Art by Jeff Marshall
Two years and seven viewings later, 007GB’s Vice President Miles Winterburn still finds No Time To Die triggering – in a good way. Here he encourages even those who don’t like the film to give it another try.
Bathing in the alcohol-fuelled afterglow of the 007GB Club’s Gala dinner aboard HMS Belfast in July. I found myself metaphorically propping the bar up with The Bond Experience’s David Zaritsky. Somehow, we got onto the topic of No time To Die, and I told David about my plans to write an article for the club’s website about my love for the film. I don’t think David would mind my saying that he’s not a huge fan of NTTD, so we joked about it, and he wished me luck with writing this article.
My first foray into unpopular Bond fan opinions was my piece for the first 007GB Club magazine, on why I like Never Say Never Again. This article you’re reading right now was in the offing way before I wrote that earlier piece, but I decided to hold off until we reached the two-year anniversary of No Time To Die’s release. The film has been polarising to say the least, and I think it’s fair to say that many Bond fans (but not all) hate it, and not just the ending. I’m here to explain why, after two years and multiple rewatches, No Time To Die remains as brilliant and impactful to me as the first time I watched it. I truly hope that some reading this article will agree with much of what I’m about to say, and, to the rest of you, I hope it at least makes you consider the film in a new light or forgive it for some of its decisions.
So, we come back a single question: why? Why would EON dare to do something different, so unexpected, and something that would clearly polarise audiences worldwide. It was a huge risk and one that they still need to dig themselves out of two years on. So again, why do it?
I say, why not?
Fleming left Bond for dead at the end of From Russia, with Love. Yes, not actually dead, but a potential way out for the author. This was always going to be Craig’s last outing, so why not break the mould? Smash it to hell. So, EON did. I doubt that it’ll every happen again, and at the age of 50, surely not in my lifetime.
My journey to the film’s release
Let’s start by going back to early 2020 when the spectre of Covid spread its tentacles across the world, and No Time To die became one of the first films to push its release date back. As many of you will be aware, this film was already running late for various reasons, so the delay, although understandable, was like a kick in the nether regions. We continued to suffer further date shifts until Tuesday 28th September 2021 was eventually announced as the UK Premiere. During the continual delays, and the isolation that many of us suffered during the pandemic, Bond social media kept everyone going. Personally, the likes of the Bond Experience, James Bond Radio, Calvin Dyson, the Shaken Not Stirred Facebook group and James Bond and Friends Podcast helped keep me sane. I particularly remember James Bond and Friends taking deep dives into all areas of the franchise, including No Time To Die. There was a lot of information, rumours, and a little misdirection kicking around during this period. Two huge plot points that I was convinced about though, were that Bond would somehow have a daughter, and that it sounded very much like he might not survive the story. Ultimately, upon getting to see the film for the first time, Bond’s death was the only thing that I wasn’t 100% sure about, but I braced myself for that possibility.
When it became clear that we were finally going to get No Time To Die released in late September 2021, pretty much 18 months later than previously expected, my anticipation started to increase. I’ve been with my wife for 14 years now, and we’ve been at the cinema on the opening night of all the Bond films released in that period. As a side note, she feels the same about the film as I do. I never even attempted to get tickets for the premiere and settled for the comfort of my local Everyman cinema. For those who don’t know what Everyman is, they are a chain of boutique cinemas in the UK with sofa style seating and table service facilities. Basically, a very nice way to watch a film.
I think it’s fair to say that due to the delays, the leaks, and the amount of time we had to pick through the tidbits before it was finally released, I sat down in my comfy seat that night fearing that I knew too much, and it would ruin for the film for me.
I was so wrong. We absolutely loved it, and both of us were a complete blubbering mess as the credits rolled.
I went on to see the film again that Saturday with the Shaken Not Stirred crew in London, and then again, a couple of weeks later in IMAX. Since its arrival on 4K UHD disk I’ve seen it three more times (four if you count the rewatch I did to make notes for this article). Each time I’ve left it just long enough to get to the point where I really fancied watching it again. Every time, it flies through its lengthy running time. Every time, I don’t get a bored or distracted because of familiarity. Every time, no matter how hard I try not to, I cry at the end. The concoction of the reality of the situation that Safin puts Bond in and the sweeping Zimmer music of “Final Ascent”, tips me right over the edge. But more about that later.
So why do I love this film so much? This can only be answered by briefly looking back at my stance on the Daniel Craig tenure of Bond films. When Craig was announced as the next 007, I was up for it straight away. I’d seen him in a few films, and the classic 90s BBC drama Our Friends in the North, but it had been Layer Cake that made me think he had what it took to be Bond, even if he was a somewhat different incarnation of the character from before. Here’s my brief thoughts on the four other films from this period, including where they ranked on my list last year:
Casino Royale (2006) – last ranked at No. 1
Right place, right time? No, it quickly proved to be much more than that. Casino Royale isn’t only my favourite Bond film, but one of my favourite films, full stop.
Quantum of Solace (2008) – last ranked at No. 12
Quantum isn’t Casino Royale. I know that’s stating the obvious, but I’ve always felt that if you can get past that, you’ve won half of the battle. I’ve always loved this film for what it is. I even get excited for much maligned pre-titles sequence.
Skyfall (2012) – last ranked at No. 6
The 2012 London Olympics looms over Skyfall, but it’s always been a go-to watch for me, helped by the excellent direction and cinematography. I thought was universally loved until I got more involved in the Bond community a few years ago. It always surprises me when people say that they really don’t like it.
Spectre (2015) – last ranked at No. 19
I came out of Spectre with the creeping feeling that I didn’t like it. I slept on it and woke to decide that I’d been correct. I remember posting a short review on Facebook the following day, finishing it with something along the lines of “If this proves to be Daniel Craig’s last outing as 007, it’s probably for the best.” In particular, the back end of the film feels a mess to me. I can watch a film and often forgive the things that don’t work, to not ruin my enjoyment of what does. This is required when watching certain films, including many Bond outings. However, I’ll admit that I still fail to do this for Spectre, which I struggle to truly enjoy on its own merit.
So, onto the reason we’re all here.
No Time To Die (2021) – last ranked at No. 5
To try to understand what makes the film work for me, and to capture my honest thoughts, I sat down yet again to watch the film, but this time I took copious notes. The following are my ramblings from that rewatch. Some are specific observations on scenes or sections of the film. Others are thoughts that came to mind while I was watching.
So many elements of No Time To Die make it a unique for a Bond film. The beginning of the film is testament to that, with the first ever Bond flashback sequence, tying us back to Madeline’s story in Spectre. It feels like Director Cary Joji Fukunaga picks up from his incredible first season on True Detective. This feels more like a horror film than a Bond film and puts the audience on the edge of their seat from the outset. I’ll admit that when I heard that Fukunaga was taking over from Danny Boyle on directorial duties it piqued my interest. That series from 2014 was simply one of the best television series of the 2010s.
One shot that jumps out at me is the glass door slowly closing as Safin enters the house. The cinematography gives you an inkling of the incredible work to come. Seeing Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers on young Madeline’s bedroom TV always amuses me. There are some excellent visual effects littered throughout the film, the vast majority of which are seamless. It was rightly nominated for Best Visual Effects at the following Oscars. And just to finish off the flashback sequence, the shot of the bullets cutting into the ice from below is inspired.
The cut to Italy and back to a time following 2015’s Spectre is well executed, and we see Bond for the first time. As he and Madeline traverse the Italian coast (which neatly bookends the film) we also get the line and song “We have all the time in the word”. If only they did.
The arrival in Matera is stunning. What a beautiful location, which I must visit one day. I love the concept of them arriving while there’s a festival on where secrets are burnt. Unlike in Spectre, I genuinely believe at this point that the two of them are in love, which makes everything to come have so much more impact. Their adult conversation about trust and relationships is refreshing for a Bond film, and, as we find out later, Madeline’s intention to bring Bond to Matera was from the heart, not out of betrayal.
Putting their blossoming relationship to one side for a minute though, Bond’s visit to Vesper’s grave is so beautiful and sombre. Zimmer and Mazzaro’s score is just getting started. Some may not like Zimmer’s sound, but I’ve been a huge fan for years now. So much of the film’s soundtrack gives me exactly what I wanted. I love Bond’s Matera outfit, even though I know many hate it. You can’t beat a bit of corduroy in my book, but it doesn’t stay looking fresh for long when the bomb goes off. The use of muffled sound due to the explosion isn’t new to filmmaking, but when it’s used well, like here, it has a massive impact. When his hearing (and ours) returns on the bridge, it brings our focus back just in time for one of the film’s signature stunts. The bridge jump is truly amazing: it’s just a shame it had been shown so many times in the promos.
The Spectre lie that Primo tells Bond drives the rest of the pre-titles sequence, and it does make you second guess Madeline’s loyalty. The motorbike jump is more for show than a requirement, but it’s still a cool stunt. However, let’s get to the sequence in the square when the DB5 is seemingly trapped. Madeline’s emotions in the car are so convincing and the bullets hitting the glass add to the tension. The DB5 donuts, spraying machine gun fire, and that bombastic Bond music is an absolutely classic moment. Whatever you think of the film, this sequence knocks it out of the park. I just wish the chase was longer.
When the couple reach the station and Bond says, “This is it”, it’s so sad that their romance has hit the rocks. The betrayal Bond feels is real at this point and Madeline is clearly broken by it. The beautifully melancholy sound of the Billie Eilish song rolls us into the title sequence. I’ll be totally honest, the titles are my least favourite of the Craig era, however they aren’t without their merits. I like the DB5 plunging to depths, the DNA strands as guns and bullet trails, and the exploding statue of Bond at the end (a hint of what’s to come).
So now we finally get to present day, with some five years having elapsed. The dawn shot over London is beautiful, and the upside-down camera angle of Primo and his heinous colleagues is a neat camera trick.
The introduction of David Dencik as Obruchev sets up some of the light relief in this film, and particularly in this sequence. It contrasts with the murder of the guard, and subsequently the scientists, which are particularly nasty.
I love Obruchev’s goofy observations and comments, such as “I like animals” and “Magnets!”; they’re so stupid. The lab sequence also has a cameo from Hugh Dennis, who’s a comedian and panel show legend here in the UK. I think he’d make a decent Q in a parallel universe.
This sequence is followed by the introduction of both Fiennes’s M and Harris’s Moneypenny for what will surely be their final appearances in a Bond film. M being cagey and saying that it needs to be communicated as a “gas leak” sets up a rough journey for his character in the film.
Cut to our hero, who’s clearly enjoying his retirement in Jamaica. However, he still has secret “spy” drawers, which is an interesting little addition. Bond seems to be content with his life now. There isn’t any need for a fancy car when you can have an old Land Rover to pootle around the island in.
Jeffrey Wright playing as Felix Leiter for the first time since 2008 is a welcome return. Their meeting at Bar XXV (aka 25… get it?) with Logan Ash is fun. The coin game boggles me but adds to their camaraderie. And once again, let’s not fail to mention the lighting and cinematography in this place. I’ve kept a close eye on DP Linus Sandgren’s work since. He’s subsequently worked on films including 2023’s Babylon, where the visuals end up being one the film’s most redeeming features.
The introduction of Lashana Lynch as Nomi pretending to be an islander and coaxing Bond with “Need a ride” always make me smile. Along with her banter: “I have a thing for old wrecks”. James clearly thinks he’s going to get lucky. The following sequence and reveal of her true reason for being there plays out nicely. The spy banter is sharp and the reveal of the reassignment of ‘007’ is a little bittersweet, but most knew this in advance of watching anyway. We also get to see Bond’s Jamaican home one last time. God knows why they didn’t leave the set as a tourist attraction, or at least build one where they could.
Bond using the phone Nomi left him to ring M, and him thinking that it was 007, is a neat touch. Bond calling M “Darling” is hilarious, and nicely sets up the face to face with him to come. It’s clear that M holds all the cards and we’re yet to find out how ugly and dangerous the situation really is.
So, it’s off to Cuba for one hell of a cracking action sequence, and the best part of the film for some people. Let’s be clear: Ana de Armas as Paloma is a sensation. As she’s shown time and again, she can be so naturally sexy – and that dress! Need I say more? The fact that Bond assumes that she wants to have sex with him before the mission, when she clearly doesn’t feel like that, is so funny.
Off they head to the Spectre party via a bit of vodka martini-based Dutch courage. The Bond theme comes in and you can’t help but smile as they enter one of the strangest places to appear in a Bond film since Scaramanga’s Funhouse. What a nest of vipers! Those Spectre agents really know how to party. It looks like a cross between a lap dancing club and the ghost party and the end of Kubrick’s The Shining. There are people in animal masks?! The whole eye on the cushion just makes it even more surreal.
Then there’s the old switcheroo of the DNA sequencing virus by Obruchev, bumbling his way through mass murder, not that Spectre didn’t deserve it. We finally get to see just how nasty Heracles is in action, and its bye-bye bad guys!
Nomi’s smash and grab is like something straight out of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman and Dencik’s humour is a great contrast to the relentless action in this sequence. Paloma gets the opportunity to shine and seriously kick arse. I look forward to seeing Ana tackle action and gunplay again in the John Wick spin off The Ballerina next year. My final nod to the fun of the Cuba sequence is when Bond quickly pours them both a mid-battle drink, and then they go back to the slaughter. That bombastic version of the Bond theme kicks off again, and you can’t help but get caught up in the moment.
Bond whisks Obruchev away to seeming safety out to sea. The betrayal by Logan Ash isn’t much of a surprise, but the fight has all the brutality we’ve come to expect from the Craig era. Poor Felix, seeing him fatally wounded makes you realise that this is really the beginning of the end. It was this point in the film where I decided to brace myself for the ending. It didn’t help, though. The final exchange between the two old friends is touching. Felix manages to say “You got this. Make it worth it”. If you don’t get a small lump in your throat, you’re obviously dead inside. I can’t help but see the parallels with Vesper floating away under water in Casino Royale 15 years earlier. The scene on the sinking trawler is tense, and Bond only just makes it out of there alive. The first half of our journey has come to a shocking conclusion.
London calling… The short but sweet reveal of the old V8 Aston in the lock up is a nice intro to this section of the film. Bond’s arrival at MI6 (actually the real MOD building) always makes me chuckle. Have you noticed that there is a parking space to park legally, but he chooses not to use it?
Inside MI6, the two 007’s, old and new, causing confusion for the staff is an amusing touch, culminating in Nomi saying to Moneypenny “I get why you shot him”. Bond’s snarky comments to M are hilarious. Fiennes is excellent when pushed; what a great actor he is. “It’s definitely the same desk” always makes me laugh out loud. Bond tossing of the Guest ID in the bin is a classic trait from Craig’s tenure in the role. If you’ve never really noticed, watch out for him doing it.
Bond and Moneypenny pretty much barging into Q’s house and ruining his dinner plans is a great scene. The hairless cats are a nice addition to his character. It’s a shame Whishaw and his colleagues’ time in these key smaller roles must come to an end. I like the way lessons have been learnt since plugging in an unknown computer in Skyfall. The scene also acts as an opportunity for some major plot exposition, and helps the audience understand the potential impact of Heracles.
Finally, we have the return of Madeline and Safin, and the subtle but creepy moment when he takes a strand of her hair while waiting in the office. I know many hate Rami Malek in this film, but I like the fact that he’s vague and unsettling. We’ve had plenty of those kinds of Bond villains over the years. We don’t need to know everything, but we get enough to satisfy me… just. It’s interesting that the two of them talk about death without her knowing who she’s talking to at that point. Then the realisation clearly shakes her. Lea Seydoux does a superb job in this film, and she totally redeems herself from her turn in Spectre. Either her acting has improved, or the writing is just so much better. You decide. The coincidence that the two of them are reconnecting over a common enemy in Blofeld is a leap of faith but serves to drive the plot forward. The scene ends with Safin clearly knowing about Mathilde long before much of the audience.
The meeting between Bond and M near Hammersmith Bridge is more exposition. “We?”. I love that Fiennes swears when he realises that Bond is ahead of him because of Q. The OHMSS theme is a little on the nose but puts us where we need to be, I.E. it’s mission time again. There are some clear plot similarities with that film. We head back to M’s office and Q trying to pretend that they haven’t met again is a funny moment. Bond is reinstated. Nomi repeating “00 what?”, is amusing paranoia. Nanobots programmed with DNA, you say? Yes, I think we’ve got the picture now.
Time to head to HMP Belmarsh for what even I’ll agree is a messy section of the film, but not without some merit. When Bond and Madeline see each other again for the first time, the instrumental title song comes in, and its touching that Bond does genuinely lose composure briefly. It’s interesting that she simply can’t go through with what’s required, but ends up doing it by accident anyway because Bond touches her skin. The entrance of Blofeld is so over the top and unnecessary, but I love it. Waltz is a great actor but was always the wrong choice for Blofeld. He does his best, but it was time to go. At least he clears up some loose plot threads first. Craig is so light and playful in parts of the scene, humouring him. It’s a little out of character, but I suppose he feels that pandering to the egomaniac is a decent strategy play. Blofeld even foreshadows the end of the film by saying “When her secret gets out, it’ll be the death of you”. Then things take a darker turn with the call back to the novel of You Only Live Twice. “Die. Die, Blofeld. Die!”, and thankfully he does. We finish off this section with one last piece of virus-based exposition, which in many ways the most important, as we get “Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas”, and reference to it being good that Bond and Blofeld aren’t really related. Bond lies about Madeline’s whereabouts and then heads straight to find her. I’m not sure that driving that old Aston Martin V8 was the best way to get to Norway, but I suppose it would need a good run after being sat in a lock up for more than five years.
We head back to Norway and Madeline’s childhood home. Obviously, the trauma of her mother being murdered in the living room didn’t put her off staying there. Once again, the cinematography is beautiful in these scenes. The orange glow of the setting sun through the windows is stunning. Bond and Madeline have their second grown up talk of the film. It’s a very raw conversation, with emotional and touching words from Bond. The introduction of lovely little Mathilde is great. Madeline says, “She’s not yours”, like anyone (and Bond) believe that for a second, and the truth about Safin finally comes out. If only she’d had a chance to say this five years ago. We also find out about the island with a Poison Garden, another partial lift from the novel of You Only Live Twice. Bond realises that they are in trouble and so they jump in the Toyota Land Cruiser and try to escape. Mathilde’s line about “Do Mosquitoes have friends?” is so cute, along with her deciding “I don’t think so”. The ensuing chase is exciting but lacks a little impact, apart from seeing some very expensive Range Rovers get totalled. However, the sequence in the misty forest is exceptional. Bond is totally focused and in killer mode, and Madeline holds her own, too. Using the cable to take out the biker and shooting the guys in the front of the Land Rover are both clinical kills. Then we have the death of Logan Ash, which is so satisfying. Bond’s “I had a brother. His name was Felix Leiter”, tells us everything we need to know as his revenge is exacted on Ash. With mother and daughter whisked away by Safin, Nomi, and Bond pair up and drift nicely onto the military base in the gorgeous Aston Martin DBS.
We get the final briefing sequence of the Craig tenure and poor old Q is still in his pyjamas under his coat. Q having a full tea set in one of the drawers is hilarious. The Stealthy Bird Glider is cool, and I love that fact that neither of them has a clue how to fly it. You can’t beat an old military base with a submarine pen as a setting for a Bond villain’s lair. Safin’s seemingly got the decorators in. If only they knew that they were wasting their time. However, the set design is superb here. The lighting in areas like the tunnel below the monorail, the concrete stairways, and the huge Heracles processing farm and factory are so impressive.
We get to see Safin’s killer keyring, which will ultimately be Bond’s Achilles Heel. I’m not sure how Safin thought that he’d get Madeline to agree to stay with him, but this franchise is full of delusional villains. Safin and Mathilde’s walk around the Poison Garden is creepy, helped along by the unsettling Zimmer score. Even when he tries to be kind to the child, he’s incapable of not being weird.
The 00s enter the base in full tactical mode and there’s a reminder of the impact of the virus getting out, which reinforces that failure is not an option. With Madeline held prisoner, I love the way that she sews the seed of doubt in Primo, then she gets the better of him and escapes. Bond and Nomi reach the lab and Obruchev gets a well-deserved bloody nose. The Safin/Bond encounter is tense. Again, the set design is incredible here. Safin’s delusional speech is right out of the villain’s playbook. Bond pretending to beg is a neat trick that we rarely, if ever, see. He simply knows that Safin can’t be reasoned with. He’s not fast enough to kill the guards and rescue Mathilde, but at least Bond is reunited with Madeline. Safin letting Matilde go because she bites him and gives her the choice is a little odd. But for me, it just proves that he simply doesn’t care. All he’s really interested in is Madeline and selling the virus to the highest bidders. Bear in mind that Safin doesn’t know that Madeline has escaped and is back with Bond at this point.
Back to Nomi and it’s time for Obruchev to die. The dialogue is a bit obvious, but it’s so satisfying to see him plunge to his death in the acid of the Heracles Farm. The lovers discover Mathilde, and the family is reunited. That’s apart from Dou Dou (poor Dou Dou). They reunite with Nomi, Bond saying his goodbyes and packs the 00 and his family off in the boat. It’s such a sad moment when you know what’s coming shortly. The shot as the boat enters the light of day is beautiful. It’s just a shame Bond didn’t go, with Nomi being the one to stay to save the day. It could’ve given Lashana Lynch an incredible opportunity to redeem her fairly one dimensional and underused character. However, that would’ve surely been too radical a plot decision. Bond’s now on the rampage to open the blast doors and let the missiles in, and we even get a “real world” gunbarrel shot. The supposed single shot stairway sequence is brilliant and taking out Primo with the Omega watch at the end is a satisfying payoff. I love the fact that Q says that it’ll be tricky to open the blast doors, and Bond just presses and pulls everything, and it works: typical 007. The blast doors are open, and missiles are launched! But more importantly, Dou Dou is found (again, poor Dou Dou). Then even more importantly, the blast doors are closed again. Time is running out now.
And so, it’s the beginning of the end for James Bond. When Bond runs through the pool and gets shot it’s a shock, but it’s when he’s laid there, and Safin shoots him again that my heart started to break. Hero and villain scuffle in the shallow water, with the breaking of Safin’s arm a brutal act of violence. It’s only then that we realise that Safin’s smashed the vile of targeted Heracles in Bond’s face. You see Bond understand the impact of what’s occurred by the blood on his hand and words spilling out his foe’s lips. Hans Zimmer’s “Final Ascent” commences, and the tears are coming once again. The way Bond shoots Safin without even looking at him is so powerful. It’s one of my favourite moments in the whole of Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007. Safin means absolutely nothing, it’s a completely flippant act, just like the tossing of the ID card away earlier.
You can see now that this isn’t going to end well. Bond is out of time, and he’s running out of blood. Q’s realisation that Bond has been poisoned and isn’t going to make it is overwhelming. Bond accepting his fate is so beautiful and poignant too. His final words with Madeline are so powerful. Lea Seydoux is simply incredible here; you literally can see her heart break.
“If only we had more time.”
“You have all the time in the world!”
Farewell James Bond 007. The devastation on ALL the characters’ faces is palpable as the missiles smash into the island, as visible as it is on me, for the seventh viewing in a row. Back in London, the eulogy with the quote by author Jack London read out by M is a gut punch.
“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” I want that read out at my funeral now.
A toast “To James!”… then life goes on at MI6. Finally, we go full circle and end on the coastal road in Italy that led Bond and Madeline to Matera. A mother telling her daughter a story about her father. We Have All The Time In The World plays, we fade to the black of the tunnel, and the bittersweet realisation of the finite outcome of the film hits home.
So that’s my take on No Time To Die. I look forward to discussing the film further with members at future club events. I have been supported by the club’s amazing Editor in Chief, David Lowbridge-Ellis, in the creation of this article. David’s previously written about the film for Licence to Queer. I highly recommend that you check that out, too. Also, a huge thank you to artist Jeff Marshall for the use of his incredible Bond art. Check out Jeff’s brand-new book, Beauty of Bond, which is available now on Amazon or via the On The Tracks of 007 website.
I’ll openly admit that this article has been hard to write this at times. Firstly, because I knew that it was going to be a bit of behemoth. Secondly, because I as much as I love the film, I continue to find it very triggering. After two years, it’s still like picking the top off a scab every time I watch it. It must sound a little masochistic to keep putting myself through viewings of it. However, I’ll close by saying that I still stand by my opinion that this is a great film, not just a great Bond film. I genuinely hope more Bond fans can ultimately find peace and get more enjoyment from rewatching No Time To Die.
Last modified: 3 January 2024