HOW must it feel to be Daniel Craig right now?
Paraded around various chat shows to promote a film he made two years ago, while suffering through endless speculation about his successor when he has barely had time to hang up his tiny blue swimming trunks.
I’m sure the millions he’s set to make from No Time To Die’s Covid-defying box office will ease the burden.
However, he should also take pleasure from having bowed out with a thoroughly satisfying, not-quite-but-almost-perfect Bond movie, to round out what has been a patchy tenure in the tightly-tailored tux.
Like the Star Trek movies, Craig’s time as Bond has seen the odd numbered ones – Casino Royale and Skyfall – impress but the even numbered – Quantum Of Solace and Spectre – floundering.
Luckily, No Time To Die, his fifth and final effort, continues that trend.
We open with an unsettling snowy sequence that wouldn’t feel out of place in a horror movie, before quickly finding ourselves in familiar territory as Bond tears up the roads of the Italian riviera with his new wife, Madeleine (Lea Seydoux).
As you might expect given his track record, the marriage takes a turn for the worse and five years later we find Bond, retired and happily minding his own business in the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, a raid is carried out at a top-secret lab in a London skyscraper where scientists have been developing a chemical weapon with the potential to wipe out most of the planet. Inevitably, Bond is drawn back into it.
Sure why would you spend your days on the beach drinking cocktails and seducing women when you could be getting shot at in a misty Norwegian forest or nearly drowned by a man who looks like the prototype for Ken dolls?
I will say no more for fear of giving the game away.
There is much to like about this Bond. Unlike the insanely complicated and messy Quantum Of Solace, No Time to Die keeps a firm grip on its plot throughout. Fleabag writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge was brought in to give the film a lighter touch and you can feel it.
Craig’s previous outings have been mired in grimness but, while we are not reaching Roger Moore levels of camp, this is more fun.
It is playful – they introduce a new 007 (the name is not retired with the man) who is surely a middle finger to Wokeratti moaning that the franchise is stuck in the last century. Q (Ben Whishaw) is given a life beyond the lab and some decent lines. Even Craig, who has approached his time as Bond like a man diving head-first into a sewer, seems to be enjoying himself.
He is at his best when he is reunited with his Knives Out co-star Ana De Armas in Cuba for what turns out to be the sparkiest sequence of the entire movie. Their chemistry absolutely crackles. There are beautiful little nods to Bonds gone by, not least in the use of a proper island lair for the spectacular finale.
Still, it is not without its flaws.
You could argue that the lengthy running time – a bum- numbing 163 minutes – is self-indulgent. Perhaps one or two of the action sequences outstay their welcome, but it never really drags.
There’s always something driving the plot along, very little feels like filler.
More significant, however, is the lack of a convincing villain. By the time we reach the closing credits, it hardly matters because the writers have taken us somewhere truly unexpected, but Rami Malek’s Lyutsifer Safin doesn’t hold a candle to any of the dastardly evil-doers who have faced Bond down in the past.
It doesn’t help that early on Malek is suffering from a case of severe hamminess. His acting settles as the film progresses but the character often feels like an after-thought, his motivations unconvincing, and his lines are so far from menacing they become slightly pathetic.
And yet, despite the weak villain, this still feels utterly enjoyable. That is due in no small part to a twist about halfway through the film that turns the Bond mythology on its head, introducing a hitherto unexplored motivation that has a transformative effect on how No Time To Die proceeds.
No spoilers here, but the final reel feels fresh and audacious, packing a serious emotional punch. As Bond send-offs go, this is as good as it gets.