As pop culture has evolved in the past 15 years, so has Daniel Craig’s version of James Bond.
In “Casino Royale,” he was a Jason Bourne-like, acrobatic hero. In “Skyfall,” he was a dark, quasi-”Dark Knight”-type hero.
As Craig’s run as Bond closes with “No Time to Die,” he’s closer to the tragic TV character Jack Bauer from “24” in that nothing can go right for him.
As it goes, Bond can afford all of the fancy technology, tuxedos and hidden vacation spots that most people can only dream of having. But he can’t get a decent day’s rest without someone gunning for his head.
Enjoying retirement after the events of “Spectre,” Bond spends most of his time jet-setting around the world with his girlfriend, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). For once, life is good — until a bomb planted by assassins goes off and causes the old 007 to go back to his old ways.
Adding to Bond’s troubles, Swann has a dark secret from her childhood, a connection to the crazed murderer Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) that has come back to haunt her.
In its bloated 163-minute running time, there’s a lot for Bond to unpack as he shoots his way across the world to stop Safin and Ernst Blofeld’s Spectre organization from getting the last word. But it’s rarely been more kinetic, loud and intense.
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (“True Detective”), “No Time to Die” dashes away previous director Sam Mendes’ classic Bond sheen and throws a few layers of dirt and blood on it while maintaining its slick fight choreography. Like Bond, Fukunaga’s spinning a lot of plates at once, trying to wrap up a 15-year-old series while telling a story that’s compelling and stands on its own.
For the most part, Fukunaga and the movie succeed in doing both. The first hour is a mesmerizing balance of genres, from the horror movie-like opening of Safin chasing a pint-sized Swann in her remote home to pulse-pounding action movie sequences where Bond uses all of the resources around him, from motorcycles to laundry, so he can beat a group of assassins senseless.
The problem with the energy of the movie’s first act is that that level of excitement is unsustainable. When the movie comes back down to earth, it tends to fall into some standard Bond problems: double-crossing agents, his agency turning against him, loved ones getting kidnapped and a race against time. And it’s all handled darkly and somberly.
These are all forgivable 007 tropes when the villain is compelling, like Mads Mikkelsen’s cunning Le Chiffre in “Casino Royale” and Javier Bardem’s Joker-like Silva in “Skyfall.” Safin brings nothing new to the table. He talks in menacing whispers and has a plan to use biotechnology to kill millions of people. Stop me if you think you’ve heard of that before.
Among the well-tread territory of the movie’s second act, there is some freshness. Lashana Lynch breaks up the movie’s serious tone as Nomi, a new 00 agent replacing Bond at MI6. “Knives Out’s” Ana de Armas has a fun cameo that leaves you wanting more, and warm returns by Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are nice additions.
While Craig’s run as Bond had its highs and lows, “No Time to Die” lands well enough that you’re glad to have spent time with it during this decade and a half. But you’re also hopeful that the next Bond will lighten up a little bit.