TOM UTLEY: It’s a depressing reality of growing old that new Bond film left me neither shaken nor stirred
This is a monstrously ungrateful thing to say, but it was only 90 minutes into the new Bond movie when I started looking surreptitiously at my watch and asking myself: ‘How much longer will this drivel go on?’
I say it’s ungrateful because I’d been privileged to be asked to Tuesday night’s media preview of No Time To Die, which made me one of the first people in the world to see the most eagerly awaited film of the millennium.
Indeed, there are countless fans all over the globe who would have given their eye teeth for my free ticket. Looking back, I only wish it had been bestowed on someone more appreciative.
Let me make it clear, right from the start, that what follows is most emphatically not a reflection on the quality of the film. In fact, I feel safe to say that those who like Bond movies will absolutely love this one.
I feel safe to say that those who like Bond movies will absolutely love No Time to Die. Pictured: Lashana Lynch, Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux at the premiere on September 28
As the many rave reviews suggest, it has all the familiar ingredients of the classics — the thrilling car chases, gorgeous girls, sinister villains and wizard gadgetry — and quite a bit extra besides.
No, this column is simply a lament about a great sadness of growing older: at the age of 67, fast going on 68, I find that all too many experiences, which would once have thrilled and delighted me, are losing their power to move me. With a heavy heart, I discovered this week that Bond movies are among them.
Quite why I was invited to the preview, I don’t know. I can only guess that it was because more than three decades ago, I served briefly as a film critic on a national Sunday newspaper.
Though I don’t recall having written a word about a movie since then, I suppose my name must have remained on a list used by the PR people who act for the big distributors.
Anyway, for whatever reason, I have continued to receive occasional invitations to previews. But I’ve refused them all — until this week.
I made an exception for No Time To Die partly because this was more than a mere film release.
As the many rave reviews suggest, it has all the familiar ingredients of the classics and quite a bit extra besides. Pictured: Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas in a scene from No Time To Die
With the hopes of an entire industry riding on its success, after the devastation caused by lockdowns worldwide, this was a huge national and international news story. Not just a movie, but an Event with a capital E.
But my main reason for leaping at the chance to see it was that for most of my life I’d been a passionate devotee of everything Bond-related.
In my childhood, I read Ian Fleming’s books with a special thrill, since they’d been banned by the headmaster of my boarding preparatory school, who deemed them too racy to be suitable reading for boys aged eight to 13.
We had to keep them hidden under the floorboards in the dorm, along with war mags and copies of Health and Efficiency, passing them around to be read by torchlight under the bedclothes after lights out. (My advice to teachers or parents who want to encourage their pupils to read a particular book is to tell them they mustn’t.)
After the film franchise began, with Dr No in 1962, I looked forward to each new release with eager anticipation.
And though I always thought Sean Connery was by far the best Bond, just as William Hartnell was my definitive Doctor Who (how that dates me!), I hugely enjoyed every one of them.
I was such an avid fan that the possession I treasured most as a 12-year-old was the Corgi model of James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5, complete with a working ejector seat, machine guns in the headlights and a set of instructions hidden in a secret compartment.
And so it was that on Tuesday evening, I arrived for the media viewing in Leicester Square (I wasn’t asked to the A-list premiere at the Albert Hall, shown at the same time), expecting a real treat.
And, no, I didn’t feel guilty that Mrs U wasn’t asked. She has long found my love of Bond films utterly baffling, a clear case of arrested development.
Heightening the sense of occasion, I was instructed to put my mobile phone into a sealed plastic bag, presumably to prevent me from making a pirate copy of the film or breaking the midnight embargo on reviews.
I was then ushered towards a free bar, dispensing cocktails, wine and beer to my fellow thirsty hacks.
In years gone by, I would have helped myself liberally to the hospitality on offer.
But since I’d been warned that No Time To Die would last a full two hours and 43 minutes without a comfort break, as they say at Wimbledon, I avoided my preferred tipple of beer and accepted only a small glass of red to wash down my complimentary bag of ‘James Bond Dry Martini gourmet popcorn’.
Ah, such are the indignities of ageing!
But my disappointment in the film had nothing to do with my bladder. So why was it that barely halfway through it, I was thinking ‘this is just bloody silly’ and longing for it to end?
After all, haven’t 007 films always been bloody silly, with totally implausible, convoluted plots? Haven’t Bond’s enemies always been lousy shots, firing thousands of bullets at him without ever doing him serious harm? Haven’t the jokes always been corny, and the villains ludicrously camp?
At the age of 67, I find too many experiences, which would once have thrilled and delighted me, are losing their power to move me, including Bond movies (pictured: Lashana Lynch)
Yet none of this ever bothered me before. Indeed, I lapped it all up, relishing every moment of nonsense from beginning to end.
Nor can I complain that the action sequences aren’t up to scratch. Indeed, they surpass most of those in earlier Bond films (though in my book, nobody has ever filmed a car chase to compare with the famous stomach-heaving sequence in Bullitt, in which Steve McQueen’s Ford Mustang hurtles up and down the hills of San Francisco).
No. Since I can find no exceptional fault with the acting, the direction, the script, the special effects or the superb cinematography, I am forced to reach the unhappy conclusion that the blame for my failure to enjoy No Time To Die rests entirely at my own door. Reader, I am simply too old for this sort of thing.
Of course, we all know that our tastes change as we grow older. In my early childhood, for example, I thought nothing in this world could be funnier than a whoopee cushion placed on the chair of a parent, grandmother or aunt.
As an undergraduate, I would laugh until my sides hurt and tears streamed down my cheeks with each new instalment of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
As a cub reporter in the late 1970s, I thought nothing more delicious than a Big Mac, except perhaps for a butterscotch Instant Whip.
These days, whoopee cushions and the Pythons leave me cold, while I find both Big Macs and Instant Whip a touch on the disgusting side.
And now, much to my grief, I suppose I must add Bond movies to the ever-lengthening list of experiences that once filled me with joy, but no longer hit the spot.
All I can say is that I appear to be in good company.
For if I have one quibble about No Time To Die, it is that throughout his performance, Daniel Craig gave the impression that he would much rather be in a weightier production.
Indeed, I found his much-praised efforts to bring depth and psychological realism to his character were merely incongruous in what was otherwise a confection of escapism for adolescent boys of all ages.
As he looks ahead to his next big performance, playing Macbeth on Broadway, I suspect that, like me, he has simply grown out of James Bond.