As with all review-caps, MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD for No Time to Die. Consider yourself warned.
James Bond holds a special place in my geeky heart. When I was a kid, my dad and I loved watching the Sean Connery/Roger Moore Bond flicks on TV on Sunday nights. And when I was in high school, Timothy Dalton took over as 007 in The Living Daylights – one of my favorite flicks of all time. So while I wouldn’t call myself a hardcore Bond geek, the series has always been dear to me.
When Daniel Craig took over the role, I was skeptical, like a lot of folks were. But Casino Royale (2006) was a hard restart for the franchise from top to bottom. Thankfully, it was all for the better. Every penny of the budget was on the screen – the production design was rich and beautiful. It had the hot cars, the hot women, the cool gadgets and the jaw-dropping stunts. And most importantly, Craig breathed new life into 007 and took the character down the same darker, grittier road that Timothy Dalton’s Bond also walked. So I was thrilled and continue to be by Craig’s portrayal of Bond.
But as with all good things, his time has come to its inevitable end. And No Time to Die gives Craig’s 007 a gorgeous sendoff. But at the same time, it also presents some pretty big problems story-wise. Problems big enough to prevent the flick from achieving true greatness – and put a huge question mark on the series’ future.
It’s a dense plot, so let’s just dive right in, shall we? When we last left 007 at the end of Spectre (2015), he’d done his last mission for MI-6 in bringing down the sinister Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), the head of the global criminal organization. Bond gave up his life’s work to settle down with Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux) and live the life of a normal guy.
So the beginning of the flick is actually a flashback to Madeline as a young girl (Coline Defaud). At a quaint little house in some wintry locale, she attends to her drunken mother (Mathilde Bourbin). Then a man wearing a creepy Japanese Noh mask and carrying a big gun busts in looking for Madeline’s father. Now, if you’ve been following the storyline since Casino Royale, you’ll remember that her father was Mr. White, a member of Spectre.
But Mr. White’s nowhere to be found, so the masked man kills Madeline’s mother. Before he can do anything else, Young Madeline grabs a gun from her father’s secret room and shoots the gunman. She drags him outside, but he wakes up and she goes running across a frozen pond to get away from him. Of course, the ice cracks and she falls in. The gunman stands over her as she treads water under the ice – and we think he’s going to kill her or just let her drown. But instead, he pulls her out and leaves her alive.
Cut to the present day, to Madeline remembering that frightening day as she takes a swim. She and James are living the dream, like newlyweds on their honeymoon. They arrive at a hotel in Italy, and that night Madeline talks about both of them needing to let go of their pasts, like the lanterns floating skyward all around them. She writes down “the masked man” on a piece of paper and burns it, doing her part.
The next day, James finds out where his former love, Vesper Lynd, is buried and goes to her grave. He stands in front of the mausoleum and says he misses her. Then he writes down “forgive me” on a piece of paper and burns it – finally laying his guilt to rest. But then he senses that there’s something wrong about the whole setup – and of course, there is. The mausoleum blows up and though James is, of course, unhurt, he’s pretty shaken (and stirred! Hahaha) and disoriented.
And it isn’t long before he finds himself being chased by some new baddies, which we assume at this point are Spectre agents. There are some awesome motorcycle stunts and a new head baddie named Primo (Dali Benssalah) – but James calls him “Cyclops” because of his one mechanical eye. While fighting with Bond, he tells him that Madeline is a “daughter of Spectre.” In other words, they’re pinning the whole thing on her.
So, of course, Bond goes back to the hotel and grabs Madeline, now entirely under the impression that she’s betrayed him even though she swears she hasn’t. There’s another amazing stunt scene with the beloved Aston Martin DB5, as it gets to show off its full Goldfinger-ish supply of goodies, including its bulletproof body and the gatling guns behind the headlights.
Bond gets them away from the baddies and takes Madeline to the train station. As she continues to plead her loyalty and love tearfully, Bond isn’t hearing it. He’s pissed and convinced she’s working with whatever’s left of Spectre. He puts her on the train and says they’re done.
Cut to five years later. Yeah, five years. And there’s plenty of trouble going on in the rest of the world. It seems that MI-6 director Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) – also known as M – is in a pretty big spot of trouble. There’s a new bioweapon he’s had a hand in developing, called “Heracles,” which uses nanobots containing DNA profiles. Basically, it’s a virus that can be programmed to target specific people. Of course, why M would ever get involved in something like that is a good question and one that’s never answered satisfactorily.
But anyway, so the scientist who developed Heracles, Dr. Orbruchev (David Dencik), has gone to the dark side and taken his work with him. M makes it a priority to get him and the bioweapon back and tasks the new 007, named Nomi (Lashana Lynch), with the job.
And where has Bond been all this time? Well, he’s been laying low, living quietly in Jamaica – if you can call a swanky beachfront house laying low. But it’s a cool nod to Bond creator Ian Fleming, who wrote all the books at his home there. Just as Bond’s bringing home some fresh fish for dinner, he’s contacted by his CIA colleague Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright).
They meet up at a bar and Felix introduces his new overeager underling, Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen), who geeks out at meeting Bond, being a “huge fan.” Both Bond and Leiter roll their eyes at that and leave him behind to talk shop. Leiter wants to hire James as a freelancer to find Orbruchev and bring him in. There’s something in it for him, too, Leiter says – they’ve tracked Orbruchev to Cuba, where, coincidentally, the remaining members of Spectre are meeting up in some big party for Blofeld’s birthday.
Bond hears Felix out but refuses the job. But who should he meet right afterward? The new 007 – though he’s unaware of that. She’s just another hot chick offering him a lift when his car won’t start. They get back to his place and just as he’s thinking he’s gonna get lucky, she reveals herself.
She tosses him a phone and who should be on the other end but M, warning Bond to stay out of the way. He’s got quartermaster and all-around tech genius Q (Ben Whishaw) busy trying to “decode” the virus and find Orbruchev. They’re also keeping a close eye on Blofeld, who’s their prisoner under the max-est maximum security they’ve got. But James’ desire to get revenge on Blofeld and finish off Spectre hasn’t lessened with time. So he tells Felix he’ll do it, and he sails to Cuba.
As soon as he parks his yacht (yeah, laying low), he sees new-007 Nomi arriving at the same time. So the game’s afoot. He then meets up with his CIA contact, a gorgeous woman named Paloma (Ana de Armas). As she hands him a tux, she comes off as kind of a ditz – but underneath the diamonds and plunging neckline is a real professional.
As they make their way through the party looking for Orbruchev, Bond and Paloma notice that everyone there is wearing earpieces. It turns out they’re all listening to Blofeld, who’s somehow managing to communicate with them all from his apparently not-so-maximum security cell. Bond then sees Cyclops/Primo lurking about and sets his sights on him – but then, somehow, Blofeld’s seemingly ranting speech suddenly turns to James.
And just how is Blofeld managing to “see” what’s going on? Well, through Cyclops’ mechanical eye, of course – which is connected to Blofeld’s own mechanical eye (which he lost at the end of Spectre). Then a mist suddenly sprays out from the ceiling and starts fatally affecting people. But only the Spectre agents are the ones dropping dead.
Then the race is on to see who can snatch Obruchev up first – Bond and Paloma, new-007 or Cyclops and company – who, it seems, are not part of Spectre after all because they’re unaffected by the death mist. The melee begins and it’s a spectacular action piece all around. Paloma gets to show off her major badassery, fighting and shooting better than most of the guys. With her quick thinking, she helps Bond scoop up the doc. Then as she sends them off, her all-too-brief part comes to an end with a dazzling smile and a “Ciao!”
Bond gets the doc out to the ship where Felix and Logan are waiting. But of course, that can’t be the end of it. Cyclops/Primo and his guys swoop in to grab the doc and scuttle the ship – but how did they know where they were? If you guessed Logan Ash, you win the “I-Could-See-That-Coming-A-Mile-Away” award. In the ensuing melee, Felix is fatally shot. Bond tries to get him out as the ship sinks but ends up having to leave him to a watery grave. Bond ends up managing to get on a raft and gets picked up by a passing cargo ship.
He then ends up in London, and M’s assistant, Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), brings him to Q’s house – which Q isn’t happy about at all. He was making dinner and getting ready for a date. But all that’s out the window as Bond hands over a drive he managed to steal from the doc before Cyclops showed up. Q reluctantly opens it up and they’re all stunned to find that it’s a database of thousands of DNA profiles – all potential targets.
Bond asks M to get him in to talk to Blofeld. But it turns out the only person he’ll talk to is Madeline. And where has she been all this time? Well, she’s gone back to being a shrink. And when she arrives at her office one day, she finds a new patient waiting for her, named Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).
Safin has a terribly scarred face, and he tells Madeline about how his family was fatally poisoned by Spectre – specifically her father, Mr. White. Safin was the only one to survive, and he’s been out to get Spectre ever since.
Then he gives her a present – a box containing the creepy Noh mask. Madeline’s terrified as she realizes it’s the same guy who killed her mother. Safin says he has a job for her – he gives her an atomizer and tells her to wear the “perfume” the next time she goes to see Blofeld. So now we know it’s Safin who’s behind it all.
Meanwhile, M’s reinstated Bond and sends him to the prison to meet Blofeld. But Madeline’s there too – and it’s the first time they’ve seen each other in five years. It all ends up being too overwhelming for her and she panics, wanting to leave before she even gets to see Blofeld. Bond grabs her by the wrist, which inadvertently transfers the Heracles virus to him.
Then we get to watch an awkwardly slow intro of Blofeld-in-a-box as he’s moved down this weird conveyor-type contraption to meet Bond. Blofeld rambles on in his usual flowery, cryptic way, telling Bond that Madeline is “the key to everything” and that she never betrayed him. But Bond isn’t hearing any of that. He throttles Blofeld, which transfers the virus – and to Bond’s shock, Blofeld dies right in front of him, with those same horrible boils that the other Spectre agents in Cuba had.
So now everybody figures out that it wasn’t Blofeld or Spectre engineering any of the trouble. Safin is the new big bad and Bond realizes he needs to find Madeline again and get her out of harm’s way. With the help of Moneypenny and Q, they figure out that Madeline’s gone back to her childhood home in that wintry locale, which turns out to be Norway.
And when he gets to the house, Bond finds the biggest surprise of all – Madeline’s daughter, five-year-old Mathilde (Lisa-Dorah Sonnet). Yeah. Five years old. Hmm. Madeline swears up and down that the kid isn’t his – but we all know better and wonder why she’s even bothering to lie. Anyway, they kiss and make up and Bond spends the night there – waking up to find Mathilde staring at him and saying she’s hungry. They share an awkward but cute moment where he gives her some food and asks how it is and she adorably says, “not bad.”
But the cuteness is cut short as Cyclops and a new crew of baddies show up to kill them all. There’s an awesome car chase that ends up in some seriously foggy woods. Turncoat Logan Ash is also part of the chase, and he ends up getting his in a terrific death. He begs Bond to get him out from under the precariously positioned car above him. Logan calls him “brother” – and Bond just throws it back at him, saying, “I had a brother. His name was Felix Leiter.” And then Bond makes sure the car falls on Ash’s head. It’s awesome.
So now we move into the last act, as M figures out Safin’s deal and where he is. Like all the best Bond villains, Safin’s got his very own island. So with M’s support, Bond teams up with Nomi (who asks M to give Bond back his 007 designation in a show of earned respect) and the two of them jump in a high-tech drone-type plane and fly to the island.
Madeline and Mathilde are Safin’s prisoners, and Safin tries to play dad to the poor traumatized kid as he shows her around his very zen, “poison garden.” He says that cultivating poisonous plants is a skill he inherited from his father, who used to create poisons for Spectre. Madeline asks what will happen to them now, and Safin says that Mathilde will grow up there – and he has Cyclops take Madeline away.
Bond and Nomi infiltrate the island – and they realize that the only sure way to destroy the Heracles virus (and Safin) is to bomb the island. But they have to get Madeline and Mathilde out. Cyclops tries to get Madeline to drink a special tea Safin’s had made for her – we can only imagine what kind of nastiness is in it. Instead, she chucks it in his face and makes a run for it.
Meanwhile, Safin’s carrying Mathilde on his way to the helicopter that’s waiting to get him off the island. But then she bites his hand – and for some strange reason, Safin just dumps her and lets her go. Madeline finds Mathilde hiding, and they meet up with Bond and Nomi.
Bond puts Madeline and Mathilde in a skiff and tells Nomi to get them safely away. Then Bond goes after Safin for the inevitable showdown. Safin manages to shoot Bond at least a couple of times – but not before Bond shoots him back. But Safin’s got one more surprise up his kimono sleeve before he dies. He scratches Bond’s face with some broken glass from a special vial he had Obruchev make for him. Bond realizes that he’s been infected with Heracles – programmed with Madeline and Mathilde’s DNA.
Knowing he can never leave the island, Bond makes the ultimate sacrifice. He tells M to launch the missiles. He gets Madeline on the radio and says his goodbyes, saying how beautiful Mathilde is “because she came from you.” Then Bond watches the missiles coming his way and the screen goes fiery white.
And then sometime later, as the crew at MI-6 share a drink to remember Bond, Madeline drives along some scenic, twisty European road (in the Living Daylights’ Aston Martin – another sweet ride) and starts telling Mathilde the story of a man named James Bond. Aww. Sniff. No, I’m not crying. You are.
No Time to Die does a lot of things right. Under Cary Joji Fukunaga’s skillful direction, it delivers on every promise that a Bond film makes to the audience. It also pays homage to all the history that’s gone before it – especially On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). George Lazenby’s only turn as Bond was also the only other story that involved Bond leaving the service and his womanizing ways behind as he marries the love of his life. But the happiness is short-lived and the story has a surprisingly tragic ending.
No Time to Die also presents a spectacular ending for Daniel Craig’s Bond, whose run has been unique in that all the stories have been connected. Which, depending on how you look at it, is either an awesome idea or a terrible one. I fall into the latter camp – which makes this flick a real quandary for me. I really liked it – but I also really didn’t.
Narratively, the Craig flicks have made some really weird choices that just don’t make sense. Mainly, as they built up to the reveal of Spectre and the re-introduction of Blofeld (the greatest of all Bond baddies), everything ended up being about Bond personally. In Spectre, they made the strangest – and worst, in my opinion – choice of all when they made Blofeld a sort-of stepbrother to Bond, as his family adopted young James after his parents’ death.
So everything Blofeld does, including the creation of Spectre and every evil deed they commit, stems from Blofeld’s pseudo-sibling jealousy and daddy issues. Which basically means that every horrible thing going on in the world is James Bond’s fault. Sorry, but that’s just one of the dumbest things I ever heard. But it became canon, so Fukunaga and the other writers were cornered into finishing a story that had become ridiculous even for Bond standards.
So they did the best they could with what was handed to them, right? Well, sort of. Even with the whole stupid brotherhood thing, it was absolutely possible to salvage the character of Blofeld and Spectre – an idea that’s full of story potential. But instead, they decided to do away with it all, and even wasted Rami Malek’s Safin. We hardly got to know him at all, and then he was dead.
But the worst part of all is that no matter what, James Bond is dead. As in dead dead. There’s no magical resurrection happening here. And that throws off the whole future of the franchise. Yes, Lashana Lynch’s 007 is a perfectly cool and capable character. But for longtime fans like me, the idea of them continuing on without James Bond is … well, just something I’m not interested in.
I realize that probably sounds like I’m betraying my gender by not fully, enthusiastically embracing Lynch’s 007. But that’s not what it’s about at all. It’s about the fact that for all his faults – and they are many – James Bond, the man, is still the heart of the story. The lone gentleman warrior who dedicates himself to a dark, dangerous and lonely life to fight all the evil in the world – that’s what I want to see, even after decades of Bond’s adventures. But with Craig’s departure and Bond’s death, I have to wonder if I’ll ever see it again.
Anyone can take up the number 007 and probably do just fine. But no one can replace James – ever.
Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Release Date: Oct. 8, 2021
Run Time: 2 hr 43 min
Distributor: MGM / Universal Pictures