So then, goodbye. Whatever else plays No time to die, the very slow new James Bond movie, we know this will be the last with Daniel Craig. An elegant mood hangs over the film – one that is particularly associated with legacies, evolutions, parents, children, the end of periods.
It also cuts in a different way — the film often has a berserker energy of an office-leaving party. Is no one safe? Barely had the lights gone down before we were forced to think the unthinkable, a ka-boem when we least expect it to bring Bond to an end altogether. This is not the last surprise package.
Of course, the film had even more to do with the exit of its front man. “No Time To Die”, the single from Billie Eilish, was released on February 13, 2020, the day after London’s first case of what has just been named Covid-19. Only now can her trembling torch song actually accompany at the opening titles.
Nineteen months is a long time for a Martini to sit impatiently. The Concern would be a movie that now tastes lukewarm and dusty. Not a bit of it, it seems, at least in part by a master of casual chutzpah — the plot depends on escaping a terrible infestation, a global bio-danger. Not even Covid is so big that it can not be scaled up by Bond.
What the real pandemic, of course, did was increase the game for a series that already carries unattainable weight. Every filmmaker longs for a sense of opportunity, but for producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson, cinema owners had to warn that bankruptcy without playing their film was approaching too much of the good thing. A heretical thought – what if the movie was a dog?
No time to die is not a dog. But the last Bond movie, Ghost, was. Here it makes everyone’s work more challenging. A few select threads are picked up — especially Léa Seydoux’s self-employed Madeleine Swann, whom Bond fell in love with at the beginning.
But mostly a change of attitude is required. Since Craig took over the role in 2005, his project has been redesigned – creating a Bond suitable for the 21st century. Now it’s easy to mock his fusion of rogue trauma and luxury branding. At the time, it was much needed. But Specter — given the usual five-star reviews, actually a po-face — was certainly the end of the road. Where next?
Here is where- the anti-Ghost. The screenplay is hard-polished, given rhythm and peculiarity by writers, including Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Flea bag fame. But a large portion of the kudos belong to director Cary Joji Fukunaga. As the British public realizes, it takes skill to run a juggernaut. Fukunaga turns from the dead end of Ghost, then do wheelies. His trick is to take everything that has dampened the other Craig movies and put it at 11.
Darkness bubbles – an important early scene plays out like a slasher movie. But there is also sadness in Hollywood – and a sense of confusion. Craig unleashes his deliveries playfully (“but then everything went wrong, “He mugs.) A sequel in a Havana meat pot with Monroe-ish Ana de Armas-also his co-star in Knives Out -is an insta-classic explosion of strange, cheerful, deadly screwball. Only the actors know if they had fun. The most important thing is – ultimately – it looks like this.
Yet the marriage of old and new can still feel stressful. (“The infrastructure goes back to the 1950s,” warns Ben Whishaw’s Q drily about an unsafe place.) The action is well-assembled – a car stunt in Puglia has the nonchalant gleam of a good card trick – but a little has to go far in two hours and 43 minutes.
And the oldest reliable of all – the Bond villain – is the weak link for the second film. Rami Malek’s Safin with Noh masks promises an improvement on the poor Christoph Waltz, the sockless Blofeld of Ghost. Safin’s lair is definitely something: a bravado nods back to the genius of late production designer Ken Adam. But the actor himself is strikingly cliché, his visual signature – scars on the face – a retelling of Lug valsee Javier Bardem and a dated touch for a series eager to move with the times.
Elsewhere, modernity fits in perfectly. In place of conquests and playmates, Bond is now surrounded on all sides by capable women, at least two of whom virtually make it clear that they have no intention of sleeping with a devastated old ghost with a functional knee. Aside from De Armas, Lashana Lynch is excellent as the young MI6 hotshot Bond faces; Seydoux makes a powerful impact on Jean-Luc Godard’s 60’s saying that a movie only needs a girl and a gun. This implies that they each also need a man. Not Seydoux and her gun. No wonder 007 is beaten.
And Craig also seems satisfied in the end. The star was openly uncomfortable about being Bond, and seems to be dying since he got there (while, like the Queen, he actually stays long enough until heirs grow old). But now, his long experiment to test how much reality a tired spy saga can take has yielded the best film of the 16-year-old commission — and at the perfect moment.
For Craig, the balancing act is over. For the rest of us, while No time to die is a much better movie than Ghost, it leaves us – triumphantly – with the same question. Where next?
‘No Time to Die ‘is in British cinemas from 30 September and from 8 October in American cinemas