Daddy Bond, we’ve been expecting you. And I’m not just thinking about the way that bespoke slim-fit Tom Ford tux clings to those biceps and quads, or the way that wet white shirt shows off his pecs towards the film’s epic climax, that salt and pepper hair, those characterfully creased chiseled features, or Bond sitting in a boat fishing in his short shorts and t-shirt combo. Although if Tom of Finland had drawn a British secret service agent he would likely have looked very much like Daniel Craig in his triumphant swan song as Bond in No Time To Die.
Along with the expertly executed, thrilling action sequences and car chases, there’s a brief, but equally arresting outdoor shower moment that will likely continue that Bond movie tradition of confirming those gay adolescent stirrings of sexual attraction; which I fondly recall from childhood Saturday evening television viewings of classic 007 movies. Sean Connery’s hairy chest was a revelation. Though while sex appeal of course continues to be one of the many ingredients that contributes to the success of these movies, No Time To Die has a lot more to offer than that.
In this latest installment, the 25th official EON-produced movie in the series, Daddy Bond sadly does not go undercover into the depths of the leather fetish world, à la Al Pacino in Friedkin’s Cruising (though someone please get on the case and write that as fan fiction), but nevertheless the plot is just about as riveting as that imagined one might be.
Very few films could live up to the kind of anticipation that there has been for No Time To Die, with the lengthy pandemic-induced multiple delays in its theatrical release finally coming to an end in the US this Friday October 8th. It turns out though, that it was well worth the wait. In fact the extended cold open is worth the price of admission alone, encapsulating all that audiences love about a 007 movie. While Daniel Kleinman (no relation, as far as I know), who has been part of the Bond family since the 1980s, delivers an opening titles sequence to accompany the film’s sublime title track by Billie Eilish that is a sumptuous work of art in itself.
As the film opens, we are reacquainted with a relaxed Mr Bond, content and in love with Madeleine Swan (Léa Seydoux, reprising her Spectre role). We know that blissful honeymoon vibe can’t last for long, with Madeleine observing, “as long as you’re looking over your shoulder the past isn’t dead”. With Bond in retirement from MI6, there’s an intriguing premise; can someone who’s lived that kind of life ever truly leave it behind? Spending time with Bond in this state allows us to see the flesh and blood man behind the action hero, his understandable trust issues, and a vulnerability that draws us deeper into caring about what happens to him.
Going back to the Daddy Bond I mentioned, a blue-eyed child (an excellent Lisa-Dorah Sonnet as Mathilde) is introduced in the third act of the film, which may or may not be his biological offspring, but certainly in any case brings an emotional attachment that makes Bond feel more human and fallible, while his touching longstanding fraternal friendship with CIA operative Felix Leiter (a deadly handsome, warm and wise Jeffrey Wright) continues. Those emotional stakes are high and of course Skyfall proved that a Bond movie could make us cry just as easily as it can thrill, something we’re reminded of in this latest installment.
One of the biggest thrills of No Time To Die is that Bond’s replacement as 007 is a Black woman—Nomi, brilliantly played by Lashana Lynch—and although there’s some light tension around the fact that she’s taken on his trademark number, there aren’t any jokes that rely on her gender. Instead it’s immediately clear why she was a suitable successor to Bond. Smart, strong, and playfully witty, she more than holds her own alongside him, and we never doubt for a second that she’s equally as capable. Far from an objectified Bond girl, we’re briefly shown that when called for she can clearly use her seductiveness as part of the job as much as Bond does. Her Blackness is not ignored, with her coming face-to-face with the embodiment of white supremacy in one powerful scene. In fact the only slight disappointment when it comes to Nomi is that we don’t get to see even more of her, but it seems possible that she’ll return in subsequent Bond movies. In fact the character, and Lynch’s performance, deserves a spin-off film or TV series of its own.
Meanwhile Ana de Armas as Paloma proves to be another atypical Bond girl, as a CIA agent supporting Bond in Cuba. She has fantastic chemistry with Craig and the delightful scenes between them feel like they’ve had Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s delicate magic touch in the writing. Paloma has an infectious excitement about her job that’s a lot of fun, and serves to make her highly skilled physical and mental attributes all the more impressive.
As well as selling every moment of the action sequences, Craig is effortlessly funny, with a dry, natural delivery that makes the one-liners feel believably in-the-moment and purposeful, coming from the character’s wit, not the screenwriters’ keyboard. While the action itself never feels tacked on or gratuitous and allows us to be emotionally invested in those moments, making them all the more perilous and exhilarating. Adding to the excitement, not only does Bond have some incredible gadgets at his disposal this time around, so do the bad guys.
MI6 gadget-master Q, beautifully played once again by Ben Wishaw, is given a substantial role in No Time To Die, forming an integral part of Bond’s entourage that puts him right at the emotional core of the film. At one point, Moneypenny (a wonderful Naomie Harris returning), takes Bond to Q’s home to find him wearing some very stylish knitwear, interrupting him—along with his adorable furless Sphynx cat—in the midst the culinary preparations for what seems to be a date with a man. It’s subtle, but it was a moment that definitely made my gaydar ping, and gave me the sense that Q was out at work and that his colleagues, including a twenty-first century Bond, were fully accepting of and comfortable with their colleague’s sexuality. Thinking of gaydar, there’s a nice self-named nod to the original hookup app—and specialist skill—when Q is handing over his latest gadget creations to Bond and gives him a location tracking device called Q-dar. Here’s hoping that by the next movie Q will have settled down with a nice fella who gets drawn into the plot.
While at times the lines are blurred between heroes and villains, no Bond movie would be complete without a deranged baddie intent on taking over or destroying the world, or some combination of the two. Here Rami Malek brings a theatrical flair to his characterization of the diabolical Lyutsifer Safin while, as with his Oscar-winning portrayal of Freddie Mercury, still making him feel human. With Safin, Malek delivers a deliciously chilling contemplative genocidal megalomaniac, reigning in the camp just enough to make him feel dangerous, complete with Bond-villain accent. In No Time To Die there are at least two villains for the price of one, with double Oscar-winning Christoph Waltz back back back back again as Blofeld, in an unsettling and gripping Silence of the Lambs-esque prison meetup with Mr Bond.
Craig goes out in style in one of the finest films of the series, an archetypal Bond movie at its core that feels fresh and showcases impeccable filmmaking in every department with Emmy-nominated Beasts of No Nation director Cary Joji Fukunaga at the helm—displaying elegant restraint given the arsenal at his disposal—and fellow Emmy-winner, Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge doing Her Majesty’s service on screenwriting duties alongside Fukunaga, and Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. That screenplay is a beautifully crafted one, nuanced and riveting, that gets the tone just right, with the perfect blend of high stakes, humour, action, and emotion, along with a meditation on how we all chose to spend our time on this planet.
The cinematography by Oscar-winner Linus Sandgren is beautifully rich, sun-drenched at times, then icy cold, with sweeping aerial shots of exotic locations that feel intrinsic to the storytelling, and intimate hand-held camerawork for the action sequences. Along with Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer’s brooding, stirring score—collaborating with Steve Mazzaro and The Smiths’ Johnny Marr—that skillfully incorporates Bond’s musical heritage while finding a voice of its own, there’s exquisite sound design throughout, with a standout post-explosion sequence early on in the film that expertly illustrates Bond’s disorientated state. There’s also some stunning production design by Mark Tildesley, that’s particularly strong in the scenes set in Safin’s island lair, incorporating 1950s control panels and some striking lighting that suggests contemporary cutting-edge tech.
Given Adele and Sam Smith’s success at the Oscars it seems likely that Billie Eilish’s track will quite rightly at least get a nomination come awards season. The Academy should also take Craig’s performance into serious consideration alongside Seydoux’s, and of course the movie’s behind the camera talent. This is a sizzling, powerhouse of a movie that deserves that kind of recognition in addition to its box office success. No Time To Die is Bond at its best.
By Kleinmann, James Kleinmann
No Time To Die opens in US theaters on Friday October 8th, with early access screenings on Wednesday October 6th.