Daniel Craig was never going to bow out of his James Bond tenure with a whimper – and so it proves in the long-awaited No Time To Die, which finally makes its way to UK cinemas this week. For better and for worse, this is a film that throws just about everything at the wall, and the result is something that serves at once as a culmination of the Craig era but also as something quite unlike any of the star’s previous four films.
Plot spoilers are, of course, off-limits – so I’ll stick to the bare bones. After a lengthy pre-credits section, which includes a rather heightened flashback to Madeleine Swann’s (Lea Seydoux) childhood, we find Bond enjoying retirement in Jamaica, with no desire to get back into the spy game any time soon. But then pops up his old pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), who attempts to pull him into the fold for one last mission: an MI6 scientist has gone missing, and his disappearance could have frightening repercussions for the whole planet. Bond is initially reluctant, but eventually relents and finds himself drawn into a plot that sees him encounter friends and foes old and new, eventually leading him to archvillain Safin (played by Rami Malek in the No Time To Die cast).
Eyebrows have been raised about the rather lengthy running time and, while it does lend the film the weight of a real epic, there are certainly times where you can feel that stretch. There’s a fine line between sprawling and disjointed, and too often No Time To Die veers rather too close to the latter, especially in its middle portion, meaning the film lacks the overall cohesion of something like Skyfall or Casino Royale. Meanwhile, the action set pieces are often tremendous when they arrive, but could perhaps have been distributed more evenly across the running time.
It’s not just the film’s length that makes it feel grand and monumental – just about everything about the film is big, which makes it odd that the main antagonist is a rather understated presence. Safin has moments of real creepiness, but his rather undefined motives and lack of real chemistry with Craig means this is not a villain who will linger in the memory as much as the likes of Le Chiffre, Raoul Silva or, crucially, Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) – who actually upstages the new baddie in his own film. A Silence of the Lambs style meeting between Bond and an incarcerated Blofeld is more compelling than 007’s later tete-a-tete with Safin, and there’s a sense that the finale – as great as it is – could have landed better with a more flamboyant, charismatic nemesis.
There are other flaws, too: fan service is to be expected – and, to a degree, even encouraged – in a Bond flick, but there are moments and lines that seem a touch egregious in this regard. Meanwhile, the film’s mammoth cast means that some of the supporting players are underserved, with Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny given especially little to do. Ana de Armas makes a great impression with an energetic, flashy performance in her limited role as CIA agent Paloma, but her appearance essentially amounts to little more than a cameo.
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And yet, despite all these issues, you simply can’t play down the film’s irresistible entertainment value. There are all the fancy gadgets and exhilarating car chases any Bond fan could possibly want, while you can feel co-writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s influence in some of the funnier lines, often uttered by the always brilliant Ben Whishaw as Q. Cary Joji Fukunaga stages the set pieces with an impressive degree of pizzazz – with highlights including a sequence on a burning boat and one in a dark, misty forest – and there are some engaging performances to enjoy from franchise newcomer Lashana Lynch and old-hand Jeffrey Wright, among others.
And at the centre of it all is Daniel Craig, who delivers another superb turn that cements his status as one of the very finest Bonds. So much of this era of 007 has been a balancing act between the character’s old school machismo and a more modern sentimental edge, and Craig embodies both qualities with perfection here, while his older age gives the performance another dynamic – this really does feel like a final mission. As with the previous two films, this new one also touches on the issue of Bond’s place in the modern world, dealing with it in an even more head-on manner than earlier attempts, in part through the addition of new character Nomi.
The film’s final hour, in particular, is spectacular – on levels both emotional and visceral – and it’s unlikely that many Bond aficionados will leave the cinema short-changed by the terrific finale. If a key theme of the new film is legacies and the things we leave behind, then in a sense No Time To Die is perhaps a perfect embodiment of Craig’s own legacy as Bond: there are ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses, but at the end of the day, it’s hard to deny its plentiful charms.
- If you’ve heard the rumours, here’s our explainer as to whether or not James Bond dies in No Time To Die – and be wary of *big* spoilers!