Courtesy of MGM

Diamonds might be forever, but the license to kill has always come with an expiration date. Daniel Craig can't claim the longest hold on James Bond — that honor is shared by Sean Connery and Roger Moore, with seven installments each — though he has outlasted Pierce Brosnan (four), Timothy Dalton (two), and George Lazenby (an inglorious one and done). Much has been made of the fact that No Time to Die, out this Friday after nearly two years of pandemic delays, will be Craig's fifth and final turn in the eternal tuxedo before the torch is passed to some future unknown. And Die has all the classic hallmarks of the franchise: exotic locales, astonishing set pieces, a maniacal villain with a dastardly and improbably convoluted plan that only one super-agent in the world can undo.  

What also lingers in the air, amidst all the shattered martini glasses and gun smoke, is something less familiar: a very un-Bondian whiff of mortality. Imagine a James shaken, not stirred, by the idea of his own impermanence — and even, perish the thought, irrelevance. Could it be that 007's number is finally up? In fact, it's already been reassigned after his voluntary retirement — to a young Black woman no less, played with brisk, brash style by Lashana Lynch — but there wouldn't be much of a movie if something didn't pull James out of his leisurely post-MI6 life of al fresco showers and sport fishing in some remote Jamaican paradise and back to the business of her Majesty's secret service.

That cause, after several bravura opening scenes featuring his lady love du jour Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and a swarm of disposable henchmen, has something to do with the return of Spectre villain Ernst Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), and a stolen biological weapon whose potential effect on the human race would be, to say the least, cataclysmic. It comes at the request of James' old friend, CIA field officer Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), but leads back soon enough to the old crew in London: Ralph Fiennes' fussy M, Naomie Harris's ever-capable Moneypenny, and Ben Whishaw's Q, the winsome tech guy with the soul of a poet and the brain of an MIT source code.

No Time to Die
Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas in 'No Time to Die'
| Credit: Nicola Dove/MGM

There are new faces too: Knives Out star Ana de Armas drops in, all champagne bubbles and starlet glamour, as a newbie agent in a too-brief sequence set in Cuba; Billy Magnussen (Made for Love) appears as a CIA recruit with an apple-pie smile and a shameless fanboy crush on James. And of course there's the nemesis we've been promised — Rami Malek as Lyutsifer Safin, a pale, pocked wraith whose eerie facial scarring telegraphs some unspeakable damage he no doubt plans to repay ten-fold.

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective, Beasts of No Nation) is fresh blood to the franchise too, and he shares screenwriting credit not only with Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who have seven Bond films under their collective belt, but also Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Her wit, or what feels a lot like it, fizzes through the first half, sparking off in little corners where the old-timey lines about craps tables and cigars usually go. Refreshingly, the women on screen — as uncommonly, unsurprisingly gorgeous as they all tend to be — read more like actual human beings than scenery here, and even James treats them accordingly. For the first hour, at least, the series feels revived: still full of the requisite international intrigue and elaborate gadgets that give Bond the glittering swagger it's always had, but dragged now into a recognizably modern era.

Nothing gold(finger) can stay, alas; as the movie rounds out its second hour and heads deep into the third, battle fatigue sets in, and so does a vaguer kind of ennui. Malek, always so great at playing the part of a man who fell to earth and can't quite wait to get back where he came from, has his unsettling stillness largely wasted on a standard-issue backstory, with too little room to explain or justify the monster he's become. His nefarious endgame, too, feels woefully underbaked — a busy pile of jargon and double helixes that makes just enough sense to get the job done but no more. The levity of the first half is soon sorely missed, and the run length alone — the movie clocks in at just under 165 minutes — dilutes the intended emotional resonance of the final scenes; Never Say Time might have been a truer title. Still, as Bond swan songs go, it's a fond farewell: faithfully bridging the old world and the new until the last, deathless postscript. Grade: B

Read more from EW's 25 Days of Bond, a celebration of all things 007 ahead of the release of No Time to Die.

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No Time to Die (2021 movie)

The 25th installment of the James Bond movie franchise features Daniel Craig playing 007 for the fifth — and supposedly final — time.

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