James Bond

No Time to Die

06/10/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

My first Bond film was everyone else’s first Bond film. Dr No.

It was 1962, I was eleven years old, sitting in a cinema in Singapore, and I remember being suitably dazzled by the experience. I’d honestly never seen anything quite like it before. I was probably a bit too young but, back then, nobody seemed to care too much about asking for your ID. After that, I considered myself a genuine Bond fan. From Russia With Love (still in my humble opinion the best in the series), Goldfinger, Thunderball… you know the rest. I think I saw every one of them, even after Sean Connery had jumped ship and the character went through more changes than Dr Who. I disliked Roger Moore in the role (too affable) but still watched the movies – and I reacted with various degrees of approval and bemusement as new incarnations appeared over the years.

I thoroughly approved when Daniel Craig delivered a great big kick up the franchise with 2006’s Casino Royale – even though the suspicion lingers that Eon Films had simply studied the Jason Bourne movies and borrowed some of its action tropes. Still, the series continued to have traction and 2012’s Skyfall ranks as one of the biggest earners of all time. So there’s no denying the Bond films’ longevity, nor the simple fact that, where Tenet failed to put bums back on seats, NTTD appears to be succeeding.

And now here we are, a full two years after its projected release, and No Time to Die marks Craig’s swan song as the world’s most successful secret agent. Little wonder so much hope has been pinned on 007’s return and little wonder too that the advertising preceding the film seems to go on for just about forever.

We (finally) begin in time-honoured fashion with a pre-credits sequence. A little girl is terrorised by a sinister masked villain in a snow-bound location. Years later, that little girl has grown up to be Madeleine Swan (Léa Seydoux) and she and Bond are enjoying a passionate love affair in a very picturesque part of Italy. But of course, we know, don’t we, that such happiness can’t go on for very long?

Visiting the grave of old flame, Vesper Lynde, Bond is lucky to survive an explosion – and then there’s a succession of breathless action sequences featuring cars and motorbikes and a leap from a bridge that would be ludicrous if some poor stuntman hadn’t actually had to do it for real. It’s perfectly timed, brilliantly executed, a joy to behold.

But then of course, comes that familiar theme music and the realisation that we’ve still got an entire film to sit through. Quite why that film has to be two hours and forty-three minutes long is a puzzle. Trim thirty minutes out of this sucker and you’d have a triumphant action flick, but hey, swan songs can’t be dismissed too lightly, and it has to be said that there’s still plenty here to enjoy. It’s clear from the get-go that a lot of holy cows are being slaughtered in the process. Long-running characters are summarily handed their termination notices, old preconceptions are briskly upturned and you can’t say that Eon haven’t done their level best to drag the old misogynist kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. A black female 007? That would never have happened under the old guard’s watch. There are also some wry observations about Bond’s age and the more keen-eyed viewer will spot references to classic moments in earlier films.

Some of the familiar problems still linger. Villain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) may have sound reasons for wanting to inflict a deadly virus on his enemies but why does he feel the need to unleash the same punishment upon the entire world? And why is it still considered fair game to equate facial disfiguration with such evil?

But there are some surprises too. I have to admit that I really don’t see the final twist coming. And quite what happens from here is anybody’s guess. There are plenty of people saying that it should simply end, but given the potential earnings that a new Bond could generate, I’ll be very surprised if it does.

Maybe it will simply have to Die Another Day.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

SPECTRE

MV5BMjM2Nzg4MzkwOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzA0OTE3NjE@._V1_SX214_AL_ Unknown-2

08/11/15

The James Bond movies seem to have settled into a regular pattern – a decent outing alternating with a not so decent one. I’ve been following the films since Dr No and was initially delighted with Daniel Craig’s efforts. Casino Royale delivered a much needed kick up the franchise, even if most of its chops were nicked from The Bourne Identity. Craig seemed to cleave closer to Ian Fleming’s vision of his infamous antihero and the silly gimmicks were kept to a minimum. Quantum of Solace felt like a decidedly patchy follow-up, which never really built up a head of steam. Skyfall of course, kicked things clear out of the stadium, becoming the most successful Bond film of all time, which leaves returning director Sam Mendes only one direction in which to take things. Down.

In the latest outing, Bond is (once again) looking like he’s all washed up. He’s gone out on his own in search of the orchestrator of a sinister organisation and M (Ralph Fiennes) has no option but to order him to stand down. Not that it deters him at all. With the help of Q (Ben Wishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) he loads his gun and heads out after the bad guys. Before you can say implausible, he’s heading off to a variety of locations to hunt down whichever evil mastermind is behind the latest series of outrages. Meanwhile, the headquarters of MI6, bombed to destruction in Skyfall, have been replaced by a brand new super dooper high rise building, masterminded by C (Andrew Scott) who may as well have the word ‘dodgy’ tattooed on his forehead.

The film starts promisingly with a pre-credits sequence set amidst Mexico City’s El Dia De Muerte celebrations. There’s a Touch of Evil style tracking shot, some massive explosions and a helicopter-set punch up that redefines the word ‘thrilling.’ If the rest of the film was up to this standard, it would be a wonderful thing indeed. Instead, after Sam Smith’s forgettable theme song, (too shrill by half) we’re treated to some exposition, which, after that brilliant opening salvo, seems to move with all the urgency of molasses in winter. It takes quite a while for the film to recover – there’s a forgettable car chase, a punch up on a train that echoes Connery’s fight with Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love, a new love interest with Gallic moody monkey Lea Seydoux and a brief snogathon with Monica Bellucchi that looks like it’s crawled straight out of the sexist 60s. Things don’t really pick up much until chief villain Oberhauzer (Cristophe Waltz) puts in a belated appearance, whereupon we’re treated to a bit of torture, (always a great way to focus the attention), followed by what ought to be the finale.

Except that it’s not. There’s another finale, which though decently executed feels like a sequence too far (and judging by the legions of audience members paying a visit to the loo, we weren’t the only ones who felt this way). SPECTRE is decent entertainment and it’s savvy enough to reference many of the earlier movies, but it’s not strong enough to take its place with the best examples of the series. Some tightening up would have helped it hit all the right targets, but as it stands, this falls into the usual pattern. ‘Bond will return’ promises a credit, but will he be Daniel Craig? Watch this space.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney