Review by Tim Robins
WARNING: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD
No Time To Die is actor Daniel Craig’s final outing as Britain’s favourite brute James Bond. This time, his mission is to tie up plot threads left dangling from Spectre and earn in excess of 700 million dollars at the box office, flog more products and save cinema from its pandemic doldrums.
Daniel Craig has helped re-vision Bond’s suave brand of violence for audiences entertained by Christopher Nolan’s dark reworking of Batman, the Mission Impossible franchise and the Jason Bourne movies. But, despite the obvious influence of these movies, Bond remains very much his own man in a plot that, were I to recount it (which I won’t be doing here), is as eye-brow raising as Roger Moore’s era of campy fun.
No Time to Die has lots of nods to the Bond cinematic cannon, some fleeting, some on-the-nose. The Bond tropes are all here, from the spanking new gun barrel scene to the end credit promise that “James Bond Will Return”. There are even a few nods to the Bond novels, the villain’s poison garden’, Springfields, recalling Blofeld’s ‘Garden of Death’ in Fleming’s You Only Live Twice. It is hardly surprising that I watched much of No Time to Die’s running time in a state of happy reverie.
It is a testament to the Bond knowledge of those involved in this latest Bond outing that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is its spiritual touchstone. OHMSS was the first Bond film that I saw in a cinema and, despite the mutterings of Lazenby haters, many fans see it as one of the series’ best, particularly for the tragic arc that sees Bond’s newly-wedded wife dying in Bond’s arms, after being gunned down by Blofeld and his henchwoman Irma Bunt. It is not surprising that No Time to Die looks to OHMSS for a sense of closure.
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga brings a lot of flare to the movie without it becoming over stylised. An establishing shot of the staggeringly beautiful Italian town of Matera sets the sophisticated yet fairy-tale tone of the movie. A grittier style is adopted for the fight scenes, particularly Bond’s encounters with a bionic-eyed villain named Cyclops (As baddies’ name’s go, it could have been worse. He could have been nicknamed ‘Popeye’).
The Bond regulars are all in attendance, too. Ralph Fiennes plays M, who has been driven to drink by the capture of a secret British weapon built to protect agents in the field and take out villains with no collateral damage. Ben Whishaw’s Q has become the Bond franchise’s answer to Mission Impossible’s Benji Dunn. Naomie Harris returns as the sparky Eve Moneypenny. So Bond is no-longer a loner, even if the rest of Her Maj’s Service can only yell look out for missiles!
After a Tarantino-esque pre-title-credits sequence setting up character motives, the film hops from past to present. Bond’s plans for a romantic retirement with Madeleine Swann (played by Léa Seydoux) are put on hold by just about every organisation in his working life, including the CIA represented by Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) SPECTRE (Christoph Waltz, reprising his role as a Hannibal Lecter-ish Blofeld) and Her Majesty’s Secret Service represented by Nomi, the new 007 (Lashana Lynch) who gets to match Bond’s goulish quips.
All the huffing and puffing from alt-right fanboys about 007 being a woman comes to double-o-nothing. Bond’s inevitable replacement becomes something of a running joke with Bond and Nomi trading their designations until they find a resolution that they can live with. Daniel Craig is clearly at ease with his role and plays well off the female class with not a hint of the lary creepiness of later Roger Moore Bonds.
No Time To Die is not ‘woke Bond’, a label floated in the press and undoubtedly by the film’s marketing department. Q’s apparent queerness is rather conventionally suggested by the fact he lives with a pet and is as fastidious with his domestic arrangements as he is with his death-dealing gadgets. All the women are skilled in gun-play, including Felix Leiter’s machine gun-toting fellow agent Paloma, played with great gusto by Ana de Armas. (I wish she had more screen time). If there is a femminist message, it is only that girls can kick-ass just as well as the boys.
The endearing Lisa-Dorah Sonnet plays Mathilde, a young girl who provides the emotional heart of the conflict between Bond and the big baddie Lyutsifer (pronounced ‘Lucifer’) Safin. I understand that her character may be spun-off in a movie of her own.
Rami Malik is also deliciously evil as the troubled Safin. The character’s tragic past, an adulthood spent exacting revenge against SPECTRE, and his final retreat to his father’s ‘Poison Garden’ gives him a more rounded villainy than Bond’s usual adversaries (certainly better than Blofeld’s ridiculous sibling rivalry with Bond). Safin’s threat is suitably globe-threatening, if a bit confusing (something about viruses, nanobots and poisoned plants). Safin’s HQ is built around a World War Two base on an island between Japan and Russia. The lair has a rusty, plausible presence even if the stylish yet brutalist areas look like they have been abandoned by Marvel’s Inhumans.
No Time To Die is meticulously structured around revelations, action set-pieces and heart-felt character moments, although I wish there were scenes that could have warranted Hans Zimmer’s bombastic orchestral score that kicks in just as the end credits are ending. Frankly, it is a relief not to see a film descend into wall-to-wall CGI.
The film is a terrific send off for Daniel Craig’s Bond, and the best of his Bond movies. I was more than happy to help Bond save the movie industry, although I suspect I’ll be dead before I have time to save for the £600k V8 supercar ostentatiously displayed in Q’s workshop.
• No Time to Die is screening in all good cinemas worldwide now
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