After 25 movies over 60 years, billing a James Bond adventure as the end of something requires a certain leap of faith. Still, Daniel Craig’s yeoman service comes to its conclusion with “No Time to Die,” a big and length-wise bloated epic that includes the desired bells and whistles, which, despite its flaws, should buy the movie considerable goodwill from an audience that has waited (and waited) for it.
One of the original theatrical casualties of the pandemic, MGM delayed the release of Craig’s fifth and final outing for 18 months, putting 15 years between his debut in “Casino Royale” and this chapter. While he hasn’t lost a step, his editions of Bond have never quite equaled that dazzling introduction, and “No Time to Die” is no exception.
To its credit, this two hour, 43-minute movie (thus making the title a bit of a lie) assiduously builds on everything that the recent Bond movies have established, in a way earlier incarnations generally didn’t. That has deepened the character, allowing Bond to experience grief, loss and love without hitting the reset button, the recurrence of the villainous Blofeld notwithstanding.
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (“True Detective”), this Bond serves notice of its grand storytelling ambitions with perhaps the longest pre-credit sequence in memory, both introducing the mysterious new villain (played by Rami Malek, seemingly channeling Peter Lorre) and finding Bond happily retired.
Of course, his post-service bliss can’t last, as M (Ralph Fiennes) and his CIA pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) both endeavor to lure him back on a mission that involves a terrible bioweapon (maybe not the best time for that particular plot) and his old nemeses at Spectre, bringing back Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and the now-incarcerated Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) from that 2015 movie.
Bond also finds his slot at MI6 having been ably occupied by a new agent (Lashana Lynch) who has inherited his 007 license. Yet while Lynch makes a strong addition, their squabbling banter is relatively weak, and merely adds to the abundance of moving parts that the even more-convoluted-than-usual plot has to service.
An underlying theme is that the world has changed – certainly from the Cold War period in which the character was born – clouding alliances and making it, as Leiter muses, “hard to tell good from bad.” That measure of complexity, however, hasn’t enhanced a formula built on world-threatening villains and muscular action.
In terms of Bond staples, the movie does deliver some impressive chases and action sequences, with Ana de Armas (Craig’s “Knives Out” co-star) adding another dose of female empowerment during a mission that takes Bond to Cuba.
Still, “No Time to Die” feels as if it’s working too hard to provide Craig a sendoff worthy of all the hype associated with it – an excess that might be summed up as simply, finally, by taking too much time to reach the finish.
“No Time to Die” premieres in US theaters on Oct. 8. It’s rated PG-13.