Over an agonisingly protracted 18-month postponement, with the release date buffeted farther into the future at least three times, the title of the film formerly known as Bond 25 has taken on a grim irony.
No Time To Die finally arrives six years after Daniel Craig’s last Bond adventure, Spectre (the second biggest gap between films since the series began in 1962, eclipsed only by the hiatus between Licence To Kill and GoldenEye). This being the swansong for Daniel Craig’s take on the character, it was always going to be laden with expectation, something that the Covid delays and its appointment as the potential savior of cinema have only intensified.
After such a long wait, you certainly get a lot of bang for your buck (it’s 15 minutes shy of three hours), and for fans of Craig’s run as the character, there’s plenty here to satisfy. Yes, it largely adheres to the formula that’s the franchise’s blessing and curse: you get spectacle galore in terms of action set-pieces, incredibly shot locations, and attractive characters wearing the hell out of killer costumes. While the conventions can occasionally feel confining, there are enough significant deviations to make this entry stand out.
It’s a somewhat front-loaded affair, kicking off with not one, but two prologues. The first, introducing baddie Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) is the closest that the series has yet come to horror. After that, it’s to Matera, Italy, to where Bond is heading with Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), following the events of Spectre. Of course, their luxury getaway doesn’t stay peaceful for long, erupting into another of the film’s standout sequences, featuring motorcycle leaps and a minigun-firing Aston, ahead of the obligatory title sequence.
Five years later, the agent formerly known as 007 is enjoying a retirement of sorts in Jamaica. But if he thinks he’s out, former CIA contact Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, returning to the franchise for the first time since Quantum Of Solace) pulls him back in, showing up to rope him into the hunt for a rogue scientist who is the key to a very powerful weapon…
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts Of No Nation, True Detective S1) took over after Danny Boyle bowed out, and manages to find a nice balance between hitting the Bond checklist, and also incorporating stylistic flourishes that prevent it feeling stale, from some immersive audio design to riveting action sequences that leave you shaken without sacrificing clarity. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s contributions to the script originally written by series stalwarts Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and Fukunaga aren’t particularly noticeable, although might go some way to explaining a Hugh Dennis cameo.
Craig’s final film doesn’t do much to interrogate Bond’s relevance in the modern world. Yes, his position has been filled by new 00 Nomi (Lashana Lynch), but their tension doesn’t go beyond light banter (and Lynch is never quite as compelling as you’d hope, given her position as a potential baton-carrier). Instead, it’s largely down to Bond to do what he does best, no expense spared.
If there’s a real disappointment here, it’s in Malek’s villain. Lacking presence, and overdoing the sneer, the Bohemian Rhapsody Oscar winner proves to be an underwhelming foil, and the motivation for his nefarious scheme feels flimsily sketched. The character’s apparent age, and how that relates to the timeline of another character, is also cause for distraction.
Thankfully, the film has enough up its sleeve to compensate. There are some sincere and nicely judged nods to Bond’s cinematic history – from classic cars to musical cues (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service admirers might get a lump in their throat from an early musical cue and beyond). M (Ralph Fiennes) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are also given a little room to reveal additional layers: with a brief but gratifying glimpse at the latter’s home life, and the MI6 chief finding himself in an awkward position morally, and apoplectically at odds with Bond. Best of all the newbies is Ana de Armas’ Paloma, making maximum impact with her limited screen time. She’s a fun, frisky delight as James Bond’s purportedly novice contact in Cuba, where another standout shootout takes place. She has more fun than anyone’s had over Craig’s five movies. Throw in some nifty gadgets, a prescient MacGuffin and vehicles of every description, and starved fans are extremely well served.
Craig is also given just what he needs, with a performance that offers a fitting end to his tenure, ensuring that he’ll be forever jostling for a place at the top of those Best Bond lists. (At least three shirtless scenes in the opening 20 mins also re-confirm his status as buffest Bond). His chemistry with Seydoux may never quite match what he had out of the gate with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, but No Time To Die plays to his strengths, giving his tough but tender Bond a memorable and fittingly stirring finale.
No Time To Die is in UK cinemas from September 30 and US theaters from October 8. For more on Bond, check out our extended interviews with the cast on the making of No Time To Die.