When James Bond tells his lover, "We have all the time in the world," early in "No Time to Die," fans of the series will emit a collective, "Oh, no!"
It's a callback to the same line in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" from 1969, just before Bond's wife is murdered. That isn't a spoiler — the context is different in "No Time," which also repurposes Louis Armstrong's "Her Majesty's" theme song — but fans know the line is shorthand for "No good can come of this."
Instead of the usual unrelated-to-the-rest-of-the-story action sequence that generally starts Bond movies, the long-delayed "No Time" kicks off with a flashback to the childhood of Madeleine (Lea Seydoux), a love interest in "Spectre" who remains so here. Then it cuts to the present, and the stunning hillside city of Matera, Italy. Goons interrupt Bond and Madeleine's vacation there with a car chase/fistfight/motorcycle-zooming-up-ancient-steps-and-through-picturesque-streets sequence that ranks among the best of many dynamite Bond intros.
Those scenes introduce complications in the relationship between Madeleine and Bond that will drive "No Time" to its conclusion and involve them with a pair of villains: Christoph Walz, returning as Blofeld, who consults from prison, and Rami Malek.
The latter is given a personality-filled name, Lyutsifer Safin, which is the only interesting thing about him. Malek was magnetic in "Bohemian Rhapsody" but here, he makes the unfortunate choice of trying to make calm evil seem mysteriously fascinating. That can work — Javier Bardem ("Skyfall") practically built a career on it. But Malek is too blank. He seems quietly bored, not quietly terrifying.
Craig is excellent as a hero who's on the broodier side on the Bond continuum but a 007 movie lives or dies on the villain/hero dynamic and Malek — who is not introduced until the movie is half over — doesn't give him much to work with.
The best scene partners for Bond are women. Lashana Lynch is a feisty foil as a secret service agent given the 007 "licensed to kill" designation. And Ana de Armas, Craig's costar in "Knives Out," is a hoot as a neophyte spy who handles the mayhem when virus-wielding bad guys crash a costume party that plays out like Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death."
That scene is loosely related to the rest of "No Time" but the plot is so disjointed that it feels more like a series of episodes than a movie with a beginning, middle and end. The virus is part of Safin's efforts at world domination but, as the movie skips from subsidiary villain to subsidiary villain, we often lose sight of it.
At two hours and 43 minutes, this is the longest of the 25 Bond movies. The Walz stuff is entertaining but it underscores the sense that "No Time" feels like two Bond movies stitched together in a way that is not as snug as our hero's bespoke tuxedos, which appear to have been created for a lifestyle that includes no bending.
The good news is that the finale of "No Time" delivers both a worthy sendoff for Craig, who has said this is his last time as Bond, and an intriguing set-up for the 26th film — since, if you sit through the credits, you'll see the usual promise that 007 will return.
No Time to Die
**1/2 out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for tons of violence.
Where: Wide release (theaters only).