Cary Joji Fukunaga’s No Time to Die is a fitting finale to the Daniel Craig era of James Bond, which eschewed the series’ characteristic glib tone and absurd action sequences for grit and real consequences — both physical and emotional — for the hero. This 25th film in the franchise is at once on brand with the two dozen films that preceded it, while managing new possibilities for the almost 60-year-old series.
No Time to Die begins with a flashback within a prologue, giving us a glimpse of the childhood of Bond lover Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) and brief moments of grown-up bliss between the psychologist and the now-retired spy. The film vastly overestimates both our memory of and our investment in 2015’s Spectre, as well as the character Madeleine herself, but I’ll move on. Meanwhile, the franchise cannot: the ghost of Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd still lingers over the proceedings, and a visit to her grave in Italy puts Bond back into danger. It also threw me into a mental tailspin wondering why Vesper’s tombstone says she was born three years after Green was in reality. (I know why: Bond girls can’t be over 40, even in death.) Fast forward five years and Bond is still retired and living in Jamaica when another face from the past — Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter — tempts him back into the spy game with the opportunity to get back at SPECTRE.
What unfolds over the nearly three-hour runtime is both surprising and not for fans of the franchise. There’s a big bad — Rami Malek’s murkily motivated Lyutsifer Safin (eye roll) — who has to be stopped from killing millions, and a tux-clad Bond does espionage alongside a beautiful woman (Ana de Armas, absolutely disarming in far too brief an appearance) in far-flung global locales. However, there’s emotional depth here that hasn’t been a hallmark of the franchise, even in the weightier Craig years that have made 007 both emotionally and physically vulnerable. First-time Bond composer Hans Zimmer’s take on the iconic theme brings new urgency to the score, while the sound design emphasizes the stakes here as the violence has a real impact on the characters on screen.
But even with the upped gravitas in this outing, No Time to Die still has its fun moments with finely orchestrated car chases and fight scenes (those high kicks from de Armas!). Its witty dialogue goes beyond the series’ expected double entendres, thanks to a punch-up from Phoebe Waller-Bridge to the script from Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Fukunaga. Hugh Dennis, the bank manager from Fleabag, even shows up here in one of the scenes that feels most shaped by Waller-Bridge’s voice.
Whether due to her influence or that 007 isn’t fully on the prowl, No Time to Die is the rare film in the franchise that treats women as people. Don’t worry, bros; you still get your sexy ladies on screen. De Armas is stunning in a plunging evening gown, and Lashana Lynch seduces the audience as an MI6 agent. However, the film doesn’t suffer from the lack of the lingering, leering bikini shots that have been franchise trademarks. Plus, the women in No Time to Die aren’t just Bond Girls, who will either be a sexual conquest, a pawn lacking agency, or both. Instead, the film lets each of the women on screen be (gasp) an actual human.
No Time to Die doesn’t just rely on the women (and Craig) as the source of on-screen beauty. This is truly a gorgeously shot film, both in its framing of these attractive people and the impressive locations. Oscar-winner Linus Sandgren captures the colorful streets of Santiago de Cuba and the heart-stopping heights of Norway’s Atlantic Road, and there’s a dizzying upside-down shot that feels remarkably fresh within the world of the decades-old series. Director Fukunaga has also worked as a cinematographer (including on 2015’s Beasts of No Nation), and his collaboration with Sandgren results in one of the best-looking Bond films alongside Roger Deakins’ Skyfall (2012).
Bond purists will likely complain about plenty here (and, you know, everywhere in a world that isn’t just about their boners anymore), but expecting 007 to stay the same as everything has changed around him does a disservice to the character and his skills. The Bond in No Time to Die remains the suave martini-swigging master spy, but he’s evolved enough to ensure he remains relevant and emotionally resonant.
“No Time to Die” is in theaters Friday.