Not long into No Time to Die, James Bond (Daniel Craig) makes a trip to Cuba to infiltrate a swanky party thrown by some of the world’s most dangerous criminals. This being a Bond movie, his local contact is a gorgeous young woman (Ana de Armas), who greets him wearing a dress slit down to the navel and up to the hip, and, Bond being Bond, he turns on the wolfish charm. There’s all of human existence to protect from some imminent, as-yet-undefined threat, but that doesn’t mean there’s no time for a quickie. She leads him into a small room, shuts the door, and immediately begins to unbutton his shirt, at which point even James Bond can’t quite believe his luck. But when his innuendoes turn into overt propositions, the young woman—who, it turns out, is just trying to get him into his tuxedo—shoots him a look that says, unmistakably, um, gross.
With No Time to Die, Craig becomes the longest-running Bond in the franchise’s history—and thanks to a yearlong delay, the movie also achieves the more dubious milestone of equaling the longest gap between it and the previous entry. For reasons other than the doings of randy superspies, 2015’s Spectre feels impossibly distant, which makes this one’s decision to begin virtually where the last one left off seem almost like an act of magical thinking. (Wouldn’t we all like to pretend the last six years never happened?) But after an opening sequence that splits Bond from his leading Spectre lady, Madeleine (Léa Seydoux), the movie jumps forward five years, as if as a reminder that for this particular iteration of the character, time actually does exist. For previous Bonds, years were as interchangeable as women, and as easily forgotten. But Craig’s Bond has a past, not just a backstory—although lord knows the movies have loaded him down with plenty of that—but a sense of something that weighs on him. (He’s the first Bond since Sean Connery who looks like he’s been in a fight, and the only one who looks like the other guy might have got in a few licks.) That means he ages, and that means that he can grow old.
As the plot kicks into gear in earnest, Bond has been living off the grid for years, and even his old comrades presume that he’s dead. The world has moved on, and the 007 designation has been reassigned to a new agent. When she sees Bond turn up, the new 007, played by Lashana Lynch, is instantly on edge, assuming he’ll try to take it back. But not to worry, he reassures her: Like age, the double-O ain’t nothing but a number. Making the new 007 a Black woman was reportedly an addition from Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who was brought in to give the script a “fresh female perspective.” But that perspective has less to do with giving the female characters more to do than it does with the way the movie looks at men: not just at the 53-year-old Craig, but the other members of the spy trade’s old guard, including his boss, M (Ralph Fiennes), and his old CIA pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). They’re the last of a breed, fighting among one another while the collateral damage continues to spread. And it feels like no one will be left to mourn them once they’ve gone.
No Time to Die was planned as Craig’s send-off, but the movie has an elegiac tone that feels like it’s doing more than just clearing the decks for the next fellow. The Cuba sequence has some of the wry fun that has been the series’ fuel for decades, but Craig’s Bond is heavy at heart, even if he can still down a Scotch and leap over a bar in one sinewy motion. The Bond movies have always operated like a TV series, resetting each time so that the fun could begin anew. But even TV doesn’t work like that anymore, so the movie keeps calling back to Spectre, Skyfall, and the 15-year-old Casino Royale—although the references often feel less like the product of cumulative character-building and more like enticements to stream MGM’s back catalog. The movie can’t compete with the Missions: Impossible and Fast and Furiouses for visual spectacle, so what it offers by way of compensatory heft is a tangled plot full of double-crosses and hidden identities, combined with a ponderous gait that suggests that more than the mere world is at stake. (Its 163 minutes feel considerably longer.) It’s as if one of the movie’s rogue geneticists cross-bred the works of John le Carré with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The screening of No Time to Die I saw was preceded by a video message from Daniel Craig, who reflected on the “long journey” that had brought the audience into the theater: not just the pandemic, but the years of development and reports that Craig wasn’t especially eager to return to the role. There’s no hesitation in his performance—if anything, the sight of the finish line may have given him a little extra boost—but by the end, the movie itself feels worn out, uncertain what it is we’re all doing here. Even when Craig is sitting in the MI-6 offices with a visitor’s badge pinned to his shirt, he radiates a sense of cocksure purpose, but the world he navigated has gone past camp, the chauvinism that once sustained him dissolved in a post–Cold War fog. (While trying to read the text in an abandoned missile silo, he quips, “My Russian’s a little rusty.”) We first see Bond on the outskirts of Rome, amid the ruins of a once-dominant civilization, where he goes to visit a grave and nearly gets blown up for his trouble. There’s no harm in looking to the past, but dwelling on it can lead you to a sticky end.