Daniel Craig says goodbye to 007 in the frustrating, uneven No Time to Die

click to enlarge Bond has some time to drive.
Bond has some time to drive.

Ever since George Lazenby took over for Sean Connery in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, it's been clear that the story of James Bond will never end. The five movies starring Daniel Craig as the iconic British superspy have been a sustained effort in defying that incontrovertible fact, and the last three Craig movies have all been crafted as valedictions in some way. With No Time to Die, Craig is truly, officially leaving the role, and the movie spends so much time on its sentimental farewell to Bond that it seems to forget what made him worth watching in the first place.

It doesn't help that Craig's Bond already had a perfect send-off in 2012's Skyfall, the strongest of the Craig movies and one of the best Bond movies overall. No Time to Die puts much more effort into its sense of finality, but it never achieves the emotional resonance of Skyfall. Part of the problem is that No Time to Die has been set up not only as a culmination of the Craig era, but also as a direct sequel to 2015's mediocre Spectre.

Bond has left the spy life behind to settle down with psychiatrist Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), his thinly established Spectre love interest, and No Time to Die often feels like it's as much Madeleine's story as Bond's. The movie opens with a flashback to Madeleine's childhood, as she's forced to confront a dangerous home invader. In the present, the idyllic life that Bond and Madeleine have built is soon shattered, and he insists they go their separate ways.

Cut to five years later, and Bond is a recluse living in Jamaica, where he's recruited by his old CIA pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, returning after two movies away) to help track down a scientist who's been abducted along with a deadly bioweapon. That eventually puts Bond back in the orbit of MI6 and his old boss M (Ralph Fiennes), along with familiar supporting characters Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). There's also a new agent (Lashana Lynch) who's been given Bond's old 007 designation. That's not to mention Spectre villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who's locked away in an elaborate prison like he's Magneto, and of course Madeleine herself.

No Time to Die runs an interminable 163 minutes (the longest Bond movie ever), and it can feel like watching an entire season of a TV series crammed into a feature film. And yet most of the supporting characters are still underused, especially Lynch's much-hyped Nomi. Ana de Armas shows up for one lively sequence set in Cuba, rousing the movie from its drippy doldrums as a nervous, quippy rookie operative who's more capable than she first appears. She's the highlight of the movie, and then she disappears.

Instead, No Time to Die is filled with unremarkable action sequences, convoluted betrayals and reveals, and lots of moping, from both Bond and Madeleine. Eventually, Rami Malek arrives as ludicrously named villain Lyutsifer Safin, whose plan for world domination via bioweapon is frustratingly vague, and whose connection to Madeleine feels forced. With his whispery delivery, Malek makes for an underwhelming adversary, not even matching up to Blofeld, whose onscreen time is similarly brief.

Cary Joji Fukunaga is the first Bond director to get a screenwriting credit, but aside from Safin's elaborate, deadly base, he doesn't come up with much that plays to his strengths as a visual stylist, mostly in TV work (True Detective, Maniac). By the time the movie arrives at its weepy end, its long goodbye has become more maudlin than celebratory. ♦

Two Stars NO TIME TO DIE
Rated PG-13
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes