Daniel Craig gives Bond a fitting send-off in his final stint as 007, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Delivering all the expected Bond movie elements and adding a handful of surprises, it's a thrilling adventure with an unexpectedly emotional kick. Matthew Turner is both shaken and stirred.

Delayed for well over a year due to the pandemic (“Ah, Mr Bond, we've been expecting you”, indeed), the 25th official film in the 007 franchise proves to be well worth the wait. It also serves as a fitting swansong for Daniel Craig's tenure in the role, bringing to close storylines that began back in 2006, with Casino Royale.

The film begins with a horror movie-like prologue sequence that will be important for later before switching to the usual (but also longer than usual) pre-credits action sequence, in which Bond (Daniel Craig) and Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) are ambushed by SPECTRE agents while attempting to get away from it all in a picturesque Italian town.

The story then jumps forward five years (not quite as devastating as when they did it in Avengers: Endgame, but still unexpected) to find Bond in retirement, living in Jamaica, and a new 007 (played by Lashana Lynch) in his place at MI6. However, when he's approached by his old CIA friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), Bond is reluctantly brought back into action once again, tasked with tracking down a kidnapped Russian scientist (David Dencik), who's in possession of a deadly biochemical weapon. 

Bond's initially unsanctioned mission brings him back into contact with M (Ralph Fiennes) and requires a face-to-face with an imprisoned-but-still powerful arch-villain Blofeld (Christoph Waltz going full Hannibal Lecter), as well as a tense reunion with Madeleine and some gentle sparring with Nomi, the new 007. Eventually, however, the real mastermind is revealed, in the shape of Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), a facially scarred, softly spoken megalomaniac with a secret connection to Madeleine and the usual plans for world domination.

Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (Bond's first American director), No Time To Die looks stunning throughout, courtesy of cinematographer Linus Sandgren and some world-class location choices. The sets are extraordinary too, especially Safin's island lair in the final act, which comes complete with a Poison Garden and acid pools. Apart from anything else, it's just really nice to see a good old-fashioned lair again.

However, it's the action that really impresses, and Fukunaga delivers terrific set-piece after terrific set-piece, whether it's the initial opening sequence with Bond leaping off a viaduct, a tense stalking session through some mist-drenched woods or a thrilling punch-up at Blofeld's birthday party (no, really). The action feels lean and muscular under Fukunaga's direction too – there are plenty of shoot-outs and explosions, but there are also consequences, with cuts and bruises sustained throughout. 

As for the actors, it's as if everyone involved has somehow turned everything up a notch, knowing that this is Craig's last stint in the role. Craig, in particular, delivers his best performance of the series, investing Bond with unexpected emotion, as if his hard shell has finally cracked. As a result, his scenes with Seydoux (reliably excellent) are genuinely moving, while his interactions with the rest of MI6 (including Ben Whishaw as Q, Rory Kinnear as Tanner and Naomie Harris as Moneypenny) are as much fun as ever.

However, the performance that really deserves singling out belongs to Ana de Armas (Craig's co-star in Knives Out), who completely steals the film in her handful of scenes as super-cool FBI Agent Paloma, but then promptly disappears for the rest of the movie. Here's hoping the Bond producers have further plans for the character because she's way too much fun for this to be thelast we see of her.

The script – by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, with a polish by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (you can spot most, if not all of her lines) – does a great job of making Bond feel properly contemporary, and the dialogue is consistently entertaining, even if the plotting occasionally feels a little underwhelming (Safin's motivations aren't as clear as they could have been) and the pacing flags a little in the middle section of what is already Bond's longest-ever running time at 163 minutes.

As a final note, there are a series of lovely nods to previous Bond films (Safin's lair feels very Dr. No, for example), including some soundtrack choices that will bring tears to the eyes of die-hard Bond fans.

In short, No Time To Die is a terrific closing film for the Daniel Craig era, delivering the expected rush of thrills, cars, explosions, gadgets and so on, while also pushing emotional buttons you don't normally associate with the Bond franchise. Well played, Mr Bond. Well played.  

Four out of five stars

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Cast: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Jeffrey Wright, Ana de Armas, Billy Magnussen, Christoph Waltz, Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear
Cert: 12A
Running time: 163 mins