No Time to Die

 

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The template remains the same, but the 25th Bond reinvents itself to ingenious and iconic effect.

 

No Time to Die

Léa Seydoux and Daniel Craig

 

A new James Bond film usually generates some buzz. No Time to Die, however, has mobilised a fanfare of trumpets. Not because it’s the longest 007 escapade in history, or the first official title to be directed by an American – called, ironically, Cary Joji Fukunaga – but because we haven’t been allowed to see it for seventeen months. Only a pandemic could stop Bond in his tracks. The irony is that the secret weapon of the story – its narrative coup de maître – is itself a virus, an ingenious and terrifying biological invention harnessed to a DNA sequence. As other long-running series tend to push the realms of the possible into the absurd (cf. Fast & Furious 9), the Daniel Craig films have held their ground. Craig’s fifth outing, if anything, connects even more to the man’s humanity, consequently making it the most moving Bond of all.

 

The talent behind No Time to Die – the twenty-fifth ‘official’ entry – is almost unparalleled, from the two Oscar-winning villains, to the composer Hans Zimmer (sowing in slivers of Monty Norman’s original theme), to Billie Eilish’s haunting title song, to the gentle bon mots contributed by none other than Phoebe Waller-Bridge. But it is Barbara Broccoli that we must truly thank, for holding the consistency of her father’s dream in place. Barbara’s Bond is ageing like a vintage wine, boasting a bouquet that Albert R. Broccoli would be proud of.

 

Following a low-key, old-school prologue, the film jumps forward in time, picking up from where Spectre (2015) left off. Bond and his new love Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) are on an idyllic holiday in Matera, Italy, are madly in love and are still feeling each other out. There are still secrets to be divulged, on both sides, not least Bond’s lingering devotion for Vesper Lynd, whose remains are laid to rest in a tomb in the city’s graveyard. It is this romantic twist that unpicks a loose thread, leading to a narrative that keeps the plates spinning through to the spectacular finale.

 

Few Bonds have been this cohesive, with a web of characters dipping in and out of the corkscrew plot, some receiving the sharp end – and blunt wit – of James Bond. Bond even gets to criticize M’s drinking, which is rather a case of pot kettle black. Reunited from their delicious turn in Knives Out, Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas have enormous fun in Cuba, where Ms de Armas turns out to be the comic foil. In due course, most of the clichés of yore are turned on their head while the twists and turns retain their ability to astonish – and to shock. But perhaps the most surprising thing about the film is how smart it is. It doesn’t kowtow to its audience. Key plot points are conveyed with the subtlest grace. Thus a scribbled note with the words “l'homme masqué” or a snatch of reggae communicate volumes without the hard labour of spoken exposition. You have to keep up. In fact, every second is micro-managed for effect, keeping the balance of humour, suspense and wonder calibrated to a T. As the softly-spoken Lyutsifer Safin (great name), Rami Malek is chillingly effective, at once brilliant, calculating, amoral and insane, while Christoph Waltz, as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, adds another memorable turn of inconceivable evil. The stunts, cinematography and editing are all in a class of their own, but it’s the quieter moments that highlight the film’s integrity. Hard surfaces, glass and biological technology are given the respect they deserve, lending the film a realism that keeps us invested until the end. And what an end.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Billy Magnussen, Ana de Armas, David Dencik, Rory Kinnear, Dali Benssalah, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Lisa-Dorah Sonne, Hugh Dennis, Priyanga Burford.

 

Dir Cary Joji Fukunaga, Pro Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, Screenplay Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Ph Linus Sandgren, Pro Des Mark Tildesley, Ed Elliot Graham and Tom Cross, Music Hans Zimmer, Costumes Suttirat Anne Larlarb.

 

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Eon Productions-Universal Pictures.

163 mins. UK/USA. 2021. Rel: 30 September 30. Cert. 12A.