Review: “No Time to Die” a rare bookend for long-running James Bond series

Review: “No Time to Die” a rare bookend for long-running James Bond series
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Three stars. Rated PG-13. 163 minutes. In theaters.

Closure, while great for storytelling, is not something franchises do well.

We wave goodbye to characters we’ll soon see in sequels and reboots, the stakes only as high as the months stacked between outings. To quote Luke Skywalker, in his own franchise: “No one’s ever really gone.”

So what are we to make of “No Time to Die,” Daniel Craig’s fifth and final turn as James Bond? Does it even matter if the character will continue on without him, as is implied in the marketing (and directly addressed in the film)?

In this case, yes. Like most actors playing the British super-spy since “Dr. No” introduced Bond to movie audiences in 1962, Craig leaves his own stylish, gritty marks on the otherwise straight-camp character. The directors and writers of Bond’s 21st-century films reshaped 007’s world around him, further dragging a bloodied relic into the psychological light of day.

Craig’s movies are not the first to reckon with the character’s misogyny, racism and wholesale murder, but I found myself thinking wistfully about Bond’s tonal evolution while watching “No Time to Die.” It’s as crisply entertaining as any of the previous Craig movies, but circuitous in its quest to tie them all together.

Past films — especially 2006’s “Casino Royale” — may have cast Craig as the tuxedo-clad bull in the china shop, or the scarred-over idealist ruined by his traumas. “No Time to Die” hews closer to the sentimental outlines of 2012’s “Skyfall,” opening with a portrait of the spy as a recovered person (following the events of 2015’s not-so-great “Spectre”).

The dense, time-hopping plot conceals a simple arc: Bond is here to protect the people who are being used to lure him to a climatic, widescreen showdown. We open with a flashback from Dr. Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux), whom we met in “Spectre,” here as a little girl who witnesses the death of her mother at the hands of Lyutsifer Safin (a supremely creepy Rami Malek). Safin is there to kill her father (Bond villain Mr. White) but ends up getting shot by the young, traumatized Swann. He survives, and ends up saving her.

Cut to Bond and an adult Swann on a romantic vacation. A booby-trapped mausoleum sends Bond flying across a graveyard. Bond assumes Swann betrayed him and sends her away. Five years later, he’s in Jamaica when CIA buddy Felix Leiter (Jeffery Wright) looks him up to retrieve a captured MI6 scientist, who’s developing a weapon based on nanobots at the behest of M (Ralph Fiennes).

The globe-hopping quest hits high points with the introduction of CIA agent Paloma (a radiant, funny Ana de Armas), steely new-007 Nomi (Lashana Lynch), and Swann’s rediscovery. As always, everything is an elaborately contrived trap for Bond that doubles as a global-technological threat, with various factions begging him to help them (MI6 and the CIA) and surprises popping up to crank the stakes impossibly high (hello, secret family member!).

In addition to its nearly three-hour runtime, “No Time to Die” stretches out Bond’s legs, allowing him to seem at ease when we first meet him. It checks all the boxes — bug-eyed Eurotrash baddies on dirt bikes; narrow-street chase scenes; gorgeous scenery and white-knuckled fist rights; techie tricks; global terror; and an extreme body count.

But it also feels like a genuine ending, which is arguably new for the series.

Looking over one’s shoulder is a theme in the film, and it’s a little sad to see Craig doing it one last time. This warmer Bond contrasts with the unwittingly weaponized people around him, making him stand out. As he always has.

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