Hans Zimmer’s No Time To Die features a well-crafted, John Barry-esque orchestral style that is then used for several excellent action setpieces, it’s just a bit of a shame that the Bond theme doesn’t feature all that prominently.
Let me just preface this review by saying one thing; I’ve not been much of a fan of the music composed for much of Daniel Craig’s Bond era so far (particularly Skyfall and Spectre), and this has been for one pretty simple but all important reason; a continual, confusing refusal to use the iconic Bond theme (composed by Monty Norman) in any substantial way. It made sense for David Arnold’s Casino Royale, as Bond was just getting started (and hadn’t quite earned his iconic title just yet), and so the score spent much of its runtime building up with snippets of the theme until finally unleashing it in all its glory right at the end of the film for a three minute, fist-pumpingly dramatic rendition. Since then however, Craig’s Bond has become the 007 we all know and love, and yet – the Bond theme is still used as sparingly as it was in Casino. It barely appeared in Arnold’s Quantum Of Solace, and when Thomas Newman took over scoring duties for Skyfall and Spectre respectively, it all but disappeared, playing fragmented at best and never in a full rendition. Newman’s work for the franchise overall features some truly excellent action writing (see Backfire) but it all distinctly lacks any major presence of Bond’s iconic theme save for a few notes dotted here and there, and for the life of me I have never understood it. It’s not as if this is how the theme is supposed to be used – Brosnan’s Bond for example has the motif weaved throughout his movies in gloriously full form (thanks to David Arnold) and it sounds absolutely fantastic. So what’s the problem?
To bring this all to the point then – when I first heard that Hans Zimmer was taking over scoring duties for No Time To Die, I must say I was somewhat skeptical (though admittedly a little pleased that Newman would not be returning). Zimmer though? Bond? Hmm… I guess it could work? These were my first thoughts, though my wariness did then subside when the composer did several interviews for the film, citing how much he wanted to use a guitar player for the score (Johnny Marr) and how much he loved John Barry and David Arnold’s respective approaches to Bond’s music. At that point, I started to get a bit excited (as Zimmer seemed to be along the right lines) and though maybe, just maybe – we might get that epic resurgence of the iconic Bond theme that I’ve spent so long waiting for. So, without further ado – it’s time to find out.
No Time To Die opens rather expectedly with Gun Barrel, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Slow, dramatic strings open the piece, playing the first few notes of Norman’s Bond theme in quiet yet rather confident form, before loud brass then bursts into the fray and the classic gunbarrel rendition of the theme plays through. Compared to the various other renditions of it from every other Bond movie, this one does sound a little standard (not massively standout) but at the end of the day, it’s orchestral, rather epic, and very Bond, so props to Zimmer there (no pitfalls into distorted electronics or synth as he is somewhat known for). Matera though is where things get very interesting indeed, not to mention surprising – slow, romantic strings start to play in a very John Barry-esque way, and then suddenly, incredibly; we’re back in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, as the motif from We Have All The Time In The World reprises for the first time in a Bond movie since that very film. It’s a completely unexpected and very welcome thematic reprise, and it sounds just as amazing here on soothing orchestral strings as it does back on the classic OHMSS soundtrack album. With my curiousity now practically reaching fever pitch, we continue into Message From An Old Friend, and it’s here that things start to dip just a little bit – low-pitched, moody electronics open the piece, hinting dangerously toward Zimmer’s standard electronic sound before brass then loudly interrupts, and a rather dramatic-sounding electric guitar ushers in the action with a particularly frantic though short rendition of the Bond theme. From here on the orchestra piles on in full force, with frenetic percussion leading the charge alongside tense strings and the Bond theme weaving throughout in several tensely fragmented appearances.
The action continues into the opening minute of Square Escape, with brass flaring up within the first few seconds and the Bond theme sounding through in a confident yet also rather worried rendition. The orchestra then starts to build behind the theme until a loudly panicked-sounding crescendo is reached, and the action then comes to a particularly mournful end as slow, sorrowful strings quietly fade away. Someone Was Here then opens rather ominously, with high-pitched, almost horror-like strings and the occasional note of tense brass occupying the foreground until a loud flurry of additional, reassuring strings then practically bursts in, with a quiet yet optimistic Bond theme following swiftly afterward. The motif then slowly regains confidence through the back half of the cue, with some very Barry-esque brass playing dramatically before the track then ends. Slow, pensive woodwinds then briefly take over in the rather short Not What I Expected before tension then starts to creep back into the music in What Have You Done; slow, ominous strings and some rather menacing vocals take centre stage for much of this track, with the Bond theme only pushing through the tension right in the final few seconds of the piece on a particularly emphatic electric guitar.
Slow, gentle strings open Shouldn’t We Get To Know Each Other First, with a few light guitar notes sounding through and the Bond theme fading quietly between in increasingly confident form. Action then kicks into gear once again with Cuba Chase, the standout cue of the score. A burst of violent, menacing brass and dramatically ominous vocals open the piece, setting a particularly unsettling tone with a few brisk notes from the Bond theme scattered throughout, until loud percussion and some rather Cuban-esque strings then power through, and the action really gets started. Loud, ferocious brass notes lead a powerful musical charge, with strings keeping tensions high until the Cuban instrumentation then breaks through once again, injecting an upbeat element into the otherwise rather dark-sounding piece that then encourages the Bond theme for several powerfully heroic yet fragmented renditions. As tensions then rapidly reach fever-pitch, some quite Barry-esque brass rockets through and the action then comes to a loud, frantic crescendo to close. At this point action music-wise, I have to say; this the best that Bond has sounded since David Arnold, and if that doesn’t sell you, that track itself surely will. The instrumentation is simply glorious, and the way Zimmer effortlessly weaves together several musical styles here is truly something to behold. The composer then continues this winning streak with Back To MI6, where the Bond theme plays in particularly swaggering style with the orchestra properly behind it for its fullest rendition on the score (though annoyingly not a completely full one), and the closest I think we’ll likely get to a full recording of Zimmer’s take on the theme.
Good To Have You Back then brings another welcome thematic surprise into the mix; slow methodical strings start things off, and a few seconds later the Main Title theme from John Barry’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service then starts to play, injecting a somewhat morose but also rather confident tone into the music while also reprising one of the most iconic pieces of Bond music. Much like the We Have All The Time In The World reprise from earlier this too is a welcome surprise, and one that is rather exquisitely orchestrated here by Zimmer – it’s just a shame that it doesn’t stick around for longer. Sinister electronics and rather unnerving percussion then briefly take centre stage at the start of Lovely To See You Again, before a light, pensive piano starts to play the opening notes of Billie Eilish’s No Time To Die song and the track then annoyingly ends as quickly as it began. Thankfully though Home then continues in a very similar vein, with morose strings loudly introducing themselves at the start of the cue before then playing a few further notes from No Time To Die. As the four minute track continues the music then descends further and further into melancholy, with the instrumentals of the song featuring quite prominently. Overall, it’s always a great thing to hear when a Bond score incorporates elements from its titular song, and these two tracks sound simply fantastic as a result. This gentleness doesn’t last for long however as Norway Chase then loudly interrupts, setting a particularly worrisome tone in the opening minute before building up into action as ferocious vocals and dramatic bursts of brass take the forefront, with a continually fragmented Bond theme playing in the track’s final few seconds for a loudly emphatic sendoff.
Quiet strings open Gearing Up, with a rather hopeful (though short) rendition of the Bond theme sounding through on low brass a few seconds later. From here the strings then start to pick up the pace, leading directly into subsequent cue Poison Garden where dramatic, villainous vocals and worrisome strings elevate the tension quite considerably in the track’s first half. Things do then quieten down however as some mysterious and rather eerie-sounding electronics take over, building to a loudly worried crescendo that peaks at around the four minute mark. This atmospheric build-up then continues into The Factory, where the established dramatic vocals are accompanied by bursts of ominous brass and increasingly tense strings, which all then slowly increase in both volume and intensity as the track continues, hinting forebodingly toward action before finally reaching a particularly malevolent-sounding finish at seven minutes in.
I’ll Be Right Back opens in a similarly morose manner before a rumble of brass then signals action, and a brisk pace follows with loudly frantic strings and powerful percussion. This then reaches a particularly emotional crescendo a few minutes in, with sombre vocals and a quiet yet dramatic rendition of the Bond theme which then signals an orchestral build-up to segue into the subsequent Opening The Doors. A tense Bond theme opens this piece on bursts of aggravated brass, with worried strings then briefly breaking up the action until the Bond theme surges back into frame a few seconds later, ending the cue on a loudly dramatic crescendo. It’s here though that the action comes to a sudden end, as last track Final Ascent slows things right down for a decidedly melancholic finale to the score. Gentle, brooding brass and slow, pensive strings occupy the majority of this cue’s seven minute runtime, building quietly until a loudly emotional crescendo is then reached with the main notes from Billie Eilish’s title song held high, and No Time To Die then ends on a curiously sombre note.
Overall, Hans Zimmer’s score for No Time To Die is solidly entertaining, if not perhaps a little lacking in the Bond theme – though I must say it does feature far more compared to Newman’s works for the franchise. The other thematic appearances are also of particular highlight, with the two reprises from John Barry’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service score being a genuine and very welcome surprise, not to mention being faithfully orchestrated to boot. Speaking of which – the compositional style overall here is rather excellent, full of rich, gorgeous-sounding orchestra, with clear inspiration taken from the likes of John Barry and David Arnold’s respective Bondian styles, but also with a dash of Thomas Newman sprinkled in too. The action writing is also superb, with standout cue Cuban Chase being one of the best action cues from a Bond score in years.
On a slightly more negative note though, per the opening of this review I do feel this needs bringing up again now that we’ve fully heard the score; I would have liked to have heard a bit more from the Bond theme here. It appears short and fragmented in nearly all of its various renditions across the score (never quite reaching the epic heights of Arnold’s early Bond works for example) and with the exquisite orchestral style displayed by Zimmer throughout the album, it is a bit of a shame we don’t get to hear it played in all its glory. A new, full length recording of the theme would’ve gone a long way here I feel (especially given the exquisite hints we hear toward one in Back To MI6). It is a slightly nitpicky criticism I admit, but…it’s a Bond score, you know? Use the theme! Billie Eilish’s title song also doesn’t feature in the score quite as much as I would’ve perhaps liked – but it does appear, which is more than can be said for a lot of recent Bond movies.
All-in though what we do get here is pretty stellar, and Zimmer’s faithful Barry-esque style is the absolute centrepiece.
Standout Cue: 09. Cuba Chase
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