“Faces from my past return” croons Billie Eilish over the opening credits of No Time to Die in her signature haunting tone. Both lyric and singer feel wholly appropriate for a Bond (Daniel Craig) himself haunted by his past misadventures. Portraits of Judy Dench’s M overlook MI6, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) continues to color the decisions of 007 and even Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) reappears for one final mission. No Time to Die spends so much time unpacking the history of our longest tenured Bond, yet the film’s lasting legacy may be what it portends for the future of the franchise.
It’s only fitting that the end of Craig’s run sets the stage for a radically different 007 universe, his own term was radically different from what came before. After 15 years playing the world’s most famous gentleman sleuth, it’s tough to imagine anyone else as Bond, but Craig’s portrayal brought out a feral unpredictability in the character previously defined by his suaveness. With that, Bond went from super spy to something of a soldier spy and more importantly he transformed from caricature to character.
Past and present collide in No Time to Die, more so than any previous installment. Picking up right where Spectre left off, Bond and his new love Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) have absconded off to Italy to begin their life together. Before Bond can have his happily ever after, he finally has to let go of his past, specifically Vesper. At Madeleine’s behest, bond returns to her grave to say a final goodbye when he is ambushed by Spectre. Convinced that he has once again been betrayed, Bond puts Madeleine on a train and vanishes into retirement.
Five years later we pick up with Bond on a secluded beach property as he’s called back into action by his old friend from the CIA, Felix. Turns out somebody stole a super weapon developed in secret by MI6 and Bond is the only one with the skills to to stop their nefarious plans to eradicate millions of people. This plot involves nanobots and genetic markers, but really none of that matters. The weapon and those wielding it are nothing more than cartoonish MacGuffins meant to give Bond one last adventure and reconnect him with figures from his past.
All that silliness is a feature, not a bug. For the first time in Craig’s five film run the overarching tone is fun. Craig gets to crack one liners as well as skulls in stylishly designed action sequences. Bond develops a playful rivalry with his replacement as 007 (Lashana Lynch) and gets an assist from a Cuban agent in training, Paloma (an incredible Ana de Armas), for a brief mission on the island. It’s all very entertaining.
New characters like Paloma and Lynch’s 007 aren’t just fun cameos. Like Craig’s Bond opened up the franchise to a more serialized narrative, these fresh faces open up the whole 007 universe of espionage. No plans have been made yet, but it isn’t hard to imagine a world in which No Time to Die was a launching pad for a Paloma spinoff starring de Armas or a Lynch led 00-something film. It certainly wouldn’t be out of character for the larger film industry.
Who knows if that will ultimately be good for the Bond franchise or a MCU influenced perversion of a franchise that feels like the last vestige of interesting studio filmmaking. I lean toward the latter, although I would be first in line for an Ana de Armas led spy movie. For now all we do know is that No Time to Die is the end for Craig in the role that launched him to superstardom.
As a sendoff for Craig the movie is great. He gets to say goodby to the character on his own terms and have a great time doing it. No Time to Die, like all the Craig sequels, can’t reach the heights of Casino Royale, but for the first time that table in Montenegro isn’t the aim. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga provides a totally different tone that, in its best moments, feels close to Craig’s first outing in quality.
Milage may differ with No Time to Die, everyone wants something different from James Bond. It’s a film with sky high stakes but also one that recognizes just how silly it is for a tuxedoed, martini drinking man to be fighting of terrorists wielding microscopic robots. This isn’t the best Bond movie, not even Craig’s best, but it’s tremendous fun and that alone is an accomplishment. 7/10