In five films, Daniel Craig brought class to James Bond.
Before he took over the tux, episodes leaned a little too heavily into the comedic. Roger Moore practically hunted the laughs. Pierce Brosnan did, too.
Craig, though, preferred the Sean Connery approach and now, in “No Time to Die,” he leaves the series in better shape.
Bond, as we learn early on, has retired from the spy game and, really, wants nothing to do with it. As Michael Corleone found out, however, there is a way to pull you back in. Bond no longer has his number (007 has been given to another agent, Nomi – nicely played by Lashana Lynch) and doesn’t traffic in the derring-do he once did.
Still, there’s a cretin out there just dying to kill the human race. He has an island lair (don’t they all?), a poison garden and a way of getting under the skin of folks like Bond.
When Bond’s old boss M (Ralph Fiennes) gets the details, he figures out how to get the guy back in the fold and on the trail of Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), an acid-washed villain who has ties to Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), one of Bond’s old squeezes.
Complicating matters? Swann has a daughter, who easily could be used as a pawn in this game of intrigue. Using high-tech nanobots that infect humans, Safin threatens anyone who doesn’t obey his command.
There’s a lot to this technology (some of it a bit too overwhelming for an action film) but it’s clear it has to be stopped before it can’t be contained.
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga marries old-school techniques with new age technology, making “No Time to Die” the kind of curtain call any actor would want. He doesn’t littler his film with location cards or painstaking exposition. He assumes viewers know, letting the character press forward without anyone playing catch-up.
While Craig is the one who’s leaving the franchise, “No Time to Die” has great moments for other regulars. Ben Whishaw (as Q) gets an opportunity to show more personality as he creates devices that help Bond infiltrate Safin’s retro bunker and stop the spread of his evil. Fiennes, too, gets moments that appear valedictory.
Malek seems a bit too weak to play someone this heinous. But that could be the sunscreen-like makeup he’s given and the odd accent he embraces. He’s OK but he’s not Classic Bond villain. Even cameos by other baddies can’t detract from the real goal: getting Craig to come through in the clutch and execute the stunts needed for Bond to go out on top.
On all counts, Craig scores. If this isn’t the best Bond film of his era, it’s certain one of the best pictures of the year. Fukunaga pictures Bond as the perfect character Cary Grant never got to play.
Craig lives up to his director’s high standards and manages to get sly laughs (thank you, screen writer Phoebe Waller Bridge) and earned tears.
“No Time to Die” should shake and stir the faithful. But it also will leave fans in a place where it’s OK to cast someone else in the role. Craig earns his right to say, “I’ve done my best.”