“There are dinner jackets and dinner jackets,” says Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, “and this is the latter.” On a similar note, there are Bond films and Bond films, and No Time To Die is definitely the latter – not just another episode in a long-running action-movie series, but a film that has come to seem like the cultural and economic event of the decade.
For one thing, No Time To Die is the last of Daniel Craig’s five Bond movies. The producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson, knew that while it was being made, so they were keen to complete every character arc, to tie up every loose end, to tick off every one of the signature 007 stunts and storylines that hadn’t already been used in a Craig film, and to give their hugely popular leading man a memorable send-off.
In particular, they wanted it to be more memorable than Spectre, which had been thought of as Craig’s swan song until he was persuaded to return. No Time To Die had to be something special.
Its status as a valedictory film isn’t the only issue, either. Bear in mind that it’s been almost six years since Spectre came out in October 2015; that the release date was pushed back three times due to the pandemic; that British cinemas are depending on it to revive their fortunes; and that this is the 25th instalment in the official Eon series; and No Time To Die feels like an occasion to match a Royal wedding multiplied by a World Cup Final. Can it possibly live up to expectations that are at an all-time high?
From most viewers, the answer will be yes. No Time To Die has a running time of two hours and 43 minutes – an hour longer than Quantum of Solace – making it the longest Bond movie of all. It feels long, too. But it packs in so much that you can hardly complain.
The film’s director, Cary Joji Fukunaga, clearly doesn’t subscribe to the theory that less is more. He and his co-writers (the veteran Bond team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, plus Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Fleabag and Killing Eve fame) have delivered a sequel to Spectre, with all the continuity and romantic angst we’ve come to expect from Craig-era Bond.
But No Time To Die is also the kind of outsized standalone sci-fi yarn we might associate with the earlier 007s, complete with gadgets, bonkers world-domination schemes, and a cavernous secret headquarters that could have been built by Ken Adam in the days of Sean Connery and Roger Moore.
The film reunites Bond with the old gang of M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Tanner (Rory Kinnear) – all of them shrewdly employed.
But it also introduces some new buddies, including a sparky double-0, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), who has been recruited since Bond retired from MI6 at the end of Spectre. It has countless references to previous Bond movies, and even finds material in Ian Fleming’s novels that hasn’t been used before.
But it also takes its hero somewhere unusual. It piles on the grief and raises the emotional stakes, with the help of Hans Zimmer’s operatic music and Linus Sandgren’s warm cinematography. But it also keeps the jokes and the silliness coming: it’s been decades since Bond had this many groan-worthy one-liners, and he’s never had this many Oliver Hardy-style exasperated glances.
Another example of its range and scope is that No Time To Die covers a longer period than any other Bond film. It begins with a tense flashback showing his girlfriend from Spectre, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), as a young girl. It then moves onto a post-Spectre sequence full of outrageous, crowd-pleasing stunts: the ones in the trailer, basically, in which Bond hurls himself off a bridge, and does some doughnuts in his Aston Martin while spraying an Italian piazza with the mini-guns concealed behind the headlamps.
And then it jumps forward again to a period captioned “Five Years Later”. Bond has been taking it easy in Jamaica – an appropriate location, given that Ian Fleming wrote his novels there.
But, of course, this tropical holiday can’t last. A Russian scientist (David Dencik) is kidnapped by the dastardly Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), so Bond’s pal from the CIA, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), drops in to ask him for help.
The plot that proceeds from there is too complicated to go into, but Fukunaga and his team keep the action racing along at breathless speed and in ways that seem more or less logical.
With so much to fit in, not every element is satisfying. Ana de Armas’s gorgeous CIA agent manages to be both charmingly ditzy and hyper-competent, so it’s a shame she doesn’t have more to do.
Malek seems to be missing a few key scenes, as well, but when he is on screen he is too young, too wet, and too unscary to be a classic Bond villain. He looks as if he spends more time on his haircare than his evil plans.
If there are other elements, too, which don’t quite reach the heights they’re aiming for, in general No Time To Die does exactly what it was intended to do, which is to round off the Craig era with tremendous ambition and aplomb. Beyond that, it somehow succeeds in taking something from every single other Bond film, and sticking them all together. To quote a certain song that makes a wistful reappearance: if that’s all we have, we need nothing more.