This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
At the end of October 2015, the 24th James Bond film, Spectre, enjoyed its global premiere. Following the massive success of Skyfall, hopes were understandably high for Spectre, and it quickly notched up some strong – and not so strong – reviews. Originally rumored to be the first of a two-part story (with a suggestion that it be filmed back to back with James Bond 25), Spectre would prove to be a big box office hit, too. As Bond drove off into the sunset at the end of the film, the next adventure was surely an inevitability.
But something wasn’t quite right. And one year later, the James Bond series is still in something of a flux, with some big decisions either still needing to be made, or at least yet to be announced.
Bond Rises (Again)
Let’s go back a few years first.
When James Bond returned to the big screen after a six year absence with 1995’s GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan’s debut in the role, it kickstarted something of a juggernaut. Bond movies have pretty much always been big business, of course, but throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, they were also (very) regular events. The end of one Bond would often not just tease that James Bond would return, but in which film he would be back. There was a sense of longer term planning of which film stories Albert R. Broccoli and his team wanted to tell. That sense isn’t quite there anymore: that once a 007 movie is complete, it’s clear there will be another, it’s less clear just what it’ll be.
Pierce Brosnan would star in four 007 adventures between 1995 and 2002, and the newly-energized series was rewarded with growing box returns. Even his swansong, the much-maligned Die Another Day, would gross just shy of half a billion dollars worldwide.
Brosnan’s run made him the first 007 – Lazenby aside, as you might expect – to never work with the same director twice on the films, as the series settled into a formula of recruiting varied, often-acclaimed directors to make the first 60% of the film, before effectively handing over to the stunt team for the rest. A formula had been found, personnel were switched around, the films came along regularly.
But things seem to have changed in the Daniel Craig era of 007, and it’s made the transition from one movie to the next far more labored.
The Craig Era
At first, following the critical and commercial success of Casino Royale in 2006, things were as always. A new director was brought in for Craig’s second film, Quantum of Solace, and the Bond team seemed to move seamlessly from one production to the next. But this time, there was a snag.
At the time of Quantum of Solace’s development, a writers’ strike in Hollywood led to Eon Productions fast-tracking Craig’s sophomore 007 outing. And while Quantum of Solace was a big hit – becoming only the second 007 movie to smash $500m at the global box office – it would be fair to say that it wasn’t, and still isn’t, loved very much. I think it was Barry Norman who cited it as the worst Bond film, highlighting the one that followed – Skyfall – as the best.
What’s more, I believe it was the critical failure of Quantum of Solace, and the massive success of Skyfall, that led to the current challenges facing the 007 series.
It’s clear that Quantum of Solace gave all concerned something of a jolt. Thus, it’d be four years before James Bond would return – the biggest gap between films for an incumbent 007 in the history of the series – and in that time, Daniel Craig’s influence on the franchise had clearly grown. He was very much more than an actor for hire. Furthermore, in incoming director Sam Mendes, Craig had found someone very much on the same proverbial page.
The delay before Skyfall, incidentally, was in part due to financial problems at MGM, but the time proved advantageous. The budget of Skyfall had to be scaled back from Quantum of Solace’s, and thus the decision was made to center the film primarily in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the focus was on a much smaller story, bringing Judi Dench’s M to the fore. A hostage to some degree of circumstance, perhaps, but it sure worked: Skyfall earned rave reviews, an Oscar, and a worldwide box office gross of $1.1bn. That’s a good $200m more than any James Bond film has made before or since.
So the pressure was on. In the initial aftermath of Skyfall’s huge success, director Sam Mendes announced he wouldn’t return, before being convinced to reverse that decision. Furthermore, Daniel Craig’s influence would result in him getting a producer credit this time around, again a Bond series first.
And, buoyed by the massive grosses for the last film, a much bigger story was conceived. Spectre would be a celebration of all things Bond. A story that spanned the planet, the biggest explosion ever put on film, a complex story, a not-so-mysterious villain from 007 lore, and a lot to say about the state of global surveillance. The budget shackles of Skyfall were lifted, and a hugely ambitious production was planned.
Even then, though, Spectre was made in a hurry. One hell of a hurry, as it happens. And that too has had repercussions.
A year before its release date, principal photography hadn’t actually begun on the film. And this was hardly a small movie confined to soundstages. Given the global nature of the movie, and the focus on physical stunts over CG, it was a massive, massive logistical effort, even before the cameras were unpacked. And a lot had to be crammed into a truncated production period. Put it in context: Mad Max: Fury Road, that also came out in 2015, reserved three months just so the editor could go through the footage, ahead of even starting to compile it. Marvel, meanwhile, is coming to the end of filming Spider-Man: Homecoming, for release next July.
With Spectre, so tight was the editing window that the final cut was locked on the Saturday before the film’s first press screening on the Wednesday. Filming finished in July, the film premiered three months later. One of the criticisms of the movie was its running time, but it’s hard to see how much space there was in the schedule to test the film and trim it.
It’s interesting to see how Spectre is perceived, a near year after its release. Certainly, whenever we post a story about the film, it seems to inspire a large, ongoing discussion, with many frustrations about the movie cited.
That said, it has lots of fans. And it’d be remiss to even vaguely describe it as a flop as, with its near-$900m global gross, it’s the second most successful James Bond film of all time at the box office.
But countering that, its U.S. take was down from $304m to $200m, it fell over $200m short of Skyfall’s take worldwide, and it was by distance the most expensive Bond film to make. The reported budget of $245m would have paid for the entire run of Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton Bonds combined.
And there were further considerations. Sony distributed the film, and you’d expect, off $880m of box office takings, it would have made a pretty penny. Yet not so. Reports suggest that Sony’s returns are minimal, once marketing, distribution, Eon’s take, and exhibitors’ cuts have been taken out. Furthermore, Sony doesn’t have the home entertainment rights to Bond, so the company couldn’t make its significant investment back that way. 20th Century Fox holds those rights, and arguably it’s the studio that will have done the best out of Spectre.
It’s those theatrical rights that are one of the reasons why the Bond franchise finds itself in temporary limbo. There’s no doubt that a new Bond adventure is coming, but, nearly a year on, few are cleare as to what shape it’ll take. The end of Spectre left threads – and a villain – that were expected to fold over into another film (Christoph Waltz has talked about returning, with a few caveats). Certainly, core cast members, such as Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris, are expected back, too.
The big question, of course, centers on the return or otherwise of Daniel Craig. It’s been strongly suggested that he’s contracted to do the next film, but also, that Eon won’t hold him to that if all concerned think it’s time for a change.
On balance, few are expecting him back either, and not just due to the comments he made on the press tour for Spectre where he seemed pretty adamant he was done with 007. There’s also a sense that Craig’s time as Bond has naturally come to an end, and after four films – the same tenure as Pierce Brosnan – it’s time for a new James Bond.
It’s certainly been set up. Sam Mendes, chatting to Empire earlier this year, said of the ending to Spectre that “it did feel to me like Daniel was saying goodbye at the end,” while also adding that “but there’s clearly a way he can easily come back.” Hinting at the exhausting production of Spectre, Mendes added of Craig that “I think you’ve got to feel 100% to come back, and I think he knows that. He needs to have a break and do another role and see how he feels about that.” Which is pretty much what he’s doing. He’s shooting the TV show Purity next.
The telling moment with regards to an announcement over Craig’s future may be just under a week away. On October 7th, he’s due to be interviewed for 90 minutes at the New Yorker Festival, under the title ‘Beyond Bond.’ It’s highly likely that his future will be discussed, and potentially revealed at that point. The title of the event does at the least offer a clue.
The rumor mill will continue anyway, of course. Earlier this year, at one stage the odds were firmly on Tom Hiddleston taking over, but even the latest report there suggests Eon has cooled on his casting. Hiddleston seems keen, though. Rightly so.
One certainty this time is that there’s going to be a change in director, with Sam Mendes confirming that he definitely won’t be back. Names thrown into the hat thus far, albeit with no obvious source, include Guy Ritchie and The Night Manager’s Susanne Bier, the latter of whom has confirmed she’s not been approached.
Sony also has to finally decide if it wants to renew its deal to distribute and back James Bond films, which it’s likely to do. If it doesn’t, Eon won’t struggle to find another studio to step in, with Warner Bros reportedly keen on taking over.
As for 007? The fact that Craig was obviously in sync with Mendes, with the two working closely with each other, is further fuel to the suggestion that Craig will now walk away. That, and the small matter of him committing to a 20-episode TV drama.
In short, this is an opportune moment, should Eon desire, to do another soft reboot. A new director, a new Bond, and maybe even another company footing a chunk of the bill.
So where, going back to the question at the start, does this leave Bond? In a surprising temporary limbo, although one it might just be leaving. Certainly, there’s chatter now that James Bond 25 is entering a pre-production phase.
The keys, as always, lie with producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the gatekeepers to the 007 series, and rumors suggest that they’re looking to get the wheels turning on James Bond 25 in the upcoming months. They tend to work under a veil of secrecy however, announcing things only when they’re ready to announce them.
John Logan, who co-wrote Spectre, has been linked with penning the next film, and that would suggest some continuity whether Craig returns or not. What’s more, there’s a tentative release date. Back in the summer, Barbara Broccoli suggested that James Bond 25 was being targeted for a 2018 release. Given that Bond films are autumnal and winter treats, somewhere around November 2018, then.
That feels about right, and would leave a three-year gap between films once again. It’s likely that Eon won’t want to find itself squeezed to turn around the film so quickly once production starts, and that in turn would suggest a production start date around the middle of next year.
Quite a bit has to happen first, though, or at least has to be announced. Because this is yet another pivotal moment in the James Bond saga. Does Eon continue with Daniel Craig, or does it gamble that his popularity in the role peaked with Skyfall, and it’s better to start a new three or four film sequence with a new leading actor? Does it, if you like, shake, or does it stir?
The first clues may be just a week away. As it stands, Spectre has left 007 at an interesting crossroads. James Bond will, of course, return. But who he’ll be and what he’ll be doing? A year on, we’ve as much idea as we had when we walked out of that first screening of Spectre…