At least within the official James Bond movies, Daniel Craig is now the longest lasting actor for James Bond. Both Sean Connery and Roger Moore performed the role in more movies, but Connery’s official run lasted 9 years, and Moore’s run lasted 12. Craig’s first Bond movie released in 2006. No Time to Die, his final outing as the legendary British spy, released in 2021. That’s a 15-year run.
Make no mistake about it, No Time to Die is a definitive end to Craig’s run as the MI6 superspy.
After Spectre released in 2015, Craig said in a Time Out London interview that he’d rather slash his wrists than continue with the franchise. He later continued with “When I started doing Bond, I threw myself into it and was as physical as I possibly could be. I felt like that was really important – that’s who I wanted my Bond to be … However, after ‘Spectre’, I genuinely felt like I couldn’t do that anymore.” He gave other reasons, but in all appearances, he was going to leave the role for good. He’s not the first actor who wanted to leave either. Sean Connery also wanted to leave after his fifth appearance – in fact he did, only to come back after George Lazenby was convinced not to portray Bond in a second film. Craig also seemed to be really bored in Spectre, which is often the biggest criticism thrown at the movie.
In May of 2016, Craig turned down a $100 million offer to do two more Bond movies. Although Craig denied this, some even reported that he was later offered $150 million for two movies. He eventually agreed to act as the British spy one last time, and he stated multiple times that No Time to Die would be his last. In 2018, it was confirmed that Ben Whiteshaw (Q), Ralph Fiennes (M), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny), and Lea Seydoux (Madeleine Swann) would also all return. Seydoux in particular is the first actress to appear as a Bond girl in successive Bond films. Jeffrey Wright also returned as Felix Leiter, making him the first actor to appear as Leiter three times. In a livestream, they also announced Rami Malek as the lead villain, later revealed to be Lyutsifer Salin.
That live stream, on April 25 of 2019, also marked the official start of production. Meanwhile, Christoph Waltz signed on to return as Blofeld for multiple films, on the condition that Craig returned as Bond. However, despite Craig’s announced return as Bond, Waltz said in 2017 that he would not return, but didn’t give a reason. His casting was not announced in the livestream that revealed the main villain, along with 5 other major roles, but the first trailer in 2019 revealed his presence in the movie.
Development for No Time to Die began in early 2016, before Craig agreed to return. Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who have worked on every Bond film since The World is Not Enough, agreed early on to start working on a treatment. Sam Mendes, who directed Skyfall and Spectre, stated that he wouldn’t return to direct a third film. Christopher Nolan was approached, but declined. Denis Villeneuve was also approached as a director, but he declined to focus on Dune. In February of 2018, Danny Boyle signed on as the director, and actually scrapped the original story concept from Purvis and Wade. He John Hodge write a screenplay based on his own idea. They both later departed over creative differences.
At that point, the movie’s scheduled release depended on whether the studio could find a replacement within 60 days. Cary Joji Fukunaga was announced as the new director in September of 2018. He would become the first American to direct an Eon Productions Bond film, and also the first American to receive a writing credit for any Bond film, including the unofficial ones. He was also considered for Spectre, and had expressed interest to Barbara Broccoli about directing a Bond movie. Some of his previous credits include writing for 2017’s It, directing 10 episodes of the Maniac TV series, 8 episodes of True Detective, and 2015’s war film, Beat of No Nation.
After Fukunaga joined, they brought back Purvis and Wade to work on th4e story, with Paul Haggis (screenwriter for Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) to help with rewrites. By Craig’s request, Phoebe Waller-Bridge came in for further script polishing. She appeared as the voice for L3-37, Lando’s droid, in Solo: A Star Wars Story, along with acting roles in Goodbye Christopher Robin, numerous TV shows and stage performances, and is planned to appear in Indiana Jones 5.
For the soundtrack, Dan Romer was originally set to compose the film, having previously worked with Fukunaga on Beasts of No Nation and Maniac, but left due to creative differences in November, 2019. This actually marks the first time in the Bond series that a composer got replaced during post-production. In any case, Hans Zimmer took over. In January 2020, they announced that Billie Eilish would perform the title song, with her brother and frequent collaborator Finneas O’Connell helping her co-write it. It’s also worth noting that Louis Armstrong’s version of “We Have All the Time in the World”, originally made for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, appears several times in this movie. Considering some of No Time to Die’s story and dramatic themes are similar to that movie, it feels appropriate.
No Time to Die’s release got delayed due to a certain global event that’s still going on, yet that didn’t hurt the movie’s success all that much. It was originally delayed from its November 2019 release because of the need to replace the director. They then planned a February 2020 release, but delayed it further when the outbreak became publicly known. The movie premiered in London in September, 2021. Based on the combined production costs of somewhere between $250 and $300 million, and the estimated promotional costs of over $350 million, they estimated the film would need to earn at least $800 million to break even.
No Time to Die ended up earning $774 million globally. It was the first movie to release since the global outbreak to cross the $100 million mark overseas without the Chinese market, and would later earn $57 million in China alone. As of November 21, the movie overtook F9 to become the highest earning non-Chinese film of 2021, and even overtook Spectre as the third highest earning movie in history for the UK market, with $129.9 million. It’s now the second highest earning non-Chinese film of 2021, behind Spider-Man: No Way Home (which is still earning money as I write this), and fourth highest overall.
The movie also sold very well on both home media and streaming platforms, debuting at number one across pretty much everything. The movie ranked number one on Vudu and Google Play for two weeks, and iTunes for 5 weeks. It was the highest selling digital title of 2021 in the UK with nearly 500,000 digital copies sold. I wouldn’t know whether these digital and home video sales are enough to make this movie profitable, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.
The movie performed well with critics as well, with an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an average score of 7.3/10. The Times called the movie “Better than good. It’s magnificent.” The Washington Post’s 3 out of 4 review stated that the movie is “a bit too long and a bit too complicated”, but also “a fittingly complicated and ultimately perversely satisfying send-off for the actor.” The Daily Telegraph called the movie “extravagantly satisfying” and “often very funny.” Empire Magazine’s review was less positive, mainly complaining about the movie’s 2 hour 43-minute runtime and how the exposition heavy second act “doesn’t justify the heaving runtime”, but still felt the movie is a “fitting end to the Craig era.”
As for myself, I liked the movie overall, but agree that it’s too long for its own good, and it’s not as entertaining as I would like. Historically, the Bond film franchise has been about entertainment. Sure, there are dramatic moments sprinkled into the films, and the best movies tend to find a good balance between drama and fun, but the main focus is the fun. No Time to Die does have its moments of entertainment, but overall this is by far the most dramatic Bond film to date. While Craig does put in a better performance this time round than Spectre, there are still times that he seems bored. Even when he’s not, this movie shows that he’s not a great dramatic actor. He’s not bad, but he’s not great.
The best parts of this movie are when it focuses on the fun. The opening action scene in Matera, Italy, is Bond at his best. He’s running from assassins, switching between vehicles, and spends the first part of the fight trying to acquire a weapon. There’s a scene where he’s working with the CIA to track down Spectre (before he rejoins MI6), where he’s working with a young and attractive field agent who proves to be quite competent in her own right, even if a bit bubbly and irresponsible. She’s played by Ana de Armas, and I wish that she was in the movie more, instead of disappearing after that action scene, never to be mentioned again. The forest chase scene is kind of epic, and gives Craig a brutal bond moment that kind of reminds me of License to Kill in the best way possible. The climax also works kind of like the sinking house fight at the end of Casino Royale, where Bond is climbing his way through a brutal fight scene in a race against the clock, even if he uses guns more than his fists this time.
Spoiler in this clip.
While I criticized the movie for its overuse of drama, there are times when it works. The movie’s opening has Bond feeling betrayed by Swann, to the point where he straight up abandons her and proceeds to live off the grid for years. It’s a harsh moment, but works as a solid opener for the movie. Later on, he confesses that he’s missed her ever since at about the half-way point, and while Craig’s performance could be better, you still buy what he’s saying. The writing behind his confession is brilliant. My main issue is that the scene feels a bit long.
The movie also tries to touch on Bond’s unresolved trauma with the death of Vesper in Casino Royale. What bothers me about this is, it looked like Bond mostly dealt with this in Quantum of Solace. Bringing back that trauma again felt a bit forced, as if it’s only there to further tie Craig’s run together into one big story arc.
The main problem with this movie is the story itself. Not only does it continue on from Spectre’s story that tries, but doesn’t really succeed at tying all of the Craig movies together, but it further complicates things with an entirely new shadow group. It also digs into government corruption and superweapon development, but doesn’t really delve into the consequences for M, who spearheaded the project. I get that a lot of film franchises are going for interconnectivity lately, mainly because of the MCU’s massive success, but it doesn’t always work. With James Bond, the main draw is you can go into any movie, sit back, and enjoy. Even Skyfall works as a standalone movie. But Spectre decided to try to turn Bond into a larger story narrative, and No Time to Die takes that further with a story that was never planned to be a larger arc in the first place. The result is a mess of a story.
Spoilers from this point on, including the clips.
This movie’s main plot revolves around the Hercules project, first spearheaded by M of the MI6. It’s basically a nanobot that transmits through any kind of skin contact, that targets specific people by their DNA. It kills them. It reminds me of similar nanobots in the Metal Gear Solid series, but it doesn’t feel like a rip-off. It’s all about presentation, and the presentation is different enough to make it work here. This is exactly the sort of thing I could see a rich country trying to develop, as insidious as it is.
Spectre steals this nanotechnology and plans to use it to assert their world domination. Then a separate shadow organization, with agents within Spectre, manages to rewrite the nanobots to target Spectre themselves. It’s this game of using people’s weapons against them that makes this story work on its own. It’s just a shame they had to shove Spectre into the story to overcomplicate things. A lot of people try to question M on this technology, but at least until Bond presses him after seeing the destruction of Spectre, mentioning that the CIA knows, he refuses to answer. It would have been neat seeing M forced to answer questions by some sort of government investigator, but we never see that. He basically spearheads the operation to destroy all evidence, and as far as we know, he never has to answer questions after that. The lack of consequences here is disappointing.
Well … I can’t say that’s an inaccurate way to portray corrupt government officials getting away with despicable actions.
In any case, the lead villain is Safin, a former mercenary turned terrorist. He initially wanted to use the bots to destroy Spectre in an act of revenge, and even had fun doing so. He later decides that he wants to take this technology further. He’s got millions on his kill list, and their entire families in some cases. Although his goals become nefarious in their own right, he sees himself as a hero. He’s intelligent, manipulative, determined, and makes for a fantastic villain. That said, the more the movie delves into Safin’s past, and his previous relations to Spectre, the more confusing both this movie, and Craig’s full run, gets.
Another cast member worth mentioning is Lashana Lynch as Nomi. At some point after Bond retired from the MI6 in Spectre, she was added to the 00 program. Specifically, she was given the designation of 007. This caused a minor controversy among some fans, but for me, it’s a non-issue. She’s fine as a 00 agent, and I like how her relationship with Bond started off as contentious, but they eventually grew into a team. It makes sense that MI6 would re-designate his 00 number to another agent after he leaves. The moment where she requests that Bond take back his 007 number, shortly before the climax begins, is a nice moment.
The conclusion definitively ends Craig’s run. Long story short, he’s “poisoned” with the nanobots that are specifically meant to target Madeleine Swann and her daughter, later revealed to be Bond’s daughter. Realizing that he can never touch the love of his life again, Bond decides to stay behind to get blown up along with all remaining traces of the nanobots. Dramatically, this is a very satisfying conclusion to Craig’s run. It’s also the responsible thing to make sure no traces remain of such a devastating weapon. It’s also probably Craig’s best acting moment in his entire run as Bond, as he shows a lot of regret and sadness, but also relief. They also throw in an interesting twist on the famous line “we have all the time in the world”. Bond’s last words in this movie, “you have all the time in the world.” My only complaint about this scene is that it drags on way too long. One could say that about this movie as a whole, but this scene in particular is a noticeable offender.
At its core, No Time to Die is a good Bond movie. It’s not as good as the very entertaining Casino Royale, or the brilliant Skyfall, but it is better than the mediocre Quantum of Solace and the boring Spectre. The two biggest problems are being too long for its own good, and making an already messy continuity even messier. That said, the action scenes, the better dramatic moments, and an overall satisfying conclusion, make this movie worth a watch for Bond fans.
I don’t mind that they experimented with a more connected series for Craig’s run, but personally I hope they go back to the standalone format going forward. Not every franchise needs to give us a large, overarching story. It’s perfectly fine to have a long-running series be accessible.
Next month, I’ll be looking at the Jumanji movies, including Zathura. I’ll get to Spider-Man: No Way Home whenever I can, not just to catch up on the MCU, but because I really want to see that movie. As of now, it’s not possible in my province. As of this point, I’m planning on a Ridley Scott month for March, where I’ll look at Alien, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven and Blade Runner. I just haven’t decided on the order yet.