Has there been a more fraught Bond production than No Time to Die? Explosions on set; a sudden change of director; new scriptwriters brought in; an injury to 007 himself. No wonder the headlines have called it everything from “cursed” and “doomed” to “total chaos”. Of course, it’s not the first Bond to have had its problems – Quantum of Solace was interrupted by the writers’ strike, for example – but the consensus has been that No Time to Die will be an unparalleled disaster, and certainly not the fillip the franchise so badly needs after the ham-fisted Spectre.
The problems have been there from the beginning. Not only was there a collective sigh of disappointment when Daniel Craig, having previously said he’d rather slit his wrists than reprise the role, announced he would return as Bond, but there was also the departure of director Danny Boyle over “creative differences”. Hired in his place was Beast of No Nation’s Cary Joji Fukunaga, with veteran Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade reinstated. When Paul Haggis, Scott Z Burns and Phoebe Waller-Bridge were also parachuted in, the reports were that the script was still Not Good.
But now there’s fresh hope. After what seems like aeons of bluster and doom-mongering, the trailer has finally arrived. Clocking in at two minutes 32 seconds, it bears all the Bond hallmarks: exotic locations (Matera looks especially lovely), fast cars and, yes, glamorous women. And yet, while there are no wry looks to camera, you can instantly feel the Waller-Bridge effect. Far from the sombre, solipsistic Bond of the last couple of outings, No Time to Die appears to actually have a sense of humour coursing through it. Take the moment when Bond introduces himself to a security guard. “Name?” “Bond.” There’s a pause. We know what's coming. “James Bond,” he adds, hesitantly. The name means nothing to the young man in front of him.
More important still, Bond seems to have got with the times. “The world has moved on,” says the series’ first-ever female 00, rivetingly played by Lashana Lynch. “So stay in your lane. You get in my way, I will put a bullet in your knee. The one that works.” There are also a lot of portentous remarks from the likes of Ralph Fiennes’ M, who is keen to remind us that “the world is arming faster than we can respond”, and Bond himself, who opines, “History isn’t kind to those who play God.”
Now to the plot. We already knew from the press release that Bond’s old CIA pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) was due to show up and convince him to return to the service to rescue a missing scientist. Awaiting him would be a “mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology”. Said villain is played by Rami Malek, who’s capable of really cranking up the creep quotient, as anyone who’s seen his advert for Mandarin Oriental hotels will attest. Here his face is scarred, the accent incongruous. As with Silva (Javier Bardem), Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) and Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), Malek’s Safin is presumably linked to Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) – whom, in the trailer, we see imprisoned, having been arrested, half-dead, on Westminster Bridge at the end of Spectre.
Returning, too, is Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, last seen heading off into the night with 007, but here accused of betraying him. “We all have our secrets,” Bond says to her. “We just didn’t get to yours yet.” What could she have possibly done? She certainly seems to know something about Safin – does he have a connection to her late father, Mr White? It’s an arc that has faint echoes of Vesper Lynd’s in Casino Royale.
So after all those sensationalist headlines, the signs are in fact pretty good. Craig may be sick to death of Bond, and the whole production has hardly slipped down like a dry martini, but judging by the trailer, he might go out with a bang, not a whimper, after all.
No Time to Die is out in UK cinemas on 2 April