NO TIME TO DIE, the 25th and latest Bond film debuts in April 2020. I continue my rewatch of all the films so far, reaching Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as 007. Spoilers ahead…
A SPECIAL FILM
After the successes of Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough, the Bond team were very aware that the next film had to be big. As well as the first Bond of the 21st century, Bond 20 would coincide with the franchise’s 40th anniversary.
It was a special time and required a special film.
After being held in North Korea for 14 months, Bond is traded for terrorist Zao (Rick Yune). Pursuing Zao on his own, he meets Jinx (Halle Berry) in Havana trying to infiltrate a DNA clinic. Bond returns to England following another lead to billionaire Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). Bond is invited to Graves’ Icelandic ice palace for the unveiling of his new technology. Jinx also appears, and Bond learns she is an American agent.
Graves is revealed to be the North Korean Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) who “died” during the pre-credits scene, and he and Zao are undergoing the DNA treatment. Graves unveils “Icarus”, a satellite that can create sunlight anywhere across the globe. Bond and Jinx are dropped into North Korea where Graves is planning to use Icarus to remove the demilitarised zone, destroy the landmines and possibly start a nuclear war. Our heroes defeat the villains in a fiery finish.
CARDS ON THE TABLE
I was really looking forward to this film in the cinema and while some of the movie is pretty good, there are some very questionable choices that made it a very disappointing effort. Even on this rewatch, my original opinions remain the same. This is one of the worst Bonds.
The opening of the film is pretty good. Bond and two other agents surf onto the North Korean beach at night. The surfing looks fantastic, with astonishingly large waves, and the surfers appearing from the mist one after the other.
The remainder of the pre-credits is well done but seems upon reflection like a mash-up of the pre-credits of Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough. Bond is undercover in North Korea to assassinate Colonel Moon). Cover blown, Bond chases Moon down the demilitarised zone on hovercrafts which skim over the landmines. By the end of the scene Moon and his hovercraft have careered over a waterfall, and Bond is captured.
THE TITLE SEQUENCE
Daniel Kleinman’s titles are as clever as usual, but the difference this time is that the titles continue the story of Bond’s captivity in a North Korean jail, with his head held underwater, being beaten up, bitten by scorpions, and sleep deprived. This alerts the audience to a new style of Bond film.
FEAR SETS IN
Bond escapes the clinic which is on a boat in Hong Kong harbour. Possibly a call back to The Man with the Golden Gun. And as this is the 40th anniversary film, the deliberate references to previous films become more prevalent. And annoying.
My fear set in when Bond strides into a hotel in his pyjamas, secures his old room, and within moments has his hair cut, face shaved and crisp outfits delivered. They could have pushed the story of his torture further, but it is jettisoned.
I’ve never been to Havana, but surely its more colourful than the dour imagery here? Even the beach scene where Halle Berry bursts out of the surf in a bikini looks cold. (It was, they filmed it in Spain during a week of very cold weather).
This film doesn’t even go for traditional double meanings, puns or subtlety. The dialogue between Bond and Jinx as he has ogled her emerge from the water is truly awful.
What do predators do when the sun goes down… they feast like there’s no tomorrow
But we also have:
I’m just a girl that doesn’t like to get tied down.
I’m only here for the birds.
I see you handle your weapon well… I’ve always been known to keep my tip up.
I think I got the thrust of it.
Can I expect the pleasure of you in Iceland?
Now, you said something about going down together?
Wait, don’t pull it out, I’m not finished with it yet.
Even worse is the grunty sex and climaxing between Jinx and Bond. What were EON thinking?
Jinx escapes from the clinic by falling back off a parapet and diving into the sea far below. Watch the obvious CGI. Sadly, poor CGI remains for the rest of the film and beyond.
Bond flies into LONDON. You know this because they play “London Calling” on the soundtrack. Graves arrives in LONDON by Union Flag parachute (The Spy Who Loved Me) and lands outside Buckingham Palace, which is in LONDON.
THE BEST PART OF THE FILM
The extended scene in the fencing club where Bond meets then fights Graves is the best scene in the film. And I’m including the appearance of Madonna as “Verity” the fencing tutor of Graves’ assistant and champion fencer Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike). Madonna is fine here. And has a line about not liking cockfights which I still appreciate.
The fight starts as a fencing duel then becomes a brutal swordfight which erupts throughout the club and the courtyard is well staged and edited, with some great music by David Arnold. It is very tense and for a short time makes you think that perhaps the film will now redeem itself.
Back on talking terms with M, Bond meets Quartermaster (John Cleese) in an unused underground station where MI6 keep Q Branch’s equipment. One room is full of Bond memorabilia from the films (I won’t list them here). This is a decent scene, with John Cleese now taking over officially as the new Q. The humour works too.
Then it happens. Bond gets his new car. An Aston Martin Vanquish. Which turns invisible. Now, the explanation for it is pretty good:
Q: Adaptive camouflage – tiny cameras on all sides project the image they see onto a light-emitting polymer skin on the opposite side.
But even for Bond, this is getting out of hand. Bond’s reaction “you must be joking” tries to ease our digestion of this twist. But no. It’s an invisible car.
I’m by no means a Bond purist – I’m quite happy to see the format challenged a little. The story in the opening credits for example, works well. But some of the other attempts to liven up the film just don’t work for me. The speed ramping (film speeds up or slows down) works well in 300, but not here. The brief flashbacks are ok by me, but the slo-mo jacket flicks (hello John Woo) grate.
Halle Berry (just about to win her Oscar), Toby Stephens (stage star and will go on to have much success on TV) and Rosamund Pike (major movie breakthrough but will go on to have many Hollywood lead roles) are great. But not in this film. Something just seems off. Maybe the script, maybe the scale of the film and the weight of expectation of the 20th Bond or 40th anniversary, who knows. And Brosnan, my favourite Bond, despite his 100% commitment as usual seems ill-served with what he has to say and do.
CLIFF HANGER KITE SURFING TIDAL WAVE ESCAPE
Bond’s pointless “escape” from the ice palace and the Icarus beam on Graves’ ice speeder annoys. But when it dangles over the edge, the effects are appalling.
The ice wall collapses, and Bond uses a panel from the ice speeder and the deceleration parachutes to skim across the tsunami to safety. It is as ridiculous as it sounds, and I remember cringing in the cinema, but the creative decision to include the scene is the biggest problem.
The CGI which director Lee Tamahori extols in the copious behind the scenes featurettes for the film just doesn’t work. For a franchise which prides itself on practical stunts the overuse of CGI stings. Tamahori isn’t wrong – the development of CGI has become a huge part of cinema. It’s the unnecessary and obvious use of it here that’s disappointing.
The escape on the speeder and the kite surfing is immediately rendered pointless when Bond goes straight back to the palace to the car. And then follows a largely practical car chase which rubs the salt in the kite surfing wound.
THE CAR CHASE
Bond is pursued over the ice by Zao in a green Jaguar which is kitted out with gadgets like a Bond car. It is never explained why. The chase looks great though, with rockets, explosions, skids and a great use of Bond’s ejector seat to flip the car to avoid a missile.
Is also in this film.
In the plane over Korea Bond fights with Graves who is wearing robotic suit. Jinx fights Frost (who appears on this plane wearing some crop top sports bra thing).
As the plane is disintegrating (CGI time again) Bond and Jinx get into a helicopter in the cargo hold and tumble down, only just managing to get the copter to work before it hits the ground.
ONE GENUINE LAUGH
Moneypenny and Bond make out on her desk. But not really, as she is using virtual reality goggles which we saw 007 use earlier. Laugh out loud moment in the cinema.
THE LAST TIME WE SEE BROSNAN AS BOND
Bond and Jinx are in a shack in the mountains. They are semi naked on a bed of diamonds. Bond plucks a gem from her belly button. They kiss.
Jinx: “I’m so good.”
Bond: “Especially when you’re bad”.
In every one of my reviews I’ve tried to be open minded. Let’s face it, some Bond films are bad. Some have bad sequences in otherwise decent films. That’s the nature of most films, of course.
There are scenes in this film which thrill. Which are funny. Which are neat ideas. The film made lots of dollars. Many fans loved the references to previous Bond films.
I just want to know what Brosnan, Dalton, Moore and Lazenby felt as they sat there in London at the glitzy premiere watching this on the big screen for the first time.
A NEW ERA
Watch the excellent documentary EVERYTHING OR NOTHING: THE UNTOLD STORY OF 007. Following the events of 911, the filmmakers didn’t know what to do with Bond anymore. And Barbara Broccoli made a very emotional and devastating call to Pierce Brosnan. They weren’t going with him. Watch the hurt in Brosnan’s eyes as he recalls the conversation:
Brosnan: It was a horrible phone call for Barbara and Michael to make. And it was a very hard phone call to receive. They just said we don’t know how to go on, we don’t know what to do. I said “alright, well, thank you. It was good. Goodbye”. Click.
|Produced by: EON Productions
Presented By: Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
Director: Lee Tamahori
Screenplay: Neal Purvis and Robert Wade
Composer: David Arnold
“Die Another Day” by Madonna
Production Design: Peter Lamont
Cinematography: David Tattersall
London Premiere November 2002