No Time To Die (Cert 12)

2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: Universal) Running Time: 164 minutes approx.

Do I start this review by mentioning the irony in how it took almost 2 years for this film to hit the cinemas yet barely two months for the home media release to come out? As both release dates were influenced by COVID I guess it is less irony and more fate really, nevertheless, Daniel Craig’s final turn as 007 is here!

Having retired and settled down with psychotherapist Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), former secret agent James Bond (Craig) is enjoying a break in Matera, Southern Italy, where he visits the tomb of Vesper Lynd. Bond is attacked by SPECTRE agents and whilst he survives, Bond suspects Madeleine betrayed him and despite her protestations they part ways.

Meanwhile, MI6 scientist Dr. Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik) has developed a biological weapon named Heracles on the orders of M (Ralph Fiennes), but SPECTRE knows about it and tries to steal it. However, SPECTRE agents are killed by a mystery party with the same criminal intent for Heracles as Obruchev is working for them. Bond is coaxed out of retirement to find the culprit and destroy Heracles before it is used.

The delays to the theatrical release of No Time To Die are now legendary, as alluded to above, with this being the highest profile film to suffer due to lockdown, and streaming was off the table. This may have dampened some opinions after finally arriving, but I am confident the majority will find it was worth the wait, as I did. Not that it is perfect but it is a great send off for Craig.

Running a little shy of three hours and the first Bond film directed by an American, Cary Joji Fukunaga, No Time To Die is a curious beast – it is part greatest hits, part poignant farewell to Craig, and part attempt to make Bond more relevant for the 21st century. For instance, this is the least sexually active Bond has been on film, likely down to having committed himself to Madeleine; even after the split, Bond keeps his trousers on even when propositioned by or is in close proximity to some foxy ladies.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whom I have little time for, is said to have helped polish the script and strengthen the female characters. If this is so, then I begrudgingly doff my cap to her and the producers for this welcome change. Madeleine is shown more fortitude and agency whilst other females kick ass without the need for contrivance, nor are they there to be ogled at (well, with one exception).* 

Also, the traditional high-octane opening sequence has been streamlined to remain vital to the plot and not just an excuse to start things with a bang. Fear not, there is plenty more to come later on, this time staying more within the realms of plausibility than previous outings where this was blissfully ignored. The first occurs in Cuba, where Bond has been asked by his old CIA mate Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) to find Obruchev.

Waiting to assist Bond is rookie agent Paloma (Ana de Armas), barely wearing a slinky black dress*. Keen to go with just three weeks training, the plucky youngster proves very competent as an agent and compliments Bond’s veteran experience. However, she only appears for 15 minutes, but I am sure she would be welcome as a future recurring character.

Bond learns the imprisoned Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is somehow behind the Heracles theft. His attempts to kill Bond with it backfires; Heracles is a plant extract suffused with nano-machines programmed to infect specific DNA; conversely it can be programmed to ignore certain DNA, which is how Bond survives and the SPECTRE agents died. Naturally, it makes no sense for Blofeld to kill his own men so who did?

Step forward Freddie Mercury, angry at how he was portrayed in Bohemian Rhapsody! I kid – Rami Malek plays Lyutsifer Safi, a facially scarred terrorist with an affinity for plants, keen to mass-produce Heracles and “tidy up” the world. Safi is soft-spoken and terrifying in his cold-hearted resolve, but also comes across as benign. But Bond is after him when Safi kidnaps Madeleine and their daughter Mathilde (Lisa-Dorah Sonnet).

Now for the part which creates the most intrigue. After Bond’s retirement, his 00 number was passed on to a new agent, Nomi (Lashana Lynch). She always reminds him she is 007 now, but she isn’t James Bond. This is the lesson learned here but it does lay a solid foundation for the heavily suggested new direction for the franchise of a female 007, and for Lynch, this is a solid audition.

Familiar faces Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) return as a bridge for Craig’s swan song and whatever – or whomever – comes next. There are gags and Easter eggs for hardcore fans, such as riffs on the legendary “Bond, James Bond” introduction, and references to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Sadly, there are four-letter words and an “F” bomb (in a 12 film!) – a real first Bond (probably Waller-Bridge’s fault)!

Changes to Bond himself see the character is in a strange place, being darker and violent in his actions yet more human than he has ever been. Love hasn’t mellowed 007 but has altered his priorities and motivation, making the ending – which I won’t spoil – genuinely emotional. Craig never hints at this being his valedictory turn in his body language, this is for us to infer in the man who can’t leave his past behind, or rather a past that won’t leave him behind.

Kudos to Fukunaga for keeping the spirit of Bond intact whilst bringing in much needed changes in No Time To Die. The run time might be daunting but the content is vast enough to fill it up, despite the story peaking early. Apparently, Bond will be back –  although I don’t envy the person chosen to follow Daniel Craig. A great and meaningful finale for him.

 

Extras:

English Language Dolby Atmos

English Descriptive Audio

Italian Language

English & Italian Subtitles

Disc 2 Only:

English, French, German, Italian, Castilian Spanish, Latin American Spanish, Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Thai, Cantonese, Complex Mandarin, Simplified Mandarin, Korean, Greek & Romanian Subtitles

Anatomy of a Scene: Matera

Keeping It Real: The Action of No Time To Die

A Global Journey

Designing Bond

 

Rating – **** 

Man In Black