I’ve written elsewhere about the reasons that I sat down in a sour state of mind to the swan song of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies, No Time to Die, but what’s the actual film like itself? The Craig years have been a bumpy ride; the promising but bloated Casino Royale, the paper-thin Quantum of Solace, the all-time high of Skyfall, the messy doldrums of Spectre, and finally No Time To Die. The problem, as with Star Wars and most other franchises is, the longer it goes on, the more you realise that they’re just making it up as they go along.
Things start brightly with some retconning; we’re introduced to previous relationship Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) and as soon as she blurts out ‘there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you,’ we know that she’s pregnant and that Bond now has a daughter and a family to protect. This protect-your-family motivation is contrary to Bond lore, but it helps that the notion is cannily dropped in the middle of a stylish Aston Martin chase through an ancient Italian town; the disguise just about sugar-coats the contradictions. A second set piece, a fire-fight in a Santiago night-club for Blofeld’s birthday party, also lands well, but things start to fall apart with the introduction of the new young, black and gifted female OO7 (Lashana Lynch); James Bond has retired after all. Over an hour of inane, static chat then follow without Bond even picking up a gun; we eventually unite Bond with his family in Scotland, but off-the-shelf baddie Safin (Rami Malek) is still waiting on his island lair with plans to annihilate the world, and all that dark foreshadowing can’t really go for nothing.
No Time to Die can’t really be faulted for the action scenes, which are terse, well-realised and technically superb. But the key element of humour is missing; Phoebe Waller-Bridge was drafted in to pep the script up, but sophistication is MIA, with gags that would elicit groans in the Roger Moore era. The new 007 drops down onto a dance-floor, shoots an assailant and quips ‘Mind if I cut in?’ Cringe. Even the serious-minded Skyfall stooped to double-taking underground passengers for cheap laughs, but the tired one-liners here take away from the big reveal; spoiler alerts, James Bond finally gets killed. That should be a big deal for a 20th century icon, but after besting so many adversaries, to see Bond bite the bullet at the hands of a no-mark villain who cuts around in his dressing gown is a whopping anti-climax. And it’s painful listening to the new and old 007 squabbling about who should have the title; they sound like toddlers in a playground, but the familiar punchline is that the uppity woman gets slapped down. Thanks, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Ana de Armas achieves far more for women in her memorable ten minute turn, but alas, her character is ignored for the rest of the film.
Craig has proved himself as a great James Bond, and probably deserved an encore; it’s just a shame that No Time To Die has no idea what the greatest hits should be, and the actor seems bored with the role. Craig joined the franchise at a time when films were still planned one by one, and the lack of any over-arcing direction scuppers any sense of continuity over his five movies. Oddities like a cameo from Gromit the dog, or Bond mentioning The Book of Mormon, feel like something of a stretch for an out-dated character whose claim to wokeness seems to be that his friends are all black. Cary J Fukunaga seems to have been doing the best he can with a salvage job here, and there’s a nice choice of Jack London quote to finish, but no action film can ingest a full hour without any action to speak of. The final James Bond Will Return caption feels more like a threat than a promise unless his producers can find a valid reason for him to do so.