How the James Bond Franchise Needs to Shrink after Skyfall
The 23rd James Bond film has been announced. Titled Skyfall, the film will see Daniel Craig return, will be directed by Sam Mendes, and will not continue the Vesper/QUANTUM arc from the first two Craig 007 films.
Of course, rumors of this type have been flying around for months. Javier Bardem will, in fact, play a villain, and the script will be written by Bond vets Purvis & Wade, in addition to star screenwriter John Logan (Any Given Sunday, The Aviator, Rango). I’ve only been burned by Bond films twice. Die Another Day was an experience I did not enjoy, but Quantum of Solace really stung. I loved Casino Royale for its sure-handedness, twisting narrative, and cinematic flair. I was optimistic about Quantum bringing on a German director, and its first trailer was impressive. Fellow Film Nerd Ben Flanagan spied hints of the Bourne Supremacy influence early on, but I maintained that if the series stuck with the style established in Casino Royale, the hand-held frenetic action that worked for Bourne would not be shoe-horned into this franchise. Of course, I was wrong. In addition to a rushed script and a bored, License to Kill -flavored tone, the film was, in fact, very dependent on the 2nd Unit action choreography and photography of Dan Bradley.
So, here we are, and I’m honestly trying very hard to be optimistic, and that’s a big problem. The problem with today’s James Bond series is that these movies cannot afford to be bad anymore. The great thing about the grand history of this series is that it always survived bad or under-performing films. In fact, the ability for a Bond film to be critically or financially disappointing gave us some of the character’s gems – the low-grossing masterpiece On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, for example. When I walked out of The World Is Not Enough, which has a thrilling first act that quickly loses steam, I wasn’t hopeless that Bond would disappear forever. In fact, there was another film already in the works. What I didn’t know was that this film would be financed, packaged, and released in a fashion similar to a Lord of the Rings or Spider-Man movie. Die Another Day had to be one of the biggest films of the year, or it would be considered a failure. Consider this: GoldenEye was produced for $58 million. It was a huge success, so Tomorrow Never Dies (an underrated entry, in my opinion) was rushed into production, finally breaching the $100 million budget mark. James Bond movies are no longer kitschy, escapist adventures. Now, they have to be full-on event movies with budgets usually reserved for Roland Emmerich pictures.
Here’s what I’d like to see from the franchise, which has been mostly well-protected from the Hollywood economic system from producers Barbara Brocolli and Michael G. Wilson.
There is Safety in Numbers.
Tone down the budget, crank down the risk. I’d much rather see a fun, creative Bond film every two years than a big, bloated “event” Bond movie every five. Treat it like a TV show, hire a writing staff, and crank some of these out. I should credit The Hollywood Saloon’s John Jansen with opening my eyes to this Bond philosophy. Again, so much of the strength of EON Productions is their insular nature. The only thing these guys need the studios for is distribution, so why even let Hollywood in the door to begin with?
Stay Away from the Auteurs.
Can you really blame kitchen-sink directors like Marc Forster and Sam Mendes if they flub a James Bond movie? The appeal of these movies are not the directorial vision or thematic strength they show off, rather their suspense and character moments. Both of these directors do care about character, but they usually prioritize character under theme (Revolutionary Road, American Beauty, Stay, Finding Neverland). When the series excels, it is under the guidance of a scrappy, skilled craftsman with an ear for dialogue and a mind for visual strategy (Peter Hunt, John Glenn, Martin Campbell). I’d prefer the producers hired a team of young British directors in the vein of Attack the Block‘s Joe Cornish to trade between smaller films, rather than putting such a big task on one man’s shoulders.
Make it British.
I understand that Bond’s adventures were always on a global scale, but I think it’s important to continually show us his regional centrality. In the 60’s, Bond represented a meddling empire. In the 90’s he represented a progressive, humanist “fixer”. It’s important for us to see the “Britishness” of James Bond, as well as his contrast with the government (which has been handled nicely in the newest films). This is why it’s important for a Bond actor to have roots in the Commonwealth, as well as Bond directors. Again, this shouldn’t be a global property just because of its global implications.
Make it Fun.
Contrary to popular belief, Casino Royale was an extremely fun motion picture. Its Bond was brash, rude, and funny, unlike the icy Bond of Quantum of Solace. The action scenes in Casino Royale are among the most playful and imaginative of recent years. In fact, the two biggest action scenes in that film – the opening foot chase and airport car chase – end with quite an ironic punchline. I hope that in Skyfall, as well as in future Bond productions, this wry sense of mischief isn’t traded for icy brutality. On the whole, I could certainly use more Brosnan “smugness” and less Craig “thugness”. I do think Craig has it in him to crack some jokes, but it’s up to the writers, producers, and directors to give him that playground.
Again, I’m forcing my optimism for Skyfall, and I really wouldn’t have to if I knew there was a 24th Bond film that could potentially redeem it. I’m troubled by the scale and risk of these productions. However, I’m also encouraged that, at the very least, the producers are attempting to put some sort of polish on their films. I guess I’ll see everyone at the theater next year, listening to Tom Petty’s newest 007 single, “Skyfallin”.
*In Wonder Mill Films news, we’ve announced our third major project, as well some updates on our newly released feature film, The Nocturnal Third. Check out all the details at www.facebook.com/wondermillfilms and www.thenocturnalthird.com!