And so we have come to the end of Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007. NO TIME TO DIE provides both him and us, with a veritable cornucopia of Bond-ness, from a supervillain’s lair on a remote island, to the finely honed quip we’ve come to expect as James takes out a minion with yet another of the nifty devices invented by the endlessly creative tech-nerd, Q (Ben Whishaw). If things get a little more sentimental than suits the tastes of Bond fans, or the idiom of the franchise itself, never mind. If Rami Malek as the ornately monickered supervillain Lyutsifer Safin is more method acting than genuine menace, well, so be it. At a prodigious run time of almost three hours, there is much here to cherish as loose ends are neatly tied, legacies are assured, and the pyrotechnics, arriving with welcome regularity, deliver. As does the new 007 (Lashana Lynch), in the sort of competition one would expect from someone gifted with the “00” license to kill.
This installment finds Bond trying to leave the past behind with Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), only to be thwarted yet again when true love comes calling. Five years later, he’s living a very quiet retirement in the shabby splendor of the Caribbean. Not for long, though. Old pal, CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffery Wright) comes calling in order to enlist Bond on a mission to, what else, save the world. This time it’s designer nano-robots with a very specific targeting device. They will also, in a fine twist that jabs at the short-sightedness of government hubris, find themselves at odds with their respective governments.
Thus does Bond come out of retirement and straight into his tux in order to infiltrate a party populated by SPECTRE, ably assisted by a neophyte agent, the burbling Paloma (Ana de Armas) in a dress that is really more of a suggestion than an actual garment. No criticism of the wardrobe choices in a Bond film, but it did leave me wondering where she hid the gun that she pulled during the ensuing spirited melee during which we learn, yet again, that mere numbers are no match for Bond.
Craig, allowed to grow old gracefully, is here tired in spirit, but still hale and hearty enough to be completely believable as he cuts his customary wide swath through anything that gets in his way, and with the same effortless physicality that includes that distinct Craig touch. The glancing annoyance that anyone would actually try to get in his way. His wit has taken on a tinge of self-deprecation, and Craig, allowed to bring his considerable thespian skills to an essentially beefcake role, acquits himself with suitable panache and a dash of gravitas. The barbs Bond lobs at M are as lethal in their own way as a bullet. This is not light banter, it’s a gauntlet and there is no mistaking who is in charge. This is a Bond who is effective, but not effete. The roughness is cultivated to excellent effect and exquisite disposition. What is missing is the end-justifies-the-means situational ethics, if not occasional downright amorality that has always made Bond such a daunting presence, and the uncertainty of exactly how far he will go to succeed. As if to compensate, we have Lynch, a new 007 who can coolly reduce a scene to rubble without breaking a sweat or harboring a scruple.
As the plot winds through several countries, a twist or two, and a reunion with the ebullient Blofeld (Christoph Walz) that made me wish that he was the supervillain of the piece, we are treated to a Bond in love that is almost too tender to bear. Why he has fallen so hard for Madeleine is never made clear, despite Ms. Seydoux’s essential lusciousness. She is a woman of mystery, and that she has been given the name of VERTIGO’s female protagonist must be a nod to that. If it isn’t, it should be. Craig provides the passion. Seydoux provides the glistening tears delicately tracing their way down an oddly immobile face, and a decided passivity that is hard to fathom as an attraction for Bond.
We trip down memory lane, while also discovering a bit more about Q’s private life, and enjoy the tribute to Dame Judy Dench as the current M’s predecessor. NO TIME TO DIE is designed as the tribute of a send-off for Craig, and in that it succeeds. Lavishly produced and fast-paced, from the cat-and-mouse in the foggy fern-bedecked forests of Norway, to a spectacular showdown in the requisite abandoned missile installation turned lair, it’s pure Bond fantasy.