British super spy, James Bond is back. NO TIME TO DIE is the 25th film of the Bond franchise produced by Eon Productions. Planning began back in 2016. The story follows on from SPECTRE (2015), however its beginnings thread back to CASINO ROYALE (2006). This is the final episode in the five-film arc of the Daniel Craig iteration of the Bond character. The story begins with Bond travelling through Italy with Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). He is pursuing this relationship, hoping for the first time that he will find some happiness. However, the past comes roaring back in the form of the criminal Spectre organisation. They have been after Bond for years. Swann is considered a “daughter of Spectre” as her father was a highly efficient assassin. The mystery at the heart of this new outbreak of mayhem is the identity of those who want to destroy Bond and Swann. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) was the head of Spectre, but Bond put his arch enemy in prison. Who is pulling the strings now?
Following a lead from his CIA friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), Bond travels to Cuba. Here he meets a CIA connection Paloma (Ana de Armas) and they stumble upon a surprising new chapter in the Spectre story. They also cross paths with a new MI6 operative and double “O”, Nomi (Lashana Lynch). As events unfold, it becomes clear that the new threat involves a genetic weapon of fearsome power and that Madeleine Swann is unwittingly connected to this.
Writers for this outing are Neal Purvis and Robert Wade who have worked on the franchise since Pierce Brosnan’s THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999) and they are joined here by Phoebe Waller Bridge (Fleabag, Killing Eve). The movie’s director Cari Joji Fukunaga also had a hand in the writing. The story they have built takes in numerous elements and ticks many boxes. There are tributes to the earlier films in the title song and the titles themselves; in certain imagery such as life boats and the villains’ lairs; callbacks to dialogue; and the storyline itself has definite echoes of ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969). Super fans can tick these elements on their mental bingo cards.
For the more casual fan, there is plenty to be getting on with. Fukunaga and the highly experienced stunt and effects teams provide an excellent balance of actual stunts and practical effects with brilliant digital effects. Even when you feel certain that a motorcycle can’t do what you’re seeing, you will still buy into the high-octane action. There is hand-to-hand combat, acrobatics, gun-play, car-chases and orange fireballs aplenty. Fukunaga also likes a visual grace note and there are several scenes that contain these. The director has absolutely put himself on the list of those who can deliver a blockbuster.
What is less expected is the way in which the emotional story is handled. It may be the subplot, but it is never far away, and never lost, as it can be in tentpole action flicks. The MCU has raised the bar in terms of family and relationships being the bedrock of violent mayhem at the movies. The 21st century audience is given reasons to care for the survival of their heroes. We relate to those who despite their skills, expertise or powers, have the same emotional needs that we do.
Sure, some people hate all that and would prefer the dinosaur Bond as described by Judi Dench’s “M” when she first met the Brosnan version. His emotions were nowhere and his needs were alcohol and sex. But even so, the franchise was slowly shifting away from the super-spy’s womanizing and the notion of a decorative Bond Girl. With Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin in TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997) the stakes were raised for what action could be expected from a female character in the franchise. From Casino Royale and the introduction of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) the women that Bond encountered tended to be even more rounded. Bond’s relationship with Lynd was based on the idea that she was as expert at her job, as he was at his and that she could see past his charming exterior. The older Bond was an action man who was also suave, beautifully-tailored, who knew the best food and best wines and could seduce any woman he laid eyes on. This concept created by Ian Fleming in the 1950s and on our screen from the 1960s, quickly became a box office hit and a cultural phenomenon. By the time the 1990s rolled around, the way society and the audience had changed, meant Bond needed an update if the character was to remain a viable box office hit to younger generations.
Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have done a surprisingly effective job in renewing Bond while maintaining the core of the character. It is a dazzling example of keeping one’s cake and eating it. And making millions of dollars doing so.
Performances here are terrific and the established supporting characters M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are all given their proper moments in the story. Rami Malek is engaging as always but probably would have benefited from more time to establish what his character is about. Lashanna Lynch’s Nomi manages to make an impact with her few scenes. Ana de Armas’s Paloma is the ultimate representative character for the franchise because she looks like the Bond girl of old, but she has lethal skills and she’s also there to get laughs.
NO TIME TO DIE is also looking for tears. Fukunaga and the writing team want to entertain the audience at as many levels as possible. And by and large, despite having no major musical scene, they achieve this. Maybe the new Bond will have some killer dance moves
Daniel Craig is a character actor who got to play one of the biggest movie icons of the last 50 years. He brought nuance and surprising moments of emotion in his five outings as Bond. Everyone has a favourite Bond, but most people would agree that this Bond has changed our expectations of what this character can do. Get to your cinema and see this as a fitting conclusion to Craig’s 17 years is the driver’s seat (of the Aston Martin).
No Time To Die opens in cinemas Thursday – Running Time – 2hr 43mins – I’m giving it 8 out of 10