This is no time to dance around major plot points; a proper discussion of this movie needs to include details of how it ends. Be warned that there are big spoilers in this review.
So, who’d have thought that, other than Spectre, the James Bond film you would need to see before this one would be On her Majesty’s Secret Service?
Lazenby has long been considered the romantic Bond as the character famously got married in that film but Daniel Craig was wrestling him for that crown right out of the gate. The love story in Casino Royale was much more authentic than in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, partly because the 1969 film is actually quite problematic in this respect (see here) but mostly due to the conviction they have to it. That and the fact that Daniel Craig is a much better actor than George Lazenby; he’s an actor for a start. No, the tragedy when the woman he loves dies is felt way more in CR than the same beat in OHMSS, and it doesn’t need Louis Armstrong Satchmoing his heart out to make you feel the grief.
There can’t be any argument now though; Craig is the lovey dovey one. This film really plays on the side to the character that Craig first developed in 2006 and that his Bond has largely worked to suppress ever since. By weaving that iconic line and the music from Lazenby’s solo outing into this film, including Armstrong’s wonderful song, No Time To Die builds on and closes the chapter on this thread that has been there for fifteen/fifty two years. The way composer Hans Zimmer brings in these and other classic musical themes is wonderful but the spirit of many of the previous films influence this movie. No Time to Die is the perfect bookend to this immediate series of films and the denouement is kind of beautiful.
Of course it isn’t the woman who is killed this time (I warned you about spoilers; SPOILERS, SPOILERS). Yep, it turns out that the title is ironic because this is precisely the time for James Bond to die.
I had a problem with Bond getting captured and imprisoned for a long period of time at the beginning of Die Another Day because that was not what I expected from the man. He’s James Bond and James Bond always escapes. Conversely though I had no issue with him getting trapped and paying the ultimate price here because Craig’s Bond has been a more relatable, flawed and mortal version of the character from the start (ignoring the fact that he does seem to be bullet proof on occasion here). Also, he had moved away from the man he once was the second he was revealed to be a parent, that bold choice (on the part of the writers and producers not on him; young Mathilde was clearly not planned) changed everything. It’s not that he had nowhere to go from here and therefore needed to be destroyed but his arc was done. It is significant that he was more prepared to bow out once he discovered that the poisoned nanobots in his blood stream would stop him having a proper relationship with his daughter. This is a guy that previously gave all for Queen and Country but now if he couldn’t give all to Madeleine and their child he was kind of done. It’s very different but I liked Daddy Bond even if we only had him briefly. The sight of 007 kitted out in combat gear and packing not only a firearm but a pink knitted bunny rabbit was lovely. In terms of legendary badass movie characters suddenly turning out to be someone’s father, Darth Vader has got nothing on this guy.
Interestingly the name Madeleine comes from the word magdala meaning tower and it is on one such structure that Bond meets his demise. I explored the significance of this name in my review of Spectre where it seemed to relate to her being aloof and unscalable but here she has lifted him up to what he could be in his moment of ascension.
Bond’s death (it still feels weird typing that out) also gives this sequence of five films a very definite and appropriate conclusion. Casino Royale started with him on his first mission and this was his last. Every other Bond film before and after, if we want continuity, has to be set in between. All of Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan’s films tried to posit that this was all the same guy but they didn’t do this at the start of Craig’s run and which freed them up to do this at the end.
This does raise the question of where they go from here. The credits did end with the usual ‘James Bond will Return’ sign off but this has to be a reboot now. We didn’t see Bond incinerated by the missile fire but as good as, and they mustn’t go back on this. I suppose a skin graft from a donor would possibly allow him to survive, touch his kid and be recast but that would be terrible. The reason I don’t want them to have to start over though is that the players now assembled around Bond are likely to bow out with him and they will be hugely missed. I know Judi Dench’s M survived the transition from Brosnan to Craig despite the reset but I can’t see a way in which we can say goodbye to Craig and still keep Ralph Fiennes as the head of MI6, Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny and Ben Wishaw’s Q. Add to this Lashana Lynch as the new 007 and Ana de Armas as Paloma who are other players who it would be a great shame not to see more of. The Bond films have tried for years to present women who are the equal of James Bond from Anya Amasova and Melina Havelock in Roger Moore’s films, Pam Bouvier in Licence to Kill and Wai Lin and Jinx who appeared opposite Pierce Brosnan. They’ve always been very consciously feminist though, especially these last two, but we have got to a point now where Lynch and de Armas can just be strong agents who happen to be women. Paloma is a particularly wonderful addition to the film with her infectious mix of high excitement and high competence. She’s like Tigress from Kung Fu Panda meets Tigger and like these two disparate characters, both personalities work in the same skin. It is of course majorly significant that Lynch’s Nomi that is a black women but neither her gender or her background are made anything of in the film which is how it should be.
Lèa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann is stronger here than she was in the last film too. She is a bit teary but you never lose sight of her as the girl who defied every gender and age expectation when she blew an assailant away with a hand cannon when she was seven years old. Only Moneypenny is underserved by the plot.
Outside of all the new places it goes No Time To Die also has time to give us what we want from a Bond film. There are gadgets and gimmicky henchmen and the action scenes are superb. It’s hard to do things with car chases that haven’t already been done with car chases but they manage it here and we get no less than four different models of Aston Martin; the DB5, a V8, a DBS (also echoing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and the brand new Valhalla.
The one aspect designed to reflect the classic Bond movies that they get wrong is the villain. Rami Malek’s Safin seems overly mannered and underdeveloped and he has a completely unnecessary scarring which has lead the charity Changing Faces to produce an apparently still needed video challenging the association between facial disfigurement and evil. Watch it here. Safin’s criminal plan makes no sense either; it is criminally unexplained. (While I’m on this, what was Madeleine’s big secret? Did I miss it being revealed?)
This notwithstanding No Time To Die is a really satisfying film. I’d place it third in the Craig ranking behind Casino Royale and Skyfall but it is way up on the list when placed next to the full twenty five movies. It is also great to see the worlds of James Bond and Wallace and Gromit finally coming together, who didn’t want that?
The Ripley Factor:
Amongst the discussion about who would be the next Bond there has been some suggestion that it is time to cast a woman. Daniel Craig has said that he doesn’t think this is the right thing to do; asserting that rather than giving a traditionally male role to a female they should just write better parts for women. I am largely with him on this but brand recognition is a big big thing in English language cinema and this is massively gender imbalanced right now. Still, I am sure that while saying this Craig was thinking ‘wait until you see the film because we have one such part and while she’s not the new Bond, she is the new 007’.
Agent Nomi is a great addition to the film and it is brilliant to see a woman set up as Bond’s successor, even if only in the narrative. She is not the first female 00 agent we’ve seen; there are women in the department in both Thunderball and The World is Not Enough, but she’s the first to get any lines.
Cool as she is though, you have to admit that Nomi is under written. Apparently Phoebe Waller Bridge worked on the character but Paloma feels more akin to the sensibilities of Waller Bridge; Nomi is a little one dimensional. I get that everybody is playing second fiddle to Bond in this movie but having brought her in they could have done more with her. Having her relinquish the mantle of 007 wasn’t the best from a feminist stand point either. As it is she is probably the least interesting female player in the film.