Review: Parting with James Bond is rarely sweet sorrow. In 1969, George Lazenby’s brief fling with agent 007 in the swooningly romantic On Her Majesty’s Secret Service delivered the most heartbreaking denouement of any mission – “It’s alright… she’s having a rest” – perfectly underscored by composer John Barry’s melancholic strings. Two years later, Sean Connery returned to MI6 for Diamonds Are Forever and promptly exited, beginning the swansong rot with an overtly camp caper involving stolen gems on a weaponised satellite that is best remembered for a red Ford Mustang balanced on two wheels and Shirley Bassey’s soaring theme song.
Roger Moore’s 1985 farewell in A View To A Kill, which also marked Lois Maxwell’s final appearance as Miss Moneypenny, flatlined with inert sexual chemistry between Bond and Grace Jones’ henchwoman and the gleeful scenery-chewing of Christopher Walken’s archvillain. Timothy Dalton only lived twice as 007, delivering the series’ sole certificate 15 assignment, Licence To Kill, a brutal revenge mission punctuated by the on-camera spatter from Benicio del Toro’s thug being dragged feet first into the spinning metal teeth of an industrial shredder. Most recently in 2002, Pierce Brosnan barely thawed out Die Another Day, which began well with Halle Berry’s orange bikinied entrance a la Ursula Andress then quickly lost the plot with a melting ice palace, an invisible car, another deadly satellite and Madonna’s leaden cameo as a vampy fencing instructor.
No Time To Die, which concludes Daniel Craig’s muscular tour of duty as novelist Ian Fleming’s dapper spy, ends the losing streak in spectacular and moving fashion by repeatedly harking back to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, beginning with a sun-kissed drive along winding Italian roads where Bond turns to his sweetheart Dr Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) and tells her, “We don’t need to go faster. We have all the time in the world.” The manner of the Cheshire actor’s departure after more than two and a half hours of intrigue and dizzying stunt work is for your eyes only but please take a quantum of solace from knowing that it’s entirely fitting.
Craig’s sure-footed tenure as Bond has been moulded heavily on the Jason Bourne saga, jettisoning any vestiges of charm or emotional warmth from the MI6 operative to fixate on bone-crunching hand-to-hand combat, turbo-charged automobile carnage and a steady tightening of narrative screws. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga wrings the living daylights out of action sequences including a showdown at sea and screeching car chases that barely touch the brakes (note to gun-toting henchman: aim just one bullet at the Aston Martin’s tyres to immobilise your target or you deserve a grim fate).
MI6’s head of research and development, Q (Ben Whishaw), was missing in action from Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace. Subsequently, he’s only been permitted to sneak a biometrically-encoded pistol and radio transmitter out of his gadget cupboard. He’s gifted a much meatier role and provides some subtle LGBTQ visibility as the hi-tech wizardry comes thick and fast: a bionic eyeball, nanobots, a prototype glider with retractable wings that can fold in mid-air to become a torpedo-like submersible, a wristwatch with an explosive secret.
In many ways, there’s a back to Bond basics approach to storytelling with wry one-liners as Bond despatches a foe, a grandiose villain’s lair and a gizmo-laden silver Aston Martin with a nifty arsenal of miniature mines, smoke jets and Gatling guns mounted behind its headlights.
Every female character is well rounded, proactive, self-sufficient and serves a purpose beyond simply furthering the plot. Ana de Armas reunites with Craig from Knives Out and supercharges her acrobatic scenes as a rookie agent with sass and fizzing humour, while Lashana Lynch is playfully antagonistic as the latest MI6 rising star to inherit the 007 code name (“It’s just a number,” whispers Bond). It’s surely no coincidence that a richness of female characterisation, coupled with a far more emotionally satisfying storyline for Bond, coincide with Phoebe Waller-Bridge becoming only the second female screenwriter in the franchise’s almost 60-year history (Johanna Harwood co-wrote Dr No and From Russia With Love).
The ambiguous title of the franchise’s delayed 25th chapter, manifested as a whispered cri de coeur in Billie Eilish’s haunting theme song, makes more sense after an unusually restrained and sombre opening sequence in Norway which introduces Safin (Rami Malek), a worthy adversary with a diabolical masterplan involving biowarfare that is spookily prescient given the experience of the past 18 months. Bond (Craig) has bid adieu to active service at MI6 under M (Ralph Fiennes) following the capture of arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who is safely incarcerated in Belmarsh.
A tranquil new life in Jamaica, nursing a broken heart, is threatened by the arrival of dear friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) from the CIA. He needs Bond’s help to track down scientist Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik). The mission pits Bond against MI6 agent Nomi (Lynch) but fractious inter-agency rivalries are quickly put to one side when it becomes clear that the fate of the human race hangs in the balance.
With an excessive running time of 163 minutes, there’s plenty of time to die in Fukunaga’s picture and the body count rapidly increases once the wheels of a well-oiled plot begin to turn. No Time To Die is the most emotionally satisfying chapter under Craig’s guardianship and the subtle nods to the past 20 years sever some ties to the past and provide exciting opportunities for reinvention in the future. Bond will return and he or she will be a better person for it.
Find No Time To Die in the cinemas