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Every time that theme kicks in and the current 007 walks across the cinema screen and fires his gun at the audience’s scope sight, it is a big moment on the movie calendar. However, arguably that moment has never been bigger than right now, not only for the Bond franchise but for the cinema experience in general. Delayed prior to COVID over creative differences, and changing writers/directors, No Time To Die has taken plenty of time to get here. Coming after being further setback by the pandemic, and at a point when many are weighing up cinema’s chances of resurrection. So, with all this on its plate, not to mention the fact that modern young audiences have been vocal of the Bond series’ past formulas, and that Daniel Craig is – after 15 years – bowing out of the role, the stakes are higher than a poker game with Le Chiffre!
So, does No Time To Die accomplish the monumental dual feat of being worth the wait and a must-see cinema event? No and yes. Most assuredly, No Time To Die is a great big cinema experience. A spectacular but incredibly flawed finale to the Daniel Craig era, which benefits immeasurably from an ignorance/avoidance of the titanic talk and hype surrounding this long-awaited latest outing for Bond.
The story follows a now retired James, alongside Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), as they have all the time in the world to enjoy life overseas, but when events follow them there, Bond is pulled back into the life he thought he had left behind. All down to the emergence of a sinister person from Madeleine’s past, who comes with a deadly plot of his own, which threatens to drastically alter the course of the world.
Considering all the theory, anticipation and speculation surrounding Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s screenplay, No Time To Die’s story is a pretty simplistic affair. Featuring a plethora of callbacks to the Sean Connery and Roger Moore years especially, the largest influence is undoubtedly that of George Lazenby’s one and done outing, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a Bond film being re-evaluated nowadays as one of the franchises best films. Like Skyfall before it, this is a film which celebrates an occasion for the series, and in doing so attempts to marry the greatest hits with something more daring and brand new. Sadly, Cary Joji Fukunaga’s film, pitches way more than it delivers in way of shock.
Despite treading a couple of paths the series has not in the past, its twists and turns are virtually all predictable going in, in fact one was achingly obvious the moment the title was revealed years back. Frankly, for all the reviewer’s twitter gasps and audience-assisted zeitgeist, I was left a little unshaken and unstirred by the film’s supposedly “bold” and “drastic” twists. Fukunaga’s intentions are noble but this film is littered with holes and ideas left only half shaded, and many plot points seem to just fade out. Particularly when it comes to Rami Malek’s disappointingly limp villain, whose ties and build up really heads nowhere other than – as Bond said way back in his very first outing – “world domination. The same old dream”. Even the climax cannot help but feel tepid, considering the talk has already moved on to what and who comes next, as the end credits anchor.
Still, there is fun to be had in taking in the sheer cinematorium-batering spectacle of it all, and if you go in with far more tempered expectations, you are less likely to come away pondering the ideas left dangling and opportunities not taken. It helps too that the performances are roundly great. Craig returns to the role far more enthusiastically than with Spectre and goes all out to give a memorable send-off. Even though he and Seydoux remain a little mismatched charismatically (and both cannot capture that same spark he and Eva Green did back in Casino Royale – which remains Craig’s best Bond).
Malek also turns up the chills in a performance that attempts to best compensate for a thin part, while some of the returning supporting faces (Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Christoph Waltz and Jeffrey Wright) turn in reliably great side performances. Although some of the newbies stand out best, particularly Lashana Lynch’s action-ready new 007 Nomi and a film highlight in Ana de Armas’ CIA agent Paloma, who I’d have loved to see more of.
That all said, aesthetically No Time To Die is an utter triumph, one which celebrates the franchise’s 25th outing in suitably grand fashion, with beautiful cinematography and camerawork (some of the series’ best in fact) from Linus Sandgren. Alongside the breathtaking visuals, comes a score by Hans Zimmer, which is absolutely stunning, carrying a vintage and adoring vibe, alongside a distinctive spin on the Bond sound, which is all of Zimmer’s own. He realises precisely what he needs to do and nobody does it better, I really hope he returns to the franchise again. Even Billie Eilish’s divisive but fitting title theme fits well in the framework of the story being told, another very personal (which has always been a debatable route) story, as has been the modus operandi for Craig’s heart on his sleeve take on the super spy.
For better and worse No Time To Die is a swansong fitting of this current sometimes great, sometimes polarising incarnation of James Bond. I enjoyed the time in its company well enough but doubt it will change the landscape as many are saying, and that insurmountable hype has done the film few favours. Then again, perhaps when I go back and rewatch it, I’ll find more to think on. For now though, Craig’s first remains his best, followed swiftly by Skyfall. But No Time To Die is an ok note to leave on, if not an all time high.
James Bond will return…