IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 163 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
As a child, Madeleine Swan witnesses the murder of her mother by a masked killer who then saved her from drowning in a frozen lake. In the present day, Madelaine is living with James Bond, but their bliss is brought to a stop when SPECTRE assassins ambush them. Bond suspects Madelaine hAS betrayED him and leaves her. Five years later, MI6 scientist Valdo Obruchev is kidnapped from an MI6 laboratory. Along with ‘M’, Obruchev has developed Project Heracles, a bioweapon containing nanobots that spread like a virus upon touch and are coded to specific DNA strands, rendering it lethal to the target but harmless to anyone else. ABond has retired but is persuaded to help in tracking down Obruchev, aided by CIA agent Paloma and Nomi, who has succeeded him as the new 007. When there, the still impriosoned Ernst Stavro Blofeld orders Bond to be killed by the nanobots, but instead, all the SPECTRE members present are killed as Obruchev had reprogrammed the nanobots under the orders of a certain terrorist named Lyutsifer Safin….
And so at last, after several postponements, No Time To Die is finally released, and, while I haven’t read any reviews yet unless you count a few short responses on social media, I hear that it’s already divided both critics and fans more then any other Bond, with the critical consensus leaning a bit to the ‘liking it’ side and the fan response leaning a bit the other way. Before I moan about this movie – and moan I certainly will even though as a lifelong 007 fan it’s something that I’m not going to enjoy doing – I’d like to say that I can understand, up to a point anyway, how one can admire this final outing for Daniel Craig, because it’s more different to the typical Bond film than any other entry. The series, which has got away with rehashing and repetition a hell of a lot [something which is perhaps understandable though given that it’s been running for 59 years so far], has sometimes had previous entries which decided to go against the grain. On three occasions when the series was becoming quite outrageous, reaching the highs [or lows] of You Only Live Twice, Moonraker and Die Another Day, along came On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, For Your Eyes Only and Casino Royale to bring back some semblance of realism, while Quantum Of Solace went all ‘shakycam’ and flash cut, though I’d rather forget about that one. The sole George Lazenby starrer, which at least three of us on HCF proclaim as our all-time favourite Bond film, remains perhaps the one that seems most different up to now, yet it still revels in being a Bond film at the same time in a terrific balancing act. But No Time To Die just seems like a gigantic slap in the face by comparison. There’s a big difference between trying new things and attempting some freshness, and a seeming mission to destroy all that we love about a series.
Cary Fukunaka’s 163-minute long entry is a turgid, gloomy piece which oozes a misguided sense of its own importance, though we do seem to increasingly live in a time where this is common. It exists in a world where villains go all multilayered and the actors playing them treat their monologues as if they were Shakespeare, in the process sucking out all the fun. A world where emotional drama takes over because to have just a plain old entertaining spy/action thriller obviously isn’t enough. A world where it has to be rammed down our throats that Bond is out of date, yet again. A world where lots of action is obviously passe too. Yes, Bond isn’t all about action, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service [that one again] did something different here by holding back on most of the thrills until two thirds had passed before then delivering a nonstop series of exciting and ingenious sequences for the final third, while Casino Royale took up much of its middle section with that card game, but No Time To Die doesn’t even seem to make an effort at all after the teaser, with merely run of the mill stuff and little eventual picking of up the pace. A world where we visit various locales but once again we spend the most time in dreary old London – okay it’s not dreary I love it, but you get the idea. A world where Bond is the nicest he’s ever been, and no, that’s not a good thing. And it’s also a world into which you can’t just jump in, you really have to have seen the previous Craig entries to make sense out of this one – though we can probably blame Marvel for that one. I do wonder if Eon realised that things were getting out of hand and asked somebody to add some humorous lines late in the day, though in the overall context they seem out of place and certainly don’t achieve much.
So we begin with the worst gun barrel sequence ever where the dots emanate from the Universal logo, the barrel itself is a generic chromed iris, and there’s no blood as a tuxedoed Craig fires his gun, here totally ripping of the pose of Pierce Brosnan in his four Bond movies [oaky ,that proves that I’ve watched the films too often, but then I am a fan and will continue to be even after this dump on the franchise]. we segue into an aerial shot of a winter forest, thereby commencing the longest pre-title section of the entire series. It commences in horror vein with this masked killer’s murderous visit to the house where the young Madeleine finds herself having to hide under a bed while her mother is murdered. Replete with a genuinely effective jump scare, it’s an edgy, even queasy, scene that probably pushes the boundaries of the 12A rating, but hang on a minute – does it really belong in a Bond film? The young Madeleine being saved from a watery grave by her mother’s murderer cuts to the adult Madeleine in Matera, Italy, where she and Bond are all loved up, though he still has Vesper Lynd on his mind, who as you’ll recall he fell in love with, though she betrayed him and then died. Madeleine persuades him to finally visit her grave to lay some ghosts to rest, cue some use of a very familiar theme song which, if you think about it, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense seeing as the Craig quintet exists in a different timeline to the previous Bonds. There, SPECTRE men ambush them, leading to much chasing and two terrific stunts involving a bridge, Bond, and Bond on a bike. Enjoy them [even if you’ve seen the trailer] because there aren’t any other major stunts later. At all. Bond says bye to Madeleine who he thinks led the SPECTRE guys to him, and then – oh yes – it’s that horrendous theme song [and I actually quite like Billie Eilish]. I hoped it may seem better set against some cool graphics, but instead we get cheap looking animation of dots that recall Dr No, Aston Martin DB5s falling into sand, mythological figures and Walther PPKs firing bullets simultaneously.
As in Skyfall, we next meet Bond in retirement, though he’s not enjoying time with a lady, he’s celibate throughout much of the film. His first encounters with both Paloma and Nomi amusingly have him thinking he’s going to ‘get some’ almost immediately but being proved wrong, something that never happened to any of the other fellas, at least not twice in a row. I’d have liked to have seen him bed at least one of them later; we could have still shown the female as being his equal and Bond being still hurt by his breaking up with Madeleine. But then this Bond is a shadow of his former self anyway and has been for some time, though I’m not going to use this review to rant against PC again because quite frankly it’s the least of this film’s problems and barely an issue. I don’t think that we needed all three of its women [well four if you count Moneypenny though she mostly stays in the office this time] to be action heroines, but I was rather looking forward to the rivalry between Bond and Nomi who would do her best to put the arrogant old misogynist in his place. However, it just disappears, and Bond here is such a decent chap anyway. And it’s kinda funny how physical deformity is still associated with villainy, and here in three different characters to boot; it doesn’t bother me, but it’s amusingly inconsistent with the supposedly progressive attitude elsewhere. A villain with a false eye is the source of some of the best laughs. And, after a hell of a lot of setting up of the plot [oh for the simple days of M briefing Bond about his mission, Bond flirting with Moneypenny and then Off We Go], we kick into high gear for about twenty minutes as Bond and Paloma are in Cuba and infiltrating a SPECTRE meeting to retrieve Obruchev. Even though we get a reprise of the scene in Spectre where Bond is noticed by all the SPECTRE folk in the room, we move gracefully from increasing suspense to full-on action, the interplay between Bond and the inexperienced but gutsy Paloma great as it builds on the chemistry that Craig and Ana de Armas shared in Knives Out – which is just as well because Craig and Léa Seydoux don’t have any at all!
A couple of surprises later, one of which will not please everyone, Obruchev escapes. But remember, MI5 still has Blofeld, so maybe he knows where Obruchev has been taken with the nanobots. It’s sad to see Bond’s old arch enemy reduced to staying restrained in a prison cell – okay this is probably a minor spoiler but I will try not to give out any more even though detailed discussion of No Time To Die is limited without mention of them. Maybe I’ll do a follow-up spoiler-filled review so I can really delve into things and what they might been for the franchise, but then do I want to spend any more time writing about this dreary film? And dreary it is after the Cuba escapade, what with Paloma having disappeared and things relocating to London where for a while it’s all about phone calls, online investigation and meetings. I’m not going to reveal whether Madeleine is good or bad, but can say that ‘M’ has created this deadly weapon with good intentions [something you’d expect this supposedly serious and deep Bond film to go into] but has allowed “Heracles” to be compromised by Blofeld who’s managed to direct this new plan from his hi-tech cell. However, Blofeld himself is now under attack by the new uber-villain in town – Safin, yet another antagonist with a personal obsession with Bond himself. Revelations follow revelations, but that’s all that seems to be happening a lot of the time, while the screenplay by veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade [who reveal a real disdain for what they’ve spent so much of their career working on], with ‘polishing ‘by Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge [but you can’t polish a turd], seems to take delight in teasing us with potential action scenes that don’t materialise. A set piece in fog is at least atmospheric, but the mayhem is just so ordinary.
At least things become a bit visually more interesting when we relocate to Safin’s island which boasts a garden full of plants of various kinds of deadliness, an idea seemingly taken from the novel of You Only Live Twice; it’s not really exploited, though it reminds us hardcore fans there’s still a lot of un-mined material in the books. Seeing as we’re presumably on one of the Kurile islands which are between Japan and the Soviet Union, Safin’s base incorporates both Japanese and Russian touches while also recalling Ken Adam’s iconic set design on the early Bonds. Indeed we get some more traditional Bond ideas that haven’t been used for a while, but all we get for thrills are some brief running about, shooting and brawling. The film would rather dwell on, for example, a character being kidnapped and threatened in very lengthy scenes which, due to the nature of the kidnapped person, have a very uncomfortable edge. But cinematographer Linus Sandgren does a good job when he’s not hampered by all those drab MI5 interiors. The opening shots of Matera are stunning, presenting the town as the rural Mediterranean getaway of our dreams, and there’s one especially fine moment involving use of sunlight near the end that’s both dramatically and symbolically powerful. But things are frequently let down so much by Hans Zimmer’s thoroughly lazy, half-hearted music score, which frequently cribs from his own work including that clock ticking and those drum loops [yawn] and even the theme Molossus from Batman Begins, which Zimmer had already used in Black Rain. Some references to classic John Barry themes, not to mention the full song of We Have All The Time In The World being heard over the end credits, can only remind one of the days when we could hear memorable tunes on Bond films. Zimmer is still some kind of genius though, because he’s fooled so many into thinking he’s a great film composer when he’s actually just a very average one.
Craig gets some chances to show his acting mettle, but Bond here is notably different even to how he was in the previous Craig outings. Whereas in those there was much emphasis on silences and facial expressions, here he’s constantly speaking his mind. Craig even delivers a few corny quips, and so well it lifts the proceedings for a few seconds here and there. He leaves the series with a considerable achievement under his belt; starring in the two worst Bonds ever. Rami Malek gives the typical modern Bond villain performance, as if he listened to Alan Rickman describing his perspective on Hans Gruber as a “good guy who is highly motivated” and then took that to pretentious levels, whereas Rickman was just using that as a basic justification for his character’s actions while still enjoying giving the audience a fun yet convincing character to watch. Malek also isn’t anywhere near old enough to convincingly play this part either if you think about one aspect of the story. Fukunaga stages what little action there is fairly well, his rhythm faster than that of Sam Mendes who directed the last two but not reaching the barely watchable mess of Marc Forster who did the one before. But I sense a real disdain for the franchise from Fukunaga, and maybe even Eon bosses Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, who seem to be increasingly distancing themselves from the older films and who clearly wanted to shake things up but ended up going way too far. The final ten minutes will either be this film’s final insult to this great character and indeed his fans, or strikingly and bravely different. I’m in the former camp. There’s a certain line of dialogue in Diamonds Are Forever spoken early on by Tiffany Case that sums up not just the way No Time To Die concludes but my whole attitude to it. While certain aspects and scenes do come off well, it’s still essentially one giant dump on James Bond and I honestly don’t know how the franchise is going to survive. And, for the first time ever, I’m not particularly looking forward to it if it does.