Daniel Craig’s swansong as James Bond 007 proves very, very much worth the wait: here’s our review of No Time To Die.
This is pretty much a spoiler-free review: it includes things from the trailers, and a well publicised role for one of the cast.
Arriving almost 18 months after its originally scheduled release date – after almost 70 years of escapades, it was COVID-19 that almost defeated James Bond 007 – No Time To Die arguably comes with expectations at an all time high. Six years, after all, have elapsed since the release of Sam Mendes’ divisive Spectre – originally intended to be Daniel Craig’s fourth and final outing as MI6’s most famous ‘secret’ agent – and this, the 25th Bond film.
Thankfully there are plenty of familiar faces to welcome us back to the 59-year-old film franchise (Dr No had its world premiere on 6 October 1962), including Ralph Fiennes (M), Ben Whishaw (Q), Naomie Harris (Eve Moneypenny), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter) and Rory Kinnear (Tanner). Joining them are more recent additions such as Léa Seydoux as Bond’s paramour Madeleine Swann and Christoph Waltz as “cuckoo” arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld. It’s the new faces that provoke the most interest, however, notably director Cary Joji Fukunaga. A decade ago, he brought another British icon to the screen with the Mia Wasikowska/Jamie Bell Jane Eyre, and has since directed Beasts Of No Nation and all eight episodes of the ground-breaking first series of True Detective. (His more recent television outing, Maniac, was well received but not widely seen).
No film exists in a vacuum, and in the six years since Spectre we’ve seen Marvel kill off half its stable of superheroes, Christopher McQuarrie gift us one of the best Mission: Impossible films, and Christopher Nolan field-test a Black James Bond in Tenet. There’s also the question of whether or not there’s still a place for Ian Fleming’s “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” in a post-#MeToo world, one in which climate disasters and airborne germs, not fiendish villains in underground lairs, hold the world to ransom. The odds, it seems, are stacked against Bond (the franchise), like never before. Could Craig’s swansong recapture the greatness of his debut, or even Skyfall, and mitigate the shortcomings of the (ripe for redemption, but not yet redeemed) Quantum Of Solace and so-so Spectre?
The answer is a resounding yes.
From the moment the Universal logo turns into the familiar (but bloodless) gun barrel, it’s immediately clear this isn’t your father’s Bond, opening not with a spectacular set-piece, but with one of the humans at the heart of the story: young Madeleine Swann, setting the wheels in motion for a date with destiny that will resonate throughout the coming two- and three-quarter hours.
When we are reunited with Bond, he is holidaying in Italy with Madeleine, paying his respects to the final resting place of the late Vesper Lynd before finding himself in – forgive me, it’s a Bond film – grave danger. Craig, 50 when the film was made, looks like a dad forced to get up early for Sunday soccer practice after a night on the tiles, but when the shit hits the fan and the inevitable chase begins, he’s suddenly Steve McQueen on a motorcycle, and – just like that – Bond is back.
Five years later, we rejoin Bond as we expect to find him, based on the loglines we’ve all read by now: fishing, sailing and day-drinking as he lives out his post-MI6 retirement in his creator Ian Fleming’s spiritual home, Jamaica. But all that moody beach-walking and day-drinking is about to come to a sudden end, thanks to the arrival of an old friend and a new off-the-books mission, involving a… well, we all have our secrets, and of all the 25 films in the franchise, this is the one you want spoiled the least.
Suffice to say there are all the fast cars, bad puns, clever gadgets, hard liquor and spectacular set-pieces we’ve come to expect from the Bond movies. But now, we have women with actual agency (a woman on the writing staff can’t hurt, especially when it’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a story that does more than fill the gaps between set-pieces, and a willingness to take risks without the fear of change. There’s plenty of ammunition for the culture warriors – it’s long been revealed that a Black woman (Lashana Lynch) is using Bond’s old 00 number – and a batsqueak of silliness that helps to remind us that Bond films are sometimes at their best when they don’t take themselves too seriously. (There’s also arguably the best inside joke of the entire franchise.)
But before the spectre of Johnny English can fully materialise – not to mention M worrying what “the PM might think” when the PM is Boris Johnson – something happens in among all the talk of bionic eyes and bioweapons (no spoilers here, as promised) that sends the film careening off in a new and surprisingly human direction.
Of course, it shouldn’t be a surprise: from the very beginning, Craig humanized Bond in a way no other actor ever had, and here, where the stakes are the most personal they’ve been since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – arguably even more so – the world of the long-running, globe-trotting franchise spirals down to a singularity: Daniel Craig’s performance, arguably a career best – and in, of all things, a Bond movie.
Powered by Hans Zimmer’s muscular score and enriched by a cinematographer (Linus Sandgren) who ensures that most of the action happens at sunset, Fukunaga has delivered a James Bond movie that sends Craig, and the audience, out on an all-time high.
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