Composed by Hans Zimmer
Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond came to a close with No Time To Die. The film was supposed to come out two years ago, but thanks to the lockdowns and restrictions it has taken two years to finally see the light of day. Ironically the movie concerns a manufactured virus, albeit a much deadlier one that can be designed to target certain genetics. Was the wait worth it? Well, not really. Like its predecessor, Spectre, it starts off strong and gradually flounders under the weight of current movie franchise trends and clichés. Bond is caught up in weepy melodrama, most of the action is pedestrian, and we once again have to endure uncovered secret pasts about established characters. The movie also relies on audiences watching Craig’s entire run instead of just offering a self-contained thrill ride. Hopefully with Craig’s departure we can finally get more standalone Bond films. Hans Zimmer came on board for music and thanks to a heavily delayed release had two extra years to fine tune his score, so perhaps he would succeed on his front.
The song this time around is Billie Eilish’s “No Time to Die” (placed at the end of the album). It’s got the right tone and even hints of the James Bond theme, but Eilish sings like she’s drowsy so a lot of the lyrics are very hard to distinguish. It also lacks a particularly strong melody. After the last two films the composer finally has a chance to incorporate it into the score. However, thanks to the aforementioned lack of strong melody, Zimmer’s incorporation of it is piecemeal and often not very distinguishable despite adding further emotional punch to moments such as the end of “Matera,” the middle of “Lovely to See You Again,” and pieces of “Home” and “Final Ascent.” To be fair to the composer he had no hand in crafting the song and thus did not ensure that he had a more identifiable theme to work with. In terms of other new themes the only one I could really pick out was a motif for the new villain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek). It’s too simple to really make a strong impression and is more of an ambient soundscape as heard in the opening act of “What Have You Done” and “Lovely to See You Again.”
Zimmer liberally incorporates the Bond theme, not as much as David Arnold or Thomas Newman, but frequently enough. Finally one of these new soundtracks features the gunbarrel music, in extended dramatic form in “Gun Barrel.” “Back to M16” sees the theme appear in its classic electric guitar form as Bond makes his way back to the secret service agency. Zimmer puts it through some interesting paces, taking pieces and converting them into new Media Ventures style action riffs. There is one such recurring action riff based on perhaps the least used part of the Bond theme. This appears at the start of “Square Escape,” for what I think is the film’s best action moment, and for the “one-shot” stair shootout in “Opening the Doors.”
What should really grab listeners’ attention, however, is the return of the two main themes from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which just happens to be my favorite soundtrack from the series. “Matera” is a gorgeous track with sweeping romantic strings. At 0:35 the love theme derived from “We Have All the Time in the World” appears in a great callback. Once the reference concludes at 1:05 Zimmer adds another lovely melody and a reference to “No Time to Die” (1:36). The song itself actually graces the end credits. OHMSS’s main theme itself, normally presented as an action piece, gets a slow and somewhat downbeat return in “Good to Have You Back.” It’s great to have these moments, even though they tend to far outshine the newer material.
The action cues are a mixed bag. “Message From an Old Friend” spends over a minute building tension and then explodes in electronic/percussive fare with a heavy dose of the James Bond theme. Said theme is the only thing which gives this track any character. “Cuba Chase” is much stronger. Zimmer infuses the familiar Media Ventures style action with much Latin flair. Pieces of the James Bond theme appear towards the end to further spice things up. This cue added a heavy dose of fun to this particular segment of the film. “Norway Chase” is not as engaging, but is heavy on atmosphere in the first two minutes thanks to Zimmer’s utilization of a choir. The choir continues into the more action-dominated section via a chant, a rare but not unprecedented element in a Bond score. Despite the choir this track sounds like it would come from one of the video game spin-offs.
The collection of cues for the finale is the most recognizable in terms of Zimmer and his protégés’ styles, I think to the score’s detriment. “The Factory” is standard Media Ventures action and woefully generic across its six-minute plus length. “I’ll Be Right Back” starts off more strongly with a brief reference to “No Time to Die.” Nearly 1:30 in, however, Zimmer almost completely apes “Molossus” from Batman Begins. Thankfully he then brings in a strong iteration of the No Time to Die theme (around the 2:30 mark). “Final Ascent” is the last and longest track from Zimmer. It’s very dramatic and reminiscent of his previous works (The slowly building strings are based primarily on “Journey to the Line” from Thin Red Line). While certainly laying on the emotion and incorporating bits of “No Time to Die,” “Final Ascent” seems oddly suited for a James Bond movie, but then again the film deviated heavily from the series’ personality. Perhaps its biggest sin, given the context of the attendant scene, is that there is no real send-off for the James Bond theme itself. The song closes out the album. These two tracks give the album a rather morose ending.
Hans Zimmer was likely brought in to give Craig’s run an epic musical send-off. While there are a few moments of heavy emotion, I would have preferred that David Arnold, who was shunted aside when director Sam Mendes opted for his regular collaborator Thomas Newman, got at least one more round. Aside from some wonderful references to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and a couple fun action beats, Zimmer’s stab at 007 is regrettably generic. It feels like any one of the composers who had worked under him and then gone out on their own would have done about as well. Hopefully the James Bond franchise will eventually get back on track and the music will do so as well. A few standout moments do help Zimmer’s entry stand above Newman’s work for Spectre.
Final Rating: 5/10
- Gun Barrel (0:56)
- Matera (1:59)
- Message from an Old Friend (6:35)
- Square Escape (2:06)
- Someone Was Here (2:56)
- Not What I Expected (1:24)
- What Have You Done? (2:14)
- Shouldn’t We Get to Know Each Other First (1:21)
- Cuba Chase (5:40)
- Back to MI6 (1:30)
- Good to Have You Back (1:17)
- Lovely to See You Again (1:25)
- Home (3:45)
- Norway Chase (5:06)
- Gearing Up (2:53)
- Poison Garden (3:58)
- The Factory (6:42)
- I’ll Be Right Back (4:59)
- Opening the Doors (2:44)
- Final Ascent (7:25)
- No Time to Die (written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell, performed by Billie Eilish) (4:04)