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Film Review: No Time to Die

5 October 21 words: Michael O’Donohoe

No Time to Die is finally here – but is it the fitting send-off for Daniel Craig's Bond that we've all been waiting for?

DirectorCary Joji Fukunaga
Starring: Daniel Craig, Remi Malek, Lashana Lynch
Running time: 163 minutes 

With the exception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, whose success speaks for itself, one of the issues with modern franchise films is that they often seem to lack the ambition of their famous predecessors. Dialogue in 2015’s Jurassic World almost seemed to admit that that film could never hope to topple Jurassic Park (“that original park was legit, man”), while the Star Wars sequel trilogy, launched that same year, seemed at times so afraid of fan backlash that it played it safe, squandering intriguing new characters and ideas – and a talented cast – in a story that at times felt like a re-hash of the original. Even the Bond franchise hasn’t been immune. 2012’s otherwise excellent Skyfall frequently seemed to suggest that its famous protagonist was over the hill. 

Fortunately, one thing that this year’s No Time to Die cannot be accused of lacking is ambition. Series newcomer Cary Joji Fukunaga builds on his predecessor Sam Mendes’ trademark beautiful cinematography, with sweeping aerial shots of Italian landscapes, an eerie chase through a foggy Norwegian forest and some truly visceral action scenes. 

But it isn’t just in the technical sense that this film is ambitious. Much as 2008’s The Dark Knight kept its audience guessing, so too does No Time to Die, slaying sacred cows – and a few sacred characters – as the film grapples with the story threads that have been running throughout Daniel Craig’s tenure as the womanising super-spy. 

And it’s in Craig’s performance itself that the film is at its most ambitious. Yes, Rami Malek is wonderfully unsettling as the villainous Safin, and Craig is supported by a strong cast of allies, both old (Ralph Fiennes’ M, Ben Wishaw’s Q, Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny and Jeffrey Wright’s CIA Agent Felix Leiter) and new (series newcomer Lashana Lynch as MI6 agent Nomi).

But it’s the relationship between Craig’s Bond and love interest Lea Sédoux’s Madeline Swan that’s at the heart of this movie. From the beginning of his run in the weaponized tuxedo, Craig’s Bond has had a vulnerability, as well as an edge, to him. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this film is how much heart these two inject into it. 

What of the claims that James Bond has “got woke” in this latest outing? This wouldn’t be the first time that changing times have led to questions about the franchise’s future. After talking his way into the role of Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – itself a Bond-like feat for an unknown with no acting experience – George Lazenby was persuaded that the James Bond character would soon be seen as anachronistic in the more enlightened 1970s, and he departed from the series before that film had even been released. 

Similarly, the fall of the Berlin wall and Soviet Union’s demise left the franchise scrambling for a boogieman. But as we know, the 1970s brought us Roger Moore’s Bond and, since the end of the Cold War, Bond has travelled to Russia itself in 1995’s Goldeneye, and fought against such villains as an evil banker in 2006’s Casino Royale (did the filmmakers know something we didn’t?) and a purveyor of fake news seeking to spark off a war between Britain and China in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies (no seriously, did they?).

There are enough thrills, gadgets and dad-jokes to keep audiences shaken and stirred

For anyone worried that Bond is going to walk around checking his privilege, don’t. The Bond films have always featured strong female characters that can more than hold their own around the hero. All that’s really changed on that front is that now they don’t all want to hop into bed with him within moments of meeting him. 

Lynch’s performance as Nomi marks her as an actor to watch. She played second fiddle in Captain Marvel to the (admittedly equally talented) Brie Larson, but this time her talents are on display. She and Craig have great chemistry on-screen as their initial dislike of (and ability to wind up) one another gives way to grudging acknowledgement of one another’s abilities and then to respect. 

She gives a nuanced performance of an ambitious young special agent who, despite seeming to be effortlessly good at her job, nevertheless retains a kind of desire to prove herself to be better than Bond, perhaps illustrating how, in too many workplaces, black people – and black women in particular – find themselves working twice as hard simply to receive the kind of acknowledgement that their white and male colleagues take for granted.

Have I “gone woke” in mentioning this? Perhaps, but that sadly is the reality that too many women like Nomi inhabit, just as, in the pre-credits sequence, Bond’s constant need to look over his shoulder despite having left active service illustrates the reality that for so many ex-soldiers, it is hard to leave the battlefield behind. 

This is by no means a perfect film. Some may find it over-long, and a scene in which a bad guy threatens to commit genocide against black people unless Nomi lets him go seems unnecessary, although it does make his inevitable death all the more satisfying. Nevertheless, from its horror movie–like opening to its surprisingly heartfelt conclusion, there are enough thrills, gadgets, dad-jokes – and plenty of Easter eggs for serious Bond fans – to keep audiences shaken and stirred. 

While the ending does leave a question mark over the franchise’s direction, the credits make clear, as they have always done, that “James Bond will return.” It seems there’s not just life in the old dog – but ambition too. 

Did you know? Daniel Craig requested that Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge work on the script to revise dialogue, work on character development and add humour. She is the second female screenwriter credited with writing a Bond film after Johanna Harwood co-wrote Dr. No and From Russia with Love.

No Time to Die is in cinemas now

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