Deviating from a formula as well-ironed as one of its hero’s tuxes, No Time to Die bids goodbye to Daniel Craig with so many surprises, it’s tough to know where to start. There are big, unprecedented storytelling decisions; Bond relates to not one, but several women as equals; and at one point, he makes pancakes for a small child.
The nicest surprise of them all, though, is just how good it is. Much-delayed, not least by a switch of directors when Danny Boyle left and Cary Fukunaga stepped in, it finally arrives as a reminder of the big-screen power of a blockbuster franchise firing on all cylinders. It’s the funniest Bond in forever, too, with a zingy script (quite possibly due to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s contributions) delivered by Craig and co with aplomb.
Bond’s opening reintroduction – involving a town square, his DB5 and half of Spectre, as he’s pulled out of a romantic reverie with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) – is an all-timer that shakes the cobwebs from the franchise in ten crunching minutes. From dapper and loved-up, Craig is soon back to how we know and love him: bruised and battered and heeding the siren call of duty, as the CIA and MI6 joust over a missing nanoweapon.
Fukunaga and his cinematographer Linus Sandgren (La La Land) find visual grace notes everywhere. One sequence set in a Havana hacienda might be the most offbeat thing seen in a franchise that, let’s not forget, has also featured a crocodile submarine and Christopher Walken. It has Bond and Ana de Armas’s CIA spook prowling through what seems to be a David Lynch cheese dream, in pursuit of a rogue scientist with access to that humanity-threatening MacGuffin.
Beefing up the roster of female characters is Lashana Lynch’s 00 agent Nomi, who shares a nice anti-chemistry with Bond that feels like a meaningful step forward for both characters.
And the villain? Rami Malek’s scarred Safin mostly pulls the strings from off screen, but gets his moment in a third act that will thrill anyone yearning for the massive sets of the Ken Adam era and the megalomaniac dreams of Dr No.
If a runtime of close to three hours sounds like a red flag, this Bond is a surprisingly lean beast. It zips from one adroitly chosen location to another (add Matera in southern Italy to your bucket list ASAP), but the slower, character-driven scenes – the undoing of some recent Bonds – really sing too.
Only Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny is shortchanged. After her dynamic intro as a field agent in Skyfall, the franchise seems at a loss for what to do with her, with Lynch’s Nomi stepping into the gap she might have filled. Even MI6’s resident meme, Tanner (Rory Kinnear), gets more heavy lifting to do.
Other grumbles centre on a climactic battle that overstays its welcome, and one or two bits of unnecessarily jarring violence. But by whatever metrics you measure a Bond movie – tight plotting, gnarly villains, emotional sincerity – Craig’s final outing is a rip-roaring success. #CraigNotBond feels like a very long time ago now, in every sense.
In UK cinemas Sep 30. In US theaters Oct 8 and Australian cinemas Nov 11.