I don’t post on here very often these days. I caught No Time to Die at the midnight-plus-one showing and, well, here’s a long review, inhabited entirely by SPOILERS.
It’s taken almost six years for Daniel Craig’s final outing as OO7 to reach the screen. There are several well-documented reasons, including Covid, reshoots and backroom bickering. The eventual return is welcome. It’s always good to have a James Bond film to watch. We used to get them in the summer when Roger Moore’s bright and breezy interpretation leant itself to popcorn blockbusters. Recently, they’ve come in the winter and are shrouded in shadows of death and clouds of doom. No Time To Die sticks rigidly to the format first proposed in Craig’s debut outing: this new, lonely James Bond makes impulsive decisions which effect those all around him and ultimately affect his career. In this case terminally.
There. That’s let the cat out of the bag early.
Daniel Craig is definitely a Bond for the 21st Century. He comes loaded with more baggage than an Aston Martin DBS. He’s weary of his work: he retires twice. He feels duty bound to return when his own errors mean his country’s security is threatened. He dislikes authority, butts heads against it, then doggedly does the least he’s been instructed and the most he can to be destructive. He’s an orphan with mother issues, brother issues and an enormous chip on his shoulder about being from the wrong kind of class. He’s associated with many women, some beautiful, others headstrong, all opinionated of him, but they either die or he abandons them. He drinks too much. He’s rather good at killing people and seems remarkably indestructible. He survives three point blank explosions in this adventure alone, before, well…
We know something grim is going to happen as we follow Bond and Madeleine Swann zipping along the Amalfi coast in his Aston Martin. “We have all the time in the world,” he tells her. We all know how it ends when Bond uses that line. The pair are struggling with their romance. He won’t let go of his past great love, Vesper Lynd; she won’t open up about her complicated traumatic past. They join the suspicious locals at Matera by burning their secrets, which they promise to reveal to each other. Not before Spectre interferes and tries to assassinate them both. Bond duly shovels his love onto a train and turns his back on his future. Next, we’re five years on and he’s drinking hard in Jamaica and being tempted to return to the fold by a new female OO7 as well as his old mate Felix Leiter from the CIA. This decision, like many earlier ones, is taken without thought and plunges Bond back into a deadly game of death which this time he struggles to escape from. When those secrets are finally revealed, it’s all come too late for Madeleine and our James.
Craig lets us see the suffering, but that doesn’t make his performance particularly noteworthy. It might be provocative for a Bond film, but the dark stuff, the introspective dialogue and long glances, slows down the cat’s cradle storyline and overloads it with supposed emotional insight. Bond isn’t growing as an individual here, he’s regressing: regretting everything he’s done and the death he’s caused or dispatched. There’s an alarming moment when he makes breakfast for a young child and he appears stunned by this act of simplicity, that peeling and slicing an apple is the most delicate task he’s ever performed in the last few years. His treatment of Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine is pretty rough, mind. Love inhabits strange places in Bond’s mind. Convinced she’s betrayed him as Vesper did, he disowns her; convinced she didn’t, he rapidly falls head over heels in, well, something, let’s call it love, but it might be need. Seydoux does the best she can in an underwritten pivotal role. Sadly, Madeleine is still harbouring secrets right until the final line of the movie.
More alarming even than Bond’s emotional growing pains is the body count, not only from his hand, but from many others. The gun battles are relentless. Annoyingly, some important dialogue is threaded through these exchanges and, like a similarly important scene set in a nightclub, it’s impossible to hear what anyone is saying. A terrible editing oversight. Still, back to the running and shooting and killing: like Raoul Silva said in Skyfall, “It’s exhausting.” I could say the same about this epic whose bullet count is astronomical.
No Time To Die starts with a flashback sequence where the chief villain pays a visit to Mr White’s house in Norway, for revenge, to kill him for exterminating his family on Spectre’s orders. For no reason other than it’s creepy, he wears a Japanese Noh mask. A pre-teen Madeleine Swann shoots him point blank, but he lives to save the youngster’s life, pulling her from an ice lake. The sequence made no sense action-wise, or plot-wise, contributes to the narrative only by contrivance and sets us up for a film full of long winded battle royales in Matera, Cuba, Norway [again] and an armoured island lurking off the Russian coast. Every sequence is stretched for no reason to its optimum length: the chase in Norway could have been written out in a thrice, the repetitive Matera action could have been half the length and wouldn’t have lost impact. Even the fairly staid mid-section where we’re meant to learn about the plot and decipher character’s motivations feels needlessly extensive.
Here, I was intrigued by the premise that Mallory, whose been heading up MI6 for five years now without the aid of the organisation’s best ever agent, has made a judgemental error and allowed the pathetic, snivelling scientist Valdo Obruchev to continue to develop Heracles nanotechnology, which in the wrong hands will lead to the eradication of whole strains of human life, exterminating in seconds anyone touched by a virus which attacks only after recognising an individual’s signature DNA. It was all a bit sci-fi for me. The writers worked it effectively to kill off a few important characters, but it made their whispery villain very one-dimensional. Hacked off at having his family killed, he’s decided to slaughter half the world’s gangsters, oligarchs, politicians, spies, etc. as well as all their DNA relations. That’s a seriously messed up head. No wonder he needs therapy. Dr Swann isn’t the one to help him though; he only wants to use her to assassinate Blofeld. She doesn’t, but the nanobots are smart enough to transmit death via intermediaries and Bond has the honour, without even realising it. Know-it-all Q explains it much better than I do. Nobody meanwhile takes time to examine what’s going on in M’s head; a mere insert regarding heroes and villains doesn’t really cut the mustard. Ralph Fiennes is curiously static.
Bond is given plenty of assistance to cause chaos even if the MI6 Scooby Gang are kept in the background. Blofeld, deprived of his own terror organisation, drops handy hints before his premature exit. Lashana Lynch is miscast as Nomi, the new female OO7; her role is badly written. She achieves very little; Bond does all her work for her. I didn’t like her arrogant attitude. She isn’t sophisticated or smart, she’s simply stroppy and rather rude. Far more successful was scatter-brained Paloma, played by Ana de Armas who rips up a storm in Cuba with Bond, fighting baddies in the skimpiest of dresses and swapping sexy banter with Bond with every bullet, martini and right hook. It’s shameful to waste such an accomplished character who provides all the fun dialogue, enthusiasm and lightheartedness we’ve been missing during Craig’s tenure. He responds in kind and their pairing is by far the most fetching his version of Bond has ever had. You feel the sparks of their attraction, even if it’s unfulfilled. Where has this been for the past four movies? I ask.
Safin is a poor villain. He might have a bonkers plot and be completely bonkers, but he lacks depth and a powerful presence. He has no decent heavies. He speaks in a whispery monotone which I could barely pick. Rami Malek’s profundities never even cross the cinema floor. He’s even out-acted by Christoph Waltz as Blofeld who’s only in one scene. Safin’s chased to his island kingdom between Russia and Japan [nicked from Raymond Benson’s The Man With The Red Tattoo] where he’s planted a Garden of Death [nicked from Fleming’s You Only Live Twice] and has a huge repository full of DNA just waiting for Heracles to unleash worldwide. Bond and Nomi glide to the rescue, save the world, Dr Swann and her daughter but for once OO7 can’t save himself. It’s a bleak conclusion, not made any more palatable by a repeat of George Lazenby’s final words from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and a short solemn epilogue.
I could be very angry and bitter about the finale. I’m not. I’m just very disappointed. I ought to be happy because the producers declare “James Bond Will Return,” suggesting the “Many Bonds One Number” theory I always took to might have legs. The problem with the conclusion is our hero becomes a tragic figure; he may well have saved the world, but he hasn’t found happiness and lasting satisfaction. His world is as empty at the end of No Time To Die as it was at the start of Casino Royale, even if his heart’s in a better place. Self-sacrifice is all well and good, but we’re not used to this sort of thing in the world and personage of James Bond; he was always the spy game’s answer to Houdini and this rather cuts his legacy short, at the knee, as Nomi might put it.
Cary Joji Fukunaga directs with some fearlessness. The film doesn’t feel its length. When it’s good, it’s very good. The piece is well shot. Linus Sandgren’s landscapes sparkle, especially during the pre-credit scenes, a snowy Norway and a sun-bleached Matera. The relatively unexciting sets are certainly on point. Hans Zimmer’s music is as insignificant as the non-entity of a title song, a few melodic nods to past Bond films inhabit the flow. The script, which needed four contributors, dips and swoops, rises and dips again, constantly. Some of the support performances are dreadful, which unbalances the sturdy ones at the front.
Overall, despite my reservations, I didn’t dislike No Time To Die, but it isn’t the swansong I wanted for our James: he seems too confused, uncertain of everything and everyone around him. Once more, as Mr White so eruditely put it, he’s a kite blowing in the wind. The best that can be said for Daniel Craig’s lease on the character is this five film series can now stand alone and outside the other movies. Maybe next time around we can all get on with some less serious soul-searching espionage.