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.