Last spring, the James Bond movie “No Time to Die” became the first movie to be pushed back because of the pandemic. The subsequent 18-month delay made me crave the film even more, and I confess my expectations might have gotten a little too high. In fact, it’s probably for the best that the film was delayed, because if it had opened in April of 2020, it would have been less than a year removed from “Avengers: Endgame,” which it is conspicuously trying to emulate. Director Cary Joji Fukinaga has crafted less of a Bond movie and more of an MCU movie with James Bond in place of Tony Stark.
Bond (Daniel Craig) makes an effort to retire from spy work and settle into married life with wife Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), but their honeymoon gets interrupted by the remnants of the evil SPECTRE organization. He accuses her of setting up the attack, which hurts her emotionally, and ultimately puts her on a train out of the country with the intention of never seeing her again. We cut to five years later (reminiscent of “Endgame”) when Bond’s CIA friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), accompanied by State Department liaison Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen), lures him out of retirement to try to stop SPECTRE. He’s joined by rookie agent Paloma (Ana de Armas) and in many ways the mission is more successful than expected, but in others it’s a total disaster that puts the fate of the world at risk.
Bond has to go back to work for MI-6, meaning that he gets to meet up with old friends M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw), and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), as well as Nomi (Lashana Lynch), a younger agent who has been assigned Bond’s old 007 number. He interrogates arch nemesis and former SPECTRE head Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who indirectly directs him back to Madeleine, who is the key to Safin (Rami Malek), the mastermind of a DNA-based plot to kill millions.
Maybe the biggest disappointment of the film is Malek’s villain. He’s a frightening force in an early flashback scene, but once he’s unmaked (literally), he’s just another stock villain who insists that humanity can only be saved if he kills a great deal of it. He also likes to tend to his garden, in case the parallels to Thanos weren’t blatant enough. He controls a trump card that gives him the upper hand on Bond, and he foolishly throws it away after an annoyance.
The good news is that the scene I was most anticipating certainly delivers. The “Knives Out” reunion between Craig and de Armas is filled with fun chemistry and action. I can’t see de Armas in another movie soon enough, and if casting directors weren’t breaking down her door before, they will be after her action scenes in this movie. The problem is that what the scene delivers in quality, it lacks in quantity. This movie is 163 minutes long and de Armas isn’t in it for more than ten. But those less-than-ten minutes are the highlight of the film.
Back in 2012 I wrote that the best thing about “Skyfall” was James Bond’s vulnerability. It was nice to see a more human side of the character. But with “No Time to Die,” I feel like we’re getting too much vulnerability, like he’s so emotional throughout the movie (and granted, he has a lot to be emotional about) that he’s no longer a recognizable version of the character. This will be Craig’s last turn as James Bond, and it feels right. Five movies is a satisfying number, and the series can only play the “pulled back into action after he tries to retire” card so many times before the trope is overdone. Maybe this last entry would have been disappointing if it had opened on time, maybe it falls short of expectations because of the 18-month wait, all I know is that I’m underwhelmed.
“No Time to Die” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong language and some suggestive material. Its running time is 163 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.