Let there be no doubt about it: in his final outing as James Bond, Daniel Craig gives his finest performance yet in the role. His 007 is a near-perfect fusion of strength, brutality, resourcefulness, humor, inner pain, and physical weariness—making the Bond of No Time to Die possibly the most layered and multi-dimensional edition of the character in the franchise’s entire 59-year run. While Bond’s never been the most complex of onscreen characters, past attempts at fleshing him out in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Craig’s debut, Casino Royale, have been surpassed here.
But then there’s also the movie itself, all 163 minutes of it, which makes it the longest Bond adventure to date. To be honest, it sometimes feels like it too. No Time to Die, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective), ties up a lot of loose ends and brings back a lot of characters from the Craig era for an encore while also delivering some of the series’ most smashing and intense action sequences. Yet the story at the core of the movie is thin, the villain not well defined, and the movie at times feels like it’s wrapping up those other storylines at the expense of a more dynamic central plot.
The opening pre-credits sequence (which we didn’t time, but which may be the longest in the series’ history) actually consists of two: the first is a flashback to a terrible childhood tragedy endured by Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux), the woman whom Bond drove off with and into retirement at the end of 2015’s Spectre. As we emerge from the flashback, we now find that Bond and Madeline are indeed still together and very much in love—although their happiness, of course, doesn’t last long.
By the time the opening titles roll, the couple have been attacked by a literal army of SPECTRE agents and finally separated, with Bond losing whatever trust he had in Madeline. Five years later, Bond is living a solitary existence in Jamaica, apparently well and truly retired, when he gets a call from an old friend: CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, a welcome and too-brief presence).
Felix has an off-the-books mission for Bond: track down a rogue scientist (David Dencik) who is in cahoots with SPECTRE (or so he thinks) and has made off with a deadly biological weapon. But there is another adversary lurking in the shadows and pulling everyone’s strings, which results in Bond getting yanked back into service, clashing with M (Ralph Fiennes), getting reluctant backup from Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), and going head-to-head with the fiery new 007 (Lashana Lynch), a more than formidable foil for her predecessor.
The new villain is named Safin (Rami Malek), and it seems he has a vendetta against certain people specifically, and the rest of the world in general. As Bond races to find him and learn what he’s up to, his journey brings him back into contact with Madeline and also necessitates a visit to old foster brother and arch-nemesis Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) in a Silence of the Lambs-type encounter that finds the one-eyed baddie picking away at Bond’s psyche in classic Lector fashion.
Make no mistake, No Time to Die delves into 007’s psyche with perhaps more depth and profundity than any of the previous two dozen pictures in the official canon, and it’s those moments where we see all those emotions and responses on Craig’s face that are among the best in the film. But the narrative itself (in somewhat similar fashion to Spectre) often feels like Fukunaga and his three co-writers (which include Phoebe Waller-Bridge and longtime Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) are checking off boxes until they can get to the big emotional crescendos that they’re really interested in.
The overall effect is a movie that is frequently entertaining, often intense, yet never quite creates the majestic sweep of other behemoths like The Dark Knight or Avengers: Infinity War. It feels both overstuffed and sparse; Ana de Armas gets one extended scene as an agent who’s paired with Bond in Cuba, and she’s delightful, but she’s gone after that and you end up wondering if she even needed to be there. The same with the revisits to characters like Felix and Blofeld—they’re fun to see again, but they might have been rewritten out of the script with little difficulty.
More problematic are Madeline and Safin. We never bought the relationship between Bond and Madeline in Spectre; it seemed to happen too quickly and be saddled with too much unearned weight. It’s a pale imitation of the truly incendiary love affair with Eva Green’s doomed Vesper in Casino Royale. To make their relationship the linchpin of No Time to Die feels off-balance as well. As for Safin, Rami Malek is slithery and creepy, but his motivations are muddled and his plan comes off as kind of a cross between earlier Bond villains like The Spy Who Loved Me’s Karl Stromberg and Marvel’s genocidal Thanos.
That puts the load squarely on Craig’s broad shoulders, but luckily he can handle it all with the help of Fukunaga’s visceral direction, some truly jaw-dropping action and Hans Zimmer’s propulsive score (in which one can hear a few nods to his previous famous work on The Dark Knight trilogy). Yet it all comes down to Craig: the man is compulsively, endlessly watchable as Bond, he gets some good jokes and meatier dialogue this time, and you almost wish that he would stick around for another entry.
No Time to Die strives to be an epic and just misses; it’s certainly a huge movie and there’s a lot of it, but it never quite takes your breath away. Yet Daniel Craig does achieve that effect as Bond, giving a final performance that the series has never quite seen before. His 007 has always been different in many ways from the five previous versions, but now we can add another: unlike nearly every one of his predecessors, his has a sign-off for the ages. Whatever issues No Time to Die may have, Craig’s farewell will leave you shaken and stirred.
No Time to Die opens in the UK on Sept. 30 and in the U.S. on Oct. 8.