Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

007’s licence to thrill is renewed

‘No Time to Die’ suggests that Daniel Craig’s James Bond will be a hard act to follow

Artillery Row

“And how was it for you? We have been waiting a long time. Were you shaken or stirred? You could not have expected sex from me, even in that wine store. It is not that I am 52, but sex is not allowed any more. Only killing. And I am still good at that, never better.”

Long films are often just long, but No Time To Die takes you with it. There are plenty of hits on your attention to keep you alert and the ending is a real wrencher. Let us get through the weaknesses first and then dwell on the much that goes more than right.

The plot clearly evaded some of the reviewers, with at least two too drunk or stupid to understand what is going on. In essence, we follow the model of the film (not novel) From Russia With Love, with two sets of baddies. Not that complicated, even if some of the plot details and links do not work, and the whole is a bit of a jumble.

Unfortunately, the key theme, which helps explain why the film has passed Chinese censors, is that of faults and divisions in the West. The root-cause of the chaos is a British government project, there is serious division between Britain and America, and treachery in the intelligence worlds of both. Aside from that, the idea of a British warship being readily on hand without preparations in the Sea of Okhotsk is ridiculous. More commonly, these days the type shown is undergoing repairs in Britain.

the key theme, which helps explain why the film has passed Chinese censors, is that of faults and divisions in the West

Aside from plot, and the terrible theme song sung by Billie Eilish, there are characterisations that are half-dimensional at best. These include not only the baddies but also most of MI6 including M, Tanner and Q. While clearly intended to reverse the impression produced by the interaction of Bond and Rosie Carver in Live And Let Die (1973 film), Nomi, while vigorous, comes across as humourless and without interest. Pace Sir Keir Starmer in his new role as a film critic, she would make a terrible Bond.

Ana de Armas and Léa Seydoux act with more conviction. There are other echoes of earlier Bond presentations, not only the obvious, as in the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969 film), but also, repeatedly, You Only Live Twice (1964 novel), including the poison garden, the setting on a volcanic island, and the epitaph.

The positives, however, far, far outweigh the negatives. Although at times wearing some terrible jackets apparently by Tom Ford, Craig easily carries the film. He reprises the grit, dedication and energy he brought to the role with Casino Royale, and gives it a sustained focus throughout the long film. He can act well and is given the opportunity to show this in a way denied the others. As Umberto Eco pointed out in his book on the Fleming novels, there  is a formulaic character to them, and this has been continued in the films. Fortunately, Craig’s Bond pops the formula, rising, as it were, beyond the part to redeliver the figure of complexity that was sketched out by Timothy Dalton.

This is not a film shot to work well on a television or electronic device

If his acting pops the formula, the film’s action sustains it with well-tried methods and tropes. The firefights and chases are handled very well, not least in the final lair (despite comparisons by at least one critic with a Ken Adams’ setting, this is far grimmer), the car-action is repeatedly superb, the action sequence in Matera is stunning, the Cuban section is excellent, the frequent use of drones provides brilliant aerial shots, and the colour palette of the cinematography provides repeated visual interests, and for both inside and outside, night and day sequences.

The film moves between the suffocatingly close and the wide, wide open air, the latter driven home by the extent to which for many this will be the first return to the potential (and self-discipline) of cinema. This is not a film shot to work well on a television or electronic device. It deserves the wide-angle shots, not least to capture the impressive colour tones and the often interesting lighting. The isolation of the house in the expanse of the snow, and the shed in the forest, for example, will not work well other than in the cinema.

Several strands are at play in this story. With, let us be frank, poor scripting, they capsize the plot at times. A Bond plot is there to strain incredulity not comprehension. But these strands are held together by Craig, not only the lines he is given but also his ability to act, and act very well, firing on all cylinders. His James Bond will be a tough one to follow. Maybe, having expressed interest, Sir Keir can be persuaded to take the role, and Labour is apparently sympathetic to both “transitioning” and job-shares.

Jeremy Black is the author of The World of James Bond (revised edition 2021).

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover