Woke-y, not blokey. That’s what advance word suggested Daniel Craig’s fifth and last outing as super spy James Bond would be. Still, endless delays, mostly caused by Covid, threatened to spoil the party. The worry was that - no matter what Craig and new co-star, Lashana Lynch, got up to in Bond 25 - the end result would be an anti-climax. Fear not. The crowd at the Royal Albert Hall premiere went bezonkers as soon as they saw the MGM lion and practically exploded, as one, at Bond’s first quip.
Though one or two exotically-located chase scenes felt superfluous (causing your reviewer to lose focus and think “It’s Tuesday, I wonder what’s happening in Bake Off?”), this is the resurrection of the century.
Taking over from Sam Mendes, 44-year-old Cary Joji Fukunaga is 007s first American director. He’s clearly having fun.
After a rollicking pre-title sequence, set in Italy, grouchy, heart-broken James is dragged out of retirement to work alongside his young replacement at MI6, Nomi (Lynch). He’s also teams up with CIA agent, Paloma (Ana de Armas). Nor can he avoid his brooding ex-lover, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), who shares secrets with the film’s two villains, one of them familiar, the other not. It’s always a pleasure to listen to the poisonous purring of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). As for Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), he’s not the most cogent bad guy ever, but he has ocean eyes.
Since his first appearance in Casino Royale, Craig’s character has offered surprises. The most vulnerable and least supercillious of all the Bonds, he took orders from women, was sometimes rescued by them and looked SO nice in sky-blue swimwear. But, No Time to Die, clearly operating in a post #MeToo and Time’s Up universe, takes things much further.
No casual sex for this Bond, while his (often doomed) jockeying for power with Nomi is a hoot.
Sadly, to reveal the movie’s very best joke (a gob-smacked Bond’s reaction to Swann’s news that she has ‘more surprises’) would give away a crucial plot twist.
As soon as I heard this gag, I scribbled down, “Classic Fleabag!”
That’s because Phoebe Waller-Bridge co-wrote the script and I’m predisposed to think all comedic goodness flows from her laptop. Apologies to Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (or Fukunaga, who also worked on the dialogue) if that was one of theirs.
Lynch (born and raised in Hammersmith) was a charismatic scene-stealer in Captain Marvel and goes one better, here. Even her voice is refreshing: no attempts have been made to make her sound plummy. Most of the MI6 team sound like they went to public school. Lynch’s Nomi is a wonderful anomaly. And she has super-duper taste in trousers.
The performance by Ben Whishaw, as Q, is another highlight. We see him stressing out over a dinner date, with a man. We never meet the guy, but Q and his hairless cat are a dream team. Please, please, please, can someone give Q his own spin-off movie?
In terms of the action set-pieces, Italy and Cuba are where it’s at (the explosions just keep coming). The thinking seems to be: you may not be getting many bonks for your bucks, but no way are we short-changing you on bangs.
Fukunaga serves up derring do that’s iconoclastic on so many levels. He couldn’t have done it without Craig, though.
Nobody’s puppet, Craig helped produce No Time to Die.
After Spectre, he famously said he’d rather slash his wrists than play Bond again. Instead, with the help of a talented team, he’s taken a razor blade to the idea of Bond.
Craig bows out with his head held high. Way to go.
No Time to Die is in cinemas from September 30