It feels like we've been waiting for ages for Bond 25. Development started way back in 2016, but the film has hit its fair share of obstacles along the way. The original director Danny Boyle left due to "creative differences" before Cary Joji Fukunaga was appointed as director. As we all know the film's distribution was then delayed by the Covid Pandemic and rescheduled multiple times before its eventual premiere in London on September 30th 2021. The film is Daniel Craig's final one as James Bond and by all accounts the plot aims to wrap up the story arc of his portrayal. The music too has been impacted by "creative differences" along the way when the original composer Dan Romer left the project. Hans Zimmer was then brought in to replace him with Billie Eilish as the artist for the film's title song. Lots of hype always surrounds Bond films, and the music is often a part of that. Bringing in a new composer always has expectations, and there was speculation about what Zimmer would bring to the franchise.
Thomas Newman had been brought in by the director Sam Mendes to score Bond's previous 2 movies, Skyfall and Spectre. Anyone who is familiar with the music of Newman and Zimmer will know that while Newman tends to be known for subtilty (e.g. The Horse Whisperer, American Beauty, Bridge of Spies and 1917), Zimmer tends to be known for the polar opposite with a reputation for action and bombast (Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, Sherlock Holmes and Inception). This simplistic distinction needs to be qualified by the types of films these composers are known for and composers, like actors and directors, are not immune to being typecast. Nevertheless there is an expectation arising from their respective styles, and perhaps Zimmer is perhaps a more obvious choice as Bond composer, even though his style of bombast might be quite different to that of previous Bond composers.
Where Newman was largely quite sparing with the Bond Theme and other Bond sound references, Zimmer includes quite a lot of Bond character with a lot of this coming from the Bond Theme introduction or "Vamp". The score album starts with a brief "Gun Barrel" sequence using just the opening and closing bars of the familiar James Bond Theme (without the theme itself). This type of abbreviated scoring for the Gun Barrel has been used before by composer David Arnold for a couple of films with Pierce Brosnan as Bond. The lush opening strings of "Matera" then gives a typical Bond exotic location feel, and it is surprising to hear them morph into an instrumental rendition of "We Have All the Time in the World". This quotation suggests a dramatic resonance with events from "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". Reportedly the full song is used in the end credits though this doesn't appear on the score album. All very pleasant and romantic, until some dark sound design and percussive hits introduce "Message From An Old Friend" and before long we are into familiar 007 chase territory with rhythmic beats and ostinatos. This track is quite Zimmeresque overall, but a few touches of Bond theme quotations and mannerisms remind us which franchise we are in. A chord sequence is first heard here which will become important later in the score.
"Square Escape" is also a Zimmeresque action cue, and it introduces a triplet figure adapted from a short segment of the Bond Theme, before the frenetic pace ends and a tragic cello brings the track to a close. "Someone was here" is full of dramatic tension with a Bond electric guitar and a few wind flourishes which continue into "Not What I Expected". "Shouldn't We Get to Know Each Other First?" sounds suitably sultry with low jazzy flute until a confident Bond-Vamp on guitar. As the name suggests "Cuba Chase" has more action music, but it features a distinct and appealing Cuban vibe, with Latin percussion and trumpet flourishes, supported by some excellent brass scoring and a lively dance beat. The track also includes some Bond Theme chords, before repeating the triplet figure mentioned before with a screaming trumpet. You can get your breath back as "Back to MI6" plays some sound design leading into a short form of the core James Bond Theme on electric guitar version with the theme's final jazz arpeggio. The 2nd surprise comes in "Good To Have You Back" with a slow version of the theme from "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" preceded by its 4-note descending motif. The following 2 tracks "Lovely to See You Again" and "Home" then give us the first sad hints of the Billie Eilish "No Time to Die" song in instrumental form,with its prominent 4-note rising sequence.
"Norway Chase" starts with lots of suspense, the pace quickens and before long we are back into full-out action music again albeit with Bond highlights. "Gearing Up" then starts with arpeggios on an acoustic guitar, before these arpeggios are picked up by the strings, then strummed chords on the electric guitar. "Poison Garden" starts with a definite 5 beats to the bar with some low voices, and becomes a track full of dramatic tension with eerie strings and a repeating 4-note figure reaching a final crescendo. "The Factory" soon brings us a fuller version of the foreshadowed classical chord sequence (another Zimmer trait), before orchestral effects herald a return to more overt action ending on some quieter tension. After some melodic moments "I'll Be Right Back" quickly returns us to propulsive action and the classical chord sequence makes a comes back, with some "No Time To Die" melody before some rising brass bring the track to a climactic end. The triplet figure returns in "Opening the Doors" and the plot resumes. "Final Ascent" starts with a melancholy cello and some funereal chords, transitioning over time to become the "No Time to Die" song on Piano against poignant sustained strings. Descending strings (and then ascending brass) suggest a post-action dramatic high point at the film's conclusion.
Billie Eilish is the youngest artist (18 when the song was recorded) to create a Bond Theme Song. Nevertheless her controlled breathy voice is full of maturity and assuredness. The song was co-written with her brother, Finneas O'Connell, and the song's chorus features the memorable lyric "Fool me once, fool me twice" leading up to the title ear worm "There's just no time to die". The song's emotion rises in intensity in true Bondian style in the middle of the arrangement, before returning to the quiet breathiness of the opening with minimal piano before the strum of a Bond jazz chord. The songwriters won a Grammy earlier this year for "No Time to Die", and the song is included on the film score album.
So how has Zimmer performed with his first Bond film score? Undoubtedly there has been a change in emphasis from the character driven and sometimes even romantic and emotional scoring of Thomas Newman, to the suspense and action driven scoring of Hans Zimmer. This change in emphasis is what we might expect knowing Zimmer's predominant style and is quite in keeping with the historical arc of Bond music, but the composer doesn't disappoint in other aspects too. Bond music fans are amply rewarded with lots of Bond theme references, and the bonus inclusion of multiple quotations from one of Bond's favourite outings "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". All in all, the "No Time to Die" film score is a worthy addition to pantheon of Bond film music. The score can be found at: Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.