I am unwilling to attribute the popularity of the film on its release to its quality. For my money, it is one of the weaker Bond films, and certainly the weakest in which Daniel Craig plays Bond. The pace is ponderous. The layering of narratives does not work. It is too long (at 2 hours 40 minutes, it is the longest Bond film), and does not use its length effectively.
Surprisingly, considering that Phoebe Waller-Bridge – comedian and star-head writer of the acclaimed BBC situation comedy series, Fleabag — is a co-writer, it is neither funny nor has a lightness of touch. But it raked in the money as soon as it opened worldwide. This could in part be because it had been so long in coming. Its release was repeatedly pushed back from the originally scheduled November 2019.
But I’d imagine what drove a lot of people to the theatre was the fact that this was Craig’s last turn as Bond. After Spectre (2015), Craig said he would rather ‘slit his wrist’ than do another Bond movie. Then, he agreed to make No Time to Die his Bondswansong.
Every new release of a Bond film is accompanied by discussions and arguments among longstanding fans about who is the best Bond ever. But it is a futile debate. One shouldn’t compare Bonds from different eras, just as one shouldn’t compare cricketers from different eras. Each Bond is rooted in his social, cultural, political, and historical contexts. Craig, a character actor who has performed Shakespeare on stage and was acclaimed in arthouse cinema, has, over five films in 15 years, offered us the quintessential Bond of this era.
Appropriately, his Casino Royale (2005) revitalised the franchise. Bond needed to change in the new millennium. The immense popularity of a franchise such as the Jason Bourne one called for a reinvention of Bond as we knew him. Subsequently, the explosion on streaming platforms of top-notch espionage thrillers and high-octane action films with elaborate sequences of choreographed violence meant that Bond needed a new direction.
Timothy Dalton (1987 and 1989) and Pierce Brosnan (1995, 1997, 1999, 2002) tried to cling to the vestiges of the character made successful by Sean Connery and, then, Roger Moore. Craig made the character his own, putting his imprimatur on it in a way Dalton and Brosnan were not able to.
Craig’s Bond is less about suaveness and more about street cred. He is less silk and more steel. The violence he unleashes is more brutal. But there is a darkness at the core of all he does. With his sharply cut suits, he wears an air of brooding menace. A troubled past haunts him, a rage animates him with coiled-spring energy. Craig’s Bond, unlike any previous iterations, is vulnerable. He is an all-action superhero, who is aware of what might turn out to be his feet of clay.
In No Time to Die, Bond drinks not a single martini. (I missed that.) Gone is the casual sexism, bordering on misogyny, of previous incarnations. Women, instead of being objectified, are treated as equals. This Bond does not lust after trophies of the opposite gender. He cares. He is in love. He is tender with children. He is unafraid to show his emotions.
In an interview with the Guardian (bit.ly/3vQUqVb), Craig was asked how much other actors who played Bond informed his way of portraying him. He replied, ‘Not at all, because the way they played it was the way they played it, and they’re each individually brilliant… All I wanted to do was put my stamp on it and make it the best thing I could.”
He did exactly that. Craig’s enduring legacy with regard to this franchise will be that he gave us a Bond for our times.