'No Time To Die (2021)' is annoying. It's annoying because, though it starts out a little shaky, it's generally an enjoyable in-the-moment experience that features several excellent action scenes and a surprisingly strong emotional core, but its narrative is also an absolute mess that almost totally falls apart in retrospect. It's so close to being great in so many ways that it's honestly frustrating. It falls just shy of the mark in pretty much every aspect, ending up as a very uneven affair that I have a distinctly love/hate relationship with. The opening hour is actually rather strong, as it sets up several enigmatic plot elements and even subverts some expectations. Sadly, it writes a cheque that the rest of the picture can't cash. The more generic plot that kicks into gear when Bond finds himself back on British shores is honestly rather boring. It doesn't mesh well with the far more successful emotional stakes that drive the core story. Neither does the tone, which fluctuates (albeit sometimes successfully) between the relatively serious vibes of 'Casino Royale (2006)' or 'Skyfall (2012)' and the nod-and-wink silliness of 'Spectre (2015)'. The villains, too, are terrible. Rami Malek gets very little to do as the constantly restrained Lyutsifer Safin. Not only is the character bland and uninteresting, he's also arguably unnecessary when it comes to the most important aspects of the plot (those that concern the actual character of Bond). His motivations aren't even remotely clear and his overall plan turns out to be insanely derivative. Blofeld isn't any better, either. Christoph Waltz is wasted in his one or two scenes as the character, who's somehow even less intimidating than he was in his last outing. He really should have been the main villain; he has a much stronger connection to Bond than Safin and would have made for a much more personal opponent. The movie's main henchman, who me and my brother call One-Eyed Willie (his actual name is apparently Primo), is straight-up boring and, even, slightly goofy. He isn't physically intimidating, he has no discernible personality and his 'tech eye' gimmick is nowhere near strong enough to make him interesting in and of itself. So, the baddies all suck. Thankfully, though, the heroes fare quite a bit better. M is initially afforded a distinct and interesting relationship with the film's main threat. Unfortunately, this element is eventually just dropped, as are many of the movie's most interesting aspects, and M fades back into the background alongside Tanner and Moneypenny (who are both as solid as ever, but don't exactly stand out). Q is a bit more memorable, primarily because he gets to have a bit of banter with Bond and displays some similar eccentricities to those that have kept the character interesting since the 1960s. Felix Leiter is enjoyable in his all-too-brief role, as is Madeleine Swann (who sadly gets reduced to a damsel in distress in the finale). The two new 'Bond girls' are both pretty great. Nomi, a capable double-oh with a chip on her shoulder and a halfway decent Jamaican accent, is an enjoyable character who works well opposite Bond. Paloma, portrayed brilliantly by a criminally underused Ana de Armas, is easily the best character in the entire affair, a nervous agent who ends up kicking ass on her first mission and enjoying it much more than you'd expect her to. The scene involving Paloma is quite possibly the film's highlight, tied only with a segment in the finale that sees Bond go full 'John Wick mode' on a staircase full of soldiers. Bond himself is the best he's been since 'Casino Royale (2006)', displaying far more emotion than usual but still being afforded the opportunity to suavely save the day. Though Craig's performance isn't perfect, it's arguably better than it needs to be and it adds a lot of credence to the flick's most emotional moments. The narrative is disappointing overall, but it's actually trying to do some truly interesting things. I actually don't mind most of the more controversial aspects of the piece; they set it apart from its peers and exude potential. I do mind the fact that these elements are often undercut or sandwiched between much less intriguing elements, though. I almost wish that the thing didn't come so close to being so great; it wouldn't be a disappointment if that were the case. However, I'm also thankful that it does at least aim for that level. When it works, it works really well. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, it's only in retrospect that the plot collapses as much as it does. The further away I get from it, the more inclined I am to forget (and forgive) its narrative misgivings and focus on the fact that it is genuinely entertaining in the moment. Its action is perhaps some of the best in the series. It's energetic, engaging and exciting. It's also surprisingly brutal, with some aggressive hand-to-hand combat and a far higher (albeit generally bloodless) body count than you may expect. Some of its characters do appear to be a bit indestructible, which certainly takes you out of the moment, and some of the gadgets are a bit too silly for the otherwise grounded tone of the piece. Of course, these issues are easier to overlook than the more glaring story problems. Other positives include its distinguished direction, crisp cinematography and solid, if derivative, soundtrack. In the end, this film is as frustrating as it is enjoyable. It's a good bit of fun until you realise how paper-thin much of its plot is. There are more negatives than positives, but I think that the positives ultimately outweigh the negatives. After all, an entertaining experience is worth celebrating, no matter how hollow it ultimately is. It isn't the best Bond, but it's far from the worst. 7/10.