I saw my first movie in a theater since late 2019 last night. The reviews were decent enough and the Covid numbers here falling fast enough that I felt comfortable going to see No Time To Die with my brother-in-law. Four other people had the same idea, so we had plenty of room to ourselves and felt perfectly safe.

I don’t think I’ve seen a James Bond movie in a theater since some time in the Pierce Brosnan days. Daniel Craig’s final appearance as Bond seemed like a good reason to break that run.

Bond movies can never be evaluated like normal films. There are certain boxes that have to be checked, certain allowances that are granted for the quality of the story, and certain expectations that need to be met in order for a Bond movie to be considered a success.

No Time To Die meets a lot of those requirements.

Before I dive deeper, this is your official spoiler alert. I’m not going to go into great detail about the movie, but I am going to mention one very important moment in the film, one of the most shocking and controversial in the entire James Bond franchise. If you plan on seeing the movie, it might be better to bookmark this until later if you’ve not had that moment spoiled for you already.

In fact, let’s get right to it: the ending blew me away. No pun intended. I had, somehow, managed to avoid hearing how the movie concluded. I’m glad that was the case, because I think the impact would have been greatly reduced had I known it was coming.

So, spoiler, James Bond dies. Unable to get off a disputed island before a missile strike he called in arrives, our final view of him is being engulfed in fire and smoke as the weapons rain down upon him. I was not expecting this! I’ve read a few reviews since I watched the movie and people seem very torn about that scene. I thought it was great, mostly because it was completely shocking to me. Bond movies have never made me emotional. But I was speechless and open-mouthed as I realized that James Bond had died.

I think that could be a hugely freeing moment for whatever comes next in the series. It gives future writers and directors a chance to completely reset the franchise however they want with whoever is the next Bond. (Why not go back in time to the Cold War days, for example? Or begin with an origin story of his days in the Navy?) And since the Daniel Craig era ended up having strong plot connections through each movie (or at least four of them), they can look at the next X movies as an opportunity to tell an extended story with one actor. They don’t have to kill off the next Bond when his time ends. But it does give them the opportunity, if they want it, to think more about that smaller pocket of 3–5 movies than worrying about how they are honoring the previous 25.

In general, I think NTTD looked good. The cinematography was gorgeous, although the lighting seemed a little off on our screen which was distracting. There was plenty of action. The opening scene in Italy, which concludes with Bond and Madeleine in an absolutely ridiculous car chase in his Aston Martin DB5 was so good it kind of ruined the later chase scenes. That was one of the best chase scenes ever in a Bond film.

Speaking of Aston Martin, the DB5 is an all-time classic movie car. But I was also a huge fan of them bringing back the V8 Vantage, which Timothy Dalton also drove in The Living Daylights. That’s a dope-ass car.

Another of the best scenes in the movie was when Bond was fighting his way to the control tour of the submarine base to open up the missile doors. The segment when he is in the stairwell, shooting at and being shot at by guys mere feet away, was super intense. There was a 60–90 second sequence that was shot and edited so tightly it felt a little like a single-shot scene. The entire Craig era has been defined by attempting to match the level of action found in the Jason Bourne series. The opening construction site scene in Casino Royale was perhaps the strongest counter to the Bourne movies. This was a fine, final, close combat scene for the Craig era.

Rami Malek’s villain Lyutsifer Safin was not one of my favorites. He seemed a little flat and lacked menace. His submarine base was a call back to classics like Dr. No and You Only Live Twice. Shame his character didn’t match the creepy villains of those older movies.

Safin using a biological agent to attempt to kill a large chunk of the world’s population was a little extra creepy, though, in the age of Covid, though.

A common complaint of the Craig era is how dour it has been. Traditionalists argue that the way he played Bond was far closer to how Ian Fleming wrote the character than what it became on film. I loved Daniel Craig, but I could have used some more levity. My prediction is that whoever the next Bond is, and whatever direction they take the series, there will be more cheekiness than in the Craig years.

That said, Ana de Armas’ Paloma was a shot of brightness this movie needed. Almost everything she did made me laugh. It’s a shame she was only in about 10 minutes of the film.

Her role also showed another way the franchise has grown to match the broader cinema world. de Armas looked GREAT. But it was totally believable that she was absolutely kicking ass. It wasn’t cartoony the way, say, Grace Jones was in A View to a Kill, but rather closer to something you would expect from Charlize Theron.

I’m sure some people are all worked up about Bond’s in-movie replacement as 007 being a Black woman. I’m guessing some of those arguments go along the lines of “She could never really do that.” Well, you know what? Daniel Craig could never do most of things he’s doing as James Bond, either, without the help of editing, stunt men, and CGI. It’s fiction, folks.

The other controversial moment was the reveal that Bond has a child. That didn’t bother me. I mean, “James Bond” has had a lot of sex over the past 60-ish years. Odds are he has a kid here and there. Plus it was part of the mechanics needed to set up Bond’s final decision of the movie, so I thought it worked.

One review I read, by a writer who is a year older than me, pointed out this is the last time James Bond will be older than people our age. Oh, snap! That sucks! Daniel Craig does give hope to us in our early 50s that if we put the work in, our bodies don’t have to fall apart.

I thought the movie was a little long. I went in knowing that I would be in the theater for nearly three hours once the previews were added in. The movie seemed to move pretty well, but there were a few lag points that could have been tightened up to cut 10–15 minutes from the final run time. It didn’t help that the theater we went to did not have the most comfortable or adjustable seats I’ve ever sat in.

I would give No Time To Die a solid 3.5 stars. I do wonder if it is a movie that will improve on multiple viewings, especially when you can split those viewings up into shorter segments. My rating suffers a little because Daniel Craig made two of the best Bond films ever in Casino Royale and Skyfall, movies that will be tough for any future Bond to match. NTTD was also not an embarrassment like Roger Moore’s and Pierce Brosnan’s final installments in the series. Maybe not all the chances taken worked, but most of them did. And that sets this apart from so many movies in a series that too often follows the same checklist just with different names and places attached to it.

NTTD also locks in Craig as, at worst, the second best Bond ever. And I think he has a strong argument for being the best Bond. It’s tough to compare him to Sean Connery both because both their styles and the times they acted in were so different. However, none of the other actors who have played James Bond made the role theirs as successfully as Connery and Craig did.