★★★★ - STUFF
- A truly cinematic spectacle that farewells Daniel Craig in style -
“If we don’t do this, there will be nothing left to save.”
It’s a line that has resonated with me ever since I first heard it on the final trailer for James Bond’s 25th official outing a few months ago.
It’s felt like a clarion call, that after all the announced and abandoned release dates caused by this global pandemic, it was time Daniel Craig’s fifth and final turn as 007 was unleashed, before there were no cinemas left solvent to play it.
With all due respect to our friends (and exhibitors) in the country’s north who will have to wait a little longer to see it, this is the crowd pleasing, generation-spanning, thrilling rollercoaster ride of a cinematic spectacle that might just persuade and remind those who can of what a trip to a movie theatre can deliver in terms of bang-for-your-entertainment buck.
All of the assets that have served this near 60-year franchise so well are present and correct. There are multiple cool cars, exhilarating chase sequences, a variety of gorgeous-looking global locations, smart suits, jaw-dropping evening wear and gadgets-a-go-go. Those expecting a breathless pre-title sequence and elaborate opening credits will also be more than satisfied.
But you also have to remember – the middling last outing Spectre did debut almost six years ago, so some slack with regards to recall is more than allowable – that since 2006’s Casino Royale, this Commander James Bond has been different.
Re-Bourne as someone more complicated, troubled, grittier as a result of the world and big screen action heroes moving on, he’s no longer, in the words’ of Dame Judi Dench’s M herself, “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur.... a relic of the Cold War”.
No Time to Die feels like the culmination of a five-episode journey of self-discovery and reflection for our hero, with the result that there are moments here where he’s magnanimous, considerate and no longer insistent on working alone. No doubt those are all elements that won’t please Bond purists. However, the franchise appeared to leave Ian Fleming’s source novels in the DB5’s rear-view mirror at least a decade ago now.
No Time to Die picks up the action soon after the events of Spectre. Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is under lock and key and Bond and psychologist Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) are enjoying the sights of sounds of Italy – and each other’s company.
“We have all the time in the world,” Bond smiles, even though he’s still prone to looking over his shoulder, poised to deal with any imminent threat. But while Madeleine knows he loves her, she’s convinced he’ll never be fully hers until he forgives himself for his earlier amore Vesper Lynd’s death in Casino Royale.
Eventually persuaded by Madeleine to visit Vesper’s grave to perform his own private ceremony of atonement, Bond narrowly escapes with his life after a bomb detonates just metres from him. As a card he spies just before the explosion rams home, it’s the work of Spectre.
Avoiding a series of henchmen keen to finish the job, he returns to Madeleine angry at how her late father’s former employers might have been tipped off as to his whereabouts. A frosty car ride to the nearest station ensues, the mood not helped by a call from Blofeld on her cellphone. While she pleads with him that she has something she has to share, he all but throws her on the train, vowing that she’ll never see him again. “We all have our secrets,” he growls, “we just didn’t get around to yours yet.”
Over the next two-and-a-half-hours there are plenty of double-crosses, casualties, general carnage and surprises as Madeleine’s past not only comes back to haunt her, but also threaten the life of any human being around the globe.
And, aside from Madeleine and Bond’s sometimes surprisingly tepid chemistry, Rami Malek’s “villain” Safin is No Time to Die’s only real weak point. While it’s nice that he initially has a strong motivation for what he does, he’s ultimately just the latest, as Bond puts it, “in a very long line of angry little men”. And like so many of the others, one with a disfigurement (although at least he’s about the one “bad” character in recent times who doesn’t have ocular problems) and targeting “the usual world leaders, innocent civilians and freedom”.
Fortunately, the writing quartet, who include series regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, director Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, have crafted a terrific story where Safin’s shortcomings become only a minor quibble.
After Spectre’s somewhat over-seriousness, this puts the swagger back into Bond. Craig finally looks like he’s enjoying himself here, teasing Ben Whishaw’s Q about his choice in cats (“they come with fur these days”), not being above a Roger Moore-esque one-liner, but without compromising the steely determination that has been his trademark.
Throw in the welcome return of Jeffrey Wright’s CIA agent Felix Leiter, Lashana Lynch’s next generation British spy and a truly hilarious scene-stealing cameo from Craig’s Knives Out co-star Ana de Armas (whose character I’m sure, like me, you’ll find yourself wanting to see more of) and this is the Bond script you hoped would come from the combined minds behind True Detective and Killing Eve.
Where the franchise goes after this is really anybody’s guess, but No Time To Die is a fitting send-off to the originally much-maligned Craig.
In the end, his piercing baby blues (and serious approach to the role and the stunts) did far more to enhance the character than the brouhaha over this blonde hair attempted to detract. He’s earned his rest, leaving 007, while perhaps not on “an all-time high”, at least not feeling like the “writing’s on the wall”.
- James Croot, STUFF
No Time To Die is now playing at Light House Cinema!