Capital Celluloid 2021 — Day 138: Fri Oct 1

No Time to Die (Fukunaga, 2021): At a cinema anywhere near you across London

It's rare for Capital Celluloid to swerve away from repertory cinema territory but there is only one film that matters this month and that's the long-awaited and much-delayed new entry in the James Bond franchise. Regular readers will know of our love for the films in the 007 series and, unlike other outlets, we have always promoted the screenings of the classic Bond films when they have surfaced in the capital. For that reason we are recommending a trip to your nearest cinema (everywhere will be showing the movie) to see No Time to Die, a film that will be crucial in getting people back into our picturehouses and guaranteeing their survival after what has been a wretched period for the industry.

I have been completing a chronological viewing of every Eon Bond movie in the post-classic period from The Man With the Golden Gun onwards and you can read my verdicts here via my Twitter account. Meanwhile, I went to see No Time to Die on press night at the same hour as the world premiere. My verdict: it’s a must-see three-star film.

Death pervades the Bond universe. The fear of mortality and the tension that haunts the character in Ian Fleming’s still ripely readable original novels and the various cinematic creations of agent 007 are what create the finest moments in the long series of books and subsequent blockbuster films. It’s why the Roger Moore era, which reached its nadir with the rampant jokiness of Octopussy (1983), began to flounder well before it was killed off. The reboot with the commendably hard-edged Timothy Dalton at the end of the 80s was not able to be sustained at the time but did lay the ground for Daniel Craig and the spectacular relaunch that was Casino Royale (2006), still the finest amalgam of action, series tropes, psychological and sexual drama in the history of Bond on film. The heroine Vesper Lynd’s death in Casino Royale echoed that of the betrothed Tracy di Vicenzo’s in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, genuinely moving and one which again got under the steel-toughened skin of our normally unflappable hero, either in the bed or out of it. 

OHMSS is the guiding reference, in Bond and Dr Madeleine Swann’s honeymoon car journey in the superbly crafted and long pre-credits sequence at the beginning of No Time to Die and at the end when Craig references the Louis Armstrong song 'We have all the time in the world' from the earlier film and the tune is reprised as the audience departs. The thrilling opening and the shocking denouement are the highlights. While there are other pleasures as always along the way, the much-trailed new female 007 (Craig’s character is ‘retired’) and the drafting in of co-writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge are only partially successful because they seem half-hearted and add-ons. What of the villains, normally such a rich source of the aforementioned tension? Christopher Waltz as Blofeld is as woefully underused as in Spectre (2015) given his two-hander with Craig in Belmarsh Prison, riffing on Silence of the Lambs, provides a thrillingly electric encounter, while the big baddy of this movie, Safin (Rami Malek) is simply plain underwritten. 

In a new twist for the series, it’s the melodrama that is turned up to 11 for a Bond film in this, the long-signposted swan song for Craig in the role, and while it strives too hard for the resonance of the earlier incarnations in OHMSS and Casino Royale there is a single moment which tops both and is the most jaw-dropping in the 59-year history of 007 on celluloid. It left this critic both stirred and very much shaken and I can honestly say I’m yet to come to terms with it. The world, and the Bond universe, is turned upside down and that’s why this film, the 25th in the series, is a must-see.
Tony Paley

Here (and above) is the international trailer.

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