Benjamin considers himself an authority on James Bond, having reviewed every film and many more over a number of years.
What's the Big Deal?
No Time to Die is an action thriller film released in 2021 and is the 25th film released in the James Bond series. The film sees Daniel Craig return for the final time as the British secret agent, this time finding himself pitched against a terrifying new enemy and questioning the loyalties of those close to him. The film also stars Lea Seydoux, Rami Malik, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Ralph Fiennes and Christoph Waltz. The film was directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga who took over the role from the previously announced Danny Boyle. The film was the first major release to have its debut delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic after its original release date of November 2019 was pushed back to April 2020 and then further back to October 2021. Released to a largely positive reception from critics, the film secured an international opening weekend of $119 million while the titular theme tune sung by Billie Eilish won a Grammy Award in March 2021.
What's It About?
With Ernst Stavro Blofeld safely imprisoned in the UK, James Bond is enjoying some much need rest with Madeleine Swann, the daughter of former SPECTRE operative Mr White. Holidaying in the historic Italian city of Matera, Bond visits the tomb of his former lover Vesper Lynd but is ambushed by assassins. Bond and Swann barely manage to escape, but convinced that Madeleine has betrayed him, Bond forces her onto a train and leaves her. Five years later and Bond has entered a self-imposed retirement in Jamaica, unaware that his double-00 number has been reassigned and MI6 has moved on without him.
Back in London, a top-secret bioweapon developed by MI6 has been stolen along with the scientist who developed it, Dr Valdo Obruchev. With new double-00 agent Nomi dispatched by M to recover the weapon, Bond is contacted by his old CIA colleague Felix Leiter who fills Bond in on what has happened. Initially refusing to get involved, Bond has a change of heart after realising exactly what Project Heracles is capable of and begins his search in Cuba, at a party attended by almost all senior members of SPECTRE...
Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Ana de Armas
|Director||Cary Joji Fukunaga|
Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga & Phoebe Waller-Bridge*
Release Date (UK)
30th September, 2021
Action, Spy, Thriller
What's to Like?
It's been a long while since we last spent any time with Bond with Spectre being released back in a pre-pandemic, pre-Donald Trump 2015. You might think that the series would reflect these changes in our world - after all, Craig made his debut in the hard-hitting realism of Casino Royale in a style more reminiscent of The Bourne Identity. However, fans of the world's most popular secret agent will be relieved to hear that it's almost business as usual. The film has a variety of beautiful locations for viewers to enjoy from the typical (Jamaica, Cuba, Italy) to the more unusual such as Norway. The action scenes may have reduced in number but certainly not quality with energetic car chases and noisy gun fights the order of the day. And as good as Craig has become as Bond (and he is, really very good), he is matched every step of the way by Seydoux who delivers one of the best performances the franchise has ever seen as Dr Swann. From scorned lover to gritty survivor, Swann has become fleshed out into one of the more memorable characters traditionally dismissed as a 'Bond girl'. Her role is not to be just a conquest for Bond or eye candy for the audience. Her participation in the film isn't just valued but essential and in what might have been a difficult role to portray, Seydoux absolutely smashes it.
Not being overly familiar with Fukunaga's work, I was intrigued to see how No Time To Die looked on the big screen (something I have managed with all of Craig's outings as Bond). Thankfully, he has managed to shoot a film that looks wonderful with interesting backdrops and well-framed scenes. The film is flushed with references to the entire Bond back catalogue such as soundtrack cues from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the classic Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger and in Malik's disfigured supervillain, a nod to the initial portrayal of Blofeld in You Only Live Twice. Narratively, the film is an excellent way of wrapping up Craig's tenure as Bond as it ties up numerous loose ends and somehow links the five films - Casino Royale, Quantum Of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre and this film - together into one impressive story arc. It gives the film an epic feel, even without the exhaustive running time making this the longest film in the series by some margin. There are also other nods to the series with Whishaw's Q getting some of the best scenes, some decent quippery from Craig and others and naturally, one of the sexiest female characters seen for a while in the stunning form of Ana de Armas' Cuban rookie Paloma. This feels like a long, almost indulgent swim in the usual Bond tropes and for fans, this traditional-but-contemporary outing for the veteran secret agent will satisfy those who have been missing his company for all this time.
- Even if the film had been released on time back in 2019, it would still mean that Craig's time as 007 was the longest of any actor, beating the previous record of twelve years that Bond was played by Roger Moore from Live And Let Die in 1973 to 1985's A View To A Kill. However, Craig is only third on the list of the number of films - both Sean Connery and Roger Moore appeared as Bond in a total of six and seven film respectively (official Bond films, anyway). Coincidentally, this is the first Bond film to be released after the tragic deaths of Connery and Moore.
- Wright's appearance as CIA agent Felix Leiter marks his third performance as the character, making him the actor with the most appearances as Leiter. Previously, the character was played twice by David Hedison.
- Danny Boyle was replaced as director about three months before principal photography began with Fukunaga announced as his replacement a month later in September 2018. Boyle's original pitch involved a script by his frequent collaborator John Hodge who wrote, among other things, Trainspotting and Shallow Grave. But creative differences was the reason Boyle dropped out and Hodge's script was ditched.
- One of the original ideas for this film would have been a twist that showed part of this film taking place inside Bond's head while he was still attached to Blofeld's torture device seen in Spectre. While this idea was obviously dropped, Waltz's appearance as Blofeld was supposed to be a secret until he was spotted at Pinewood by some eagle-eyed passer-by during the shoot.
- The film's literal translation varies across the world, as most Bond films do. In the Czech Republic, it's called No Reason To Die while in parts of China, the film is known as 007: Life And Death Sometimes.
What's Not to Like?
The film does contain a number of surprises but sadly, not of them are pleasant. I was surprised that there wasn't an acknowledgement of events in the real world such as the pandemic but I understand why there wasn't - films like this are meant to be escapism and frankly, we're all in need of such diversion these days. I was also slightly disappointed by Malik's performance as Safin who is so generic a Bond villain that I imagine he was composed by a computer algorithm. His most effective scenes are when he's stalking characters behind an emotionless Noh mask - after that, he just feels like an archetypal baddie with every eventuality seemingly covered. And this is symptomatic of the film's overall weakness: its determination to not just be a great film but a great Bond film, with everything that entails. We've grown so used to the Bond formula now that very little shakes or stirs us in our seats when we're watching the films. So when we see Bond trapped on a bridge at both ends or sneaking his way through a base, we never really expect our hero to bite the bullet.
There are other little niggles as well, I'm afraid. I wasn't a fan of the theme music which felt more like a funeral dirge to me than something to get me excited about the film to come. The obvious product placement is also still there with Aston Martin somehow getting four different models on screen while Land Rover are literally having a field day with dozens leaping over hills and darting through murky woods in frenzied pursuit of each other. The film's pacing is far too slow - the film's mighty running time might give you your money's worth but it just feels like the story is dragging its heels. And I also wasn't a fan of the final third which I felt relied too much on referencing Bond's past glories (I'm certain Safin's base was designed to look more like Ken Adam's legendary sets from the Sixties rather than a practical military installation), making the film feel even more like a tribute to 007 than its own entry into the franchise. I was left wondering where the films can go next and not just because of a different actor donning the tuxedo next time. What more can be done other than constantly upping the stakes? Generations of film-goers have grown up with these films and we've all seen pretty much everything they have to offer. The question is this: does No Time To Die have anything I haven't seen in other Bond films or anything I have seen before but done better?
Aside from a single big twist that left me feeling somewhat deflated and Seydoux's brilliant performance, the simple answer is no.
Should I Watch It?
Yes. This is a good Bond film but sadly, not a great one - possibly ruined by stratospheric expectations. Fans of the films and the series overall will enjoy the film which sits quite comfortably just outside my top 10 Bond films. It does everything you would expect a Bond film to do but personally, I don't think it does enough to stand out from the pack. The most interesting thing about the film is what comes after: another dramatic reboot or recasting or a glossy, high budget TV series that could tell a more expansive story and develop characters better? Alas, I think we'll have a while to wait before we find out...
Great For: Bond aficionados, anyone looking for escapist fare, Lea Seydoux who should become a true star after this, Daniel Craig's career going forward
Not So Great For: saving cinemas from closure, anyone expecting anything radical, positive portrayals of disfigured characters in film
What Else Should I Watch?
You might think I have a bit of a downer on No Time To Die but I did enjoy this film, just not as much as I was hoping. Besides, it's certainly not as bad as Bond films can be as any fan will tell you. Modern viewers will no doubt point to Quantum Of Solace as a particular low point for the films which was a crushing disappointment after the amazing Casino Royale. Older audiences will also point an accusing finger at the likes of Die Another Day which was an insult to fans everywhere and going even further back, Moore had some notorious outings as an increasingly light-hearted Bond in misfiring films like Moonraker and Octopussy.
So what Bond films are in my Top 10, I hear you ask? Well, I'll probably save that for a future article but I do have my favourites which might have aged in some people's eyes but still demand repeat viewings. Casino Royale will be rightly remembered for making Bond relevant again in the twenty-first century, a gritty and exciting introduction to Craig's harder and darker interpretation of the character. Fans had been demanding such a film ever since From Russia With Love which was arguably the last outing for Bond as a serious man of action and intelligence officer, a film that felt like an actual spy film rather than a sequence of impressive stunts, gadgets and sexy women. The next film in the franchise was Goldfinger, a film that defined the Bond film template for the next four decades with its heady mix of fun, action, sex appeal and glamour. Even its theme music laid the groundwork for those that followed.
© 2021 Benjamin Cox