The new James Bond film, No Time to Die, had largely terrific reviews, mostly on the basis of it apparently being a return to what a Bond film should be. And maybe even more than that. In The Times, Ben Macintyre, who writes about security issues for the newspaper, remarked that in this new film “the espionage it portrays comes closer than ever before to real spying”. He suggested that many of its predecessors in which Bond “spent most of his time tracking down, shooting or blowing up [people]” was “pretty close to a definition of what the British intelligence services do not do”. I can only conclude he went to see another film in error.
This film, Daniel Craig’s swansong in the title role, is pretty much nothing but gun fights and car chases (frequently, you will not be surprised to learn, simultaneously) and there is 163 minutes of it. It reminded me of Lord of the Rings, where every battle was followed by another battle just as soon as the protagonists had returned home, not even giving them time for a bath. The producers of this Bond film could have cut an hour from its length and lost nothing in terms of story line or plot. Talking of which, much was made beforehand of the fact that Phoebe Waller-Bridge was involved in the script, but I doubt you would have guessed it if you hadn’t been told. There’s a good line from Bond at a meeting with M (Ralph Fiennes) when he chastises the latter for being “very thirsty these days” after he’d downed a second scotch before what one presumes is supposed to be before noon, but the occasional bon mot is a given in the Bond oeuvre. This iteration has no more than most.
I read last weekend that before the release of No Time to Die, Craig’s four Bond films ‘boasted’ an average of 59 deaths per film, twice as many as any other franchise. This latest offering will have ramped that figure up even further. I should mention at this point that the film is rated a 12A, I guess because there’s never any focus on any of the multiple dead bodies.
The film does pay specific homage to a previous Bond book and film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with the line “we’ve got all the time in the world” getting a run-out twice, just as it does on the final page of the book which Ian Fleming published in 1963. And it has an unfortunate timeliness of sorts. The film’s title song, performed by Billie Eilish, was released on February 13, 2020, the day after London recorded its first death from Covid-19. London features regularly in the film, in which the essential story, if at times it seems incidental to the cars – which do travel a lot faster than the Bond bus shown on the home page – and the carnage, is about the chaos that can be caused by a terrible contagion, in this case one in the control of the latest Bond villain, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek, last seen playing Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody).
Safin’s lair is an island just off Japan, which comes across as a cross between the underground volcano in You Only Live Twice and Tracy Island, home of the Thunderbirds. Hey, maybe I’m over-thinking this but in OHMSS Bond’s wife was called Tracy!? Here his wife Madeleine (BTW, their relationship is as far from normal matrimony as could be imagined) is compellingly played by Léa Seydoux. Their opening scenes together in the spectacular Italian hilltop village of Matera are beautifully shot…which doesn’t get us past where Bond can head to next given Craig’s demise.