No Time to Die - The Release 

The latest (and hopefully LAST) promotional campaign for No Time to Die was at full throttle by now. Footage from the film was shown at CinemaCon and the 007 themed social media feeds were more furiously active than ever. Lashana Lynch was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times and we were reminded (lest we should have forgotten) for the millionth time that she plays a 00 agent named Nomi in the film. Lynch was certainly getting more than her fair share of ink in the media. The promotional campaign virtually gave one the impression that Nomi was very prominent in the film and would be on the screen all the time. Would this hype be justified though?
The final international trailers were released and a documentary about Daniel Craig's Bond titled Being James Bond was released on Apple near the start of September. After an early section on the infamous CraigNotBond affair and the initial media criticism of the casting, Being James Bond was a disappointingly brief (45 minutes) and bland victory lap through the Daniel Craig era which didn't really tell you anything you didn't already know if you followed the production of those films (and most Bond fans obviously WOULD have followed those productions). The documentary basically consists of clips and production footage from the last four Bond films while Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson endlessly talk about how brilliant, remarkable, talented, incredible, and amazing Daniel Craig is.
Of most interest in the documentary is the footage from Craig's 007 screen test for Casino Royale. EON tend not to release much screen test footage (you can find those of James Brolin, Sam Neil, and Roger Green online but the rest are locked in a vault) so this was certainly novel and fascinating. The Bond screentests are elaborate affairs on the evidence we see here with a sizeable crew. Martin Campbell could be seen giving Craig direction on the set. Daniel Craig had quite long hair during his test because he was shooting a movie called The Invasion at the time and so wasn't allowed to get his hair cut.
The documentary didn't really mention the Bond franchise as a whole much or put Craig's era in a wider context but then this was supposed to be a special celebration of Craig's tenure so you couldn't really begrudge them that single focus. In the documentary, Barbara Broccoli said that Daniel Craig was the only actor she wanted for Casino Royale and that they actually had to be persuaded and badgered by the studio to test some of the other actors. It seems then that none of the other Casino Royale contenders (like Henry Cavill and Sam Worthington) actually stood a cat in hell's chance of playing Bond in the film.
Daniel Craig said that he studied all the early online criticism of his casting and that it only served to make him work harder and try and prove everyone wrong. Being James Bond is hagiographic to say the least (Barbara even tries to pretend that Quantum of Solace was really good) but it was just designed as a nice little tribute to the departing Daniel Craig and a bonus for Bond fans as they counted down the last days to No Time to Die's release. As such, it would be churlish to be too critical of its shortcomings.
The promotional campaign continued to ramp up at this time with numerous featurettes and commercials. Aston Martin and Omega also both released product commercials to promote the film. There are few marketing campaigns in the world of film which can match Bond when it comes to a media blitz and so it was with No Time to Die. By this time you'd have had to be a hermit living in a cave with no electricity not to know that a new James Bond film was about to be released. No Time to Die was everywhere. This campaign was above and beyond anything we'd seen before for No Time to Die. It was the final mighty (and expensive) push before the film was sent out to cinemas around the globe.
It had been six long years since Spectre came out. One of the byproducts of No Time To Die taking taking so long to come out was that it threatened to alter the casting landscape entirely when it came to the next Bond actor. If, as was planned or assumed at one point, Daniel Craig had called it quits after Spectre then potential 007 candidates like Aidan Turner, Henry Cavill, and Dan Stevens would have been the perfect age circa 2015/2016 to replace him. Now though, with production on the next Bond (the one after No Time to Die) not likely to commence until at least 2024, those actors (should they be interested - we know from his comments that Henry Cavill, for one, would be up for Bond) now faced the very real prospect of being aged out of contention. We now didn't have the faintest idea who Craig's replacement might potentially be.
MGM and EON must have breathed a heavy sigh of relief when China lifted its temporary embargo on Western films and cleared No Time to Die for release. Chinese cinemas had been giving the priority to Chinese films to support their own film industry in these troubled economic times. The policy was sort of like import controls - only with movies instead of goods. The Chinese revenue that No Time to Die was liable to generate would, as we have noted, be desperately needed. By now, cinemas in the United States had begun selling tickets for screenings of No Time to Die. It was unthinkable that the plug would be pulled again at this late stage. MGM and EON had gambled all of their poker chips on the September/October release.
Cary Fukunaga was interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter as No Time to Die finally geared up for its imminent and long delayed release. By now, Fukunaga had moved onto other things. He was working on Masters of the Air - a Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg produced miniseries sequel to Band of Brothers and The Pacific. Fukunaga was directing the first three episodes of Masters of the Air. The Hollywood Reporter article suggested that Danny Boyle's proposed Bond film had been more 'whimsical' than the one we were about to get and this was a salient factor in Boyle's departure. Fukunaga's sensibility was to make a dark and brooding sort of Bond film and this tied in much more with what Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig wanted.
During one of his many published interviews at this time, Fukunaga seemed to have an unnecessary dig at the late Sir Roger Moore when he said didn't like the 'eyebrow up' version of Bond. Fukunaga denied that Rami Malek was playing Dr No in No Time to Die but some wondered if this was misdirection. We'd know for sure soon enough. During the interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the 'Weinstein era' was mentioned (the powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein abused his power with sexual assaults on dozens of famous women in the film industry - the shocking thing about the Weinstein case is that he got away with it for so long) and in response Cary Fukunaga said that some changes to the Bond franchise were necessary in an age of #MeToo.
Fukunaga then said that Sean Connery's Bond was a rapist - although, unhelpfully, he didn't seem to remember which film he was actually talking about when it came to the evidence for this. Fukunaga's interview with The Hollywood Reporter - where he depicted himself as a great towering beacon of light in the ongoing struggle against sexism and misogyny - would become darkly ironic after the dust settled on No Time to Die because several women later came forward with accusations and allegations of misconduct and bullying against him. Nick Cuse, who did some writing on No Time to Die, later called Cary Fukunaga the "worst human being I have ever met in my life."
Barbara Broccoli happily joined Cary Fukunaga in the pile-on against the old Bond films and basically suggested they were all sexist. It would seem to be stating the bleeding obvious to point out that films made nearly sixty years might seem a bit dated in places today in the realm of sex and gender politics. As such, Broccoli's offhand digs at the old Bond films felt completely unnecessary and rather disrespectful. It always struck one as slightly odd that Barbara never quite seemed to realise that whenever she had a snooty dig at at an old Bond film she was, by association, also being somewhat critical of her father. Cubby was obviously the producer on all of those eye-rolling sexist silly old movies which so offended and amused her now.
There was a curious phenemenon in the Daniel Craig era where the modern EON sometimes appeared almost embarrassed by the fact that Bond films existed long before Daniel Craig. It was as if Barbara Broccoli dearly wished that Daniel Craig had been the ONLY person who'd ever played Bond. One other curious facet of the Craig era was that neither EON nor critics ever seemed to give Timothy Dalton much credit for portraying a more grounded and 'gritty' version of Bond decades before Daniel Craig came along. To hear Barbara talk about the Bond series you'd sometimes think they were all mostly like Carry On films before 2006.
By now a positive blizzard of international TV spots and trailers was in full flow. This definitely felt like the point of no return now. Lashana Lynch was featured in a Daily Mail profile and Barbara Broccoli suggested in the article that Nomi could feature in the next film too. This felt like Barbara being diplomatic rather than anything that might actually happen in reality. Given that the next film was likely to be a clean slate with a new Bond it seemed highly unlikely that they were going to saddle the next reboot (and a reboot was surely on cards again post-Craig) with any characters from No Time to Die.
Barbara repeated her stance that the next Bond would not be a woman and that it would be much better to write good new female characters rather than turn old male characters female. These comments by Barbara Broccoli were seemingly ignored by oddsmakers and punters though because names like Lydia West, Gillian Anderson, Suranne Jones, and (inevitably) Lashana Lynch continued to feature on next Bond betting pages. Doctor Who, Higgins in Magnum, Pinhead in Hellraiser, Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica. All of these characters and more had gone from male to female in reboots. James Bond would not be joining them though.
Cinemas in Britain had now began hiring extra staff to cope with all the forthcoming screenings of No Time to Die. Advance ticket sales were excellent and cinemas were looking forward to a big opening weekend. Cary Fukunaga was featured in the Radio Times and said he was given a generous amount of freedom to craft No Time to Die's story in the way that he wanted. Fukunaga said that one of the main 'anchor points' (which wasn't up for debate) was that he had to give Craig's Bond a definitive sort of ending in this film. Comments like this led to speculation that Bond might actually die in the new movie. The producers surely wouldn't be this bold. Would they?
It was now Christmas Eve as far as No Time to Die was concerned. It still had all the mystique and wonder of an unwrapped present sitting under the Christmas tree. The Guardian found the time to publish an article suggesting the Bond franchise was an anachronism and should come to an end. This was hardly original. Articles like this concerning the Bond franchise had been around for decades. The Guardian had probably been writing this same article since Roger Moore was Bond. You could file this Guardian article in the drawer marked tedious clickbait. Cary Fukunaga continued to be a busy and in demand man and was interviewed for Yahoo. He said that the only thing that changed during the long delays and lockdowns was that a visual effects shot was given a bit of a polish. Besides that, nothing had been changed at all. The vague stories alleging that reshoots had occurred were patently false.
Fukunaga said that he thought the next Bond actor should be completely different to Daniel Craig because you didn't want to serve up exactly the same thing to fans all the time. The franchise would have to make the next era markedly different to freshen things up. This was still the far flung future though as far as Bond went. Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli said they still hadn't given any serious thought yet to who the next James Bond actor might be. They simply wanted to enjoy this one last hurrah for Daniel Craig and worry about the future when the time came. Idris Elba continued to be the ubiquitous focal point of next Bond articles. A media story at this time also suggested that Elba had been offered the part of the Bond villain in the next movie. Given that the next Bond film had yet to be written this story was clearly unverified.
A few days before the films opened, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson appeared on Radio 4. As you might imagine, they were full of praise for their departing star as his final bow finally prepared for release. Wilson said that Craig would leave big shoes to fill and it was hard to imagine how they be able to replace him. Broccoli said they were lucky to get Craig because he was very reluctant to take the role at first. She explained that his initial reluctance was because he was a private person and feared that it would turn his life upside down. I suspect that Daniel Craig's accountant and bank manager were eternally relieved that he overcame these reservations and signed on the dotted line in the end. Craig now had a reported net worth of $160 million. A considerable amount of that money - most of it in fact - was obviously a direct result of playing James Bond in five films.
In today's money, Sean Connery earned about $3.5 million per Bond film. When you take out George Lazenby, Sean Connery is actually the lowest paid of the Bond actors. This is why Connery seemed to end up disliking Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Connery felt that he never got a fair share of the incredible profits that the Bond movies made in the 1960s. Adjusted for inflation, the most financially successful James Bond film of all time is 1965's Thunderball. Connery was James Bond during the peak Bondmania years so you can understand why he felt he should have been paid more. Roger Moore was paid double Sean's salary on his Bond films. By way of contrast, Daniel Craig was paid an average of around $10 million per Bond film and also got a cut of the profits. In his career after James Bond, it is claimed that Sean Connery was very forensic when it came to profit share deals on movies and even hired accountants for the specific task of investigating the profits of each film he made to make sure he wasn't being short-changed.
There was an interesting sort of parallel to Craig several months later when the Irish actor Aidan Turner, who has long been a fan favourite to be the next Bond thanks to his Dalton-esque good looks and spiffy tuxedoed turn in a television adaptation of And then There None, seemed to take himself right out of the next Bond sweepstakes in a Daily Mail interview. Turner, who is best known for the TV show Poldark, said that he was still able to go to pubs and travel on the tube in relative anonymity and that he'd be very reluctant to take on James Bond because this would change all of that. Turner wasn't too sure that he wanted the fame and attention which is part and parcel of Bond. This is exactly what troubled Daniel Craig back in 2005.
The premiere day for No Time to Die finally arrived. As one might expect it was a very glitzy and plush affair at the Royal Albert Hall. Magazine television shows in Britain were definitely in a Bond themed tizzy that day as they donned tuxedos and anticipated the spangled celebrity red carpet to come. The Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge all attended the premiere. The cast of No Time to Die and Billie Eilish were present and celebrities who attended included Jason Momoa, Emma Raducanu, Harry Kane, Mo Farah and Stormzy. In a nice touch, Dame Judi Dench was also there - as was Michelle Yeoh. One other nice touch was that the producers had given free tickets to NHS staff and members of the British armed forces - two professions which had done vital work during the pandemic.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge was of course also present at the premiere. In the summer she had begun shooting her role in the fifth Indiana Jones film with Harrison Ford. Waller-Bridge was the female lead. Her character was described as an adventurer and a femme fatale. Shooting on Indiana Jones 5 was set to continue into the new year so Waller-Bridge was certainly busy. She had now enjoyed a brush with two genuine icons of the cinema. There was always the possibility too of Waller-Bridge turning up in a future Bond film in an acting (as opposed to writing) capacity. A Bond villain maybe?
Daniel Craig wore a red velvet jacket with black bow tie at the premiere and seemed more relieved than anything that the film was finally being screened. You could forgive him a degree of relief at the thought that his promotional duties as Bond were slowly but surely coming to an end. Interviewed on the red carpet, Craig confirmed yet again that this was definitely the end for him and that it was now time to move on as an actor. Craig was now 53 - the same age Sean Connery had been in Never Say Never Again. It was time to make way for a younger actor. Craig seemed happy and upbeat at the premiere. He joked in an interview for the NY Times at this time that he would probably be remembered as the 'grumpy' Bond but said he was fine with that. Craig was satisfied that he had put his own personal stamp on the character and done it his way. It would be left to existing and future Bond fans to argue over his retrospective legacy in the franchise.

Asked if he had any advice for his successor, Craig replied - "There’s a couple things I’d say. One is don’t be s***. I would say you have to grab it and make it your own. I hope I’ve left it in a good place and I hope the next person can just make it fly. It’s an amazing franchise. I still think there’s a lot of stories to tell." Daniel Craig was unique among Bond actors in that he had dictated the time and style of his departure. It was still hard to imagine that another Bond actor would enjoy so much influence again.
There was a slightly strange atmosphere at the premiere because social distancing was still in effect. As a consequence of this there was no media scrum or crowds of autograph hunters jostling for position next to the actors and celebrities. Anyone off-camera had to wear a mask. It was a beautiful day earlier in London but the skies darkened and drizzled during the premiere - prompting a fair amount of umbrellas to be deployed. One hoped the sudden deluge wasn't a metaphor for the movie! The entrance of the Royal Albert Hall was festooned with Bond props and music from the Craig Bond films blasted out from speakers. Even this slightly strange premiere though was still a happy event. It just a great relief to finally have the film released.
Jeffrey Wright sported a green tux while Lashana Lynch was resplendent in yellow. Léa Seydoux wore a silver dress that seemed to have a cape too. Ana de Armas stole the show by wearing a black dress which looked like the one she wore in the actual movie. Though her role in No Time to Die only amounted to several minutes of screentime, Ana de Armas would be equally scene stealing in the film too. The premiere was fun for fashion commentators but most Bond fans were not especially interested in the posh frocks and tuxedos. They were instead anticipating the fact that some reviews of the actual movie would soon be forthcoming. No Time to Die was also going to be screened for critics in other countries too on premiere day. The moment of truth had finally arrived. Would this film live up to all the marketing hype that had been bestowed on it for what seemed like forever?
It was pretty surreal, after all the delays and false starts, to think that we were finally about to find out if the film was all that it had been cracked up to be by EON during those endless promotional campaigns. "We have all missed the experience of going to the cinema not just for the story but also to be thrilled," said Cary Fukunaga onstage before the screening. "I am thrilled to be sharing the 25th James Bond the way it was meant to be seen: on the big screen." And with that, the film was shown for the invited audience.
The next day the reviews finally (FINALLY!) of No Time to Die began to tumble forth. The early reviews from British critics were so gushing that a stratospheric Skyfall style Rotten Tomatoes score seemed on the cards initially. Glowing reviews from a raft of publications followed - including a surprising 5/5 from The Guardian. The Guardian said the film had 'pathos, action, drama, camp comedy, heartbreak, macabre horror, and outrageously silly old-fashioned action'. The Telegraph was equally impressed and wrote - 'Cary Joji Fukunaga's extravagantly satisfying, bulgingly proportioned last chapter to the Craig era, throws almost everything there is left to throw at 007 the series can come up with'.
The BBC was also firmly in the praise camp and awarded No Time to Die five out of five stars. 'If there are other elements, too,' wrote the BBC, 'which don't quite reach the heights they're aiming for, in general No Time To Die does exactly what it was intended to do, which is to round off the Craig era with tremendous ambition and aplomb. Beyond that, it somehow succeeds in taking something from every single other Bond film, and sticking them all together. To quote a certain song that makes a wistful reappearance: if that's all we have, we need nothing more.'
Digital Spy also judged the film to be a worthy conclusion to the Craig era but opined that it didn't hit the heights of Casino Royale and Skyfall. The Independent was one of the few British newspapers to be lukewarm, writing - 'What's most disappointing is how strangely anti-climatic the whole thing feels. Despite Phoebe Waller-Bridge's much-publicised contributions to the film's script, No Time to Die hardly feels like the radical feminist rewrite we were promised.'
The first really negative review came from Screen International - which complained that the film lacked fun and wit. Forbes was also unimpressed and said the film was hamstrung by its determination to be a sequel to Spectre. Forbes also opined that the central romance in No Time to Die was not helped by the fact that the aged Daniel Craig looked more like his leading lady's father than her lover. The early reviews were, on the whole, overwhelmingly positive but enough nitpickers emerged in the end to knock the RT score down from the high 90s to the early 80s - which was still perfectly respectable.
Among those nitpickers was The AV Club, who wrote - 'No Time To Die is forgettable in all the places that usually count—it’s a Bond movie with little excitement or panache. All the film has to distinguish it is an uncharacteristically sappy ending, a late bid to jerk some tears after nearly three hours of boring us to them.' 007 Magazine also disliked the film and called it 'flabby, overlong and unsatisfying'. 007 Magazine called No Time to Die's OHMSS riffs 'ersatz and second hand' and felt that the performances of Daniel Craig and Léa Seydoux existed in an 'emotional vacuum' and thus failed to sell the central romance upon which the movie had built its very foundations on.
Rex Reed of Observer also disliked the film. 'No Time to Die may not be the worst James Bond movie ever made, but it’s in heavy competition as the dullest one since Octopussy.  The film’s sole distinction is the fact that it’s the James Bond epic that finally manages to make 007 a crashing bore. Directed with more boyish slobber than narrative coherence by Cary Joji Fukunaga from an over-crammed, self-consciously contrived script by no fewer than five writers.' The negative reviews became more frequent when the American critics began posting their articles. You can generally expect a Bond film to get a fairly free ride in Britain (let's be honest, places like Empire and Total Film are never going to completely trash a Bond film they've just enjoyed privileged access and exclusives to!) but this is not the case in America - and rightly so.
The main criticisms of the movie from naysayers were that it was overlong (to be fair to Empire, their otherwise positive review DID complain that the movie was too long and bogged down by exposition in its middle act), too sentimental, and too gloomy and miserable. Generally though, the film got fairly good reviews on the whole. You wouldn't say that critics - as a whole - found it too divisive. This decidedly wouldn't be the case with Bond fans though. They WOULD find No Time to Die divisive. For those interested in such statistics, Metacritic assigned No Time to Die a weighted average score of 69 out of 100. The general feeling then, in terms of critic scores, was that No Time to Die fell short of Casino Royale and Skyfall but was stronger than Quantum of Solace and Spectre. This placed it squarely in the middle of the Craig era when it came to film critics.
With the premiere out of the way and EON doubtless reasonably happy with the reviews of the film that were flooding the online world, Daniel Craig, like a weary marathon runner with only one mile left to run, was wheeled around television studios and video feeds on both sides of the Atlantic in one more final publicity heave. Craig was definitely demob happy by this point. One got the impression that, just for a change, he was actually quite enjoying this Bond publicity drive because he knew he'd never have to do this again. Craig seemed to be enjoying his twilight days as Bond. All this media attention would instantly transfer over to his successor one day and Craig would then suddenly become another ex-Bond actor like Pierce Brosnan or Timothy Dalton. But for now, for this moment, he was still James Bond and still the centre of attention.
The rest of the No Time to Die cast also did their bit in this last promotional quest and Cary Fukunaga (who must have been one of the most interviewed people in the world in 2021) continued to conduct interviews like they were going out of fashion. If he was slightly bored of talking about No Time to Die by now Fukunaga displayed no sign of this. Like the rest of the Bond team he just seemed happy and relieved that the film had finally been released and seemed to have garnered a positive enough reception. In October, Daniel Craig and Rami Malek made a surprise appearance at an IMAX cinema in Burbank, California, and got up on stage introduce a screening of No Time to Die. Craig told the audience it was a great thrill to finally have the film in cinemas and being watched by the public.
No Time to Die had a $55.2 million opening in the United States - which was down on the more optimistic projections. It dropped 57% in its second week. The main competition in cinemas around this time were Halloween Kills and Dune. In the end, No Time to Die would gross around $160 million in North America. This was generally seen as a disappointment because Spectre and Skyfall had both grossed considerably more than that. It was hard to say if it was the lingering pandemic effect or American audiences getting a trifle bored of the Daniel Craig era of Bond. Maybe it was a bit of both.
The truth is though that, a few exceptions aside, Bond has always made much of its money outside of the United States and is not entirely dependent on North America for revenue. It could be that the 163 minute running time of the film was a factor in that cinemas couldn't squeeze in as many screenings as they might have liked. No Time to Die ended up as the seventh highest grossing film of the year in the United States. Aside from F9: The Fast Saga, all the films that ougrossed No Time to Die were superhero movies.
There was much better news in Britain - where No Time to Die grossed incredible $96 million by the end of the year. This was on a par with Skyfall and Spectre - which was no mean feat given the strange circumstances in which the movie was released. No Time to Die's gross in Britain was quite incredible. Cinema owners in Britain breathed a heavy sigh of relief when these amazing numbers started tumbling in. They'd been banking on Bond to save them and this is exactly what had transpired.
MGM and EON (not to mention Universal - who were partners on this film and handled the American distribution) would also have been delighted to see No Time to Die become the highest grossing non-Chinese film of the year in China. The film also peformed strongly in Europe and the Middle East. In most places around the world cinemagoers were clearly very happy to have the chance to go out and watch a new James Bond film again after the long wait and the difficult times they had endured. No Time to Die was certainly raking in the money but it still remained uncertain if it would make enough to turn in a profit. The months ahead would answer that question.
* The article above is an extract from the book No Time to Die - The Unofficial Retrospective

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