IS BOND 25 IN TROUBLE? NO. Here’s why..
BOND 25 (Still untitled) has commenced filming and launched, officially, last week in Jamaica. The 007 fan community has been at best, sceptical, and at worst, fairly nasty, about the perceived lack of punch. But panic / fret not, ye Disciples of Her Majesty’s Greatest Spy. Because the bigger the backlash? The Better the Bond film. This week’s #THROWBACKTHURSDAY shows you some empirical proof.
ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)
It is fair to say that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service/’OHMSS’ was a BIG risk, commercially. You recast James Bond, taking the power of Sean Connery (who would have been great here) and allowing him to depart the series, just because of a row about money/conditions? You then select an unknown quantity in George Lazenby, whose acting experience was minimal at best and whose behaviour was therefore that of a rookie pup, by his own admission?
The sad ending is kept intact, from the book. Gadgets are minimised. And the wandering eyed playboy 007 gets MARRIED? Throw in some experimental editing and a longer run time and in effect, your movie was truly headed for a backlash. And yes, the Box Office takings took a hit.
As sure as day follows night, Lazenby departed, despite an offer of a 7 film contract (his view was that the series was outdated relative to peace and love and kung fu: he was wrong). Cue a million dollar pay day to lure back Connery for the high camp Diamonds Are Forever, which replaced the initial plan for a revenge themed straight sequel thriller. But over time (as in all the time in the world?) and 50 years later? ‘OHMSS’..is among the better and most beloved Bond films.
George is also a great 007: Yes, his acting can be flat and wooden and at times feels like Alan Partridge via Prince Charles. But one believes him as the every-man playboy who enjoys Golf, serves his country when needed and appreciates the finer things in life. His Bond still sleeps around but embraces reform; there’s no malice or misogyny there. And THOSE fight scenes? You FEEL every punch from this guy..not someone you’d want to cross.
This is a beautifully crafted piece of film in every way and with arguably the best score in the series from John Barry and great second unit stunt work/edits from John Glen. Telly Savalas is to my mind the best Blofeld; harnessing the physicality of a gangster whilst retaining the eccentricities and pretensions of the usual series villain. A must see. 2015’s SPECTRE suffered for trying to reference this masterpiece of espionage and romantic Cinema.
‘This never happened to the other fella!’
THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977)
Live and Let Die (1973) had been a hit and everyone embraced Roger Moore as Bond: he was born to play it and yes, is both the Fleming ideal and a softer, cinematic, pastiche take. Had there been concerns? Harry Saltzman told him to lose a few pounds (he did) and Albert R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli insisted on a new haircut for our Rog’. But he’d always been their friend and a choice on the table so it was perfect casting.
But 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun under-performed. Too soon? Too..little? 😉
It was a rushed affair and one can see that onscreen, with its martial arts tag on, awkward comedy and bizarre attempts to make the Moore Bond behave like Connery’s iteration at the most brutal. So, the movie did not match the expectations in monies made back. Fans were not terribly impressed, either and the film has not aged well.
All that, despite a cracking plot, exotic locations, fabulous sets, a memorable henchman (Nick-Nack, played by Hervé Villechaize; himself now immortalised in a recent HBO biopic starring Peter Dinklage) and Fleming cousin/real life Bond type Christopher Lee as the titular baddie. Was it the end of the series? COULD have been that way. Things did not look good. And, even with 13-14 novels at their disposal, a nine movie, unprecedented, uninterrupted, unbeaten run was a perfectly fine time to call it quits.
But Bond would never settle for second best. And neither do the Broccoli family. A new beginning was imminent. And it saved the series.
Broccoli and Saltzman parted company and Cubby had to mount the next movie by himself. It was a tough time, with the now current Producer, Michael G Wilson, taking a leave of absence from his own law firm to help the handover. But it all ended well. After a three year gap? Bond was BACK, with 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. A new stage was built at Pinewood; the effects budget was increased and it was a return of the Bond saves the world trope. Roger was back and finally relaxed into the role, making it his own for another decade.
This was providence; the movie coinciding with a Jubilee and Union Jack patriotic pride, as captured by THAT opening scene with the parachute stunt. And yes, they had a hit on their hands and the series was secure. Just remember that it did not look that way at the start of the project: ‘everything or nothing’ (the EON of Bond films’ production company) was quite literally the only way things could end. Thankfully for us fans? It was the former, in this case.
The film that rescued James Bond, not simply for a 90s audience, but forever! Had this one flopped? Well let’s say there would have been no Daniel Craig era, for sure. We’d have eventually endured some iteration or other. But this was high stakes cinematic poker and a lesson in how to read a market and adapt without ruining the essence of a brand. Pierce Brosnan was the go-to, obvious choice for the part. Timothy Dalton had been offered a third film as 007. But he turned it down, given a SIX YEAR gap since Licence to Kill had left him feeling that he was done with the series and that realistically, no Producer would allow him to simply do a farewell one for the road movie as they had to re-brand for a new decade. Shame in many senses, as Tim was a kind of proto-Daniel Craig era 007. And so much more, too.
Much talk of his being like the Bond of the books, yet the Dalton incarnation is at once as brutal as any pulp hero and more sensitive, even shy in places. For every wolf like stare and cigarette puff and vengeful kill, this 007 also laughs nervously: a distinctly incongruous, RADA /pantomime villain, theatrical affectation. His relationship to women is particularly intriguing. Yes: Bond still loves the ladies in the Dalton era. But it’s respectful, romantic..#met007, thirty years early.
So: GOLDENEYE is very much written with him in mind and even feels like a sequel to Licence To Kill: harnessing yet also softening its gritty textures as many third movies do in a series. I met Dalton once. Lovely gentleman and the true heir to Olivier: a Shakespearean craftsman on stage. But he decided to move on from Bond and so in 1994..the new man was about to be revealed.
There was talk of Liam Neeson, Mel Gibson, Ralph Fiennes, Sean Bean. Some radical tabloid gossip about getting Sean Connery back! The usual ‘Jane Bond’ whispers were shot down, as was any notion of Bond going all PC. ‘The world has changed. Bond hasn’t’ was very much a defining ethos for the final film’s tone of escapist capers. Hugh Grant’s name came up a lot in the discussions within the Press; in NO WAY AT ALL thereby boosting the opening weekend Box Office for 4 Weddings and a Funeral (to be fair..said rom-com’s success helped restore faith in British film and branding, itself a massive boost to GOLDENEYE; Hugh would make a great baddie, too for future Bond to battle?).
But this had to be Pierce’s gig. Everyone talked about him as Bond and his third way charms (masculine yet sensitive via Transatlantic/Celtic polish and confidence) made him ideal for that time. This was THE man for the Clinton/Blair era Bond movies. Indeed, Blair’s rise to leader of ‘New’ Labour in 1994 coincided with the announcement of the new Bond. Pierce would even go onto play a thinly disguised take on Tony in 2010’s The Ghost Writer (based on the Robert Harris book). There was a wave of ‘Cool Britannia’: our country was getting noticed again and its power base was being resurrected. What better time to bring back Bond to his very best, via the new incarnation?
Critically, Brosnan was comfortable with the role and the legacy and he was just such an adorably NICE man. He had a great work ethic, across genres and budgets and had endured much in his personal and professional life (like Bond, Pierce was a widower). You WANTED him to win! And he did. Big time. It’s an inspirational human interest story in itself?
The Press Launch and associated chatter did present some awkward moments, though. Lots of ‘Is Bond relevant post Cold War?’ and a general sense of scepticism about whether 007 could hold his own in an era of Die Hard and Batman et al. Pierce kept it together though, and despite sporting a beard for a then filming Robinson Crusoe, looked the part in the publicity stills with Martini/PPK. He wavered a bit when asked to define ‘his’ Bond, and one could argue that therein lay the seeds of the tonal ambiguities that beset his tenure.
Neither ‘dark and gritty’ nor truly rip roaring escapist romps, his Bond sits uncomfortably between the two camps. But he knew that and has come to articulate the frustrations of trying to please everyone, in retrospect. As it happens? GOLDENEYE and yes, dammit: Tomorrow Never Dies and the first halves of The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day, are enjoyably entertaining, engaging, polished products, that do stand time’s test whilst capturing the then zeitgeists. Without them, there is no Craig era 007 and indeed, the most Bond recent outings still owe the Brosnan years a debt: locating the core themes / ideas and refining them, like a second draft on film.
Fact 1: NOBODY EXPECTED GOLDENEYE TO BE A BIG HIT. Fact 2: IT WAS A A MASSIVE HIT, AGAINST THE ODDS OF EXPECTATION.
CASINO ROYALE (2006) and BOND 25 (2020)
HELP! STOP! ‘He’s too blonde!’ ‘He can’t drive a manual car?’ ‘He wore a life jacket!’ ‘That’s not Bond, it’s a Russian baddie!’ Etc. Sound familiar? Course not. You all forget so easily that the entire world was against Daniel Craig as it was announced that he would be the new James Bond for Casino Royale.
It’s fair to say that Daniel did not look the part, initially, and was an awkward interviewee. But I KNEW he’d nail it, in the same manner as Timothy Dalton before him. I had seen Layer Cake and Enduring Love (as well as BBC’s Archangel, adapted from the Robert Harris novel: that man would write a great Bond thriller, incidentally?). Consummate actor. THAT voice/walk (as in you can tell it’s him..even in a storm-trooper outfit in a Star Wars cameo..that distinctive). Charismatic yet almost reluctantly so. And compellingly competent and believable as a field man: Daniel Craig just WAS the Fleming Bond and also very much a match for the Jason Bourne era action style.
And I was right. 14 years on and the Craig era has been a great success. Sorry to sound smug /pompous with hindsight but..yeah..TOLD YOU SO! 🙂
Bodes well for BOND 25.
So yes: was last week’s press conference a little hurried and unrehearsed? Sure! Was there a sound problem at first (yes but that’s because it was OUTDOORS, in JAMAICA!). Did Michael G Wilson mis-remember the fact that they have in fact, usually, had a title readied as filming begins (yes, though he probably meant Tomorrow Never Dies/Die Another Day: both launched, sans title). I recommend Under The Queen’s Peace for this new movie, btw. You’re welcome.
But there was a pervasive professionalism there. A desire to just get on with it. Craig is in great shape. The cast (especially a brimming with endearing optimism yet Robert Davi/Benicio Del Toro/Javier Bardem worthy menace: Rami Malek, on villain duties, it seems?) all ready to go. Nice that Jeffrey Wright is in the mix as Felix, too (will we get a re-run of Licence to Kill via nods to the book version of Live and Let Die? Time will tell).
Great that Lea Seydoux is returning as I adore her. And what little has been revealed of the plot does indicate that we will see a return to Ian Fleming atmospherics but also a nod to the world saving, truly escapist stakes that defined classics such as..GOLDENEYE and The Spy Who Loved Me: both of which were launched and released, against the odds and became big box office hits and beloved, enduring, classic Bond films.
Yes, we’d have loved a more traditional press conference launch in London, as with SKYFALL. But that would have simply invited derision from a gutter press, fixated on Daniel’s departure and the politics of the series in a changing world. I mentioned Jason Bourne before. As in: Bond’s truly closest counterpart as a franchise. They did a new Bourne movie in 2016; minimal fanfare /publicity trail and still a satisfying hit. IE: it is perfectly possible to be a big, brand name franchise but with a more niche following and selective promotional strategy to match. These movies are NOT for ‘everyone’ Bond is NOT Marvel.
You can kill Superman, Iron Man/whoever and go ‘dark’ in their movies. But you won’t see them having their balls beaten by a sadistic bad guy or taking down real world inspired, self contained, espionage propelled plots. They are pure fantasy. Yes, even those Captain America wannabe Manchurian Candidate via civics lecture Light Knight movies and the current ENDGAME.
Bond is heightened reality. Sure, things can soften a bit (SKYFALL is lighter than Casino Royale). But 007 does not have a shared universe of endless production line spin offs and comic book talismans to necessitate an empire of conventions and myriad merchandise beyond his own, self contained identity.
These are gritty thrillers, at heart, with a literate and sophisticated definition. And whilst they have run and run and SKYFALL hit a billion in box office receipts? There is (double?) zero virtue in trying to match the hype of counterpart products in a crowded market. Note also: BOND 25 is distributed now by Universal. They own Bourne AND Fast/Furious (and now, by extension, the much anticipated Hobbs and Shaw). So I suspect they too know what they are doing just as well as the lovely Barbara Broccoli at EON Productions and the Board at MGM.
If you really are a fan of James Bond? Shut up and relax. It is filming now and, whilst avoiding spoilers, I would urge a quick look at on set photos, which look great. Provided they don’t do anything silly like killing off our hero (as if!)..I suspect we will all be lauding another classic hit from 007, a year from now. ALWAYS BET ON BOND!
‘Over to you, kiddo’. GO GET ‘EM!
JAMES BOND WILL RETURN
JAMES MURPHY WILL RETURN, TOO.