Within just moments of No Time to Die, the eagerly anticipated, and perpetually delayed 25th addition to the James Bond franchise, we witness a terrifying scene of a masked killer and a drowning young girl, before cutting to Bond and his lover Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), driving across a picturesque, sun-kissed mountainside, while a beautiful orchestral rendition of Louis Armstrong’s We Have All the Time in the World plays on. Here are the two sides to Daniel Craig’s Bond: daringly dark, and yet gloriously romantic. And this is a fitting finale to his reign as the 007 agent, that thrives in both departments.
James Bond is off the grid. It’s been a few years, and he’s presumed dead by M (Ralph Fiennes) and co. at MI6, enjoying a more sedate existence in Jamaica – until he’s approached by his friend Felix (Jeffrey Wright), with a new mission to capture a crazed scientist (David Dencik), who happens to be armed with the most dangerous and life-altering technology in existence, that simply cannot get into the wrong hands. As Bond delves back into the world of violent espionage, he realises that all is not as it seems. Obviously.
What director Cary Joji Fukunaga has managed to do here, which is harder than it seems, is capture the essence of Bond without contrivance, all the while bringing the character and world firmly into the present day. No Time to Die feels different to other Bonds, and yet very much has the identity that fans will desire. Helped along by the occasional nod to old Bond productions – and even scenes that pay homage to the likes of The Silence of the Lambs – this is a film that is rough around the edges, but it’s very much Bond. A tonal obligation many franchises need not concern themselves with too heavily. But Bond isn’t quite like other franchises.
It does however lack those audible ‘whoop’ moments. It’s more a character driven endeavour, about those who inhabit this world, and that arguably makes this a stronger outing, though perhaps it does need a more emphatic and breath-taking action set-piece to live long in the memory. You don’t want these films to get bigger and bolder in a forced manner, but given what Tom Cruise is accomplishing in Mission Impossible, and even what Vin Diesel is ambitiously putting together with each passing Fast & Furious film, as film-goers perhaps we are a little greedy, and want just something that feels a bit more awe-inspiring, which this film lacks.
What also doesn’t help is the run-time, losing some of the narrative’s dramatic tension given the more patient build up. But the cast make the wait worthwhile, and while much of the focus here is on Craig, who turns in his most accomplished performance as Bond, saving his best to last, the supporting cast more than do their bit. This is especially true of the women, as Lashana Lynch is a true force as a new ‘00’, more than holding her own in a major role that will be exciting to see flourish and develop in future films. Seydoux, like Craig, delivers a noteworthy, human performance, bringing depth and pathos to the role, even if the poor woman needs someone to give her a tissue, while Ana de Armas excels in an all too brief turn as Paloma, who steals the scenes she’s in. It’s just a shame she’s not in more of them.
The team back at MI6 are dependable, as ever, and let’s be thankful that every time ‘M’ said that he needs to “call the PM” to deliver news, Fukunaga didn’t cut away to reveal who was on the other end of the line, as the last thing Bond needs in his life is Boris. Yet for all of the good work from the supporting cast, unfortunately the film is lacking severely in its villain. So often a key player in Bond films, just take Javier Bardem, who ran the show and the film was all the better for it – yet here Rami Malek’s Lyutsifer Safin is a weak addition to the cast. His motives somewhat muddied, his intimidation levels far too low, and in all honesty, the one major reason why this film isn’t getting the full five star treatment.
Yet it remains a worthy farewell to Craig, who leaves the character in style, proving to have been a brilliant choice to take on this treasured creation. But even in this you can tell the time is up, as while his age benefits the subtle nuances of this more fallible version of Bond we’re seeing, it still feels like the time to pass the baton over to someone else has come. But it’s a tough act to follow.
No Time to Die out in cinemas on September 30th