“No Time to Die” is a fitting and emotional finale for Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007, but it’s also an endcap on the “dark and gritty” reboot era that began in the early 2000s with many franchise films. This Bond still has some darkness within it, but you can feel the tides changing with a funnier script (less smooth-talking wit, and more jokes and overall straight comedy) and a slight tonal shift away from the world’s smoothest misogynist characterization.

Without giving too much away, the basic plot follows the same beats that most James Bond films have. Sometime after the events of “Spectre” (which you don’t need to remember much about to follow this new installment), Bond has left Her Majesty’s Secret Service and he and Madeleine (Lea Seydoux) have shacked up on the idyllic Italian coast, where they both promise to come clean with all their secrets after James finally comes to terms with his past love Vesper’s death (from “Casino Royale”).

When he arrives at Vesper’s gravesite, it has a Spectre calling card and is booby trapped, exploding when he gets there. Shaken and stirred (sorry), he goes after the baddies, who are scurrying through the town, then tries to get back to Madeleine, who he believes double-crossed him. He puts her on a train, and they say their final goodbyes. We’re then whizzed forward in time to Bond’s luscious island home where he lives the quiet retired life full of boozing and spearfishing.

But his old CIA buddy Felix Leiter (Jeffery Wright) tries to pull him back into the fold, urging him to help out with a case of stolen doses of viruses and secret tech, which they believe have gone to Spectre. Before Bond can agree, he’s met by the new 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch) who cautions him to stay out of her and MI6’s way — they’re planning to take care of the target themselves. But there’s more to this plot than any agency is aware, and it’s up to Bond, James Bond, to ride again one last time.

Director and co-writer Cary Joji Fukunaga gives this swansong for Craig all the action you’ve come to expect in these 21st-century Bond films. His and Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s script give the character a fitting end, squeezing as much meaning as they can from stories that have been hit-and-miss since Craig stepped into the role.

Because of that, it’s probably the only one where Craig actually gets to act a little bit beyond the stereotypically suave agent, highlighting a little bit of his comedic chops as this Bond is actually funny all of a sudden. Sure, Bond has his fair share of quips and witty retorts but there are some genuinely comedic moments and lines that feel very indicative of Waller-Bridge’s style. Plus, Bond is considerably less of a womanizer than he’s been in the past.

One specific moment that caught my attention is when Nomi gives him a ride on her scooter (she’s undercover at that moment, and he figures she’s just a flirtatious islander). Instead of him immediately gripping onto her lower back, she tells him to hold on and when he does his hands are at a respectful position. It’s an incredibly micro-moment, but one that signifies the change that we’re about to see going forward.

However, not all is martinis and tricked -out Aston Martins.

The film, like many Bond movies of the past, has a distinct villain problem. Rami Malek does his darnedest to convincingly portray the typical baddie Lyutsifer Safin, but he’s hardly in the film long enough to make a real impact.

Some beats and instances are forced in order to propel the story along to an emotional, if pretty manipulative conclusion, and a lot of moments simply don’t make sense, even in the outrageous world of James Bond.

Plus, the film is about 30 minutes too long. Riddled with repetitive exposition in order to explain the convoluted and often confusing motives behind everyone’s story arcs, the movie drags when it should be racing along. Even for a Bond film, there was a lot of monologuing by all characters.

If it weren’t for the ending and a nice amount of callbacks and Easter eggs that are never outlandish or too much, a lot of these issues wouldn’t be redeemed — but luckily for all involved, they are. And without delving into spoilers, the ending is impressive and surprising, making this a fitting ending for Craig and a hint as to where the franchise can now go.

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Reporter: 541-383-0304, mwhittle@bendbulletin.com

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