After what has felt like a much longer gap than between Licence To Kill and GoldenEye, the near 6 year long wait for James Bond to finally return to cinemas is over. There was doubt over whether or not Daniel Craig would even return, uncertainty when original director Danny Boyle dropped out, concern for the ongoing shifts made to the writing team, and frustration over the long delays caused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The long wait has made this the most anticipated James Bond film since Casino Royale, and with a heavy marketing push highlighting it as Craig’s swansong performance may be the most anticipated of all time.
After a day or so to process my thoughts after seeing No Time To Die, what follows are my initial thoughts on the film. This is a non-spoiler article, however it will not be completely ambiguous. The only details referenced will be those that were seen in the trailers; so if you have not watched any of the marketing before release then do not continue reading.
Going into the cinema with so much anticipation and excitement, there is a chance that No Time To Die may not deliver after audiences have had to wait so long. The film will be polarizing amongst die hard Bond fans for some of it’s choices, but there is no denying that it’s an incredibly well crafted film, with beautiful cinematography and lighting and well paced editing. There is a vibrancy in the colour palette which rivals Roger Deakins’ work on Skyfall. Aside from scenes in Matera and Jamaica, the locations are some of the least glamorous in a Bond film, but they appear beautiful when filmed the way that they have. The action sequences are well conceived and filmed, with the DB5 chase and Cuba sequences being massive standouts, but as the film goes on, the running and shooting becomes quite repetitive, and there are moments during the finale that feel more like watching someone play Call of Duty than a Bond film.
After the previous film Spectre lost the way narratively speaking by the end, No Time To Die bravely picks up directly afterwards. The idyllic life with Madeline Swann that Bond has chosen is interrupted with an attempt on his life and the two escape and go their separate ways. Whilst Bond retires to Jamaica, he is visited by Felix Leiter to help recover a missing scientist. Along the way, Bond constantly butts heads with Nomi, a young and successful Double 0 officially sent by MI6 to retrieve the scientist. Things escalate when they learn of the mysterious Safin, whose thirst for vengeance puts the world in danger, and Bond and Nomi have to work together to stop him.
On the surface, No Time To Die is very much inspired by the pre-Craig era, with Bond hopping from location to location in attempt to find the villain and save the world, but at it’s core it is much more of an emotional drama. There is much more drama to the characters and their relationships with each other. Daniel Craig shines in his performance, playing Bond more like a real person with emotions and not like the stoic man of a few words in his previous films. His retirement has made him cynical, much more like Ian Fleming wrote Bond in his later novels, and now Bond does not hold back in telling people how he feels. Despite this, he is not the grumpy character you would expect, but actual very witty; easily the funniest Craig has ever been with his quips, and several will make you laugh out loud.
Léa Seydoux gets a chance of redemption for Madeline Swann after the lukewarm at best reaction to the underwritten character in Spectre. Seydoux has much more to do in the script and has many opportunities to show off her acting talents. Madeline goes through her own subplot, having her experience a range of emotions which make her feel more fleshed out and identifiable with. Overall in the history of the series I am not sure what her legacy to the films will become, but after an underwhelming turn in Spectre, Seydoux proves Madeline’s worthiness to be included so prominently in No Time To Die.
The supporting female cast is comprised of franchise newcomers Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas as the trained operatives Nomi and Paloma respectively. Despite public fears stirred by the media that a black, female Double 0 agent means Bond is going woke, there is no need worry, as Nomi’s presence in the film is much less than you would imagine. The character does not preach nor represent wokeness; if anything she is much more basic and one dimensional, acting as if she had been partnered with Bond in a Shane Black buddy cop film. On the other hand, Ana de Armas nearly steals the film with her short appearance in the film by being charming, funny, physical and improving on the amazing chemistry that she shared with Craig in Knives Out.
The supporting cast is filled out nicely with many returning and new characters who have a surprising amount of screentime without distracting away from the main character’s story. The regular MI6 crew return to help Bond on his mission, but their presence feels more distanced from Bond, instead of being so heavily involved in the plot as in Skyfall and more so in Spectre. Jeffrey Wright’s return as Felix Leiter is one of the best aspects of the film, and the best representation of the friendship that Ian Fleming wrote in the films overall. Although in both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace Bond and Felix feel cold and distant to each other having only just met, the scenes of them drinking and chatting in No Time To Die show how strong and close their friendship has become. There are also fun performances from Felix’s new partner Logan Ash (played by Billy Magnussen) and David Dencik’s Macguffin scientist, Valdo Obruchev.
The villains, on the other hand are not so lucky. A returning Blofeld is much more intimidating than he was in Spectre, even whilst in a cage, but there are serious plot holes surrounding his ability to still be a threat despite being in captivity. Henchman Primo (Dani Benssalah) has a surprisingly strong presence throughout, but can never dream of being on Oddjob or Jaws’ level. Rami Malek’s main villain Safin may be the most disappointing aspect of the film. Malek maintains a creepy and mysterious presence over the whole film, but the character’s backstory is glossed over in exposition and when his villainous scheme is finally revealed it is quite nonsensical with no clear motivation behind it. There are great moments with Safin confronting Bond, but once it is all over, you begin to realise how bewildering a character he really is.
The writing is generally strong for the most part aside from Safin’s scheme. Like it or hate it, there is the usual fare from longtime Bond writers Purvis and Wade, including some nice references to the novel of You Only Twice and a blink-and-you-miss-it references to Die Another Day. There was some guidance from director Cary Fukunaga, who also receives a writing credit, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s hand is felt all over the dialogue, especially with Bond’s sharp and sarcastic quips, which are reminiscent of Waller-Bridge’s writing for her title role in Fleabag.
One aspect that has always been a huge factor of giving a Bond film its defining status is the score, Hans Zimmer has crafted a wonderful sound for a Bond film, with leitmotifs honouring John Barry and David Arnold without him. After Thomas Newman recycled his Skyfall score into Spectre, it is refreshing to hear a new sound, and one that does not shy away from using The James Bond Theme. This combined with incoporating the haunting melody from Billie Eilish’s title track gives the score the old style feel of Bond music with Zimmer’s contemporary twist over it.
As polarizing as No Time To Die will be amongst fans, I cannot see even those that adored it calling it the best James Bond film ever. For the most part it does everything right and is incredibly well made, but controversial choices have been made, and cracks in the script do stand out throughout the third act. I can see reception to this film changing over time, definitely with the release of future Bond films. As it stands right now, it feels like a mostly satisfying end to the Craig era in general as long as the promise of “James Bond Will Return” is kept by EON and Amazon, and soon.