The opening episode is the best thing about it

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We need a sharper cliché than ‘eagerly anticipated’. Delayed more times than Frank Sinatra’s retirement, the latest James Bond film bears a responsibility no smaller than opening the world to post-pandemic liberation. No pressure.

We just need you to reassure us that Armageddon has been avoided (in the real world and on screen). If that’s too much, just show us explosions, expensive cars, and beautiful kissing couples. We missed it all.

No Time to Die certainly answers that eternal Bond briefing. One need only take a look at the runtime – longer than 2001: A Space Odyssey, longer than the next “epic” Dune – to conclude that this is the more Leap you might ask. The pre-credit streak lasted just long enough for Roger Moore to kiss a flight attendant, drink a quart of champagne and ski jump off a mountain. Here, it takes Billie Eilish nearly half an hour to deliver what is now an old-fashioned title song.

As was the case with Specter, the opening episode is the best thing about the movie. Following a pre-pre-credit streak (trust me, the most Bond already) we find the retired agent living in an improbable marital happiness with the boffin Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux, still not smiling). Well, that was never going to last.

Surviving an explosion, Bond leaps into his Aston Martin and dodges further efforts of annihilation in the loudest way imaginable. Older owners of the Corgi version of this car will feel transported to the blue hills that are remembered. Older owners of thumb soundtrack albums will savor a well-chosen cover of an earlier theme song. Cary Joji Fukunaga leads the action with lots of flavorful crunch and some unsettling splash.

Then, alas, No Time to Die goes out for a while. We’ve never given much thought to the intrigue of these things, but they’re usually composed with a little more discipline. Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), Bond’s old friend at the CIA, arrives with news of a missing scientist who was working on deadly nanotechnology. The two compete with our hero’s former venture to get the nerd back and, in the process, run into madman Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and his deranged minions in Specter. And blah, blah, blah.

Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas in No Time to Die. Photography: Nicola Dove

The dastardly plot is used as a vehicle to take us from familiar tropes to more contemporary variations of Bond’s now ancient mechanics. No one will mistake No Time to Die for feminist work, but women are given agency and character.

As you probably already know, during a tasty “boo-hoo, it’s all gone“ woke ”crowd search, the designation“ 007 ”was, while Bond was away, picked up by a black woman. (the charismatic Lashana Lynch). “Send 007. You can go, Bond,” M (Ralph Fiennes) said at one point. It works. Madeleine is Bond’s equal in other ways. It also works.

All of this makes Ana de Armas’ underuse more special. Appearing briefly in a Cuban episode, the talented actor appears to have been chosen solely to provide purists with something like an old-fashioned “Bond Girl”. Will the outgoing incumbent succeed with it? It would be a waste. But it’s safe to say that while he’s always happy to topple an opposing minion with barely a qualm, James Bond is more open to emotional connections with his romantic partners than at any time since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. .

Even an actor as good as Craig has a hard time making sense of this more sensitive and shared version of Bond. Too many opposing cogs creak in a psyche that has never been very comfortable with contradiction.

Then, towards the end, it comes in such a moving form that only the most awkward customer will leave unsatisfied. Little credit goes to Rami Malek, whose villain is nothing more than a ready-made megalomaniac. Waltz again fails to flesh out this version of Blofeld.

But the rest of the team rally for – unless Craig changes his mind again – a satisfying greeting to the Bond Dynasty’s longest reign to date. Now put on your back for six months of reflections on the “next James Bond”.

Release September 30


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