No Time To Die (12A)
We’ve been expecting you, Mr Bond. The whiskery line has been issued with a half-smile by plenty of menacing villains down the decades.
But it could have been chorused by the lavishly befrocked and black-tied crowd at the Royal Albert Hall last night, as the glitzy world premiere of No Time To Die raised the curtain ahead of its general release tomorrow.
Are those expectations, intensified by no fewer than four pandemic-enforced postponements, fully satisfied? Emphatically yes, Mr Bond.
The thunderous ovation that rocked the stately old venue as the end credits rolled late last night – following an ending that it’s safe to say nobody saw coming – was not misplaced.
Daniel Craig, left, and Ana de Armas in a scene from No Time To Die. The film’s extravagant running time, 163 minutes, makes it almost an hour longer than the first in the venerable series, 1962’s Dr No
No Time To Die is a triumph: an explosive, tense, daring, and most of all surprising adventure, toying with our preconceptions about the world’s greatest secret agent and exploring his personal life more intimately than ever before. It is superbly spearheaded by Daniel Craig’s Bond, even if he is as scarred emotionally as his supremely creepy adversary Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) is physically.
If this picture doesn’t succeed in its mission, to breathe life back into the Covid-crippled cinema industry, it’s hard to imagine what would.
The film’s extravagant running time, 163 minutes, makes it almost an hour longer than the first in the venerable series, 1962’s Dr No. But the breathless pace rarely slackens, not even to allow for the touchy-feeliness that has become such a key part of Craig’s 007 package.
On which subject, if you’ll allow a Bond-like double entendre, his virility is as rampant as it ever was, even if his promiscuity isn’t.
Was there ever a Bond film with fewer sexual conquests? I can’t think of one, even in the near-monogamous Timothy Dalton years. Needless to add, Craig’s Bond might not have been dispatching disfigured megalomaniacs these past six years, but he’s done a great job fighting the flab. All the same, he was in his thirties when he first invoked his licence to kill; he’s 53 now and a little crinkly around the eyes.
No Time To Die is a triumph: an explosive, tense, daring, and most of all surprising adventure, toying with our preconceptions about the world’s greatest secret agent and exploring his personal life more intimately than ever before
So it seems entirely credible that at the start of the film, after a compelling pre-credits sequence, he should be living in retirement in Jamaica, still mooning over a perceived betrayal by his former love, sexy French psychiatrist Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux). In the meantime, in London, a devastating biological weapon has been stolen from right under the noses of MI6. A new 00 agent, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), is on the case, and soon, so too is Bond, tempted away from his fishing rod by his old mucker Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright).
Oddly, the evil mastermind behind the theft is targeting Spectre, the shadowy organisation still run from prison by Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). But the old maxim that your enemy’s enemy is your friend has no place here.
At first, some of this is as hard to follow as a weaponised Aston Martin, but the narrative fog clears and we are left with much that seems familiar about Bond movies, and, as the action heads to the obligatory island lair, some that conspicuously doesn’t.
Even if you live in an island lair yourself you’ll be aware that this is Craig’s swansong as Bond. But almost as significant as it being his last is that it’s Cary Fukunaga’s first.
The American director took the helm when Britain’s Danny Boyle quit over ‘creative differences’. Once you’ve seen No Time To Die, you’ll guess what those differences were. Fukunaga, incidentally, shook and stirred things up in a recent interview, suggesting Sean Connery’s 007 was ‘basically a rapist’.
Certainly the challenge of the first Bond film in the wake of the Me Too movement is to reconstruct Ian Fleming’s creation without the sexism, misogyny and carnal voraciousness of the past.
The American director took the helm when Britain’s Danny Boyle quit over ‘creative differences’. Once you’ve seen No Time To Die, you’ll guess what those differences were
But is there now a danger of the character tilting too far away from the callous ladykiller of yesteryear, becoming 00-woke? Yes, there is. However, not least of the achievements of this exciting movie is that it feels progressive, while staying faithful to the spirit of Bond.
It also does two things with him that we’ve never seen before. Accordingly, taking the character forward will be a mighty challenge for whoever plays 007 next. Producer Barbara Broccoli has rubbished the idea that Craig’s successor will be female (which hasn’t stopped bookmakers pricing Lynch at 6/1). She also denies that Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge was brought in to add a feminine touch to the script.
Maybe, maybe not. There are a few shards of wit that seem very Waller-Bridge, but overall, fewer laughs than I was hoping for. This is a serious film, and it will leave you seriously blown away.
No Time To Die opens tomorrow in cinemas nationwide
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