No Time to Die

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James Bond fans could spend days arguing over which actor is the best 007. They'd probably have to agree, though, that Daniel Craig has been as good as anyone. The actor's turn in the iconic role comes to a glorious end with No Time to Die, a definite highlight not just in his era but in the franchise overall. Although it has the requisite elements we've come to expect – cool gadgets, thrilling action scenes, a stunning opening credits sequence, etc. – there hasn't been a Bond film quite like this one.

For starters, the plot this time around is not needlessly convoluted. In fact, it's pretty straightforward. A high-tech chemical weapon has been developed and is now in danger of being misused. If that happens, it will be catastrophic for the human race. Bond's efforts to prevent that from happening bring him face-to-face with nemesis Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), as well as a new bad guy, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek). Giving him an assist is Nomi (Lashana Lynch), the agent who's been assigned his 007 designation now that he's officially no longer a member of MI-6.

That side of the movie allows for exciting action, including a vehicle chase through the narrow streets of an Italian villa, an escape from a sinking boat, and an elaborate fight inside the walls of Safin's compound. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) and Oscar-winning cinematographer Linus Sandgren (La La Land) stage these sequences not just for thrills, but to ensure that they have stakes for Bond. The ominousness of the villains and their goons is also played up – one of Blofeld's goons has a creepy bionic eye, for example – giving the action scenes an extra edge.

Longtime Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson took a different track with Craig's run in the series, incorporating ongoing story threads that brought viewers further into Bond's personal life. That approach began with the death of love interest Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale and has run through Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and Spectre. Those threads pay off substantially in No Time to Die. Big chunks of the movie are devoted to exploring how the mission impacts Bond not as a spy but as a man.

Bond's friendship with American counterpart Felix Sater (Geoffrey Wright) is given resolution, and the occasionally fraught professional relationship between him and former boss M (Ralph Fiennes) comes to a head. Most significantly, Lea Seydoux returns as girlfriend Madeleine Swann, who Bond casts out in the prologue, only to see her return five years later with a secret. Craig and Seydoux ensure we know these characters never stopped loving each other. What happens between them should not be spoiled, except to say that it provides No Time to Die with a finale that's far more emotional than anything we've ever seen in a 007 picture. The conclusion isn't just the typical “Can Bond save the world?” question, it's “Can Bond find meaning in his life outside the spy game?” That emphasis on the human factor is what sets this installment apart. You may reasonably find yourself getting choked up during the last twenty minutes.

Other pleasures are scattered throughout, among them a fantastic cameo from Ana de Armas (Knives Out) as a CIA agent who helps Bond on a mission in Cuba, comic relief from Q (Ben Whishaw), an ingeniously-scripted third-act use of that chemical weapon, and Billie Eilish's haunting theme song. All those contribute to the entertainment value. The personal material is what truly sets No Time to Die apart, however. Craig's last spin in the role concludes in a beautiful, touching manner that honors Ian Fleming's character like no other Bond film before.

out of four

No Time to Die is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong language and some suggestive material.. The running time is 2 hours and 43 minutes.