Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring: Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Léa Seydoux, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Jeffrey Wright, Rami Malek, Christoph Waltz, Ana de Armas, Lashana Lynch, Billy Magnussen
Written by: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, (also story) Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga and (based on the characters created) Ian Fleming
Running Time: 163 mins
Release date: 30th September 2021
We’ve waited for over 18 months for the return of Bond. Every time No Time To Die was promised a release, the film was pushed back and back due to the pandemic. Now it’s finally with us; the cinema world is watching as this could be the saviour of the industry. Having sat in a packed IMAX, it was so lovely to share the experience with like-minded folk as the Daniel Craig reign comes to an end. The question is, was it worth the wait? You bet and then some.
James Bond has been out of active duty from the Secret Service for five years. Now his friend and CIA agent Felix Leiter have brought him back when he asks for help, leading Bond on the trail of a plot to spread a deadly virus and having to face his demons.
It’s essential that you enter this with very little knowledge of the story beforehand, as the joy of the film is following the hugely complex tale. Kudos must go to the screenwriting team, who have managed to create a script that works to mix the whole of the past 15 years into a new story that is refreshingly modern yet throwing in some old-fashioned elements.
Starting with an extended pre-credit sequence, in which we learn more about Madeline Swann, the woman who won James’ heart in Spectre and who has become such an essential part of his new life. However, the peaceful new lifestyle of the secret agent is left in tatters when an attempt on his life leaves him suspicious of his new love.
Unlike the Bonds of old, this series of the past five films have been connected. We have seen Bond face the rise of Spectre, as well as those he has loved and lost. This time, all the ties must be brought together while adding a new mission to the world. Cleverly weaving past characters and plot threads, the film also incorporates the things that make Bond films almost a must-see, from the exotic locations to breath-taking set pieces that leave you gasping.
This does feel more like the Bonds of old. The gadgets are back, from the Austin Martin with the box of tricks to a magnetic watch. We also get the finale set of an island owned by the villain, something missing from modern films. The one-liners are back as well but what is more noticeable is the references to the past, particularly, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Like George Lazenby’s only entry, this does a love story running through it, although unconventional.
Fans of the series will not be disappointed with the action sequences. The opening sequence alone will leave you breathless as Bond tries to escape being killed by members of Spectre, to an impressive scene in which Bond teams up with young CIA operative Paloma, to a tense sequence in the woodlands of Norway. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga, whose previous work includes the brilliant Beasts of No Nation, handles the set pieces with aplomb while keeping the more dialogue-driven scenes ticking along.
What did surprise me was how funny this film is at times. In the past, Craig’s Bond has been a tough, no-nonsense series, yet here we get quips, we get character development allowing stalwart characters more screen time. Bringing in Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge to add touches to the script is quite apparent as this is probably the most human of all the Bond films. With the humour also comes the darker moments, and this is also one of the most emotionally charged Bonds since the Lazenby film.
The cast is impressive, with regulars given much more to do while newcomers make their mark. Ben Whishaw’s Q has much more screen time, and we get to learn more about the private life of the Quartermaster. Ralph Fiennes’ M is also allowed more depth to his character, as we see a man who has made terrible mistakes take its toll and that he is human after all. Léa Seydoux’s Madeline Swann has become one of the best Bond girls, a woman who holds so many secrets that you wonder if anything she said or does is true. She shows a level of vulnerability that never looks weak, but her actions have consequences that affect her feelings towards Bond.
Rami Malek underplays his creation and could be regarded as one of the best villains in the series. Lashana Lynch is a terrific addition to the series as a new 00 who can hold her own against Bond, not only in the action department but with the quips. However, in just one set piece, Ana de Armas makes the biggest impression. The star of Knives Out brings a delightful inclusion to the series as Paloma. The banter between her and Bond flows beautifully, leading to an exciting set piece in which he is more than a match to the bad guys after them. You do wish she had more than just one scene. Could she be the new ally to Bond in future films? Let’s hope.
As Bond’s final adventure for Daniel Craig, he excels. Seeing the growth of this character in the hands of Craig, it’s his most relaxed performance. He has a different swagger about him as if the weight of the role has finally been removed. He still has that intensity about him, but it’s as if Craig has been allowed to enjoy the part for the first time this time. Throughout the film, he has a sparkle in his eyes not seen in his previous outing. It makes the film have even more of a human element, and some will now claim Craig as the best Bond ever. You can certainly understand why. This is his swan song in the role, and he is leaving his mark. Tough shoes to fill as the series moves on.
No Time To Die is everything you would want from a Bond film and more. If there is a criticism, it does suffer from being far too long. At just under 3 hours, it does have a few baggy moments that could have been trimmed, but if you want pure escapism, then Bond never fails to deliver. It’s also a perfect way to end the reign of Daniel Craig, although you may be surprised as to how they do that. Is Bond the saviour of cinema? On the evidence of the screening I was in, it certainly looks that way.
4 out of 5