SideWays sums up the state of the franchise post-‘Spectre’, putting forward the case for a major ‘de-imagining’.
November 16th, 2006. James Bond fans shift nervously towards the edge of their seats. The lights fade to black. The rustling of popcorn gives way to a collective intake of breath and… The re-imagining begins.
It’s been four long years since Pierce Brosnan’s 007 was wiped out by a CGI wave of self-parody and now, finally, Daniel Craig’s blond Bond is beginning his journey. The initial outrage surrounding his casting has turned to mild trepidation, the success of Chris Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins’ offering fresh hope that, by trusting the original source alongside a director with a record of blooding new Bonds, this reboot gamble might just pay off.
Fast forward eleven years and ‘Casino Royale’ is still rightly regarded as a great achievement, gleaning the essence and emotion from Fleming’s novel whilst bringing a fresh edge to the franchise. Daniel Craig went from humble character actor to international sex symbol overnight and director Martin Campbell’s stock soared – he hadn’t just equalled his achievements with ‘Goldeneye’, he’d surpassed them. James Bond 007 was back. Different. But back. And everyone was loving it.
2008. Reception to ‘Quantum of Solace’ is tepid, the Bourne-inspired energy of Marc Forster’s work misinterpreted amid whispers of a troubled production. Craig reportedly played a part behind the camera as well as in front of it, so it’s fair to assume the negative reaction left a bitter taste in the actor’s mouth. If you think he wouldn’t care, go back and watch the press for his four films to date. Now be honest: is it not ‘Quantum’ he seems most pleased and most passionate about?
The beginning of the end (of the beginning)
Another four years tick by and ‘Skyfall’ storms the box office. It’s not just the most successful Bond film of all time but the most successful British one. Craig is instantly reinstated as the franchises Jesus and director Sam Mendes propelled to its God. But despite the hysteria, you don’t have to look too hard to see the glint in the actor’s eye has vanished. Away from the success, there lurks an undeniable fact: ‘Skyfall’ marks the beginning of the end for the ‘new beginning’ that started with ‘Casino Royale’.
Confused? So was ‘Spectre’, Mendes’ 2015 ‘sequel’ that turned to the same tired tricks that had burnt Bond previously, and before the film was even released, Craig was claiming he’d rather slash his wrists than do another instalment. Poor Daniel. When he was hired it was exactly because he wasn’t the typical Bond – the producers wanting to go in a different direction with him the chosen one to lead the way. That’s surely what attracted Craig to the role too – the dropping of the winks and nods, the dumping of the gadgets and one-liners.
But by the time ‘Skyfall’ signed off, all the trappings had returned. ‘Spectre’ had reintroduced the James of old, and whilst it’s a James we will always love, the character was reset for a reason. When Roger Moore has a woman undressed within seconds of meeting her in ‘Moonraker’ it’s acceptable because a) it’s the 70’s and b) it’s Roger Moore. When Craig forces Monica Bellucci up against a wall in ‘Spectre’, it’s jarring. It’s a little creepy in fact. Dave Bautista’s throwback henchman is more hammy than hard; Christoph Waltz’s reanimated Blofeld more convoluted cliché than complex character; and by the time ‘Team Bond’ (‘Q’, ‘M’ and ‘Moneypenny’) are legging it round London, things are more ‘Scooby-Doo’ than ‘Spooks’.
The sixth man to ‘officially’ play Bond had officially had enough. But then, from nowhere, came the announcement that Craig would in fact return. Maybe his quirky supporting turn in ‘Logan Lucky’ was tonic enough to clear his head and light the path back to the famous tux. Or maybe it was simply the lure of a colossal pay cheque. Either way, there’s little doubt Bond 25 will be his last outing, and when he’s done, there’ll be much bigger changes afoot than just a new actor…
Silent Slaughters and Quiet Resurrections
The blame can’t be placed at any one persons door. Not Craig’s. Not Mendes’. Not even the producers, who have kept 007 in the family since his big screen birth, caring for the secret agent well into middle age. But there will always be an anniversary to mark. New directors will never stop wanting to prove their knowledge. The same weary writing duo will always resort to type and will always be coupled with storytellers (Haggis, Logan etc.) who regardless of how talented they are, cannot help but give ‘Goldfinger’ a wink or ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ a nod, forever forcing themselves into penning the ‘one-liner’, no matter how out of place it sits within their narrative. It doesn’t need to be like this, but all the experience and savvy in the world can’t seem to stop the cycle repeating.
It’s like a disease. One film allows the ‘self-reference’ parasite back into the system only for its successor to offer the critical and commercial cure. ‘Casino Royale’ following ‘Die Another Day’ is the clearest example, but the franchise’s history is littered with softer reboots – silent slaughters and quiet resurrections that shimmy under the radar. The grounded espionage of ‘For Your Eyes Only’ is a direct response to the delirious (or should that be delicious?) excess of ‘Moonraker’, whilst the gritty drama of the Dalton era is a rejection of the clowning around in ‘Octopussy’. ‘Goldeneye’ rang in the changes too, the filmmakers recognising the need to modernise 007 and his ageing world prior to the turn of the century.
With Craig returning, we must assume the series will continue with it’s ‘Spectre’ trajectory. But it can’t go on. The self-referential shtick has begun and if change doesn’t occur then the rot will set in once more. So what’s the answer? Well in order to find it, we need to go back in time once more. Back to that magic hour when the dust of ‘Die Another Day’ has settled but the ‘Casino Royale’ train is yet to leave the station…
Appletini’s at Dawn
August 2004, and writer-director Quentin Tarantino has just told Jay Leno of his desire to direct a Bond film. Not just any Bond film, mind, he’s got a plan and his plan is pretty sweet: reboot the series. Strip it back and start again with ‘Casino Royale’, Fleming’s first Bond novel and the only one yet to be ‘officially’ filmed. He likes Uma Thurman for Vesper Lynd and already has ‘the James Bond of this generation’ Pierce Brosnan on board and loving the idea.
This backstory runs deeper, and those intrigued should certainly look further. For now though, the tale goes that Brosnan, pumped to examine what he calls Fleming’s ‘blueprint for the psyche of Bond’, takes Quentin’s concept to the producers and–
The rest, as they say, is history. Mere months after the meeting the Irish actor was unceremoniously dumped as 007, ‘Royale’ was announced as the next Bond picture, and to this day Quentin Tarantino claims that had he not mentioned his idea to Pierce Brosnan over their fifth Appletinini, then the reboot would never have happened.
Reboot the Reboot
Present day. It was Tarantino who said that the Bond producers have ‘this gigantic franchise’ that they ‘can’t do anything wrong with’, so with the ‘reboot’ button a regularly pushed one in the series, has the time come for it to be hit again?
The possibilities are endless. ‘Re-imagining’ is a principle this generation of film fans are more than familiar with, ‘rebooting’ so common that this time round Bond fans would barely blink. If the rumours are true and it was ultimately Tarantino’s advice that was heeded before, then why not listen again? Strip it back as he suggested. Take it back to the sixties as he envisioned in 2004 and make them period pieces. Make them espionage pieces. Make them engaging and daring and thrilling pieces. Yes. It’s time to bite the bullet and make the ‘reboot’ official. It’s time to go back and remake the original canon.
Horrific as the thought may be, at some point the inevitable return to the original novels and films will happen. Of course Connery will never be equalled (his peers have been trying for fifty years), but in truth there’s no need to try. In fact, it’s when the actors don’t try that the magic happens.
There is still plenty of untapped potential to be mined from the books: the 1961 movie omits numerous scenes from ‘Dr. No’ that would work well on-screen whilst the film could and should still be used as inspiration (it’s imitation that needs to be avoided). ‘Modern Bond’ in its current guise could even carry on if needs be, with the ‘classic’ reboots operating with a reduced budget and running parallel to the box-office-crushing ‘official’ films. In this world of ‘universes’ and ‘spin-off’s’, fans wouldn’t question the dual existence. In fact, it’s happened before – two simultaneous Bonds ran side by side in 1983 when ‘Never Say Never Again’ took on ‘Octopussy’ – only this time it would be the same money men behind both.
That’s right, the producers can feel free to stick with the same writers that have continually re-birthed and sacrificed the franchise and with them they can continue raking in millions at the multiplex. Meanwhile, a new team of brave and passionate filmmakers can focus on the period pieces that will form the classic reboot lineage.
With the television industry more respected and powerful than ever, a real option would be to team up with HBO, Amazon or Netflix and make this ‘debooted’ series a regular small-screen event. With the ‘proper’ films seemingly occurring every four years now rather than every two, this concept holds even more weight. Maybe, with the franchise functioning in this manner, Tarantino would still be willing to get involved. Perhaps Martin Campbell could return to helm an instalment. Perhaps Marc Forster could be re-tried. Maybe Brosnan could make an appearance. Maybe even Craig. Maybe even…
Right. This has to happen. Now, more than ever. Someone, somewhere, needs to make it happen. Bring us back Bond. Not just the Bond we want but the Bond we need. The Bond we once loved and we will love again. The time has come. Deboot Bond.