★★★ out of 5 -- Rated: PG-13 -- Run time: 2 hours, 43 minutes
It’s been a long, long wait for “No Time To Die,” the 25th film in the iconic James Bond franchise.
The last movie -- “Spectre” -- was released way back in 2015, and the follow-up was delayed numerous times due to such factors as a director (Danny Boyle) leaving the project, rewrites of the script, an ankle injury to leading man Daniel Craig, and oh yeah, a worldwide pandemic.
The film was originally slated to be released in April 2020 but is just now finally hitting the big screen.
It’s been widely reported that this is Daniel Craig’s last turn as James Bond. The 53-year-old actor has played 007 five times, which is two less than Roger Moore and one less than Sean Connery, but one more than Pierce Brosnan.
As has been the case with all the films in the Daniel Craig era, each movie has ties to other installments in the series. This time out, the story begins with a flashback sequence where Bond’s girlfriend from “Spectre” (“Madeline Swan,” played by Lea Seydoux) recalls a terrifying experience from her childhood involving a masked intruder played by Rami Malek. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (“Beasts of No Nation” and the first season of “True Detective”) uses the snow-covered Norway locations to full advantage in a chase scene on top of a frozen lake.
We then discover how the relationship is going between her and the now-retired Bond.
Both have secrets and deep scars from the past, which rush to the surface after 007 visits the Italian gravesite of his love from “Casino Royale” -- Vesper Lynd. (I wonder if I’m the only one who has a hard time believing her tombstone which states her character was only 23 when she and Bond were gambling in Montenegro.) Anyway, this Italian trip kicks off one of the film’s best action sequences -- a car-and-motorcycle chase around the city of Matera that features some spectacular stunts.
The script was written by Fukunaga, as well as Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who include a number of callbacks to past Bond films, including a memorable line from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” the use of different Aston Martin automobiles from different decades, a previously used signature song, and more. “Fleabag” creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge also received a writing credit, but as the movie doesn’t have a lot of comedy, she must have concentrated on the film’s more serious subject matter.
The movie features a mix of returning as well as new characters. Veterans of past Bond films include Ralph Fiennes as “M,” Naomie Harris as “Moneypenny,” Ben Whishaw as gadget-guy “Q,” Jeffrey Wright as CIA agent Felix Leiter, and Christoph Waltz as master villain Blofeld. (A prison confrontation between Bond and Blofeld is reminiscent of some of the face-offs between Agent Starling and Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs.”)
Newcomers include Lashana Lynch (“Captain Marvel”) as a female British agent who has taken over the designation of “007″ after her predecessor left the service. The two develop a healthy rivalry when Bond returns.
Oscar-winner Malek (”Bohemian Rhapsody”) is both creepy and scary as the main villain, but his tortured soul portrayal is very reminiscent of Javier Bardem’s character in “Skyfall.” The real scene-stealer in the film is Ana de Armas (“Knives Out”) playing an enthusiastic young CIA agent in Cuba who demonstrates some surprising skills in a top-notch nightclub fight scene. It would have been great if she had appeared in more scenes.
The pluses for this film include great locations that (besides the before-mentioned Norway and Italy) include Jamaica, London, and the stark-looking Faroe Islands. The action scenes are excellent and Daniel Craig gets to run through a wide spectrum of emotions, showing once again what a good Bond he is. The filmmakers also devoted a fair amount of time to developing the characters.
The minuses? Well, the movie is long. Two hours and forty-three minutes. Some of the villain-explaining-his-viewpoint scenes start to drag down the pacing. Some people may like the film’s darker moments, but others may cry for more action.
As for the ending -- that will inspire a lot of debate. I won’t say anything more, other than it was a surprise. Ratings-wise, I put “No Time to Die” smack in the middle of the Daniel Craig-led films. I enjoyed “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall” more than this film, but liked it more than “Spectre” and “Quantum of Solace.” It’s still a solid effort and a good movie to see (safely) in a theater.