By finding new ways to subvert and honour Bond film traditions, No Time to Die has the hallmarks of being a divisive film, yet Craig's baby blue eyed performance is a winner and the action is riveting.
In the annals of film history, Apocalypse Now appears to be the only rival to match No Time To Die, the 25th James Bond film, as the most cursed production ever. It started with Daniel Craig’s early comments about never wanting to play Bond again and then there was the firing of original director Danny Boyle, an ankle injury for Craig, further injuries for crew members during a ‘controlled’ explosion, subsequent release delays and the replacement of music composer Dan Romer with Hans Zimmer during post-production. Then the pandemic hit and delayed the film extensively. The impact of this led to a crippling increase in marketing costs, the far-too-early release of Billie Eilish’s moody title song, the collapse of CineWorld and the selling of MGM to Amazon. But Bond is finally here for our eyes only and the result is a fitting finale for Craig’s Bond that just about works.
The film’s sometimes gruelling, franchise-record 163-minute runtime is crammed with characters and plot so catching up on all of Craig’s Bond films is highly recommended. Following very hot on the heels of the unfairly maligned Spectre, the story starts with Bond and Madeleine (Lea Seydoux) enjoying their retirement in Italy before a blistering assassination attempt ends their peace. Five years pass before old pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) recruits Bond to investigate a missing bioweapon scientist, a decision that brings the MI6 agent into conflict with the villainous Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).
In between all of this is one of the largest ensembles in Bond’s history. Familiars like M, Moneypenny, Q, Tanner and Blofeld return and notable additions to the franchise are Ana de Armas as Paloma, a highly endearing, stunningly attractive CIA agent, and Lashana Lynch as Nomi, the replacement 007 agent for MI6. The screenplay juggles all these characters about and is largely competent at handling so many faces, but Malek’s Safin is sordidly underused and lacking in the threat and logic department. It’s Bond who gets the monopoly on characterisation; no longer the “blunt instrument” of Ian Fleming’s novels, James is given a terrific arc that Craig, in perhaps his greatest screen performance, nails. Seldom has Bond been so emotional, and the dialogue (“we have all the time in the world”) and musical call backs to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service seal No Time to Die as an another important, unique entry.
If the film’s ambitious scale and epic storytelling makes it feel distant and sometimes jarring when compared to the pre-Craig Bonds, then the action that director Cary Fukunaga helms is superbly sleek. Aston Martins, watches and drink trays are used to glorious purpose and the shootouts are staged with real verve; in filming one stairway shootout Fukunaga opts for a continuous take, generating a firefight of visceral intensity. The director of photography Linus Sandgren (the DP of La La Land) crafts spectacular images throughout, in fact. The highways and fjords of Norway make a stunning backdrop for a car chase, whilst a misty forest rattles up the tension whilst Bond lures pursuers into early graves. The incredibly bold finale is likewise visually and emotionally unforgettable. All of this is scored with the expected efficiency of Hans Zimmer who slickly deploys numerous motifs from the series’ glorydays.
A ridiculous amount of hard work has gone into making this a fitting farewell to the Daniel Craig era, and the effort is certainly commendable from all involved. The licence to thrill for the 59-year-old franchise is still impressively strong but No Time to Die ironically does need time for thoughts and feelings to properly sit. Its mighty length, potentially controversial ending and connected nature to the other films will ensure that this will not be a frequented film for future re-watches, but as a closure to a set of films that have indelibly made their mark in the 21st century it works. No Time to Die functions like a Q gadget: welcome to own it and happy to use it, but it may be for one use only.
No Time to Die is out in cinemas now with a 12A certificate. You can watch the trailer below: