filmed in IMAX. Bond and Madeleine Swann's romantic getaway is rudely interrupted by a slew of henchmen with connections to the evil organisation Spectre.
His past, as it were, refuses to let him be. In an early scene, Bond, by force of habit, looks over his shoulder when he's out with Madeleine in quite the fairy-tale environment. She calls him out on it. But that's the man he is; always on the run — sometimes from grotesque villains, but mostly from himself. Bond is still struggling with the trauma of losing Vesper Lynd all those years ago, and perhaps that is why he has erected an emotional barrier between himself and Madeleine, for fear of not going through the same heartbreak once again. On the two occasions that the carrot of a regular life was dangled in front of him, he swatted it away.
But this implies one very important thing, that James Bond, as played by the now 53-year-old Daniel Craig, has a heart. And reasserting this, in a nutshell, is the sole reason for this film's existence.
The lines on Craig's face are more pronounced than they were 16 years ago, when he first earned the license to kill in "Casino Royale." He still has that swaggering confidence when he walks into a room — any room — but Fukunaga makes the wise decision to not hide his age, especially in the action scenes.
Craig's Bond has always favoured brute force over mind games — George Smiley he is not — but on so many occasions in the film, he lets out an 'oof' when he is punched. And crucially, he doesn't immediately spring back up when he is struck down.
A single-take stairway shootout in the film's final moments pushes Bond to his absolute limits as a human being made of flesh and bone, and also penetrates his psychology with unusual deftness for a film in which a character kills another by dropping a car on them. This isn't the same Bond who was motivated by rage in "Quantum of Solace," or the man who was driven by duty in "Skyfall."
Now, with decades of service behind him, James Bond is moved by love.
"No Time to Die" is almost operatically tragic, and despite hitting more than a few false notes in its meandering second act, it regains its composure so confidently that you'll be reminded of that shot from "Skyfall," when Bond lands feet-first onto a moving train coach and makes sure he's looking dapper before he continues fighting. If you've stuck with the Craig era from the very beginning, "No Time to Die" might even have the same impact that, say, "Logan" or "Avengers: Endgame" did.
Credit must therefore be directed towards Cary Fukunaga, who in the first (and most) mainstream project of his career embraces genre conventions with little hesitation and zero shame. Villains proudly deliver soliloquies about their master-plans, Bond asks for a vodka martini (shaken, not stirred), and the iconic line 'Bond, James Bond' is uttered not once, but twice — but in surprising ways. Perhaps in a sign of how out of touch he is with the evolving world, however, 007 makes presumptions about female characters that make him look almost foolish more than once.
This would never have flown even six years ago, but that's all in the past. Progressive gender-politics in the script aside, there is a spark to the dialogue in No Time to Die that perhaps wasn't there before.
Bond's old chum Felix Leiter tells him in an early scene, "I'm not just a pretty face," and 007 shoots back, "I stopped trusting pretty faces a long time ago." I'd like to think that this is the doing of co-writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, but who's to say. Bond can still be a chauvinist pig sometimes, and that's fine, but the film not only creates room for important female characters, it gives them things to do — this wasn't always the case with these movies. Both Ana de Armas and Lashana Lynch are memorable despite limited screen time.
Ironically, it's the sole Oscar-winner in the film's cast who gives the weakest performance. I blame it on the poor sound mix and the nonsensical plot the villainous Safin has been saddled with. Or perhaps the truly baffling move on the filmmakers' part to restrict Rami Malek's role to basically an extended cameo.
After making just a couple of brief appearances across two whole hours, we see Safin properly only towards the end. But by then, it's too little too late.
"No Time to Die" might be the first villain-free Bond movie, at least as far as I can remember. The conflicts in this film are internal. But haven't they always been for Craig's Bond? Years from now, when learned people study millennial moviemaking, they will all point to the Craig era as being the turning point in the portrayal of masculinity in mainstream Hollywood cinema. And funnily enough, his adversaries are the ones who understand him the best. Ernst Stavro Blofeld in one scene tells Bond that he has always thought him to be a sensitive soul, and Safin reminds him that his troubles are all of his own making.
It's true. This was a Bond who didn't hesitate before crying in the shower in a moment of vulnerability, nor is he insecure about being replaced by a younger agent in "No Time to Die" — perhaps a knowing dig at the discourse that was always bound to surround the film's release.
But all this pales in comparison to a shot at the end of this film, in which Daniel Craig picks himself up one last time, and stands proudly against the setting sun with Zimmer's score hitting a crescendo in the background; the Walther PPK on his side replaced by something more valuable. It's the lasting image that No Time to Die leaves you with, one that perfectly captures Craig's run as the iconic British spy. A more satisfying send-off will be difficult to find.