No Time to Die review: Much-anticipated Bond epic takes some risks and proves a film of two halves
Our film critic, Mark Walsh, The Movie Evangelist, delivers his verdict on the new 007 movie, which is out now.
After what feels like an eternity of waiting – and in Bond terms, it has been, a six year gap since Spectre the longest wait for a Bond since Goldeneye – and with anticipation levels at fever pitch, audiences have finally been treated to a new outing for Britain’s least secret agent, and have been rewarded for their patience by the largest dose of 007 yet. Not only is it pushing two and three quarter hours, but it’s also got both a retired version in the shape of Daniel Craig, and his replacement at MI6, Nomi (Lashana Lynch).
Bond has stepped away from active service, living off the grid in the Caribbean after taking down Blofeld and Spectre last time out. But you can’t keep a good spy down, and soon his old CIA buddy Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) is attempting to recruit him into tracking down Russian scientist Obruchev (David Dencik). But Nomi has also been sent by M (Ralph Fiennes) to find the scientist, who seemingly has links to the now-imprisoned Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) as well as the mysterious Safin (Rami Malek). But the question on everyone’s lips is how Bond’s girlfriend Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) fits in…
After 25 films, the Bond producers and their writers, including Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, on the team since the Brosnan days, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (brought into give the dialogue a much-needed polish) have a tricky balancing act: bring enough familiar elements to satisfy the Bond faithful, but also to try to deliver something fresh to keep the series alive.
Spectre tried to subvert the standalone nature of the films by retconning connections to all of Daniel Craig’s previous outings, and No Time To Die has to deal with the baggage of tying up its story threads satisfactorily; somehow it manages to make a virtue out of the exposition by channelling it into a thorough examination of this Bond’s character and motivations.
It’s also a Bond film not afraid to take a few risks and to push the franchise into unexpected places. The upside of this is that both Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux get to act and emote, opportunities which many of their predecessors were denied.
This film also understands that the speculation circulating in the media about the next Bond is asking the wrong questions. Do we need a female Bond, a black Bond, a Bond allergic to biscuits? Who Bond is, in truth, is far less important and interesting than what Bond is: the sexist, misogynist dinosaur is now a relic, not of the Cold War but of an internet-driven society with no secrets where his have led to some serious trust issues.
It is, ultimately, a film of two halves, and the first half – when Bond is causing havoc on winding Italian backstreets in his classic Aston Martin DB5, or tearing things up in Cuba with CIA underling Paloma (a much underused Ana De Armas, once again partnered with Craig after Knives Out) – is full of top-drawer Bond action set-pieces, but is also helped by keeping the exposition at arm’s length. Unfortunately, the second half gets bogged down in putting the characters in the right places for the plot, and while the emotional crescendo is both satisfying and necessary, the action suffers as a result, mired in drab backgrounds and constrained by a Bond starting to feel his age.
Many of the requisite elements are delivered as you’d expect: Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris are now comfortable enough as M, Q and Moneypenny to deliver sterling support and that knowing Bond humour, and the inevitable villain lair also makes an appearance, but even this feels lacking in the scale of previous Bonds.
Rami Malek is also understated as the manipulative Safin, evoking original baddies such as Dr No but never feeling a sufficient foil for Bond’s machismo or intellect.
There are also call backs to previous Bonds: Hans Zimmer’s flourishing score weaves in not only the Bond and 007 themes but also strains of Louis Armstrong’s We Have All The Time In The World, the song from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and No Time To Die calls back to that thematically in many ways.
The odd contradictions remain: paintings of both Judi Dench and Bernard Lee’s versions of M adorn the corridors of MI6, but Daniel Craig’s Bond has a definite beginning, middle and end which somehow overlap that strange continuity. While No Time To Die is successful to a point, in need of better action in the second half and a stronger-willed editor, it does provide a fitting conclusion to 15 years of Daniel Craig’s robust, emotional Bond: often shaken, but not always stirred.
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