Is it worth the hype? That will very much depend on how you process events that simply can’t be revealed here for fear of spoilers.
What can be said is that director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation) and his co-writers have made some big calls. It’s daring for sure, and entirely in keeping with the gritty, grounded nature of the Craig-era 007 movies.
Although for anyone who thinks Craig’s Bond has no sense of humour, there are a couple of puns worthy of Roger Moore (“It really blew their mind,” says Bond, when one assailant is dispatched with a miniature explosion inside their skull).
The last Bond movie, 2015’s Spectre, finished with 007 and his French psychotherapist girlfriend, Dr Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), driving off in his trusty Aston Martin DB5. When No Time To Die opens, the story flashes back to Madeleine’s youth in Norway. It’s the introduction to the film’s villain, Safin (Rami Malek), his facial scars eerily hidden by a white Japanese Noh mask. He has come to assassinate her father, who wiped out his whole family.
When the plot then cuts to the present, in the stunning Italian town of Matera, it’s made abundantly clear that the outcome of this incident still haunts Madeleine.
Being the good therapist she is, however, she wants Bond to find closure by visiting the grave of Vesper Lynd, the woman he fell for and lost in Craig’s first outing, Casino Royale.
But a dramatic event at the tomb leaves Bond suspecting Madeleine is somehow connected to the evil organisation Spectre, for which her father worked.
The story moves on five years, with Bond now alone, retired, living in Jamaica. But when his old CIA buddy Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) pops up, asking him to track down a Russian scientist, he’s drawn back into a life he left behind.
It leads him to Cuba, working alongside CIA agent Paloma (a cracking Ana de Armas) and rival MI6 agent Nomi (Lashana Lynch, also excellent) in the race to find the Russian, whose hand is being forced by Safin towards something utterly deadly.
The film nods back to Bond movies of the past, much in the way Skyfall did. Notably, the melancholic On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the only time George Lazenby played 007, is brought to mind by Craig’s Bond telling Madeleine, “We have all the time in the world”.
It’s a direct nod to Louis Armstrong’s memorable song that accompanied OHMSS, and one that will grow in poignancy as No Time To Die unfolds. If you thought Skyfall was emotional, try this for size.
The script ensures that the MI6 faithful – M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) – aren’t just left back in Whitehall.
There’s also a chilling encounter with Spectre head Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), now locked away in Belmarsh prison after Bond captured him.
Waltz is so good, he almost overshadows Malek’s Safin, whose own dastardly plot slightly fizzles out in a final third that will undoubtedly divide audiences.
The action scenes are first-rate, none more so than a vehicle chase when the plot returns to Norway, leaving Bond in a mist-shrouded forest facing off against several of Safin’s men.
Nomi and 007 also thrillingly co-pilot a souped-up glider in a sexy-looking aerial sequence. But in the end, the film lives and dies by Daniel Craig’s performance.
As he has done throughout his tenure as Bond, he brings gravitas and genuine emotional heft to the character. His time as 007 must now be seen as unique and unforgettable.