Daniel Craig’s Bond bows out: should you go along for the ride?

Daniel Craig’s Bond bows out: should you go along for the ride?

NO TIME TO DIE
M, 164 minutes, in cinemas now
★★★★

Now he’s come to the end of his run, Daniel Craig’s James Bond will be remembered as the first – and possibly only – 007 to grieve over a woman.

Back in the beginning, the idea of Sean Connery doing such a thing would have been unthinkable but Craig’s Bond has spent his past four films brooding about his lost love, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), killed at the end of Casino Royale.

He may be a New Age sensitive Bond but he still has to save humanity.

This air of seriousness has carried certain risks. With his long upper lip and reluctance to crack a smile, he could have been made his mark as the only grumpy Bond but the pulsing intelligence behind the gloom has transformed it into gravitas without slowing down his performance.

When Ian Fleming and John le Carre began writing in the 1950s and ’60s, their books sat at spy fiction’s opposite poles. Le Carre was interested in moral ambiguities while Fleming was about glamour, gadgetry and the god-like qualities of a certain breed of debonair Englishman.

As Britain’s geopolitical powers declined, Fleming grew a little more reflective but the Bond movies stayed on the lighter side of his imaginings. It wasn’t until Craig slipped into the tuxedo and the Aston Martin that the mood changed. His Bond has been distinguished by his misgivings. And the series has adjusted its attitude to women to suit the contemporary mood.

For a while, the old ruthlessness clung on. Gemma Arterton was allowed only a token appearance as one of his conquests in Quantum of Solace before coming to a sudden sticky end by being drowned in crude oil but in No Time to Die, Craig’s fifth and final outing, the three women who share his adventures can look after themselves.

Paloma (Ana de Armas) dispatches several villains without losing control of the evening dress she’s barely wearing.Credit:Nicola Dove

When we pick him up at the start of this film, he’s still with his new love, Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann. He’s retired from the service and they’re holidaying in a mountain town in southern Italy. It’s here that Vesper Lynd is buried and he has decided to make peace with his memories by visiting her grave. But peace is hard to come by in a Bond movie and the visit turns into yet another fight for his life.

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga maintains the scale and pace of the stunts, which propel the plot halfway around the world. From Italy we move to Jamaica where Bond is introduced to the new 007 – a woman. Played by Britain’s Lashana Lynch, who is of Jamaican descent, she has a feisty disposition and a need to know exactly what Bond and his old friend, the CIA agent, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) are up to.

Naturally he’s not going to tell her. For one thing, he’s too busy dealing with another gang of thugs who are out for his blood. He has been assigned CIA help, however. Paloma (Cuban actress Ana de Armas), his CIA colleague, is such an expert in martial arts that she dispatches several villains without losing control of the evening dress she’s barely wearing.

Old friends and enemies re-appear. We get a glimpse of Q (Ben Wishaw) at home, where he is revealed as a cat-lover, and Bond and Ralph Fiennes’s M get plenty of opportunities to express their icy disdain for one another.

The series’ evil masterminds always come with a potent touch of the bizarre and Rami Malek’s Safin is one of the creepiest. Wild-eyed but soft-spoken as if trying to persuade himself, along with everyone else, that he’s the only sane person in the room, he’s scarred from a childhood encounter with a biological poison. Out for revenge, he has built himself a concrete fortress on an island in the north Atlantic. And It’s here, in its underground maze of corridors, tunnels and vast spaces that the film’s climax takes place. It goes without saying that the future of humanity is at stake.

Craig has certainly taken Bond into deeper waters than ever before, putting him in touch with the zeitgeist, but along the way something important has gone missing. His best scene is still the one on the train in Casino Royale where he meets Vesper Lynd for the first time. It points to what might have been had he gone on nurturing his sense of humour.

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