This review does contain some unusually massive spoilers for the new James Bond film, please consider yourselves warned or as Q would say…. pay attention 007!
It’s interesting that this is the first James Bond film where in the famous intro 007 shoots an assassin and there is no blood that covers up the sight, perhaps portending something ominous right from the start.
It’s been a long time since the last James Bond film, Spectre. In that time I’ve been running James Bond Tours in London and even been in 007’s actual apartment. Of course lots of things have changed recently and No Time To Die would have originally been released shortly after the arrival of Covid and as sometimes happens with 007, the plot for the film has more than hint of reality sadly as one of the threats facing Bond is a man-are virus that threatens to overrun the planet.
It’s a top secret project not in Wuhan but in the heart of London and goes by the name of Heracles. It is in effect made up of minute DNA-hijacking nanobots and whilst M had it created with apparent benign intent, when it is stolen by SPECTRE it becomes clear that something bad is afoot.
It falls to James Bond to retrieve it but only after an epic 23 minute prologue, full of thrills and suspense and then after the titles we jump five years into James’s retirement in Jamaica, where the CIA’s Felix Leiter stops by and asks him to round up the rogue scientist who was complicit in the leak.
No Time To Die follows the recent Bond films in mashing together a personal story amongst high global adventure but its one with many perhaps unexpectedly tender moments that tie all of the Daniel Craig era films together starting with when Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) encourages him to lay his grudge against Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd to rest and pay his respects to the woman who he both loved and was tricked by in Casino Royale.
The film has one of the very best Bond action sequences and has some tremendous choreography with detailed and foreboding glimpses of what may be about to happen. The perilous motorcycle jumps and multiple hair’s-breadth brushes with death are all suitably gasp-inducing, but on another level so is the shot of Seydoux’s face stricken with sincere terror as the gradual buckling of the reinforced windows of Bond’s Aston Martin as bullets from the surrounding Spectre agents fire endlessly at the trapped car.
One thing I liked is that it has quite a bit of humour in a way if not like Roger Moore’s films then certainly like some of the Sean Connery ones and in a very Bondlike and British style. There are also some rather cool gadgets that are supplied by Q including one that short circuits nearby electronic circuitry which is handy when you’re fighting a Spectre Agent with a bionic eye, the results being quite eye-popping if I say so myself!
The heroes drink quite a bit and not just James Bond but also Nomi who has taken over the 007 codename and is played by Lashana Lynch. They have a relationship that starts with rivalry but flourishes into mutual respect. I have to say that I found Nomi to be completely underwhelming and the weak link in the film, much was made about the fact that there would be a female and indeed black 007 but I thought the actress wasn’t really worthy of it although it must be hard to be 007 but playing second fiddle to ‘our’ James Bond.
On the other side of the corner as the story takes us to Cuba to track down the rogue scientist we meet an apparently novice agent played by Craig’s Knives Out (a fantastic film by the way) co-star Ana de Armas. She brings a lot of pizzazz, flair and glamour and is everything one could hope for… perhaps they will find a way to bring her back next time.
Eventually Bond and Nomi are led to Lyutsifer Safin, a man with a suitably evil name and played by Rami Malek. He conceals his chemically burned face behind an eerie Japanese Noh mask. Safin has a secret history with Dr Madeleine Swann (Seydoux), Bond’s romantic partner as of the end of Spectre, which drives a wedge between the couple and ushers in the possibility of lasting heartbreak – as if Hans Zimmer’s score’s regular nods towards both We Have All the Time in the World and John Barry’s theme from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service weren’t enough of a hint.
Safin has no intricate motives: he’s simply a creepy psychopath of the old school, with nothing more complex than vengeance and world domination on his mind. Even his fortress is a throwback. A concrete castle on an island in the Sea of Okhotsk, it’s a classic villain’s lair in the tradition of the great 1960s and 70s Bond films with bulky diagonal columns, hidden trap doors, scuttling minions in hazmat suits, and stolen Monets on the walls.
As the story unfolds we find out the links between Dr Swann and Safin as well as a great scene with Blofeld who is now securely held in a facility that would make Hannibal Lecter proud. We find out James Bond is the father of Madeleine’s child and that despite the obvious reasons to think as Bond did, she was always faithful and loyal to him and that Blofeld, Spectre and Safin were to blame for everything.
As much as this is obviously a James Bond film, its also very much film about Madeleine, from the terrifying moment as a child she sees the masked Safin murder her mother through the motherhood storylines and the action sequences with 007. I think she is a great character and Léa Seydoux plays her wonderfully.
There are so many connections with older Bond films, not just the Daniel Craig era ones but going all the way back to the 60’s. I loved the melancholic Vespa musical interludes but the beautiful use of some of the older themes and prominent use of “All the time in the world” did give a sense of foreboding of what would come though it was unclear who might be the one who bites the bullet.
As it happens in his devotion to Madeleine and his daughter and his ardent pursuit of his duty to his country and indeed the world, James Bond is contaminated by some nanobots that have been targeted at the DNA of those two people he loves the most, meaning that he could never touch them again or indeed anyone who might every come near them. Having sent Safin to hell, James Bond himself decides that he doesn’t want to put them at risk and instead has one last radio conversation with Madeleine as he stoically awaits the missile strike he himself called in from HMS Dragon and within minutes they obliterate the virus producing factory and 007 along with it.
The film ends with M toasting drinks in his office to the worlds most famous secret agent before they all quickly get back to work just as Bond himself did so many times after his friends had died, including in this film Felix from the CIA. Then we see Madeleine and her daughter driving off on a coastal road in Bonds famous Aston Martin…. James Bond will return we are told.
I must say everyone I know who has seen the film and everyone in the auditorium that I was in was quite affected by the conclusion. I was all ready for various endings but I was a bit sad about this one as I really liked the story of the two characters and I wanted a happy ending. I can see why they did it this way especially given Daniel Craig was initially reluctant to make his final film but I know I’m not the only one who in this Covid world, thought it would be nice if 007 could save the world, have his family and not die in the process though to be fair I rather think he sacrificed himself. It did though tie up all the recent films in a very satisfying way but 4 days on, I’m still thinking about and also the people I used to watch James Bond with too.
It will be interesting what approach they take with introducing the next actor and indeed James Bond. It’s always been something of a fudged issue over how different actors take over the role and it would be physically impossible for it to be the same character in the 1960’s and in the 2020’s. Like many, I have always assumed there to be successive James Bonds with Sean Connery to Roger Moore being one, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan being another and finally Daniel Craig being a third given he was the only Bond shown fresh out of training.
I’ve been a fan of Daniel Craig well before he became the star he is today with James Bond and whilst others were sceptical of him in the role, to me I loved him from his very first scene in Casino Royale. I like the realism and more brutal traits he brings to the part. Unfashionable as it is, my favourite Bonds were Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby. It is said that Dalton in particular pioneered the approach that epitomises the recent films but perhaps the wider cinema audience wasn’t ready for it, especially after the wise-cracking Sir Roger Moore.
I too like Sir Roger and whilst I don’t mind some Sean Connery films, they aren’t my favourite and I actually really dislike the Pierce Brosnan ones even though having recently met Pierce, he was every bit as charming as one might think. To me though Daniel Craig will always be the best bond with Casino Royale and Skyfall being his highpoints I think but No Time To Die is only a whisker behind.