In the same film that contains great scenes and contributions from actors like de Armas and Geoffrey Wright’s reprise of CIA spy Felix Leiter, anything that alludes to the plot developments of the awful Spectre are a total misstep. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade return as screenwriters from Spectre, and are the least likely people to correct from that film’s terrible choices. Cristoph Waltz’s Blofeld returns, conducting Spectre business from jail. With the continued presence of Swann, with whom Craig has none of the chemistry that he had with Casino Royale’s Eva Green, No Time to Die is a direct sequel to a film that, excepting its phenomenal Day of the Dead prologue, would be better off completely forgotten.
What’s new is what elevates No Time to Die. Fukunaga is the king of the muscular one-shot action scene, having started the recent trend with True Detective, and he again utilizes a show-stopping one here. The addition of Phoebe Waller-Bridge to the script punches up the dialogue and allows Craig to occasionally be as loose as he’s ever been. Lashana Lynch is wholly credible as a 00 agent, possessed of all the sleek bearing and lethal competence necessary to do the job. Billy Magnusson’s alpha male sliminess makes him the least surprising turncoat in the history of turncoats, and is therefore perfectly cast for a Bond film. Malek is a hit-or-miss actor who’s largely on target here, creepy and alien as Bond’s latest antagonist. Fukunaga is able to locate feelings of real loss that Bond films have rarely, if ever, been able to evoke, especially when that loss is for background office drones. An early sequence in a lab, where a commando team has clearly been given off-screen orders to kill everyone, communicates the total futility of resistance when powerful people have decided one’s life is meaningless. There’s even some contemporary criticism of the security state, as much as these films are able to cast shade on UK and Western arrogance that dictates that if anyone is going to have monstrous powers, it should be the ‘good’ guys who would certainly never think to abuse it. It’s stunning that actors as talented as Waltz and Seydoux are the weak links, but the script serves them so poorly that there’s little they can do to make their scenes anything other than interminable.
Daniel Craig has talked about the grueling nature of this role and how much he dreads every new film, so good for him for completing his run in relatively satisfying fashion. Perhaps the best actor to portray Bond, the franchise might’ve felt compelled to beef up the role in response to the talent of the person in it. Now that this backstory experiment has ended in a commercially successful but critically panned fashion, maybe the next person tasked to like martinis, baccarat, and luxury product placement will just get to be in standalone missions without side trips to his childhood estate or ongoing relationships that don’t move the needle. Craig has featured in some of the best work in the franchise. His legacy is that it was so often side-by-side with misguided attempts to turn Bond into something it wasn’t. C+