Sticking To Its Guns
Daniel Craig’s final outing as 007 is a distinctly different Bond film which emphasises emotion over action and is unafraid to break with convention.
12A, 163 mins
NB: Some links in article contain strong language and/or violence.
After a release date that was pushed away into the cinematic equivalent of extra time, penalties, and then extra penalties, 007 is back with No Time to Die, a film which runs thick with references to Bond past and present, but also feels very original. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga, who has previously helmed the likes of Maniac and series 1 of True Detective, is a master of unease, and puts his prior experience to great use in crafting a Bond film which is full of tension, defies easy categorisation, and, like its subject, is very difficult to pin down.
This latest adventure seems determined to be a Bond film that makes different choices, from the way Bond and Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) saunter then dash through a pre-credits sequence that frequently borders on the domestic (before the action kicks in), to the way in which it unflinchingly zeroes in on its characters’ emotions. Out of all of Craig’s Bond films, No Time is the one which is the most unapologetically about Bond himself. It finds our hero contemplating, among other things, what it would be like to start a normal life. Craig has always been excellent at showing the emotional side of Bond – and he has more to get his teeth into here than ever before.
Given the emphasis on emotion, the actual plot plays a very distant second fiddle to feelings, and runs like this. CIA stalwart Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) persuades his old friend James back into the spying world to rescue a missing Russian scientist (David Dencik) associated with a queasily current-feeling project, and matters spiral out of control from there. Soon our secret agent finds himself back in the MI6 fold, where he is thrown off guard by a self-assured new Double O, Nomi (Lashana Lynch). Meanwhile SPECTRE chief Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is holed up in prison, and the enigmatic Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) is plotting in the shadows.
The all-pervading air of unpredictability even extends to the set pieces. While some of the sparingly used action sequences are good fun – Ana de Armas has a ball as a spirited new secret agent (who the film could have used much more of) during a shootout in Cuba – others very much stray from the usual template. An unnerving chase through a misty, primeval forest creates just the kind of disorientation that Fukunaga specialises in. No Time, from its newly emotional focus, to its tense action, to its mostly hidden villain and its (unfortunately) sometimes inaudible dialogue, seems set to, in the words of Robert Downey Jr.’s spin on another classic character, Sherlock Holmes, ‘Discombobulate.’
While a great deal here is unconventional, and feels fresher for it, there are drawbacks to this film’s novelty. It’s as if, in the mission to provide a fitting conclusion for Daniel Craig’s 007, an algorithm has been asked ‘What type of Bond film should we make?’, and has thrown up the answer ‘All of them.’ No Time’s script was written by four different people (regular collaborators Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, plus Cary Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge), and it shows. The writing is forever pulling in different directions, genre-hopping like a hyperactive bunny on a speeding trampoline as it tries to fit in different things, and it feels confused. The film is mainly an emotional drama, which occasionally flits from action thriller to state-of-modern-espionage commentary to full-on existential terror and back again, with occasional workplace spy banter, and the overall effect is often dizzying rather than entertaining.
The film’s laudable efforts to make Bond’s character development the main event also sometimes mean that the more traditionally Bond-like elements of the film, like the action sequences or the quips, feel short-changed, or, at worst, like they don’t fit. No Time, while trying to balance an unwieldy mix of emotion, action, humour and darkness, is trying to keep Bond relevant to today’s audiences, and also reflect on (and conclude) the Craig era. It’s too heavy a load for one story, but, through its obvious respect for Bond’s past and present, and through running with its own weirdness, it just about pulls it off.
No Time to Die is undoubtedly a film which sticks to its guns. It both shakes and stirs the very notion of what a James Bond film is, while staying true to the more emotional version of the character that Daniel Craig has always tried to portray. While my own opinion of it remains somewhat uncertain, I feel convinced that it will be better on a second viewing, and will reward rewatching. The way I currently view this strange hybrid vehicle of a Bond film is the same way that Daniel Craig’s own Bond reacts to a newly mixed vodka martini (a Vesper) in Casino Royale: I look at it with a wry, knowing smile and say, ‘You know, that’s not half bad’. No Time to Die could have been better, but that being said, when you’ve made a film which does entirely new things with a nearly 60-year-old franchise, ‘not half bad’ will do just fine, Mr Bond.