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No Time To Die review: Daniel Craig bids farewell to James Bond in style

James Bond finally gets a life in this epic, explosive and emotional farewell to the longest-serving 007. The movie opens in US theaters Friday.

In US theaters on Friday, Daniel Craig goes out with a bang as James Bond 007.

MGM

He's got a license to kill and he's got No Time to Die. But in Daniel Craig's final outing as James Bond, the suave superspy finally gets a life. Already a hit at the box office, this 25th 007 film is an epic, explosive and emotional swan song that throws everything against the wall for a genuinely unique entry in the long-running series.

The movie is now open in the US, following a series-best opening weekend in the UK. Having played Bond for 15 years over five films since Casino Royale in 2006, Craig is now the longest-serving Bond. So No Time to Die already had an end-of-era feel about it, and if you factor in a pandemic-provoked delay of nearly two years, the film's arrival feels positively giddy. That actually plays out on the screen: Packed with familiar faces but shepherded by some shrewdly chosen newcomers, No Time to Die packs a quintessentially Bond punch while also taking huge risks with the aging character and decades-old formula. Every Bond film markets itself as a fresh twist, but No Time to Die is genuinely bonkers at how far it goes. It's so un-Bond at times it's almost anti-Bond. These creative choices may be divisive, but you've got to hand it to the filmmakers for thinking big and bold. 

Last time we saw Britain's sexiest super-spy, he'd chucked in the espionage game at the end of 2015's Spectre and revved his Aston Martin into the sunset with new love Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux, 17 years Craig's junior). Every relationship has its little tiffs, like how Madeleine's boyfriend and her father spent several previous films trying to kill each other. But she's more vexed about his ex: the late Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale, who started Craig's inexperienced spy on the road to becoming the James Bond we know. So Bond interrupts a scenic Italian holiday to say goodbye to his past -- and you can probably guess how that goes. Bond, Madeleine and Aston Martin are soon locked in an explosive battle with mysterious assassins as their romantic getaway becomes, well, a getaway.

That early showpiece shootout marks out No Time to Die as something a little different. In previous Bond movies, bulletproof glass is just another cheeky little optional extra for a gimmick-packed chase scene, as bullets bounce off harmlessly and Bond zooms away for a well-earned vodka martini.

But here, the bludgeoning impact of every machine gun round is brutally felt, with whip-crack sound design giving a real sense of threat. But more importantly, inside the car Madeleine also batters at Bond's own bulletproof shell. It isn't just the glass cracking with every punishing impact, it's two battered human beings threatening to break.

Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas have time for a drink in No Time to Die.

Nicola Dove/MGM

That's the key ingredient of No Time to Die. Yes, it's beautiful to look at, with luminous cinematography and thrilling kinetic action. But it thinks a little deeper than the surface gloss of a superficial action romp, holding its gaze on stuff that earlier Bond films didn't think to show. Where does James Bond go when the film is over? What's he like on vacation? What's James Bond like when he's having fun? No Time to Die's screenplay is credited to long-time series writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, but also to director Cary Joji Fukunaga and Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge. It's hard to know who came up with which ideas, but it's tempting to see this meld of old hands and new faces as key to the film's success.

No Time to Die includes Bond movie staples like gravity-defying car chases, ridiculous doomsday weapons and vast brutalist hideouts full of henchmen with silly facial tics to mow down. And it continues the many through-lines from Skyfall and Spectre. But at the same time, No Time to Die revels in blasting canon out of a cannon. You can feel an iconoclastic freedom running through the film, a school's-out delirium, a righteous urge to throw everything at the wall. We all know there's a reset coming when the role is recast at some unspecified point in the future, so for now the gloves are well and truly off.

What this means is that Bond can truly change. Spectre made a ham-fisted attempt to make the character human and relatable with a tacked-on familial reveal. (Did nobody notice they pinched it from Austin Powers: Goldmember?) Here, No Time to Die shows Bond living a life away from the banging and crashing, allowing Craig to display more than just a stern look cinched into a suit. We know from previous Bond outings that Craig is utterly assured as the suave secret agent, but we also know from his theater and television work that the man can act. And we know from Knives Out and Logan Lucky that he's funny. In No Time for the Die, he brings those qualities to James Bond more than ever.

This unconstrained Bond can be romantic, playful -- hell, even a bit camp. At times he's practically goofing around. Then he's deeply vulnerable. Then he's back to business. There's more than a holster under the tailoring, there's a rounded human being.

Lashana Lynch is the new 007 in No Time to Die.

MGM/Universal Pictures

This transition from the "blunt instrument" of Casino Royale to a fleshed-out character comes thanks to the people around him, the men and women he loves and respects. Lashana Lynch and Ana De Armas are more than a match for Bond as the high-kicking, sharpshooting women in his life. De Armas breathlessly pirouettes in and out of the film leaving you wanting more, while Lynch could easily carry the whole film. Ben Whishaw's Q is always fun to have around, although Naomie Harris as an office-bound Moneypenny is a little upstaged by Lynch's arrival.

Ralph Fiennes also gets to do some real acting beyond handing out orders as Bond's boss, M. He too has changed, the vibrant new broom of Skyfall shrunk into his stuffed shirt, appalling even Bond with his questionable tactics. This begins as an intriguingly ambivalent portrayal of establishment authority, although it's quickly forgiven and forgotten in favor of cozy familiarity. 

As Bond gets tangled up in plots and counterplots, there are times when everybody packs such a punch that you might wonder why Bond is even there -- on occasion he's left literally running around looking for someone to rescue. With a cast assembled over several films, the expanded 2 hour, 43 minute runtime gives it an almost television-like expansion of focus to other characters. Purists may be unhappy, but there's a frisson that feels almost transgressive to explore the interior worlds of other characters in the 007-verse. And after 15 years Craig is the heavyweight anchor around which the chaos and carnage revolve. It's still a thrill to see him in full black tie casually vaulting a bar and pouring a couple of liveners while a shootout continues around him, downing a drink and going back to mowing down bad guys with a signature swagger.

The Bond series has always drawn on action movie trends, from Roger Moore's '70s karate chops to the Bourne-esque stylings of Craig's previous films, and No Time to Die puts the pedal to the metal with savage and battering fights evoking the accelerated action of John Wick and Atomic Blonde. The Bond brand allows for a mix of genres within the one film, and there's also a spine-tingling touch of horror on show in a nail-bitingly tense opening flashback and a deliciously surreal black tie bacchanal.

Not everything works: The film doesn't bother to give Rami Malek's unsettling villain a discernible motive for his fiendish plans, and even if it did you probably wouldn't hear it amid his whispered dialogue. Still, he looks the part, which is more than can be said for some of Bond's costuming choices. The relatable off-duty Bond looks more rumpled than ever before, which means a lot of truly awful, awful corduroy.

It remains to be seen what comes next after No Time to Die so comprehensively blows up the franchise formula. Whoever takes on the role after Craig has a very big bow tie to fill. But a new bar has been set for the series, with Craig going out in incendiary style. It may not be true any more that nobody does it better, but Bond still does it pretty damn well.