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You’ve just killed James Bond! Why 007’s No Time To Die was a lie

And so the story goes, I called it. I felt it in my l‘eau and the omens proved to be terrifyingly true. Wait, James Bond dies? Yes, for the first time in the character’s 59-year cinematic history (and 68-year literary one), 007 is killed. The movie’s title lied to us. It’s pretty definitive too; he’d been badly wounded by an odious little dwarf and the missile strike wiped out the island he was sent to liberate. Ouch.

In a December 2019 blog article I prefaced the piece by surmising that, ‘Daniel Craig’s fifth outing in the franchise looks to tie the mythology together for a grand finale that gives this iteration of Bond a sense of closure never seen before in the 007 films. There’s no going back from this one.’

Then again, you probably would have had an idea of where I was heading as I’d titled the item ‘No Time To Die? No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die. And here’s why…’

James Bond is dead then. Ooops, spoilers! 

Deep into the action-heavy third act of No Time to Die, the secret agent man of several incarnations across sixty years on cinema screens from Bombay to Birmingham died on the job protecting his girlfriend and their young daughter. As Paul McCartney said on The Beatles’ Abbey Road

“And in the end 

The love we take

Is equal to the love you make”

In the end, Daniel Craig’s slightly elongated 15-year story arc as the world’s most celebrated spy was all about love and family. 

What the actual fuck?

Yes, during the course of No Time To Die Eon Productions turned the silver screen’s longest running action hero into less of a spymaster and more of more of a patermeister. Though he’s only recently learnt about the existence of the latter, having been estranged from the Proustian-referencing Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) for five years. 

Introducing them to his colleague Nomi, James momentarily doesn’t know what to say: ‘They’re my…’ When Nomi finishes the sentence – ‘family?’ – the weight of it hits Bond and we see him mouth the word back to himself in bewilderment. Elsewhere in the story we also have Bond’s surrogate MI6 family – his father figure M, his bickering sister Moneypenny, his geeky cousin-in-arms Q, finally confirming what we suspected in Skyfall, that he’s from Queer Street.

Finally, in a film series that started in 1962, when homosexual acts were still illegal, to have positive representation for the LGBT community at long last was truly a moment to behold, though it was a shame it was tossed off so briefly.

We drop in on Ernst Stavro Blofeld, James’s childhood foster brother, too. And when long-time ally Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) is murdered, the killer taunts Bond about Blofeld being his sibling: ‘I had a brother,’ replies James before executing him. ‘His name was Felix.’ 

With Leiter bumped off, and Judi Dench’s M meeting her maker in Skyfall, all the signs were there that death becomes Bond, and the unthinkable was possible.

Despite the obvious parallels with Timothy Dalton’s revenge plot in the under-appreciated if not-quite-Bondian-enough Licence To Kill (Robert Davi’s Franz Sanchez had ordered the murder of Leiter’s wife on their wedding day in Florida), this is bold, emotional storytelling for a character who’s been typified for six decades as a loner, a widower, a psychopath, and/or a commitment-wary Casanova. 

But if Daniel Craig’s five-film run in the role has taught us anything it’s that his Bond is a different beast entirely. Though there may be flashes of an often exhilarating exploration into nihilism and sadism on the surface, there is raw emotion at its very core. Very 21st century and all that.

Significantly, perhaps, the last four 007 pictures have all been directed by men born after the franchise began – males who have grown up with all the cliches and formal devices and are ready to both celebrate *and* subvert them. No Time To Die is helmed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, who was born in 1977, the same month that The Spy Who Loved Me was released. Amazingly, he’s also the first American to direct a Bond movie. 

This film, as with all the Craigs, knows how to have a rollicking good time, even its now multi-millionaire star turn couldn’t wait to exit the series. It knows how to sell the escapist, popcorn enjoyment of James Bond – but it also wants to do a 21st century character development thang and deepen the emotional angle and make us care.

Of course, another way that Craig’s era feels different from his predecessors is its self-containment. The dividing lines between previous Bond actors tended to blur – Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, for example, are arguably all playing the same man in the same ongoing narrative. Craig’s decade and a half stint, however, is a defined quintet of movies; a story from beginning to end, which sees Bond progress from reckless rookie through to grizzled veteran spy status, retirement and even (gasp) death. 

No Time To Die is a marvellous if flawed finale to this suite, full of terrific action, winning character details, classy cinematography and stunningly superb art direction. It wouldn’t be a Bond film without a few imperfections here and there, though: the MacGuffin needs too much explaining, and some dialogue clanks as it lands. Thankfully, these don’t detract from the overall depth, breadth, joy and impressive sense of grandeur. Time to explore.

After a sequence set soon after the previous film, we find Bond in idyllic, isolated retirement in Jamaica (partly shot Ian Fleming’s GoldenEye estate where he wrote the novels). But he’s soon asked by old comrade Felix Leiter to help find a missing scientist who worked on a secret MI6 project to develop a new type of weapon. The weapon, Heracles, uses nanobots to target selective victims: a virus can be programmed to infect specific DNA. (A murderous virus that strikes via close contact? How very 2020s.) The mission eventually brings Bond back into contact with Madeleine Swann, the woman who he believes betrayed him five years earlier…

The entire world must know by now that NTTD is Daniel Craig’s fifth and final appearance as James Bond (no, we’re not counting that Olympics skit with HM the Queen in it). He’s been a revelation, reformatting and reshaping the character for the 21st century but always staying brusquely true to the essence of the source material. Whichever actor comes next in the inevitable reboot will have a very long shadow from which to escape. And whoever’s cast will certainly be a fresh start for the character, because this iteration of James Bond is killed off at the conclusion of No Time To Die – definitively so as a hail of navy-grade torpedoes rains down upon him. 

This is the emotional payoff, and a first for the film series, of course. Though some earlier movies had joked about Bond dying: Thunderball starts at a funeral for a ‘JB’; You Only Live Twice sees Bond ‘shot to death’ and buried at sea; Diamonds Are Forever contains the dialogue, ‘You just killed James Bond!’ 

Eagle-eared viewers of this film may spot the occasional bit of foreshadowing, such as when nearby church bells toll during the first big action sequence or when Blofeld tells Bond that Madeleine’s ‘secret [will] be the death of you.’ 

But killing Bond is still a very brave thing to do, not least because it defies genre expectations. Amazingly, the twist has led to a few viewers and even some critics arguing that the films must now come to an end. It’s been bizarre how some people have forgotten that Craig’s debut was a reboot and that the next film can simply follow suit, as a man in his thirties aiming for 00-status. Indeed, a smart Twitter follower of mine pointed out that Craig’s death is “oblique confirmation” that 007 is a transferable designation. But everyone already gets that, right? I figured that out the first time I saw George Lazenby, and the Nomi scenes just confirm that.

Alas, 007 isn‘t same as James Bond, who apparently shares the same surname as his parents. We’ve seen their tombstones, passports and all the rest of it, so who knows what the fuck is real. As Annie Lennox once said. “Everything is fiction, all cynic to the bone.” And right now that never seemed more true.

Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld is back from the snoozy Spectre, but he only gets one substantial scene. WTF?! In NTTD he’s locked up in a baroque, solitary-confinement cell in Belmarsh Prison looking like Hannibal Lecter without the Gothic embellishments.

The headline bad guy is Bohemian Rhapsody’s Rami Malek as loopy terrorist Lyutsifer Safin. (That’s right: his name is the Russian for Lucifer. Subtle.) He first appears in the film’s flashback prologue, which is surely the weirdest opening to any Bond movie: Safin shows up at Madeleine’s childhood home to assassinate her parents; the sequence is like a slasher film with the bemasked little fella as the faceless, remorseless killer. 

Sadly, when we cut to the modern day, Malek gives a performance so lightweight that it loses any believability. During his first scene with dialogue, as he poses as a new patient for psychologist Madeleine, the affected manner and campy, pretentious delivery mean you soon stop giving a damn about what he has to say.  He comes across like the spoilt brat lovechild of Quantum Of Solace’s Dominic Greene and Victor ‘Renard’ Zokas from The World Is Not Enough. Why are the short baddies always low on screen presence?).

Incidentally, as the franchise’s 60th anniversary approaches, there are quite a few hints that Safin is actually a between the lines iteration of Dr No, the villain that featured in the first James Bond movie – there’s the use of the word No in this film’s title, the pattern of dots in the title sequence which echoes the opening of the 1962 film, the fact Safin wears a Japanese Noh mask (despite being played by the white actor Joseph Wiseman, Dr No himself is of Asian heritage), his elaborate base of operations full of workers in hazmat suits… But he isn’t. It’s merely a fanwank throwback to get people talking and honour the original antagonist. Safin is just a little man who wants revenge for something that happened a long time ago. He has none of the poised quiet menace of Wiseman, which is a pity, as there’s very little about this film that I didn’t like. 

The Russian scientist who develops the weapon of mass destruction at the heart of the story, Dr Valdo Obruchev, is played a tad too eccentrically by David Dencik. He’s only a notch or two more serious than Borat or even Alan Cummings character in GoldenEye. At first he appears to be working for Spectre, but then he double-crosses them and kills off the entire organisation. He’s really in league with Safin. 

Returning from Spectre is Dr Madeleine Swann, played again by a delicate, supremely subdued Léa Seydoux. Critics have complained there’s a lack of chemistry between her and Craig but the truth is she’s just very very French — that glacial Gallic thing they have in spades. Not only that but she’s forever dressed in white, befitting her surname… at least until a dramatic switch to black when the shit hits the fan. Soon after the events of Spectre, Bond and Madeleine are a loved-up couple. She encourages him to say goodbye properly to the former love-of-his-life, the also French Vesper Lynd, whose tomb is in the beautiful ancient town of Matera, southern Italy. (Why is she buried there and not Venice or France? Answers on a postcard please.)

Bond soon comes to believe Madeleine is still a Spectre agent. Half a decade on, we discover that Madeline was innocent – and now has a young daughter, Mathilde (Lisa-Dorah Sonnet). At first she denies that Bond is the father, but the truth is obvious. In the opening flashback, Coline Defaud plays Madeleine as a child – a good match, casting-wise. Remi Malek still plays Safin, despite being only four years older than Léa Seydoux! Though the older white male fan may not like the ‘New Bond’, here’s a sweetness in Bond’s interactions with his daughter, Mathilde – especially as he cooks her a crêpe breakfast. 

Lashana Lynch stars as Nomi. A cool and capable MI6 agent, she first appears incognito in Jamaica where she engineers a meet-cute with Bond so she can warn him off. When she stops pretending to be a patois-speaking local and removes her wig (very Rosie Carver in Live And Let Die), Bond laments, ‘Well, that’s not the first thing I thought you’d take off.’ She also reveals that she’s not just any old double-O agent… she’s the new 007! (Cue idiots online getting upset because a black woman has been given a prominent role, however temporarily.) He says it’s just a number, but the signal that the world is moving on does rankle Bond. 

Later, after he’s welcomed back into the MI6 fold, the two agents team up for the final assault on Safin’s base. When the odious Obruchev makes a racist comment, Nomi asks him, ‘Do you know what time it is? Time to die,’ and pushes him off a high walkway into a toxic pool of water.

In a gesture of respect, Nomi has requested that James be reassigned as 007. Despite the amusing lack of plausibility – covert military organisations do not jumble up codenames on a whim seconds before a mission! – it’s a nice piece of writing. Lynch is very impressive throughout, so it’s a shame this will probably be her only appearance in the series. Tsk. It’s as if they cast a black woman as the superspy just to generate press and curry favour with Wokeists but then didn’t think it was important to give her character something useful to do. She is basically drafted as Bond’s chauffeur and backup. Talk about privilege.

When Bond arrives in Cuba, he’s partnered up with a CIA contact called Paloma, played utterly brilliantly by Daniel Craig’s Knives Out co-star Ana de Armas. Every moment of Bond’s time with Paloma pings with zippy comic energy (WHEN DO WE GET HER SPIN-OFF SERIES??!?!).

The two gatecrash a Spectre party, hoping to extract the Russian scientist Obruchev. Paloma seems giddy at the chance to work with the famous 007 but he’s concerned about her inexperience (‘I’ve had three weeks training!’ she boasts). He needn’t have worried: from her first appearance, sipping a Dr Pepper’s at a bar, to her final shot (‘Ciao!’), Paloma is the arguably greatest character in the entire Bond film series who only appears in one sequence (her section of the film is just 12 minutes long) and I’m doubly sure we saw Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s humorous edits shine through with this sassy lass.

Dressed in a really spectacular cocktail dress, Paloma is an adorable ball of nervous energy, potent sexuality and kick-ass action. During the fight at the Spectre party, she beats up henchmen and fires a machine gun and smirks and makes middle-aged bloggers go weak at the knees. And she’s a girl.

The core MI6 team are back (probably for the final time as far as the actors are concerned). Chief executive M (Ralph Fiennes) is put out when he learns that the long-AWOL Bond is interfering with MI6 business, which leads to a string of testy scenes between the two men (all brilliantly played: Craig and Fiennes have a superb connection). But part of the tension is self-inflicted: M feels huge guilt because Heracles was his baby and now it’s in the hands of a terrorist. In NTTD, Fiennes becomes the second person in a Bond movie to drop an F-bomb (‘Oh for fuck’s sake’). The first was his predecessor as M, Judi Dench, in Skyfall. 

We see techno-boffin Q (the always reliable Ben Whishaw) at home preparing for a dinner date with a gentleman caller when Bond and Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) show up and monopolise his time. ‘It’s never nine-to-five, is it?’ he sighs, sweetly.

While Chief of staff Tanner (Rory Kinnear) appears for a fourth consecutive Bond movie, Moneypenny herself still seems superfluous, sadly. Upon the character’s reintroduction in Skyfall, she should have been rebooted as M’s deputy or something with more agency. As it is, she’s still a secretary who’s spent large chunks of the last two films following men around while they decide things.

Away from the Secret Intelligence Service, returning to the series after a gap of 13 years is Felix Leiter. He’s played for a record third time by Jeffrey Wright – but the record will go no further, as Leiter is killed when he and Bond are betrayed by Logan Ash. As always, Wright brings an agreeable earthiness to the role.


Bond sequels have always recycled elements from its predecessors. Hans Zimmer’s score is urgent, sometimes brassily bombastic, and extensively quotes melodies from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (a previous and revered Bond movie which also built on an emotional storyline that saw Bond form a family, only for that to be torn apart by a tragic death at its conclusion). As in 1969, the lyric ‘We have all the time in the world’ is quoted in dialogue; as in 1969, its use is ironic. Zimmer – the preeminent film composer of his era – was surely always going to write a Bond score. It’s a perfect match of man and material. The film’s theme song is the dramatic if lethargic award-winning hit single by Billie Eilish and features guitar star Johnny Marr.

Personal connection: 

I first saw this film at the state of the art Pathé Gare du Sud cinema in Nice on Tuesday 5 October 2021, and it wasn’t until I arrived I realised it was the 59th anniversary of Dr. No hitting the screens in the UK.

The film had been delayed approximately 27 times for various reasons – from November 2019 to February 2020 to April 2020 to November 2020 to April 2021 and then finally to October 2021 – so finally getting to see it in a cinema was fantastic. Though slightly bewilderingly pour moi, the scenes where young Madeleine Swann is talking with her mother in French weren’t subtitled by Pathé because we were in France. Yes, I have a bit to do in the fluency department, naturellement.

Eight and a half vodka martinis out of 10 then.

Steve Pafford

I’m indebted to Ian Farrington for their inspiration and source material

Shit kitsch with mafia money — and the silver goes to House of Gucci is here

Hardly a new way of living — and the bronze goes to West Side Story is here

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