Daniel Craig Gets a Semi-Rousing Farewell in No Time to Die

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The release of a new James Bond film is always greeted with keen anticipation; on this occasion though, the mood is more solemn, since the latest instalment also heralds the end of Daniel Craig’s tenure as the gentleman spy. While it’s undoubtedly one of the better chapters in the long-running series, when viewed as a tribute to its much-loved star, the picture proves less appeasing.

The British intelligence agency known as MI6 has been compromised, yet again, after an experimental weapon is stolen from one of their top-secret research facilities in London. Its theft has huge ramifications for global security, not just because of the potential harm it can inflict on humanity, but also due to its secrecy, with only a select few individuals being aware of the weapon’s existence – not even Britain’s Prime Minister has been informed of its development.

In years gone by, MI6 would have called upon the services of James Bond (Daniel Craig) to rectify affairs like this; but the secret agent is now long-retired from the organisation, living off-grid and isolated in Jamaica with no desire of returning to duty. That is, until Bond is greeted by his CIA counterpart and friend, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) who informs him of the raid’s connection to SPECTRE, the criminal syndicate believed to have been thwarted five years earlier.

No Time to Die (2021) marks the 25th entry in Eon Productions’ James Bond film franchise, the release of which has been a long time coming. Initially set for a global debut in late 2019, delays in development and production saw that date pushed to March 2020, only for you-know-what to see the picture delayed again until September of this year. Australians have had to wait longer still to see the feature, with lockdowns in their two most-populous cities resulting in a six-week delay for the theatrical release.

MI6 agent Nomi (Lashana Lynch) makes her debut in No Time to Die

Those who have been eagerly awaiting Bond’s newest adventure will be pleased to know that No Time to Die has plenty of exciting action sequences, possibly the best of any Bond film. Among these sequences are some ferocious close-quarters encounters with impeccable choreography; intense gun fights between parties that have an unnerving realism; and two sublime car chases – the first through an Italian village in Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5, the second an off-road argy-bargy in a decidedly unexotic Toyota Prado.

Long-time fans of the franchise will be equally thrilled by the constant allusions to the previous Bond flicks, including the aforesaid DB5, as well as Timothy Dalton’s V8 Vantage from The Living Daylights (1987), and the occasional musical reference to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). Yet undoubtedly, the most recognisable trademark is Bond’s dry humour, here crafted with the input of another personality known for their sardonic wit: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who is credited as one of No Time to Die’s four screenwriters.

Waller-Bridge’s comedic influence can also be found in the two “Bond girls” making their franchise debut. One is the cool, assured Nomi (Lashana Lynch), an MI6 operative and Bond’s replacement; the other is the giddy, yet resourceful Paloma (Ana de Armas) who is contracted to the CIA. The latter is a particular highlight – despite being seen only briefly, Paloma adds a vast amount of liveliness to proceedings with her unique, quirky personality, certifying herself as a protagonist who deserves a larger role in a future Bond instalment.

Although these many qualities help distinguish the 25th film from its precursors, No Time to Die is not one to deviate from the established formula, being closest in spirit to the previous chapter, Spectre (2015). This association is most evident in the lethargic pacing, flowing at a patience-testing speed that ensures the blockbuster seems every bit as long as its advertised 163-minute length would suggest. Still, both pictures remain an improvement on Quantum of Solace (2008) and its rapid-fire editing.

Another of Bond’s allies, Paloma (Ana de Armas) as she appears in No Time to Die

There is a greater problem with No Time to Die, and that’sits chief antagonist, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek). In addition to possessing a convoluted plan and opaque motivations, Safin is an uncompelling character, lacking the intriguing backstory, maniacal personality and ruthless mentality of Bond villains past, with a slight facial disfigurement and soft French accent being his only distinguishable traits. Malek himself does nothing to help matters, his performance being bland, remote, and failing to convey even the slightest hint of emotion.

And on the subject of emotion, it’s worth noting that No Time to Die isn’t quite the heartfelt send-off that it’s trying so hard to be. There are numerous stirring moments within the story, yet very few of these moments feel earned, and have seemingly been put forward solely to get a cheap reaction out of the audience. What’s more, because this screenplay forms part of a serialised, five-part narrative, the emotional scenes will only find resonance with viewers who’ve seen Craig’s previous outings as 007.

25 films and very nearly six decades into its existence, the James Bond franchise is one that continues to delight and surprise, with No Time to Die profiting from superbly choreographed action sequences, welcome nods to the character’s past and the contributions of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. This may not be the satisfying denouement that Daniel Craig deserves, but it’s a fitting one nevertheless.

No Time to Die will be screening in cinemas from this Thursday, November 11th.

Licence to Steal: The Unofficial Bond Films

Given their ubiquity, changes in cast and wildly varying degrees of quality, casual moviegoers could be forgiven for thinking that the James Bond films are always produced by a different studio, their rights exchanging hands more frequently than Bond himself changes lovers. In actual fact, these rights have stayed with the same two companies for decades, both holding the exclusive licence to adapt Ian Fleming’s stories and characters to celluloid.

Well, almost.

In the six decades since producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli were granted Fleming’s permission to turn his novels into feature-length pictures, there have been 27 films released with Agent 007 as the lead character. 25 of those movies – including the upcoming No Time to Die (2021) – have been made by Eon Productions, a company founded by Broccoli with the sole purpose of creating Bond films; the remaining two have not.

The production and release of these movies was, on both occasions, made possible due to legal loopholes that allowed individuals to circumvent Eon’s authority and craft their own adaptations of Fleming’s works. Neither picture is remarkable, but nonetheless, both are important pieces of cinematic history that contribute to Bond’s legacy, and as of such are worthy of discussion here on Rating Frames.

The first of these two films is Casino Royale (1967) which arrived at the height of James Bond’s popularity and mere weeks before Eon’s You Only Live Twice (also 1967) hit theatres. Its title is shared with Fleming’s debut novel, and not by coincidence – the rights to this book were optioned by American producer Charles K. Feldman, who unsuccessfully tried to adapt the story with Saltzman and Broccoli. When his relationship with the pair fell through, Feldman decided to continue on with the project alone, eventually securing the backing of Columbia Pictures.

Peter Sellers with Ursula Andress in 1967’s Casino Royale

Feldman’s Casino Royale is a picture that deviates wildly from its source material, being a slapstick parody that centres on an older James Bond (David Niven) coming out of retirement to mitigate a crisis at the behest of his former superior. The picture benefitted from a celebrity-laden cast that included not just Niven, but also the likes of John Huston, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles (yes, really!) and original “Bond girl” Ursula Andress, in addition to future stars Woody Allen, Jacqueline Bisset, Ronnie Corbett, Bernard Cribbons and John Bluthal.

Why actors of such calibre wanted to be involved is a mystery, because Casino Royale is an unmitigated mess of a movie, with the pacing being too fast, the screenplay lacking coherence, and the comedy being atrociously unfunny, with just about every gag falling flat. Its only redeeming feature is an irreverent finale that appears to have inspired Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974), but even this moment of absurdity proves just as underwhelming as any other scene in the picture.

By comparison, the second of these “unofficial” Bond films is a masterpiece, if only because it possesses a level of competence non-existent in Feldman’s production. The film in question is Never Say Never Again (1983), which owes its existence to screenwriter Kevin McClory. Prior to Saltzman and Broccoli’s acquisition of the film rights, McClory was approached by Fleming to adapt one or more of his books, but instead chose to write an original story with Fleming’s input – a story that was novelised by Fleming and published under the title of Thunderball in 1961.

A middle-aged Sean Connery with a young Kim Basinger in Never Say Never Again

A legal battle between McClory and Fleming ensued, one that went to court and saw McClory awarded damages plus joint authorship of the novel. With this small credit, McClory also had control of the rights to Thunderball, thus gifting him with the power to make his own picture if he saw fit. Those rights were eventually sold to film producer Jack Schwartzman; but since there was already a movie called Thunderball (1966), significant changes were needed to differentiate between the two – most obviously the title.

Never Say Never Again is a virtual rehash of Thunderball’s screenplay, with the fresh cast, updated visuals and the like doing little to disguise this fact; moreover, the newer adaptation is less fun than the Eon production, for it lacks the Sixties aesthetics and fantastic music that make the original picture such a charmer. Yet because it lacks camp and takes itself rather seriously, the film manages to be better than the “official” Bond title released that very same year, Octopussy (1983). Though only just.

In short, both of these movies pale in comparison to their Eon counterparts – one fails as both a compelling spy movie and an astute satire of the source material; the other is serviceable, yet unable to offer anything new or unique. If this author were to place them in our countdown of the other 25 Bond films, Casino Royale would be dead last, while Never Say Never Again would fall between Moonraker (1979) and Licence to Kill (1989), neither of which are 007’s finest hour.

If there’s one positive that can be said about the two unofficial films, it’s that they provide the viewer with a greater appreciation of the Eon-produced pictures, demonstrating the value of Saltzman and Broccoli’s input and why their movies have endured, instead of becoming relics from a bygone era. Or how not to do a Bond flick.

Ranking the James Bond Series

Long before superhero franchises came to proliferate theatres, there was just one man guaranteed to be a box-office drawcard: Bond. James Bond. His handsome looks, sophisticated wardrobe and suave tongue have allured filmgoers for decades, despite his notoriety as a heavy-drinker and misogynist, with his popularity enduring to this day. And next week, he’ll be returning to the limelight once more when his newest picture, No Time to Die (2021), finally debuts in Australian cinemas.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, Bond – who is also referred to by his codename, 007 (pronounced “double-oh-seven”) – is a spy who works as part of the British government’s secret intelligence service, nowadays referred to as MI6. His character originated in a series of wildly-popular novels penned by Ian Fleming and published at the height of Cold War-paranoia, before making his first big-screen appearance in the 1962 adaptation of Dr. No.

More movies starring the secret agent would follow in the years after, with the premise, tone, style and cast occasionally adjusted to suit the tastes of audiences, with varying degrees of success. Like many others, the team at Rating Frames has been revisiting these pictures, and can now offer to you their definitive ranking of the James Bond film franchise, listed below from worst to best.

24. Live and Let Die (1973)

Roger Moore’s debut as 007 is by far and away the most embarrassing entry in the character’s history, filled with painfully unfunny one-liners, far-fetched stunts and plenty more illogical moments. A decent boat chase on the Louisiana Bayou is the only element that saves it from being unwatchable.

23. The World is Not Enough (1999)

“Monotonous” is the word that best describes this Pierce Brosnan-led bore, doing nothing to innovate the genre, nor the franchise. It’s long, slow, bland, and made even more frustrating by the presence of Denise Richards, the most unnatural and ineffectual “Bond Girl” to ever grace the screen.

22. Quantum of Solace (2008)

A misguided affair that takes a few too many cues from the Bourne movies and not enough from its predecessor, which also starred Daniel Craig. The pacing is too fast, camerawork too shaky, narrative lightweight, and Mathieu Amalric’s villain feeble at best.

21. Octopussy (1983)

This one is the most light-hearted of all the films, bordering on parody – especially during the third act; yet it’s not without its charms, with some good chase sequences, decent fights and tension involving a nuclear bomb. Certainly not a stinker, but nor is it Moore’s finest hour.

20. Licence to Kill (1989)

007 goes rogue in Timothy Dalton’s second and last picture as the secret agent, and things get very dark in the process. Quite simply, it’s too violent, too graphic and too angry for a Bond flick, its tone better suited to a Scarface knockoff.

19. Moonraker (1979)

This romp saw Bond fly into outer-space in an effort to capitalise on the science-fiction craze of the late Seventies, resulting in the silliest, campiest film of Moore’s tenure – and that’s really saying something, given the quality of his other movies. With that said, the space sequences are reasonably entertaining.

18. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

A pretty tepid and rather forgettable affair for Moore, with the exception of its two antagonists: Sir Christopher Lee as the main foe, Francisco Scaramanga, and Hervé Villechaize as his short-statured associate, Nick Nack. That corkscrew jump is pretty cool, too.

17. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

The last official Bond film to star Sean Connery, who is virtually the only aspect that elevates proceedings. This instalment marked the franchise’s transition into camp, with bright colours and many ludicrous moments, yet is simultaneously dullened by its flat, lifeless Las Vegas setting.

16. Die Another Day (2002)

Often derided as the worst in the series, but nowhere near as bad as its reputation suggests, Brosnan’s final appearance as 007 contains a bonkers, yet fun, car chase on ice with military weaponry, and a tense climactic battle aboard a jumbo jet. Just be sure to suspend all disbelief.

15. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Introduced a great adversary in Jaws (Richard Kiel), and an iconic ride in Bond’s white Lotus Esprit that doubles as a submarine; beyond that though, Moore’s third movie as lead is pretty mundane, and in need of some greater thrills.

14. A View to Kill (1985)

While Moore was definitely too old to be leading an action flick by this point, his swansong is good nonetheless, boasting two of the series’ best villains – Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) and May Day (Grace Jones) – and the occasional moment of high tension.  

13. You Only Live Twice (1967)

Cultural appropriation of the Japanese aside, Connery’s fifth outing stands the test of time, with all the Bond trademarks present. Plus, there’s a memorable climax inside a secret lair that sees Bond’s first face-to-face encounter with his arch-nemesis: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence).

12. Dr. No (1962)

The first ever Bond film is by no means spectacular by today’s standards, yet remains one of the better instalments due to its straightforward narrative – one that’s reasonably faithful to Fleming’s original novel – and serviceable thrills. A splendid introduction to the secret agent, even if some of the effects look cheap.

11. Thunderball (1966)

Another much-loved entry from the Connery era, this one is marked by its extended underwater sequences that look exceptional; less so the editing, particularly in the third act. Probably has the driest sense of humour of any Bond script, too.

10. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

There’s lots to appreciate in Brosnan’s sophomore excursion as 007, including a genuinely terrifying first act, a delectable antagonist, and the presence of Michelle Yeoh, who brings with her some exciting close-quarters combat. But the pacing is too quick, and there’s a few too many corny punchlines.

9. The Living Daylights (1987)

In the first of his two appearances in the franchise, Dalton steers proceedings in a more serious direction than his precursor did, to great effect. The chase scenes and stunt-work are exemplary; the narrative involving a group of Afghan freedom fighters hasn’t aged very well, though.

8. For Your Eyes Only (1981)

The best, and least camp, picture from the Moore era, made enjoyable by the action sequences, a pretty decent twist involving the villain, and an understated sweetness that’s missing from most other instalments; yet it remains quite silly when compared to its contemporaries.

7. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

One of the more distinctive entries in the Bond canon, owing to the snowy backdrops, romantic subplot, and George Lazenby in his first and only turn as 007. The icy driving scenes and ski chases are especially pleasing, even when paired with some unconvincing effects.

6. Spectre (2015)

Often lambasted for being too slow and too predictable, and both criticisms are valid; but the qualities of this movie cannot be denied. Caters to the franchise’s purists with its brutal fights, chase sequences and aircraft wreckages.

5. Goldfinger (1964)

Considered the quintessential Bond flick, and with good reason. Boasts two iconic villains in Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) and Oddjob (Harold Sakata), in addition to a gadget-laden Aston Martin which has come to be synonymous with the series and the spy genre as a whole. Tacky effects and substandard editing let it down.

4. Casino Royale (2006)

Loosely inspired by Fleming’s debut novel, this is the chapter that rebooted the venerable series and introduced Craig as a cold, unflinching 007. It’s gritty, taut and occasionally brutal, factors that don’t always work to the material’s advantage; nor, for that matter, does the embarrassing product placement.

3. From Russia with Love (1963)

An improvement over the previous year’s Dr. No in practically every respect, courtesy of a higher budget that allowed for more action and stunts. Justly remains the feature by which all other Bond films are judged.

2. Skyfall (2012)

Deftly combines the tropes of its forebears with an intimate, grounded screenplay to create a product that pleases Bond aficionados and casual viewers alike. Quite simply, it’s one of the best blockbusters ever produced.

1. GoldenEye (1995)

Here is the genesis for the modern James Bond film, an early and brilliant demonstration of how to balance tradition with evolution, the serious with the silly. Pierce Brosnan, sublime and effortlessly comfortable in the lead role, is faced with a pair of equally formidable antagonists who can predict his every move, and the conflict that ensues is nothing short of thrilling. GoldenEye is the franchise’s finest hour, and a must-see for everybody.