Review: No Time to Die
The 25th James Bond film is a bittersweet farewell to Daniel Craig’s 007
By Rick Ferguson
During the latter half of the Great Lockdown of 2020, I was getting desperate for something new to watch. Movies, indoor dining, social gatherings, concerts, and sporting events were all out of the question, so I joined the rest of the developed world in watching a shit-ton of television. To stave off boredom and madness, my wife and I had already blazed through Mad Men, The Sopranos, The Crown, Mrs. Maisel, Lupin, and even fucking American Idol; now, things were getting desperate. Reading the news that the release date of the 25th James Bond film, No Time to Die, had been delayed yet again, I was struck with what passed in those days for inspiration: I would rewatch every James Bond film and rank them for this blog.
Mission accomplished. If you’re interested, you can read my complete Bond reviews and ranking here. Now that the latest Bond film has finally been released—I even saw it in the theater with my son, who has become a reluctant Bond fan himself—where does it fit in my overall ranking, which is the only one that matters?
The answer is forthcoming. But first, the setup. No Time to Die marks Daniel Craig’s announced final appearance as James Bond, and the film is often weighted down by the foreknowledge. No Time is structured as Craig’s valedictory lap, with callbacks to his previous adventures, intimations of mortality throughout, and plenty of grist for the mill if you’re a critic or Twitter scold who questions whether the entire Bond conceit of a hyperviolent, womanizing white male hero has any place in today’s world. Like all Bond films, it’s sometimes exhilarating, sometimes a mess, and all the time a Bond movie. Which is to say, James Bond films are a known quantity—and, as with any Bond film, your enjoyment of No Time will depend entirely on your level of enthusiasm for a film franchise that began during the Kennedy administration.
The plot is typical Bondian nonsense. There’s Rami Malek as scarred and oily villain Lyutsifer Safin (surely among the more ridiculous Bond-villain names), who has a beef with international crime syndicate SPECTRE, a history with Bond’s longtime love interest Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), and a diabolical plan involving nanobots weaponized into DNA-linked contact poison. Bond, meanwhile, has retired to Jamaica to shack up with Swann and gaze wistfully into the sunset; his former position as MI6 assassin 007 has been filled by Nomi (Lashana Lynch), a woman. Returning players include Ben Wishaw’s gadget-master Q, Ralph Fienne’s MI6 head M, Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny, Jeffrey Wright’s CIA agent Felix Leiter, and Christoph Waltz’s SPECTRE head Blofeld. The plot kicks into motion when Leiter recruits Bond out of retirement to help locate a missing Russian scientist connected to the nanobot tech. If that last sentence had you rolling your eyes, note that, like all Bond films, your comprehension of the film’s plot in no way relates to your enjoyment of it.
For 007 fans, there’s much to recommend. All Bond films are required to genuflect at various stations of the cross; No Time includes an appearance by the beloved and gadget-filled Aston Martin, a nod to Bond’s various gadget-filled wristwatches, and most importantly, the welcome return of the villain’s hidden fortress fully stocked with a small army of anonymous and easily dispatched goons. The film is a bit light on action set-pieces, but it includes a decent chase in the first act and a prolonged running battle in a fogbound forest. A pretty terrific bar fight set in Havana includes an awesome cameo by Ana de Armas as “Bond girl” and CIA agent Paloma; in a nod to “the-times-they-are-a’changin” crowd, Bond does not bed her first, an oversight that Sean Connery would never have tolerated. Although her character disappears for the rest of the film, De Armas is so good that I’d be the first in line to see a Paloma-centric spinoff movie.
Those of you who watched season one of True Detective will be unsurprised to learn that first-time Bond director Cary Fukunaga delivers on the action scenes, which are zippy if structurally uninspired. More surprising is the amount of humor present in a film that might otherwise have been a dour exercise in rote nostalgia. Through four films, Craig’s Bond has largely registered as a taciturn brute; here, he delivers several Roger Moore-worthy quips, and at times he’s downright chatty. Fukunaga and his screenwriters remembered that Bond films are supposed to be fun, a critical save for what is by far the longest entry.
On the downside: while Rami Malik tries to dial up the creep factor, his performance is too somnambulant for a film otherwise light on its feet. And, as capable an actor as is Léa Seydoux, she and Craig have precious little chemistry considering Swann is supposed to be the love of Bond’s life. In Casino Royale, Craig and Eva Green set the screen ablaze, but Craig and Seydoux can manage nary a spark.
But these are quibbles. If you like Bond films—and, in particular, if you like Craig’s take on 007—then you’ll enjoy No Time to Die. Considering that, historically, each new Bond film Etch-a-Sketches the previous film, it’s surprising to note that the five Daniel Craig entries have collectively provided a complete story arc for James Bond—much as Christopher Nolan’s three Batman films provided a complete arc for the Caped Crusader. The Craig films have varied in quality, but even the worst of them is better than a middling Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan entry.
In fact, I will go so far as to officially anoint Daniel Craig as the all-time best James Bond. To Sean Connery fans, those will be fighting words, but I will brook no counterargument. Connery gave the world James Bond—but Daniel Craig gave him a soul. I’m sad to see him go. As the film credits end on the promise that “JAMES BOND WILL RETURN,” I’m also excited to see who comes next.
The Ultimate Bond Ranking:
1. Casino Royale (Craig, 2006)
2. From Russia With Love (Connery, 1963)
3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Lazenby, 1969)
4. Goldfinger (Connery, 1964)
5. Thunderball (Connery, 1965)
6. Skyfall (Craig, 2012)
7. Dr. No (Connery, 1962)
8. For Your Eyes Only (Moore, 1981)
9. License to Kill (Dalton, 1989)
10. The Man with the Golden Gun (Moore, 1974)
11. No Time to Die (Craig, 2021)
12. Never Say Never Again (Connery, 1983)
13. You Only Live Twice (Connery, 1967)
14. A View to a Kill (Moore, 1985)
15. Tomorrow Never Dies (Brosnan, 1997)
16. Spectre (Craig, 2015)
17. Quantum of Solace (Craig, 2008)
18. Die Another Day (Brosnan, 2002)
19. Moonraker (Moore, 1979)
20. Goldeneye (Brosnan, 1995)
21. The Spy Who Loved Me (Moore, 1977)
22. The World is Not Enough (Brosnan, 1999)
23. The Living Daylights (Dalton, 1987)
24. Live and Let Die (Moore, 1973)
25. Diamonds are Forever (Connery, 1971)
26. Octopussy (Moore, 1983)
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Rick Ferguson is the author of The Chronicles of Elberon fantasy trilogy. Rick is also a globally recognized marketing expert with appearances in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Advertising Age, Fast Company, the Globe & Mail Canada, the Guardian UK, the Financial Times India, MSNBC, and the Fox Business Channel. He has delivered keynote speeches on marketing principles and best practices on six continents. He is also master of time, space, and dimension.