Time weighs heavily on James Bond in Daniel Craig’s final outing.
No Time To Die, the 25th film in the beloved James Bond franchise, had quite the tortuous road to cinemas, as reported in several posts here on Out Of Dave’s Head: the hiring and departure of director and writer Danny Boyle and John Hodge, replaced by Cary Joji Fukunaga and long-time Bond scribes Neil Purvis and Robert Wade (with the later addition of Phoebe Waller-Bridge), and then the little matter of a worldwide pandemic, saw Bond 25 shift from it’s original release date of November 2019 several times until it’s eventual release this week.
So it’s pleasing to report that the finished production shows little of the troubled path taken by its long development. No Time To Die is a fine addition to the long-running series, and a superb send-off for the Daniel Craig era.
Opening with the first ever flashback sequence seen in a Bond film, the first indication of time’s conceptual importance here and the closest Bond has ever come to horror, the story then shifts to pick up almost where the previous entry, Spectre, left off: with Bond and Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann driving off into the sunset for a life of bliss. But fate (and the scriptwriters) have other plans for the couple as both of their pasts catch up with them in a fantastic action sequence through the streets of Maltera, Italy.
Five years later and Bond and Swann are in very different places, but the past refuses to die, bringing together a plot to eradicate large portions of the population of the world, with many of the characters who have featured in Craig’s Bond’s narrative, from Casino Royale onwards.
The film is not without its faults, the twin villain strands detract from each other, leaving Rami Malek’s terrorist Lyutsifer Safin curiously underdeveloped, the editing often feels like sequences have been cut too short (particularly affecting Malek’s character in the climax), and Lashana Lynch’s much heralded new 007, Nomi, is something of a characterless let-down and a creative dead end.
But No Time To Die is excitingly directed by Fukungawa, with some genuinely breathtaking sequences and it all moves at a great pace (despite a little wavering in the middle third). The film’s secret weapon, Ana de Armas, is a delight and a joy, playing against the character’s initial impression to become one of the highlights in a sequence set in Cuba that manages to be both a throwback to the classic Bond elements of charm and style while simultaneously updating those elements with humour and panache. The campaign for her character, Paloma, to get her own spin-off movie, officially starts here!
Everything leads towards an ending which, though somewhat messy in execution, has a huge emotional pay-off, something that hasn’t really been achieved in a Bond film since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in 1969. It’s a massively bold choice for Bond and one for which the makers should be applauded. To say I was in tears would be an understatement.
Mention of George Lazenby’s only outing as Ian Fleming’s character is entirely appropriate, as that film is quite deliberately echoed both in one of the film’s thematic conceits and indeed in reprising John Barry’s song, We Have All The Time In The World. Long time Bond fans will appreciate the callback and newbies will immediately recognise the weight it gives to No Time To Die‘s story.
Craig’s Tom Ford boots are going to be difficult to fill, as both he and the producers caught the zeitgeist, with Craig playing against the archetype to make Bond a deeper, richer and more human character. His unconventionally handsome, rock-face features and pugnacious interpretation of Bond will be greatly missed. But his time in the role has been rightly celebrated in his imperfect but courageous final outing, proving that the Bond franchise still has the ability to surprise, after all this time.
Following the film’s emotional denouement, it was indeed something of a relief, for those of us who stayed in the cinema to watch the credits roll, to read the familiar final caption: James Bond Will Return.
In news unlikely to be a huge shock to the system of anyone paying close attention to the development of the still officially untitled Bond 25 (I’m still laying cards on Shatterhand), it seems that Christoph Waltz will break with Bond tradition by returning as arch-nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld for Daniel Craig’s final stint behind the wheel of the Aston Martin.
Daily Mail journo (but don’t let that put you off, he’s usually pretty on the ball with Bond) Baz Bamigboye reports that a visitor to Pinewood spotted Waltz on the Bond set, only to be told by the actor, “You haven’t seen me.”
This would be an unusual move for the Bond series, which has never seen a return appearance by any actor playing Blofeld (at least one whose face is seen). But industry scuttlebutt suggests Bond’s adoptive brother (…ugh) won’t be the main villain, with that honour falling instead to Bohemian Rhapsody‘s Rami Malek.
True Detective Season One’s Cary Fukunaga is directing whatever Bond 25 will be called. Did I say Shatterhand already…!?
The Legend of Tarzan is the latest screen version of the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912. With a cast headed up by Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie and Christoph Waltz, and directed by David Yates (who will forever be in my good books for helming the classic BBC serial, State of Play, and more famously headed up the final four Harry Potter films), this take on Tarzan has a lot of production wattage.
It also feels like a genuine attempt to transfer Burroughs’ Tarzan to the screen, complete with (thankfully) a cultured, sophisticated lead character (as opposed to the more frequently featured noble savage) and much of the background material from the books, while updating things slightly for a modern sensibility (including some far too contemporary sounding dialogue, unfortunately).
The story sees Tarzan, Lord John Clayton III, having left Africa behind almost a decade previously, now living in Victorian England with his wife, Jane. The two become involved in a plot set in motion by Leon Rom, a treacherous envoy for King Leopold of Belgium, to lure the jungle lord back to the Congo. Rom plans to capture Tarzan and deliver him to an old enemy in exchange for diamonds which will pay for an army to take over the continent.
Skarsgård makes a fine John Clayton/Tarzan, gifting him with a quiet intelligence and a restrained fierceness, Robbie continues to impress, giving us a feisty, admirable Jane Porter Clayton, while Samuel L. Jackson tones down many of his usual Samuel L. Jackson-isms for a character that always stays just the right side of comic relief. Christoph Waltz, as Rom, is far too talented to be anything other than entertaining, but his character lacks some truly defining dialogue and moments to make him rise above the actor’s increasingly familiar toolbox of tricks.
Yates strives for a Tarzan film that falls between the mythic grandeur of 1984’s Greystoke, The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (phew) and the gung ho nature of the 1930s-40s MGM Johnny Weissmuller films, and mostly succeeds. Unfortunately, the script, while perfectly serviceable, feels two or three polish drafts away from anything truly memorable – dialogue works but never sparkles or shines.
The film is also highly inconsistent in some of its production values. Many edits are inelegant, with some clumsy transitions. Sometimes the CGI work is wonderful – such as a small but sweet moment where Tarzan bonds with some lions, and sometimes it’s almost wilfully bad – the wildebeests seen in the trailer or a shot near the climax of a rowboat approaching the camera, which has it practically floating through nothing.
Despite these caveats, The Legend of Tarzan moves at an admirably classical pace, it treads around issues of colonialism with broad but well defined strokes (even if, in real life the Belgians ruled the Congo for another 70 years), is well cast and handsomely mounted, and it mostly looks wonderful, with sweeping vistas of plains and deep, emerald forests. It deserves plaudits for not insulting the audience with yet another origin story (though Tarzan’s backstory is present in the form of flashbacks), and there’s good chemistry between the two leads. It gave me a genuine chill of delight to hear an updated version of the classic Weissmuller Tarzan yell (though it would have been nice to actually see him do it, rather than just hear it – a result of post-production tweaks, perhaps) and definitely left me wanting to spend more time with these versions of the characters for further adventures.
While somewhat frustrating, this is still an entertaining and enjoyable Tarzan film for a modern blockbuster audience, proving the one hundred and twelve year old character is still the one, true king of the swingers. Next time he just needs to swing a little higher.