Daniel Craig concludes his tenure in his best Bond ever in No Time to Die

All good things come to an end. Daniel Craig has, for 15 years, has come to personify what the concept of Bond signifies to the lovers of the spy genre. He’s come into the part with the baggage of not being “talk, dark, and handsome” enough — despite being 5 feet 11 inches. How dare Craig, fair and up to then not a bona fide star despite his starting role in Spielberg’s Munich, take a part that sacred cows like Connery, Moore, Dalton, and Brosnan had made a part of their own image? I recall reading the outrage the Brits were involved in when Craig was, in the early 2000s, involved in once he was the front-runner for the part. You would have thought he had single-handedly assassinated the Queen Mother herself.

However, there he was, starting in Casino Royale, and resuscitating a franchise that had all but become stale, broken, tired. There he was, a new agent in the rough getting trained by M to earn his license to kill, which leads him into the web of corruption heralded Le Chiffre, while falling tragically in love with Vesper Lynd. He would continue his narrative in the somewhat flawed Quantum of Solace, redeem the movie’s slight faux pas in the one-two punch of Skyfall (easily the current’s second best entry) and its immediate follow-up Spectre. Over the course of these movies Craig basically brought the audiences and earned unanimous praise. Here wasn’t just an actor playing the part, this was Bond incarnate: rash and ready for anything in his first appearance, steely and perhaps even out of control by Skyfall.

It was only appropriate that if Craig’s narrative as 007 — a number that, and this is not a spoiler, is just that — the writers would have to come up with not just a thrilling adventure drenched in travelogue and elaborate set pieces but something meaty, heavy. Dense. The plot of No Time to Die has not much different from the plot of every other Bond movie. We get a bad guy (Rami Malek) whom we see right from the get-go paying a visit to a young Madeleine Swann (Coline Defaud as a girl, Lea Seydoux as an adult) and her mother in their remote cabin. The visit is not exactly friendly — after all, he is the bad guy, and he has a mission. Madeleine survives this incident, but it fast forwards her to the recent past when she is now living with Bond, who since the events of Spectre has retired. Still mourning the loss of Vesper, Bond travels to her grave, only to be ambushed by Spectre assassins. Bond suspects Madeleine of betrayal and sends her packing as an act of self preservation.

A few years later, a Russian scientist developing a bioweapon under M’s orders gets kidnapped for (obviously, what else?) nefarious purposes. The goal seems a bit ill-defined, but we all know anyone developing such a terrible technology can only be harnessing it for carnage at a global level. No Time to Die then becomes a race to find the scientist, which leads Bond to Cuba with Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and a new CIA agent Paloma (Ana de Armas) as well as his own replacement, 007 (Lashanna Lynch) to a meeting of the spies.

However, No Time to Die has other plans in store so of course the story takes a few left turns. In doing so, it brings in a much more human element that will definitely surprise anyone who goes to see the movie. Rarely has any Bond movie dealt with Bond’s character as a man who could have a true motive to live — or in this case, to stop — as this movie does. It is a wicked setup that becomes an even stronger factor than the one that has now come to define the series, that of the weapon for Mass destruction. How the movie resolves it is masterful, and all the praise should go to writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and especially Phoebe Waller-Bridge (herself the writers of both Fleabag and Killing Zoe), who brings in a much needed female energy with her dry, comic wit. Fans of her work will be able to spot her influence on the characters, especially in the language, which is sharp as duck and darkly funny.

So, here we have it, the end of the line for Daniel Craig and his version of Bond. All plot lines will get tied up by its end. References to past Bond films going all the way to Doctor No, Goldfinger, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service are all over the place. Bond has matured to the point of exhaustion and Craig’s performance never feels tired, but mellowed. Make no mistake — he can still be ruthless, but you do see him take hits and feel the stun. He’s not undefeatable. He’s human. And that is a good thing, especially for a spy movie in which far too often it’s heroes are practically preordained to survive no matter how dire the circumstances. Craig’s version might end here, but the character, the essence of cool, remains.