“When her secret finds its way out, it’ll be the death of you.”
A new James Bond film being released is like national holiday for me. And with the long delayed release of No Time To Die, it was like all my Christmases had come at once. We’ve been living in the shadow of this film for some time now, and it began to feel like it was announced decades ago; firstly Daniel Craig said he wasn’t coming back as Bond, then it was announced he was returning. And we had the joining and exiting of Danny Boyle in the director’s chair over a matter of months followed by the swift hire of Cary Joji Fukunaga. And just as the production geared up towards release, the world ground to a halt. COVID-19 meant that the film, which had already been pushed from it’s November 2019 release date after Boyle’s departure, missed it’s April 2020 release date and then it’s November 2020 release date… and then it’s April 2021 release date too. So here we are, almost 2 years later than originally planned and with one burning question; has the wait been worth it?
*BEWARE, SPOILERS BELOW*
No Time To Die begins unusually for a Bond film, with a flashback to a couple of decades earlier. Here we see in full the story Madeline told to Bond in Spectre about the time a man came to her childhood home to kill her father. It’s a brutal and surprisingly spooky scene and sets in motion Rami Malek’s villain and his ties to Madeline. But more on that later. Next we cut to Bond and Madeline Swan enjoying a romantic getaway mere hours or days after Spectre. It’s a beautifully shot sequence within the picturesque city of Matera, in Italy. The chemistry between Bond and Swan here is much improved over Spectre and is reminiscent of Bond and Vesper’s short-lived trip to Venice in Casino Royale. Like that trip, Bond’s happiness is suddenly (and explosively) cut short. In what might be the highlight of the film, and a contender for best action scene of the year, Bond and Madeline are forced to flee Matera (in the classic DB5 no less) as Spectre goons begin to attack. There’s a great punch up followed by a wonderfully inventive car chase through the winding cobbled streets of Matera culminating in Bond using the DB5’s bombs, smokescreen, and machine gun headlights in what will surely go down in Bond history as an all-time greatest moment.
The Bond film’s have come a long way since Casino Royale and this veer back towards the camp is gladly welcomed. I love the machine gun headlights and the puns and the ridiculous super villains. I release as I grow older that like everything in the world, audience tastes are cyclical. From Casino Royale to No Time To Die, just like the cycle of Goldeneye to Die Another Day before it. We will be back in gritty and grounded territory in no time but for now, I am going to enjoy every moment of this camper Bond outing. I doubt this tonal shift will be for everyone but it’s far from being the film’s most controversial decision.
Bond leaves Madeline after deciding he’s still not solved those trust issues and we get a 5 year time skip to his retirement in Jamaica. Along the way there’s been a kidnapped scientist and a stolen bio-weapon (and a random cameo from Hugh Dennis). Bond is convinced to leave his cosy retirement by perhaps the only man charming enough to do so; Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter. Felix tasks him with the job of getting the scientist back for the CIA while MI6 attempts to beat them to it. Spearheading MI6’s mission is Bond’s replacement, Latasha Lynch’s Nomi – otherwise known as the new 007. Her addition represents a very welcome change in the world but she is much more than a statement. She is an awesome character in her own right and Lynch commands the screen every scene she is in and easily goes toe to toe with Craig’s Bond.
During the competing CIA and MI6 scientist extraction mission, we have another highlight of the film as Bond teams up with rookie CIA operative Paloma (wonderfully played, as always, by Ana De Armas) as they infiltrate a Spectre party. It turns out the kidnapped scientist is trying to wipe out Spectre for Rami Malek’s mysterious Safin and does so through releasing the gruesome bio-weapon stolen earlier in the film. The gas targets DNA and those affected die agonising, Cronenberg-esque, flesh melting deaths. Bond and the scientist escape and meet back up with Leiter and his smiling partner Logan Ash, played by Billy Magnussen. Here is perhaps the first of the film’s controversial scenes. Ash betrays Bond and Felix and, in the process, kills Felix. It’s a surprising gut-punch of a moment and is brilliantly acted by Craig and Wright, who play it as if these two old friends have shared many more adventures than the three portrayed in Craig’s films. It’s a testament to the craziness of the film that this death scene isn’t even the most shocking in the film.
No Time To Die’s first hour passes by at such a breakneck pace that it’s almost a shame when the film slows down as Bond returns to his old colleagues in London. But it isn’t an issue as we are quickly reintroduced to the always wonderful MI6 staff of Ralph Fienes’ M, Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny, Roy Kinnear’s Tanner, and Ben Whishaw’s Q. All are on top form here and even the reappearance of Christoph Waltz’s controversial Spectre version of Blofeld will bring a smile to the face of even that film’s most ardent detractors. Following a lead from the poisoned spectre party, Bond is trying to get an audience with Blofeld. Bond may finally have to face those commitment issues of his however, when it’s revealed that Blofeld’s psychiatrist is none other than his lost love, Madeline Swan.
Madeline is fighting her own demons, after being visited by the mysterious Safin, the man who invaded her home all those years ago, played by a superbly hammy Rami Malek. He was behind the spectre poisoning and wants Madeline to finish the job and off Blofeld with the gas as well. He gains her cooperation by threatening ‘the person she loves most in the world’ who at the time I obviously thought was Bond…. but I was wrong. In a roundabout sort of way Safin’s plan succeeds and Blofeld is killed, in the film’s second shocking death. It was sad to see Waltz’s Blofeld go as his limited screen time in No Time To Die he had all the makings of a great villain. The film then throws a complete curve ball at the audience by revealing that Madeline and Bond have a daughter!! Well Madeline lies to Bond about her being his at first but it’s clear she is. It’s a bold move for the series but weirdly, it works. I couldn’t imagine the Bond in the books of any of the other actor’s incarnations having a child, but for Craig’s vulnerable and human portrayal of the character, it works.
I won’t go into too much of the film’s climax as the intricacies of Safin’s plan get a little complicated. He wants world domination pretty much. Despite the convoluted scheming, the finale of the film is pure classic Bond. There’s even a secret lair on an evil island! There’s an evil speech, a missile launch, a poison river, the screenwriters throw everything they’ve got at it and it all works. It’s the classic Bond tropes but the are so enjoyable as they’ve missing for so long. Fukunaga get’s to flex his directing muscles too, giving us one of the coolest ‘oners’ this side of his work on True Detective. The whole finale is expertly executed, from all parties involved. The cast remain on top form and Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score is brilliant throughout.
One aspect of the finale overshadows all though. As I sit here and write this, I find it difficult to discuss the smaller moments as they are all overshadowed by one scene; a scene that brought multiple people in my screening to tears, a scene so controversial that it will undoubtedly split opinion among fans for years to come – the death of James Bond. As the poison factory is eradicated by Naval missile strike, Bond too is obliterated after saying his final goodbyes to Madeline and his daughter, and remaining on Safin’s island to keep the blast doors open. I was initially unsure on my feelings of this moment but thinking about now, it works and it feels earned. It’s a perfect send off to Craig’s Bond who continued to reinvent the Bond formula right up until the end. It’s beautifully handled too. The use of Louis Armstrong’s ‘We Have All The Time In The World’ as Madeline drives off into the sunset, telling their daughter the story of James Bond, is such a touching way to end the film, especially to those fans who remember it’s original usage in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. My inner child is still screaming that Bond can never die but Craig’s incarnation has already proved the mould can be broken. A lot of die hard fans like me are going to hate it but ultimately, this one last reinvention to the franchise is a bold but brilliant choice.
No Time to Die contains everything Bond super fans like myself could ask for. Fan favourite characters return, there is a well balanced mix of darkness and humour (it’s the Craig film closest to the Pierce Brosnan era’s perfect mix of tone) and the action is phenomenal throughout. There are some set pieces here that will join the Bond action hall of fame. But at it’s heart, NTTD is a tragic love story; a perfect ode to Craig’s vulnerable James Bond at the centre. Daniel Craig and Léa Seydoux are brilliant and agonising as the film’s doomed couple and all of the supporting cast bring their A-game. Much has been discussed about Rami Malek’s wonky performance as Safin, but I loved it. He and his villainous plan are ever so slightly undercooked but his discussions with Bond are a highlight of the film. The film is Craig’s though, and as a send off to the character he has created over the last 15 years, it’s a gorgeous, heartbreaking, and poignant finale. James Bond is dead, long live James Bond.
Reviewed by Tom