Despite the directorial differences and numerous delays due to the Covid pandemic, as soon as you hear that signature theme (arranged by John Barry) accompany the iconic gun barrel sequence – you’re instantly transported into the thrilling world of espionage. There’s no denying the cultural significance of the James Bond franchise, with Daniel Craig transforming the role more than any other actor before him. No Time to Die marks his fifth and final tenure as the eponymous spy, and with an impressive 15 years in the role, will the closing chapter prove a fitting and satisfying end?
Following an emotional and high-stakes prelude which hints at betrayal and heartbreak, secrets and ghosts of the past come back to haunt a seemingly blissful Bond (Daniel Craig) and Madeleine (Léa Seydoux), who have escaped their respective lives to retire in Matera, Italy. Five years later and everything has changed, as Bond, who previously turned his back on MI6, finds himself once again tangled in a thrilling web of conspiracies, with a number of personal ties connected to a deadly global plot involving biowarfare and a mysterious masked villain (Rami Malek).
No Time To Die truly is a fitting swan song for Craig, with a narrative which wears its heart on its sleeve, delving into poignant themes of legacy, what the 007 title really means and confronting our past sins and regrets. Interconnecting characters from Craig’s era – Felix, Blofeld, Madeleine, Spectre, the MI6 gang and even the paramour Vesper – assemble for the closing chapter, which satisfyingly comes full circle in a high stakes mission, with a race against time to locate a stolen biowarfare weapon coined “Heracles”.
Fukunaga cleverly marries the old and the new in the latest instalment, resulting in an intriguing tonal mix. The overstuffed and often silly global plot features nanobots, bionic eyes, super scientists gleefully shouting “magnets” and even Bond wisecracking dad-jokes, harking back to the nostalgic Bond of old. It’s an often fun and self-aware chapter, with an injection of much needed humour in the punchy script (which I assume is attributed to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ‘polish’). However, the overarching thriller elements are balanced with a much more emotional character arc for Bond, culminating in a surprisingly bold and stunning finale which affords Craig the moving send off he deserves.
Craig impressively bridges the gap between classic and contemporary with his nuanced approach to the spy. He’s a much more brawling, action-heavy Bond, but he also clearly revels in the added humour – wisecracking a number of punchlines with a gleeful grin. He shares a fantastic – but far too brief – dynamic with Ana de Armas’ Paloma, who threatens to steal the show as the utterly charming (and impressively lethal) rookie spy. Despite an initial bristling rivalry, Bond also develops a surprising rapport with replacement 007 Nomi (Lashana Lynch, on top swaggering form) born out of respect.
And yet there’s also a real vulnerability, and dare I say tenderness, to this older Bond – particularly when it comes to the reunion with his previous MI6 family, Q (a delightful Ben Whishaw), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and even the ever-stubborn M (Ralph Fiennes). Despite walking away from his secret service past, burdened with a distinct weariness and broken heart, he’d still give his all to help his friends and his love, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). Seydoux is also given a little more to work with this time round, and their relationship feels much more developed and defined, helping us to invest more in their emotional journey. Bond has never felt more human, and easier to connect with.
However, It’s Swann’s connection with villain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) which proves one of the weakest links in the film, along with the lack of depth and screen time for the latest antagonist. It’s disappointing to see such an outdated and damaging facial disfigurement stereotype with Safin, along with wasting the talents of Malek with a thin backstory and motivation. However, the Mr Robot star does do sinister particularly well, making a distinct mark in the flashback opening with a terrifying serene Noh mask and an unnerving calm and collectedness.
There’s much here for Bond aficionados to revel in, with stunning locations, expansive and thrilling action sequences, fun gadgets and a secret villainous lair. Fukunaga directs a number of high-octane action set pieces, with the opening motorbike chase in Matera – launching Bond over the side of a bridge and up an impressive set of stairs – proving one of the franchise’s most thrilling scenes, with four-time World Enduro Champion, Paul Edmondson, serving as one of the daring stunt doubles. In this sequence, we also finally see the Aston Martin 5 tricked out, doing doughnuts with machine guns whirling – and it really is a crowd-pleasing moment. There’s also a fun shoot-out in Cuba involving a high-kicking Paloma and competitive Nomi, along with a tense car chase set across the Atlantic Ocean Road and iconic Storseisundet Bridge in Norway. The stakes are high and the danger feels real in No Time To Die, with Bond once again proving he is a mere mortal in the violent and often scrappy hand-to-hand combat sequences – harking back to his first test in Casino Royale.
Hans Zimmer’s sweeping score is another real highlight, featuring flourishes from John Barry’s On His Majesty’s Secret Service theme interwoven throughout “Matera”, ramping up the tempo with the thrilling “Cuba Chase” and ending with the moving seven minute “Final Ascent” crescendo. Along with the score, the film thematically feels much more in line with the 1969 entry OHMSS, with Bond repeatedly mentioning “we have all the time in the world”, but there’s also plenty of nods and reference to previous entries in the series (make sure to look out for paintings!) Cinematographer Linus Sandgren’s sumptuous cinematography, with a particular penchant for hazy dawn and dusk lighting and colours, makes exquisite use of the global locations, paired with Suttirat Anne Larlarb’s stunning costume design (Paloma’s dress is the real standout.)
With an impressive high-stakes mission and an emotional drive, No Time To Die is a truly fitting & heartfelt swan song for Daniel Craig, who’s brought a whole lot of humanity to the iconic larger-than-life role. As Carly Simon once said, nobody does it better.