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NO TIME TO DIE Review – James Bond Has Returned

October 3, 2021

I thought that COVID and lockdown would make time drag, but it seems to have flown by. It feels like only yesterday that Danny Boyle was hired to direct the next Bond film before being promptly sacked when his vision clashed with Barbara Broccoli or Daniel Craig or Michael G Wilson or maybe it was all of them? We’ll save that mystery for another day. In the meantime a devastating virus may or may not have ‘escaped’ from a Wuhan laboratory, the entire globe was plunged into lockdown and safety precautions are so intense that going to work in the office is more hazardous than penetrating a Spectre villain’s secret lair.

Bond used to be about escapism. Now it plays like a Kitchen Sink drama.

But No Time To Die has finally arrived, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about the long-awaited return of James Bond. After such a lengthy gestation, it might seem impossible for the film to live up to expectations. I’m glad to report that it exceeds them. In fact, NTTD achieves cinematic highs that even lifelong fans of the series wouldn’t think was possible in a Bond film (albeit at a cost that is likely to upset those same hardened fans).

Plotwise things start pretty much where Spectre left off. Bond has retired and is living a life of apparent domestic bliss with Madeleine Swann in Matera, Italy, safe in the knowledge that his old nemesis Blofeld is eating a diet of porridge at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. A visit to his old love Vesper Lynd’s grave leads to an explosive surprise, and suddenly, Bond finds himself in Spectre’s crosshairs again. Did Madeleine betray him or has she been set up by Blofeld?

Meanwhile, at an MI6 laboratory in London, a Russian scientist named Valdo Obruchek has been snatched by a group of terrorists. Bond investigates his disappearance, but not for MI6, as he has hung up his Walther PPK and it’s been swiftly re-holstered by the younger, fitter and wokier agent Nomi. Bond hunts Obruchek at the behest of his CIA ally Felix Leiter. Soon Bond discovers that he, and in a little twist of fate Spectre, have a new nemesis in the guise of the ghoulishly disfigured and grudge-holding Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).

That’s all I’ll say about the plot, for fear of letting slip spoilers. As my pal Dan said after the screening, ‘Bond’s life is built on secrets, when those secrets begin to unravel so does Bond’s world.’ It’s not my place to unravel any of those secrets here. This is a daring Bond film, and there were moments in NTTD that took me by surprise and made me marvel at the risks the filmmakers were taking. Some reviewers have grumbled that Bond is too woke, but I never felt that this was pushed too far. 007 hasn’t gone rogue on political correctness. Each set-piece, beautifully directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, outdoes the preceding one in terms of physical and emotional impact. There is no reliance on excessive pyrotechnics to make everything bigger and better. Blofeld’s macabre birthday party is one of the most horrific scenes in the series, and a later chase/shootout scene in misty woodland reminded me, oddly enough, of Jurassic Park.

The performances are excellent, with the possible exception of Malek who is monotonously dull. In terms of villains David Dencik walks away with the acting honours as the grouchy Obruchek, whose genius for science is matched only by his enthusiasm for complaint. Daniel Craig is so good he’s practically mastered the Bond role to its DNA strands, and has pretty much made it impossible for any actor to follow him. Although he is starting to look a little long in the tooth compared to the younger series regulars Q (Ben Whishaw) and Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and the kick-arse new member of the team Nomi (Lashana Lynch). The injection of new blood enhances the extraordinary legacy of the Bond films. Anyone who has ever marvelled at Ken Adam’s set designs or Maurice Binder’s title sequences will love No Time To Die. Those elements of the film are stronger than ever, and they make the risks the film takes pay off.

No Time To Die will get Bond fans and sceptics alike talking. As it was filmed before the pandemic, it seems prescient now. With its secret laboratories and Safin’s ‘Poison Garden’, the film is preoccupied with toxicity, fortunately, none of it masculine. It’s a strangely unnerving film, released in an age when we are all germaphobes now. A Bond film has never been more topical, as while lockdown eases, COVID is still presenting massive challenges to huge swathes of the economy, from education to hospitality to cinema.

It’s his most challenging mission yet – Can Bond save your local multiplex?

Well, I’ve already bought a ticket to see it again.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2021 7:39 pm

    Thanks for the preview! Can’t wait to see it myself—tickets for a matinee this Friday, opening day in the U.S.!

    • October 3, 2021 7:45 pm

      Thanks Art. Let me know what you think. There is a lot to chew over in this film.

      • October 8, 2021 7:40 pm

        Wow. Lots to chew over… indeed. I’m already planning on a rewatch myself.

      • October 8, 2021 9:10 pm

        Glad it left an impression Art. I’m going again this weekend. My fear was after such a long wait it would be totally by the numbers. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Perhaps not all the risks work, but I’m damn glad they made them.

  2. October 10, 2021 12:59 am

    Saw it today and left kind of gut-sick/shot. Other family members were extremely hostile to the film. What I posted on Facebook: “Saw NO TIME TO DIE earlier today. Having allowed a few hours to let it settle in (and having dabbled in the Ian Fleming-adjacent sandbox with some very salient/YOLT-congruent themes and materials in my novel DEATH IN THE FACE), I’ll simply say, spoiler free, it could have ended up a top 5 Bond film in my mind as I mostly loved it until its last 15 or so completely unearned, miscalculated and ineptly, character-betraying minutes. I can see their wiggle room and anticipate their pre-title sequence for the next film based on literary trajectory from the original Fleming novels, but this is not going to be a film that will enjoy repeat viewings from many, wholly based on the climax’s failure to stick its landing in any logical or emotionally convincing and valid way. Sorry, EON. Also very sorry Craig’s run ends on such a misfire climax. I fear it will be hard for many, and probably even me, to revisit any other of the films in Craig’s run after this last-act derailment. Still more frustrating? This was, for a long portion of its runtime, positioned in a way that could have neatly cemented Craig’s run as a prequel to the Connery era by setting up DR. NO, but that opportunity was also squandered.”

    • October 10, 2021 9:00 am

      Hi Craig, I’m going to see it again today so I’m trying to defer on any judgement as I want to go in with fresh eyes. I agree with you that much of the film is wondrous. The ending? I think they just about got away with it (at least for now). It’s a natural end for Craig which sets up an impossible beginning for his successor. Although in book terms they seem to be following the YOLT to TMWTGG playbook. It will take one hell of a performance (from everyone in the Bond family) to pull it off though.


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