I do agree with the consensus that NO TIME TO DIE is a fitting farewell to Daniel Craig as James Bond. Craig is the first Bond actor who gets such a moment as the others in the past simply said they weren’t coming back. Since Craig is the one actor who’s tenure consists of a character arc over multiple films, we get a satisfying conclusion to his Bond story. However I came away feeling mixed about the film because I wonder how does the series go forward?
First I have to say in full transparency I am much more of a fan of the Bond era before Daniel Craig than I am of the Craig era itself. I absolutely love CASINO ROYALE. It’s my second favorite film of the series and I love the reinvigorated feel it brought. I actually have more respect for QUANTUM OF SOLACE than most do, as I feel that works as a fitting epilogue to the formation of Bond as began in CASINO ROYALE. 2012’s SKYFALL however, is where I start to falter on the Craig era. As well constructed as SKYFALL is, I always felt it as a Bond film that felt sort of embarrassed at the films that preceded it. I’m not talking about updates to problematic elements, but rather the fun of a Bond film. It’s so serious and further seeks to explore Bond as an individual. I take no issue with this choice as after 50 years (at the time of SKYFALL’s release) you certainly have the cultural cache to make a significant change. I just came to the realization in 2012 that laying bare the soul of the cinematic 007 did not work for me beyond 2008’s QUANTUM OF SOLACE. It turns out, I don’t find Bond interesting when I know every single detail and personality trait. Then we move to 2015’s SPECTRE which tried to merge the heaviness of its predecessor with a somewhat more old school Bond film feel. However, it leaned closer to the former with a story that expands the Bond world beyond what I felt was interesting. Again, I was open to the choices and upon seeing them, understood how they didn’t quite work for me.
So now I arrive at NO TIME TO DIE. Was this the film that finally got me to connect with the creative decisions made during the Daniel Craig era? As I said earlier, I come away feeling mixed. There was plenty I enjoyed yet there’s a spectre (pun intended) that looms over it and my feelings on it
First, what did I enjoy about it? There are moments where NO TIME TO DIE bursts with an energy of an old school Bond film. Particularly the pre-title sequence and when the film moves into Cuba. Ana de Armas’ Paloma is one of the highlights of this part of the film. Also the final act is worthy of talk for the emotional component it plays. It is probably the most emotional Bond finale since CASINO ROYALE. One other highlight is Hans Zimmer’s score. It certainly takes to opportunity to provide some great musical callbacks to the past as well a very strong rendition of the main James Bond theme during some of the action sequences. In addition to the score, I found myself appreciating the main theme by Billie Eilish once I heard it in conjunction with the title sequence. Those credits did bring a smile to my face because of the way they began, paying homage to my favorite Bond film. I still find the song, drab outside of the film, but I think it works, especially as you hear its orchestrations in Zimmer’s score.
So why are my feelings about NO TIME TO DIE mixed? From a story perspective, it seems as if the film is two films merged into one. There isn’t really a push or pull, it actually resolves some plot points from the prior film and rather quickly. Yet I think NO TIME TO DIE uses plot points to draw us to Bond’s emotional arc and honestly once you get past QUANTUM OF SOLACE, I’m not totally sure what Bond’s arc actually is. This is why I said earlier that the character is not as interesting to me when all is revealed. Little moments in prior films I believe have achieve this and have a stronger effect on me as a viewer. For instance, the slight look of rejection on Bond’s face as M excoriates him in GOLDENEYE. Or In the THE SPY WHO LOVED ME when Anya Amasova begins to mention Tracy and Bond ends the conversation. Even in CASINO ROYALE, Bond thinks he has Vesper figured out on the train and then she flips the script on him and while there is a smile on his face the whole time, we see and know that it has cut deep. I find these work better to show the emotionality of the character better than these sweeping stories across multiple films.
There is something about the spirit of the Daniel Craig Bond film’s that walks the line between contemplative dramas and the more typical Bond formula. Yet I am never able to fully connect with them because when the familiar elements show up in them, it feels as if the familiar is being welcomed into a new home and not showing appreciation for the popular parts of what helped the franchise endure for nearly 60 years. The films shouldn’t be ashamed of that. NO TIME TO DIE is a very good sendoff for its actor and this unique era of the franchise. I just wish and hope for the future that the series from this point on feels the love again and be proud of it.