By Priscilla Page / Hagerty.com
No Time to Die delivers a bittersweet farewell to Daniel Craig’s James Bond, his fifth and final outing as 007. Craig’s tenure has been a divisive one among diehard fans, with some believing his films are the best Bond yet, and others who feel his movies just don’t hew closely enough to Sean Connery’s or Roger Moore’s runs. But there’s a little bit of each Bond actor that paved the way in the DNA of Craig’s depiction, and his Bond is not without precedent; he’s been truer to Ian Fleming’s conception than most cinematic portrayals of the character. Craig actualized the “brutal instrument” that Fleming described better than most. Of his predecessors, Craig is perhaps most like George Lazenby, whose Bond felt as dangerous as he was vulnerable, and No Time to Die doesn’t try to hide Lazenby’s influence, making its tribute to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service less than subtle by bookending the film with strains from John Barry’s score. Ultimately, Craig’s Bond imbued a fantasy with humanity, giving the spy interiority, a soul.
Cary Joji Fukunaga’s film reflects the ways the world has evolved since the spy’s debut in 1962’s Dr. No, but it still gives us vintage Bond to satisfy old-school devotees. Rami Malek’s Safin is not unlike the series inaugural villain. It’s a funnier film than Craig’s previous entries, injected with Roger Moore-era humor, including plenty of one-liners and comic relief courtesy of villainous scientist Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik) to offset Safin’s dourness. Q Branch supplies some of Bond’s best gadgets to date. And then there’s the requisite globetrotting — the film even takes Bond back to Jamaica, where Fleming first conceived the character.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Bond film without achingly cool cars and stunning car chases. These films have reliably provided some of cinema’s best car action for nearly 60 years: the Lotus Esprit Series 1 debuted in The Spy Who Loved Me in a car chase through the mountains of Sardinia, where Roger Moore drives it into the sea and it transforms into a submarine, unfortunately not a real option for that model. Pierce Brosnan commandeered a tank and destroyed most of St. Petersburg hurtling through the city’s streets in GoldenEye, and he slid over a frozen lake in an Aston Martin Vanquish in Die Another Day. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diana Rigg’s Tracy drove a red ’69 Mercury Cougar XR-7 with Lazenby’s Bond as her passenger in Switzerland. And it was 1964’s Goldfinger that introduced the DB5—and its famed ejector seat. It’s not surprising to find that the best-selling toy the year of Goldfinger’s release was a miniature Aston Martin DB5.
It’s this silver birch Aston Martin that defines James Bond just as much as martinis, mayhem, beautiful women, and larger-than-life villains. Appearing in almost half of Bond’s films, it’s his most iconic gadget, not to mention probably the most well-known car in the world. And fittingly, the ’64 Aston Martin DB5 is the first car to grace the screen in No Time to Die, which kicks off exactly where Spectre left us. Bond has quit MI6 and absconded with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) in Italy. But peace doesn’t come easily for the man, and this retreat is almost immediately interrupted by people out to kill the retired 007. The chase begins with Bond on foot where he’s nearly smashed by a rare fourth-generation Maserati Quattroporte (not a bad way to go), then brawls with Dali Benssalah’s mercenary Primo. Bond commandeers Primo’s 2019 Triumph Scrambler 1200 to find Madeleine and escape. On the Triumph, Bond jumps from the street below using a steep arch as a ramp onto the level above him; this arch jump was performed by four-time World Enduro champion Paul “Fast Eddy” Edmondson, and it’s one of the best, most breathtaking stunts in the movie.
Once Bond is back in his Aston Martin, with Madeleine alongside him, the chase unfolds along the winding, narrow streets of Matera where two Jaguar XF sedans now pursue Bond—the Jaguar has always been a popular choice with this franchise’s villains. Without spoiling too much, it’s a chase with narrative significance, where the villains play on Bond’s inability to trust. Here, his bulletproof DB5 suddenly feels like a metaphor for the man himself, with an exterior as hardened as he is. A bell tolling as Bond and Madeleine find themselves surrounded feels meaningful as well, in tune with his obsession with time and his own mortality. But Bond and Madeleine finally elude their pursuers when he switches on the Aston Martin’s smoke screen and does donuts, while blasting twin miniguns from the headlight housings, allowing the pair to vanish.
Though the car appears totaled at the end of this debacle, all DB5s survived production. They used ten DB5s in the film: two real ones for closeups—like when Craig steps in and out of the car—and eight replicas for stunts and special effects. Aston Martin itself built the replicas, which are carbon-fiber props (not exactly street-legal, but drivable) with a six-speed manual transmission and about 300 horsepower. And the car is, at least within Bond’s world, bulletproof, equipped with gadgets like the aforementioned machine guns and smoke screen, plus a mine dispenser, which must come in handy when dealing with tailgaters.
The replicas were remote-controlled, outfitted with the Gemini system, something that sounds like Q himself could have engineered it. This system allowed production to drive and operate the cars safely and remotely with a range of up to 500 meters. Stunt drivers could control the car on screens “like a video game,” or while wearing VR goggles from another car following the chase, or from a cherry picker above the hero car. The film’s action vehicle supervisor Neil Layton told Car Buzz that the system “opens up extra avenues where we can drive the car off a bridge or into an oncoming train. It removes the risk for the stunt driver.” That being said, Craig himself is no slouch in the driver’s seat: Layton told Motor Authority that Craig does his “fair share” of the driving, and he’s able to drift, J-turn, and do donuts. (His stunt double, rally driver Mark Higgins, performs the rest.) It’s a chase made more impressive knowing that it was filmed practically, in camera, and not against a green screen. This is a franchise that prides itself on doing its action for real.
Like Aston Martin, these films have history with Land Rover: the first—an ’80 Range Rover convertible—debuted in Octopussy. In Jamaica, Bond drives a blue Land Rover Series III, a car that first appeared in 1987’s The Living Daylights. In another pivotal chase, a band of Land Rovers (first Range Rover Sport SVRs and then Defenders) pursue Bond (driving a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado) over ice and into misty woods, proving themselves hardy enough to manage uncertain terrain.
These long-standing partnerships help determine which cars will appear in a given Bond film, but it’s not just arbitrary product placement—there’s creative weight behind these decisions. The vehicles featured in No Time to Die span generations, a purposeful choice for Daniel Craig’s swan song, which marries classic and modern Bond. Ana de Armas’s Paloma has a brief but heroic moment in a Chevy Bel Air. (And it looks like a ‘57 Bel Air, which happens to be a car driven by one of SPECTRE’s henchmen in Dr. No.) Bond also hops in an Aston Martin V8 Saloon. After finding the V8 in storage, he rips off the cover, a moment that evokes the dramatic reveal of the DB5 in Skyfall. Though it isn’t as well-known as the DB5, the V8 has history, too: it’s another nod to The Living Daylights, where the V8 first appeared. Even the license plate is the same.
Though Bond prefers the vintage DB5 and V8, Lashana Lynch’s new 007, Nomi, opts for something a bit more updated, but still in the spirit of her predecessor: a 2018 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera boasting a 715-horsepower V12. We even briefly glimpse a beautiful white Aston Martin Valhalla in a wind tunnel in Q Division. Not yet released, this is a sleek concept, a mid-engine supercar created in collaboration with Red Bull Racing. It’s a bit of a tease here, making no other appearance in the film.
No Time to Die embraces the spy’s past and looks to his future, a fact made evident in its selection of vehicles, which are equally beautiful, and meaningful, to the James Bond mythos. It’s a collection that should gratify Bond fans and gearheads alike. With its reverence to James Bond’s legacy—from his gadgets to his cars to the character himself—it’s clear that this is a film crafted with love for 007. No Time to Die beautifully honors the beloved icon.
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