No Time to Die (2021)

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2021 #170
Cary Joji Fukunaga | 163 mins | cinema | 2.39:1 | UK & USA / English, French, Italian & Russian | 12A / PG-13

No Time to Die

Britain’s most famous secret agent is Craig, Daniel Craig for the final time in the 25th James Bond film. It’s also the fifth and (presumably) final instalment in an ongoing narrative within the series; the kind of internal continuity never before attempted in the franchise’s 59-year history. Sure, there have been some hints at continuity in the past — Connery’s Bond was almost always up against some agent of SPECTRE, and Diamonds Are Forever is technically a sequel to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — but never to this degree, and never with such keenly-felt emotional effects on our hero.

Much fuss has been made in some quarters of Quantum of Solace being the first true sequel in the Bond canon, because it very much continues storylines from Casino Royale. If that’s the case, No Time to Die may be classed as the second such sequel, because it picks up on various hints and threads left dangling in Spectre and weaves them into its narrative. (You could also argue Spectre is a “true sequel” for the way it tries to tie together the entire Daniel Craig era, but I think No Time to Die is even more directly connected to its immediate predecessor.) All of this is primarily of note to fans of the series, mind, because it marks a change of form for this particular series. In the wider world of film franchises, that kind of continuity is nothing new. For all that it’s been a massively-popular trailblazer over the past six decades, the Bond films can be surprisingly reactive, often seeking to incorporate things that are successful in the wider filmmaking space — witness Moonraker coming on the heels of Star Wars, or Casino Royale and (especially) Quantum incorporating styles and techniques from the Jason Bourne films. All of which is really just to say that Bond is not some monolithic island unto himself — these films exist in context, just like any other.

Bond's in the spotlight

Perhaps the single most influential trend on No Time to Die is one for closure. Once upon a time, heroes carried on having adventures forever — whatever challenges they faced in one tale, they overcame and ‘rode off into the sunset’ ready to go again. Not nowadays. When Christopher Nolan decided to give Batman an ending to complete his trilogy in The Dark Knight Rises, it was seen as a radical move; an exception to the rule, just for this special case. Now, it’s de rigueur — look at Marvel bothering to wrap-up the stories of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers in Avengers: Endgame, for example. They could have had these guys toddle off only to come back with an unexplained new face, just as has happened throughout movie franchise history, but instead they pay off the audience’s investment by giving them an ending. Spectre sort of did this, giving Craig’s Bond an ambiguous conclusion where he sort of seemed to retire and drive off with the girl. But that kind of ambiguity doesn’t cut it nowadays, and so No Time to Die finds that, yes, Bond did retire, but now he’s pressed back into service so we can get a more definitive fullstop on his story.

To discuss the specifics of that ending would be to get into spoiler territory, of course, which I’m not going to do here (the film is out in most regions now, but won’t hit some markets until much later in the year; and I can understand if some people are still reticent to return to cinemas and so will wait for a home release. It’s fine — there’ll be plenty of time to talk about the ending in month and years to come, because it is, again, no spoiler to say this is an ending that will be discussed for a long time, one way or another). What I will say is that I, personally, wasn’t wholly convinced by it. I don’t know if it was the right move. I’m not entirely sure how it makes me feel. Others may have a more definitive reaction — I haven’t sought out other people’s specific thoughts, and they’re hard to stumble upon because everyone is (rightly) avoiding spoilers. That said, the mostly positive reception, from both critics and regular viewers, suggests that it’s not an outright problem — maybe people mostly love the finale, but even if they don’t, they’re like me in thinking it doesn’t undermine the quality of the rest of the film.

The new 007

And quality is in abundance throughout No Time to Die. When it emerged that it ran nearly two-and-three-quarter hours, some were concerned that was far too long for a Bond film, especially after Spectre’s two-and-a-half hours was deemed a slog by many. Such concerns prove unfounded, because No Time to Die moves at a solid lick throughout, never feeling its length — like all the best movies, whether they be 80 minutes or four hours, it’s just as long as it needs to be. In many ways it’s your standard Bond fare: there’s a nefarious villain out there planning to do something evil on a massive scale, and Bond is roped in to stop them. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And yet, the Craig era has tried to ‘fix it’. Casino Royale consciously dismantled the Bond formula, riffing on some of its famous tropes rather than including them properly (cf. his response to “shaken or stirred?”), but the subsequent films have sought to rebuild the style we knew and loved. It’s arguable whether they truly have returned Bond to his previous ways — every one of these movies subverts ‘the Bond formula’ in some way, large or small — but I think No Time to Die might be the closest. That’s not a criticism.

Certainly, it has enough new going on to not feel like a throwback. Some of that is surface level, like the new 00 being a Black woman, played perfectly by Lashana Lynch. It’s an important bit of progressiveness, for sure, but in plot terms, replace her with a white man and everything still functions the same. Again, I don’t feel like that’s a criticism — sometimes the devil is in the details, and details matter. “Making that character a Black woman instead of a white man doesn’t affect the plot” is a reason to make such a change, not an argument against it. Conversely, Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann somewhat upends the traditional Bond girl role by having a secret past that has significant bearing on both the plot and Bond’s emotional state. The former may not be so new (there have been Bond girls with secrets in the past), but allowing Bond to actually have emotions, and be challenged by them, is very much a Craig-era phenomenon. Again, you can find specific examples of this throughout the series — OHMSS is the biggest example, but you could argue Brosnan’s Bond is affected by Elektra in The World Is Not Enough — but it’s never been done with such consistency, such centrality, as in the Craig era.

Can anybody find him somebody to love?

Aside from all this borderline-groundbreaking stuff, No Time to Die serves up a load of traditional Bond thrills. There are exotic locales, beautifully lensed by Linus Sandgren — he may not be as big a name as Roger Deakins, but his work makes this rival Skyfall for prettiest Bond film. There are epic action sequences — the series may have lost its rep for outrageous done-for-real stunts to Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible-funded death wish, but it can still pull together an outstanding car chase or shoot-out. The pre-titles in Italy; a party in Cuba; a chase through Norwegian woods — all could be franchise highs in the set piece department. And the production design, by series newcomer Mark Tildesley, harks back to Bond of old too, not least in the villain’s island lair. Oh yes, the villain has his own island — proper old-school Bond.

Said villain is Safin, played by Oscar-winner Rami Malek. He’s not bad by any means, but he’s weirdly miscast (it’s not obvious until you think about it, but the character is meant to be 20+ years older than the actor) and he has little to do: Bond’s on his trail for most of the film, only confronting him in the final act. Maybe that’s not so different to many older Bond films either, but it’s out of place in the Craig era, where most of the villains have directly challenged Bond throughout the movie. Still, while he may not hit the highs of Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre or Javier Bardem’s Silva, he’s slightly less “villain by numbers” than Christoph Waltz’s disappointingly underwhelming turn as Blofeld, and more memorable than Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Greene (not the actor’s fault, I don’t think — Quantum tried so hard to keep Bond grounded and he suffers for that). In fact, he’s such a Macguffin of a villain that I’m not even sure of his motivation — I get how he intends to do A Very Bad Thing (the mechanics of it are very important, for several reasons), but I don’t recall the film ever bothering to tell me why.

Old school Bond

It’s this kind of little niggle that loses No Time to Die its edge. Make no mistake: this is an immensely entertaining Bond film. I haven’t even mentioned some of its other highs, like all-too-brief supporting turns from Jeffrey Wright, returning as Bond’s CIA chum Felix Leiter, or Ana de Armas as a rookie agent who, it turns out, is as skilled as she is gorgeous, but is most memorable for being the most amusing part of the film — you’ll wish she was in it more. For all that, I foresee the film settling in as a well-liked entry in the series, and I’m sure it will cement a reputation as the greatest last-Bond-film for any actor (its only real rival in those stakes being Licence to Kill, which barely counts as it was only Dalton’s second). But, on the flipside, it doesn’t quite hit the dizzying heights of Casino Royale or Skyfall. Is that a problem? Nah. Not everything has to be “the greatest ever” to have merit.

4 out of 5

No Time to Die is in cinemas everywhere (except Australia and China) now.

The Name’s Monthly Review… September Monthly Review

Daniel Craig’s final turn as Bond, James Bond, parachuted into cinemas just in time to make the cut for this monthly overview. But there was a whole month before that, so let’s look back at it.


#159 Three Identical Strangers (2018)
#160 Boss Level (2021)
#161 The Birth of a Nation (1915)
#162 Daughters of Darkness (1971), aka Les lèvres rouges
#163 Futureworld (1976)
#164 Memory: The Origins of Alien (2019)
#165 La Dolce Vita (1960)
#166 Terje Vigen (1917), aka A Man There Was
#167 David Lynch: The Art Life (2016)
#168 The Current War (2017)
#168a Scenes with Beans (1976), aka Babfilm
#169 The Green Knight (2021)
#170 No Time to Die (2021)
The Green Knight

No Time to Die

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  • I watched 12 feature films I’d never seen before in September.
  • Not a terrible showing (it’s not the worst month of 2021), but far from spectacular (it’s joint second worst).
  • It fell just short of the September average (previously 12.54, now 12.50), and well below the average for 2021 to date (previously 19.75, now 18.89) and the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 18.7, now 18.0).
  • One notable success, however, came in my Blindspot viewing: after missing one in August, I caught up by watching two this month — and two of this year’s longest, at that. They were the 193 minutes of D.W. Griffith’s silent racist epic The Birth of a Nation, and the 175 minutes of Federico Fellini’s depiction of the high life in 1950s Rome, La Dolce Vita. I was no fan of the first Fellini I watched, , but I quite liked this one. The Griffith, however, should be consigned to the bin of history.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched Boss Level and Memory: The Origins of Alien.



The 76th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Lots of enjoyable flicks this month, some unexpectedly so, but perhaps the greatest was David Lowery’s divisive adaptation of The Green Knight. I can see why it turned some people off, but it hit just the right tone for me.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
This is an easy one, because I liked all of the film I watched this month, with one glaring exception: The Birth of a Nation. As I wrote above, D.W. Griffith’s once-acclaimed silent epic is so horrendously racist that it deserves to be forgotten. Actually, there’s a more nuanced discussion to be had there about remembering the misdeeds of the past — it merits viewing on such an academic level — but the old “yeah, it’s racist, but if you ignore that it’s really good” arguments can get in the bin. It does have some decent stuff, but the racism is so awful that it completely overshadows any other merits.

First Film I’ve Seen in the Cinema for 19 Months
After a very long wait, it was finally time to not die of COVID from watching No Time to Die.

Most Surprising Sequel of the Month
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original Westworld (it’s fine), and the sequel has a rep for being much, much worse. So it was a delightful surprise to me that I really enjoyed Futureworld. Whereas the first film basically hangs out in the park until there’s a bit of robot-on-human violence, Futureworld takes the time to have more of a plot, latching itself to the ’70s vogue for conspiracy thrillers. I reckon it might be worth a reappraisal.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
I’m not sure how much point there is keeping this particular award going until I get back on my reviewing horse. Highlighting the most viewed overall post of the month worked at first, but (based on history) it’s going to be my 15th TV column most of the time (as it was this month, and last month), with only the occasional other old TV column pipping it to the post.


My Rewatchathon continues to tick along, although another month just off pace means I’m falling ever-further behind where I should be to reach my goal of 50 this year. Who knows how things will pan out, but at this rate I’ll be pleased to make 40.

#27 Bill (2015)
#28 Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
#29 Spectre (2015)

Bill was 2021’s #1 back in (obviously) January. I liked it first time, but I enjoyed it even more on a rewatch. Quite the other end of the rewatch timeline was Pan’s Labyrinth, long-overdue a revisit because I last watched it 14 years ago. My review (linked above) is a brief 2007-style one… though that’s better than what I post currently, eh? Anyway, some fresh thoughts on Letterboxd.

Spectre was also rather overdue a revisit: it was the only Daniel Craig Bond I’d only seen once, and that was six years ago at the cinema. I was fairly positive about it on Letterboxd, but, I must say, it gets worse the more I reflect on it. Blofeld is horrendously mishandled — underwritten and underused — meaning Waltz is wasted, and I think he knows it, just giving another slight variation of his usual Tarantino performance. It really undermines the entire third act of the film, which is kinda crucial. Still, the film as a whole definitely has some high points.


This month’s big release at the cinema… doesn’t get a mention in this section, because I saw it. Wonders will never cease. Although, as things edge towards normal, there were a couple of other noteworthy titles too, like Disney’s “theatrical only” ‘experiment’ release of Marvel’s latest, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark. I’ve never seen all of the The Sopranos, though I mean to, so it may be a while before I get round to that one…

Perhaps the most-discussed direct-to-streaming release of the month was not a Netflix title, for once, but Amazon’s new version of Cinderella. Unfortunately for them, that was because it looks terrible. And apparently it is terrible. It’s not on my watchlist. They also generated a few column inches with erotic thriller The Voyeurs, but I didn’t see many people talking about Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, though I did pick up that it’s quite good. Meanwhile, on Netflix, the only new title I’ve noted is actioner Kate. I don’t actually know what the reviews have been like — “Mary Elizabeth Winstead leads an action movie” was enough to get it on my list. And talking of female-driven action, Sky Cinema grabbed the UK release of Gunpowder Milkshake.

Among the never-ending parade of old(er) titles coming and going and jumping from one streamer to another, standouts to me included Minari on Sky Cinema, as well as the Russian remake of The Raid, cannily titled Russian Raid. Leaving Sky to popup on Netflix was the new Charlie’s Angels; and, having left Amazon a while back, The Farewell is now on Netflix too. As for Amazon, they now have Chaos Walking (in 4K, too), and also Selma, which I think has been available on every streamer at one time or another (even iPlayer) and I really should get round to. And talking of iPlayer, they had a seemingly-rare chance to watch The Graduate this month, so I should do that too. They also had Whiplash, which I ought to rewatch — I liked it a lot, but don’t really understand why it seems to have become an Instant Classic in the past few years.

Finally… I say “finally”: this is going to take more than half the section. Yes, my bank balance is sobbing once again — as is my shelf space — as new purchases flowed through my letterbox like water. Where to begin? Indicator’s Columbia Noir series reached its fourth iteration, adding six new films to my unwatched noir pile. Similarly, Master of Cinema’s Early Universal range is just getting underway (I hope), with Volume 1 bringing me three silent titles I’d never heard of before. Fun times. Other new releases included an MoC edition of Johnny Guitar; Eureka’s release of Duel to the Death, billed as “one of the greatest swordplay movies of all time”; an Aussie Imprint import for Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven; and Anime Ltd’s release of the first CG Lupin III film, Lupin III: The First.

My 4K collection also got a considerable boost this month, between brand-new releases like Black Widow (the first Marvel film in yonks I’ve not been able to buy in 3D — boo!); archive releases in fancy box sets, like The Thing and The Servant; semi-random sale pick-ups, like Shadow and Full Metal Jacket; and the kind of titles you might once have never believed you’d see on Blu-ray, never mind 4K, but nowadays all bets are off as indie labels go for the new tech but studios remain wary — by which I specifically mean a bundle I imported from Vinegar Syndrome including The Beastmaster, Daughters of Darkness, and SexWorld — which, if you’ve not heard of it, is a porno riff on Westworld and Futureworld. It sounds surprisingly good. I also bought Eleven Days, Eleven Nights and Robotrix this month, which as a set make my glad Blu-rays don’t come through the post in transparent boxes…

But I’m still not done! I caved to a bunch of gialli and other international semi-oddities in a recent 88 Films sale on HMV, snaffling the likes of The Bloodstained Shadow, Eyeball, Harlequin, Ironmaster, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, and Watch Me When I Kill. Throw in The Blood Spattered Bride with that VS order, and there’s clearly a lot of the red stuff waiting to spray from my Blu-ray player. Finally, helping round out my classic 3D collection was Dynasty (nothing to do with the TV series), and I completed Richard Lester’s Musketeers trilogy with The Return of the Musketeers.

And that’s not even mentioning the TV Blu-rays I bought.


We’re off to Arrakis. Hopefully it’ll be a return ticket.

Sean Connery as James Bond, Part 2

If everything had gone according to plan, this weekend Americans would’ve been flocking to cinemas to see Daniel Craig’s final performance as Bond, James Bond, secret agent 007, in No Time to Die (us Brits would’ve all been to see it last weekend, of course). As that’s not to be, here’s something both entirely similar and entirely different: my reviews of Sean Connery’s final performance in the role — both of them.

This concludes my coverage of Connery’s time as Bond, the previous instalment of which I posted in, er, 2013. (And you thought No Time to Die had a long delay.) That covered his first stint as James Bond — the five films he starred in from 1962 to 1967. Now, here are his two remaining performances:

Neither of these films is Connery’s finest hour as Bond — they’re his worst hours, in fact — but, I must say, they were both better than I had remembered.

Click through to learn more about…

That may be it for Connery, but — as always — James Bond will return… in Daniel Craig’s case, in November (fingers crossed!)