'No Time to Die' review: Daniel Craig is the gold-standard Bond of the 21st Century

Craig plays James Bond at his dazzling, dangerous best.

October 8, 2021, 4:05 AM

Until the last third, which I'd like to permanently delete from memory, the long-delayed "No Time to Die" -- now in theaters, where it's been marketed to pull in audiences like no movie since the pandemic began -- is James Bond at his dazzling, dangerous best, coiled and ready to spring.

Apologies to the other four actors who've played 007 since the definitive Sean Connery hung up his tux, but Daniel Craig -- the jug-eared Brit whose irregular features improbably radiate a megawatt star charisma -- is closest to the blunt instrument Ian Fleming imagined when he created Bond in 1953 as a British agent with "a cruel mouth" and an unrestricted license to kill.

PHOTO: Daniel Craig stars in the latest James Bond installment, No Time To Die, 2021.
Daniel Craig stars in the latest James Bond installment, No Time To Die, 2021.

Craig, 53, is taking his fifth and final turn as Bond. So it's odd that he doesn't figure in the opening action in which the villain, Safin (a creepy, whispery Rami Malek), terrorizes a little girl who grows up to be Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), a therapist with a name out of Proust who is Bond's last shot at love.

"We have all the time in the world," Bonds tells her, echoing the lovely Louis Armstrong ballad from 1969's underrated "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," in which one-shot Bond, George Lazenby, married an Italian countess (Diana Rigg) with tragic results.

A feeling of impending doom hangs over "No Time to Die," with its dirge-like title song from Billie Eilish, even when Bond is at his quippiest as he and Madeleine tool around the Italian hills in his Aston Martin before the terrorist forces of Spectre try to run them down.

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga ("True Detective") keeps pulses racing as Bond leaps off an aqueduct and grabs a motorcycle to continue the dizzy chase down steep steps. What doesn't continue is his relationship with Madeleine, since he blames her for tipping off Spectre.

After Bond quits the spy biz, MI6 boss M (Ralph Fiennes) comes calling, along with the CIA's Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). Bond has been replaced -- what! -- by a new 007. She's Nomi, and as played by Jamaican dynamo Lashana Lynch, she deserves more screen time than she gets.

Also rising above the sexist level of Bond girl is a striking Ana de Armas as Paloma, a newbie CIA agent who rivals Craig in combat (and she's in heels and a backless gown). Their mission in Cuba is a romping, stomping highlight that's classic Bond on an adrenaline high.

PHOTO: Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux in the latest James Bond installment, No Time To Die, 2021.
Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux in the latest James Bond installment, No Time To Die, 2021.

The movie loses steam when Bond and Madeleine reunite to interrogate Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) in a glass cage like Hannibal Lecter, and obliterate an island off the coast of Japan where Safin develops a global virus that chillingly resists vaccination.

It's all an excuse to develop a romance set against a cataclysm. Sadly, Craig and Seydoux don't really spark; he showed more emotion when Judi Dench, as the former M, breathed her last breath in "Spectre," the last Craig film as Bond before "No Time to Die."

It's understandable in the #MeToo era that Bond would be more sexually woke than he was in the Connery days, when 007 rarely took no for an answer, but did he have to be this sappy about wearing his heart on his sleeve?

No spoilers about how far "No Time to Die" goes in jerking tears, but it sure tested my limits. Among the four screenwriters, it's a shock to see Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the "Fleabag" Emmy winner who has previously never stooped to weepy cliches. I assume she was overruled, except for fun scenes with Ben Whishaw as gadget wiz Q and Naomie Harris as Miss Moneypenny.

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Not only does Craig tear up over Madeleine, he's shown doing the same on a visit to the grave of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), for whom he also vowed eternal love in "Casino Royale." Worth mourning for real is the end of the Craig era as Bond. "Casino Royale" and "Skyfall" remain his best, with "Quantum of Solace" standing as the worst for Craig and the entire, 25-film series.

At 163 minutes, "No Time to Die" is the longest Bond film and you can feel sentimental quicksand dragging it down. But Craig brings out that roguish glint in his steel-blue eyes to dodge the soap-opera curveballs the movie keeps throwing at him. It's no secret why he's the gold-standard Bond of the 21st century. Nobody does it better.