After years of sitting on ice, the release date shuffled and postponed, No Time to Die is finally here — the last outing of Daniel Craig’s reign as agent 007 in a film that was shot pre-pandemic in 2019.
So what is the best way to judge the arrival of the new Bond film? After the darkened screens and lockdowns of 2020, it might be time to properly calibrate our expectations.
To me, a good Bond film is like a club sandwich. I know a martini would be the obvious comparison, but stick with me.
A club sandwich isn’t exactly gourmet. It’s not lobster thermidor or the crackers and caviar you’d find in an Ian Fleming novel, but it’s still an enjoyable treat. Who’s going to go to the trouble of making the turkey and bacon at home? Toasting all that bread? At the same time, what makes a club sandwich stand out are the variations. Are you going to slip in some avocado? Maybe you like a little Dijon?
Like any guilty pleasure, Bond films come with their own list of required ingredients: a dazzling array of international locations, larger-than-life villains, gadgets galore and a bevy of beautiful damsels, either in distress or to distract.
No Time to Die dutifully checks just about all of the boxes, but there’s an air of wistfulness to the endeavour. After the film Spectre, Craig said he’d rather slash his wrists than suit up as Bond again. This time, in the promotional interviews and on screen, his heart is in it — although there’s an unmistakable sense of finality.
Shot with a similar sheen to director Sam Mendes’ exquisite Skyfall, No Time to Die director Cary Joji Fukunaga understands the assignment. The film has a polished and familiar style, right from the opening flashback in an isolated Norwegian cabin in winter. One almost expects Roger Moore to come slaloming out of the treeline, but instead it’s a prelude for a shocking game of cat and mouse.
Flash forward and we find James Bond in the arms of Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), last seen in Spectre. A surprise attack suggests the return of an old foe. With Bond doing doughnuts with his Aston Martin, guns blazing, it feels like nothing’s ever changed, but when the dust settles, his heart hardens again.
Cue the new Billie Eilish theme song (adequate) and flashy graphics. As the opening credits fade, we find James Bond as double-0 nothing, living the good life as a retiree in Jamaica until world events catch up to him.
Whether it’s Ralph Fiennes as M or Jeffrey Wright as the cigar-smoking CIA agent Felix, there is a sense of weariness at the new world order. At one pause in the action, Felix grumbles about the good old days when you could look your opponent in the eye. “Harder to tell the good from bad, villains from heroes,” he mutters.
Appropriate as we wait out the pandemic, the world-ending threat that Bond is hunting down this time is an invisible virus, targeted and tailored for specific DNA. Paranoia of a foe you can’t see has a timeliness the producers could never have predicted. When the Russian scientist responsible for the weapon pops up in Cuba, Bond reluctantly returns to duty.
Killing Eve writer reins in the serial seducer
While previous Bond films would find James bedding most of the women he meets, in 2021 they’re colleagues and competitors. Lashana Lynch appears as Nomi, the newly designated 007 who seems to think little of her predecessor. A little less direct is Ana de Armas, who first sparred with Daniel Craig in Knives Out. Armas plays Paloma, a CIA operative in Cuba who turns out to be a firecracker in a fight.
The arc of Paloma’s prowess is a nice bit of misdirection, which could be credited to Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The actor and creator of Killing Eve and Fleabag was brought in to do a polish on the script and appears to have reined in the serial seducer.
But if you’re looking for a clue of what to expect, listen carefully to the orchestral score from Hans Zimmer, quoting the theme to We Have All the Time in the World. The song is from 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the only Bond film starring George Lazenby — a film where Bond opened his heart and paid the price dearly.
For fans of the recent Craig iterations of the franchise, the gang’s all here. M, Q, Moneypenny and more. There’s even a zippy little scene where Moneypenny and Bond surprise Q at home while he’s trying to make dinner for his male date, deftly updating the tech wizard’s sexuality.
If anything marks Daniel Craig’s fifth and final outing, it’s how sentimental the story becomes. There’s much more on the line this time, and the warrior is ready to lay down his sword. As it always does, duty calls — and the surprise is the person not up to the task is the villain.
From his shattered Noh mask to his mottled face, Rami Malek as Lyutsifer Safin feels like a grab bag of Bond-ian clichés. I’m not even sure he believed the speech when he monologued about unleashing the DNA bioweapon on the world.
In the end, there’s a feeling of inevitability to the showdown on Safin’s island hideout that almost makes the character’s deficiencies irrelevant. (Points for super villain decor. Where did he find the old missile silo? Did he rent it in a timeshare from Dr. No?)
While No Time to Die lags in parts, it feels like the fitting finale Daniel Craig has been waiting for. It doesn’t have the vigorous energy of the Casino Royale reboot or the epic scope of the excellent Skyfall. Instead, it gives Craig — a brusque Bond for a changing world — the hero’s send-off he deserves.
No Time to Die opens in theatres Oct. 8.