Movie Review: Craig makes his Bond exit count with “No Time to Die”

Call it James Bond’s greatest hit. That’ll do.

Daniel Craig makes his long-planned exit from his long tenure as Agent 007 a graceful one in “No Time to Die,” a sometimes jokey, often sentimental and occasionally dark outing in the ancient and esteemed series.

Every Bond film is derivative of every other one, at this point. Cary Joji Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre,” “Beasts of No Nation”) leans into that history, giving us a Bond adventure with a hint of “You Only Live Twice,” a whiff of “Moonraker,” bits of a couple of others and a heaping helping of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” perhaps the most underrated film of the lot.

If there was ever any doubt before now, this time out Bond is in love, with the complicated French beauty Madeline (Léa Seydoux). The stakes are a little higher, with the usual intrigues involving Spectre and this year’s version of “What could be worse than Spectre?”

The Russians are back where they belong, as unhelpful and out of the loop, and even in the villain’s corner.

Characters who have died before, in earlier incarnations of the franchise, die again. Lines are recycled to grand effect.

“We have all the time in the world.”

Music is sampled from many a Bond score.

Three generations of Aston Martin own the road, and product-placement Land Rovers take it on the chin. The bad guys are forever chasing Mr. Bond and rolling over their Rovers.

Great locations, from Jamaica and Italy to Norway and something Faroe passing for a northern Japanese/Southern Russian island, are featured to great effect.

Everybody grabs a drink and knocks it back, especially Bond and the bossman, M (Ralph Fiennes), a bit of business so often repeated that characters insult each other over how many scotches, martinis and what not, are imbibed.

And Craig, weathered, perhaps appreciative of his Big Break and certainly schooled by the experience of the amusing “Knives Out,” finally does something he promised with the very first film. He lightens up.

Bond meets a helpful woman in Jamaica (Lashonna Lynch) who turns out to be a Double-0 agent, one who knows his reputation.

“I have a thing for old wrecks,” is as flirtatious as this one gets.

What must be the longest “opening gambit,” that killer first scene that sets the tone and opens the film, has a dark back story about a child in jeopardy, “Hanna” style, in a remote wintry chalet. We then awkwardly catch up with “retired” Bond, still a little hung up over the dead Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) from his “Casino Royale” days, but deeply in love with Madeline now.

If only he could trust her. Might she have Spectre ties? Is there something else he’s not telling her in this enchanting Matera, Basilicata Italy, where they burn “wishes” and “secrets” written on paper as part of some festival they visit via Aston Martin DB-5.

But Bond’s past catches up with him. And next thing he knows, he’s listening to a pitch not from his old paycheck — Her Majesty’s Secret Service — but from Felix Leiter of the CIA (Jeffrey Wright). The “It’ll be like old times” deal gets Bond into a trap with Spectre in Cuba.

Good thing he’s teamed with this “three weeks experience” CIA asset, Paloma. She’s played by Craig’s adorable “Knives Out” co-star Ana De Armas, wrapped in a slinky engineering marvel of a cocktail dress and holds her own with the battered old “Shaken, not stirred” Brit. She is a funny, feisty delight, the first “Bond girl” of the Craig era to win that label.

The new murderous megalomaniac here is played by Oscar winner Rami Malek, and he’s more interesting than menacing, a second tier Bond villain, I have to say. So let’s bring back Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, in heavy facial prosthetic makeup and presented — in prison — as the Hannibal Lecter of Spectre.

There’s a Russian emigre (David Dencik) who has been designing DNA targeting weapons of mass destruction for MI-6. But he’s Russian, so there’s no trusting him.

M (Fiennes) is drinking as much as Bond, Moneypenny is competent and concerned and trying to get everybody working together and Q (Ben Whishaw) is in a huff because tonight’s date (with a man) has to be put off for spy business.

Lots of travel and much mayhem ensue, car/motorcycle chases, shootouts, a kidnapping of a child (a startlingly unaffected toddler) and a climax in the designer villain’s lair we’ve come to expect from every Bond picture since the first.

Much has been made of bringing “Fleabag’s” Phoebe Waller-Bridge in to script some wit and heft to the female characters. But the multi-handed screenplay has a certain ungainliness, even if its just-under-three-hours runtime tends to pass quickly and lightly. That opening gambit is overlong, unwieldy and something of a downer.

While the Craig Bond films have been topical and more firmly footed in reality than those of his predecessors, I have to save I haven’t warmed to any of them and the best of them, “Casino Royale” and “Spectre,” don’t seem to be aging that well. The “fun” was missing. The violence tends towards first-person shooter video game glib.

But this time Craig, in his final turn in the role, makes Bond not just vulnerable (he’s managed that before) but someone with a sense of humor.

Maybe “Knives Out” loosened him up. It’s that wink, here and there, that makes “No Time to Die” stand out. And that wink makes his final film as the character more fun, and ensures that even as he’s replaced, we’ll remember him with fondness, leaving us with a smile as he goes.

Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong language and some suggestive material.

Cast: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Rami Malek, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Lashonna Lynch,
Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Christoph Waltz and Ralph Fiennes

Credits: Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, scripted by Neil Purvis, Robert Wade, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Cary Joji Fukunaga. An MGM release.

Running time: 2:43

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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