It snuck up on me how long Daniel Craig has been playing James Bond. Because of the slower pace of film production now, compared to the series’ start, Craig has not appeared as 007 as many times as Sean Connery or Roger Moore. But a record 14 years will have passed between the first installment of the Gritty Bond Reboot, 2006’s Casino Royale, and the April 2020 release of No Time to Die.
It’s one thing to watch the climactic (and interminable) Texas Hold ’Em game from Casino Royale and know that Craig has been Bond since poker was cool. It’s quite another to sit with, and ruminate on, the fact that Craig has been Bond since poker was cool. This final installment seems to have been in the works for 14 years itself. Danny Boyle was set to take the directorial baton from Sam Mendes, who helmed the Skyfall-Spectre doubleheader, before he left the project and was replaced by Cary Joji Fukunaga, late of True Detective and Beasts of No Nation. It would be a disservice to Fukunaga’s artistic and technical bona fides to refer to him primarily as a “heartthrob television director,” but he may in fact be history’s only heartthrob television director, so it must be mentioned.
Even the title has long been in flux. This, the 25th film in the series, was referred to for years as Bond 25. (I made this connection somewhat belatedly, having assumed it to be a reference to the maximum age of a Bond Girl, even as 007 himself grows old enough to wax poetic about his service in the Falklands War.) But now that the film has not only a title but also a trailer, eager Bond aficionados will learn that this is to be a movie in which the band gets back together.
It’s good to see Bond reunited with his surprisingly stable set of MI6 sidekicks: Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, and Ralph Fiennes, who at only five years older than Craig can’t feel great about not being let in on the regimen of good PEDs and skincare products. Also returning is Jeffrey Wright, whose CIA agent Felix Leiter is still just as spaced out as he’s been since Casino Royale.
But for anyone who grew up on the episodic and cartoonish Bond movies of Moore and Pierce Brosnan, it must be jarring to see No Time to Die recycle not only a bad guy (Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld) but a girlfriend (Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann). Fortunately for 007’s reputation as anything but a committed monogamist, Swann appears to be the latest in a long line of serious Bond love interests who turn out to be some combination of untrustworthy and complicated.
Also returning from Craig’s previous Bond movies: sensible warm-weather men’s fashion, 007 jumping off of things and riding motorcycles on staircases, lots of submachine guns, and even more action sequences through urban centers in the Global South. The iconic Aston Martin DB5 likewise makes its return, though 007 uses this gorgeous piece of automotive history as a bullet sponge and bounces it off of stone walls. One might as well spray-paint a mustache and glasses on the Mona Lisa.
But as much as No Time to Die seems like it’ll be playing the hits, it will also introduce three critical new characters. Rami Malek, late of this creepy as shit Mandarin Oriental commercial, puts on facial scars, a Phantom of the Opera mask, and a bizarre accent to play Safin, this installment’s Big Bad. The trailer features a face-to-face sitdown between Safin and Bond that seems tailor-made to elicit negative comparisons to a similar scene between Bond and Javier Bardem’s Silva in Skyfall.
And speaking of bizarre accents, while Craig does away with his Benoit Blanc drawl for No Time to Die, he is reunited with his Knives Out costar Ana de Armas, whose function in this film beyond wearing a ball gown and dual-wielding machine pistols is as yet unclear. Though there are worse functions to serve in an action movie.
The most interesting newcomer is Lashana Lynch, who has done away with the Pete Rose wig she wore in Captain Marvel to play Nomi, a 00 agent who is presumably the physical manifestation of Bond’s impending obsolescence. It’s no accident No Time to Die introduces a black woman who’s just as elegant, quippy, and brutal as Bond himself, one who mocks him in the trailer with a reference to his balky knee.
For as much as the series has evolved over the past 57 years, Bond himself is just as white, upper-class, and hypermasculine as he was when Connery first bared his furry thorax in Dr. No. And that fact has become quite conspicuous in recent years. Regardless of what Bond’s successor looks like, Nomi illustrates that the qualities that make Bond Bond are not confined to one race or gender.
Between these elements and tying up the loose ends on Craig’s tenure as 007, there’s a lot of ground to cover, even if the 25th installment in the franchise ends up ballooning into a 150-minute epic. And despite the gloomy fatalism of Bond films starring Craig, perhaps 007 will survive the peril he faces in this final chapter. There’s so much going on in this movie, there may end up being no time for him to die.