The ‘SPECTRE’ of Bond 25

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HOW PRE-PRODUCTION OF THE UPCOMING BOND ADVENTURE, WITH OR WITHOUT DANIEL CRAIG, COULD BECOME MORE DARING AND DIFFICULT THAN PREVIOUS BOND FILMS

By Gert Waterink, Guest Writer

Almost one year has passed since the premiere of SPECTRE and it’s most certainly another Bond film that got off with a rocky start. From the insane high production budget, to script problems to the Sony Leaks, which dominated much of the publicity for the film.

The ending of SPECTRE was perhaps a result of these problems. One could see it as a compromise between MGM/Eon on one hand and co-producer and star Daniel Craig on the other.

But for a movie lover, it’s most definitely the most intriguing finale. For a Bond fan, it’s perhaps the most unique conclusion. Overall, it’s a very difficult ending.

An ‘open closed ending’

In fact, the ending is very much a mutation of both an “open ending” and a “closed ending.” In this case, the closed ending refers to the first ever emotionally satisfying “happy ending” for a Bond film in Dr. No: Bond and Honey, together, at the conclusion of the film. The next four films in the series would follow the pattern.

SPECTRE (top) and On Her Majesty's Secret Service
SPECTRE (top) and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

For the sixth film, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, director Peter Hunt said that he should have rolled the end credits after the newlyweds, Mr. and Mrs. Bond, drove off. Tracy’s death wouldn’t take place until the start of the next movie.

Well, Bond and Madeleine aren’t necessarily married, but the suggestion that they are now in a serious relationship is very much there. So is Bond’s resignation from the British Secret Service. Q: “I thought you had gone?” Bond: “I have! There’s just one thing I need…

On the other hand though, James Bond is still out there. And although there’s the suggestion of a permanent closure for Daniel Craig’s portrayal as Bond, it isn’t as firm as when Connery uttered the line “Never again!” in the non-Eon film “Never Say Never Again.”

Also, we witnessed the re-introduction of Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his crime syndicate SPECTRE (although barely), thanks in part to a settled court case between Kevin McClory’s estate and MGM/Eon. Despite the the first capture in a Bond film of the cat-stroking puppet master, he’s still very much alive. So is (probably) SPECTRE’s Hinx, give or take a few spinal injuries.

There you have it, an ending that’s for the average Bond aficionado, both satisfying (mostly for Craig, his first 007 films where he “gets the girl” at the end) as well as unsatisfying (if look at the bigger picture of the franchise).

So in pleasing Daniel Craig, the Bond producers now face a difficult and challenging pre-production process for Bond 25. Add to that the knowledge that we don’t even know who is going to play 007, and the producers and MGM most likely need to devise several scenarios.

On Oct. 7 Daniel Craig will have the chance to speak out once again about the matter. But before he does so, let’s dig into the two most plausible scenarios ourselves and the possible consequences.

Scenario I: Daniel Craig leaves

In the case of Daniel Craig leaving the role, Eon Productions needs to recast agent 007. We have already seen the suggestions for new actors floating around the internet.

Ever since former Sony studio executive Amy Pascal, suggested British actor Idris Elba (in an email that became public in the Sony Leaks), media outlets went out after both Mr. Craig and other actors like vultures not able to find dead meat.

From Idris Elba to Tom Hiddleston, from Aiden Turner to Luke Evans, from Theo James to Henry Cavill, it seems that entertainment outlets are already typecasting these actors even before pre-production of Bond 25 has  started. Undoubtedly, it’ll turn off some of these actors.

Yet, with a new Bond, a much bigger recasting process probably needs to be initiated.

Christoph Waltz, the reigning Blofeld, seems to have already signed up for two more Bond films. But there’s a clause in his contract: If Craig doesn’t return, he won’t return either. Not only Waltz, but also Ralph Fiennes has shown concerns about Daniel Craig leaving the role, as he is not sure if he will even return as M despite a three-picture contract three-picture contract. So the fate of both SPECTRE as well as the MI6-team seems to lie in Craig’s hands.

So Bond 25 could become another reboot. And if it’s not a reboot in the strictest sense, then the press will most likely mark it as a reboot. Not only because a new Bond actor will be cast, also a new Moneypenny, a new M and a highly loved Q may need to be re-cast again. And perhaps the entire timeline that was set with 2006’s Casino Royale has to be thrown overboard as well.

After Die Another Day, the return of Judi Dench as ‘M’ seemed, and was, a logical idea. She was tremendously loved and not many Bond fans at that time minded the minor continuity error by letting Dench return. (Also, there’s the explanation she’s simply playing a different M because this is a different continuity.)

Yet, as of 2016 blockbuster movies have become more serialized, stories are largely set in entire “cinematic universes” and today’s audiences and critics easily slam a film for continuity flaws or stigmatize new actors as “replacement tools.”

On top of that, bigger movie franchises recently may have set the bar very high quality-wise. At least for a couple of films (3 or 4) in a row.

Critics tremendously applaud Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy as of today, but that same critical acclaim is still causing Warner Bros. headaches to effectively continue the Batman-franchise in a new expanded DC Comics movie universe. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice didn’t turn out to be a billion-dollar box office success. Director Zack Snyder seemed to have problems in balancing a Nolan-esque darker tone with his own action-heavy style, and Ben Affleck as the new Batman wasn’t met with high critical acclaim.

Similarly, the Jason Bourne franchise and its financial backer Universal Studios seemed creatively very much tired. After the much loved first three films, Identity, Supremacy and the award winning Ultimatum, Universal decided to continue the franchise without Matt Damon as Treadstone71-agent. Actor Jeremy Renner was cast, but The Bourne Legacy failed to impress.

Even the new film Jason Bourne, with Matt Damon returning in the leading role, makes it very clear how difficult it is to continue a franchise when its story arc is in fact finished and was met with such high, perhaps too high, critical acclaim.

Therefore, while the Bond producers, and the actual viewers, subconsciously felt that it was good to replace Pierce Brosnan in 2005, it might be a bit more difficult this time around to successfully replace Daniel Craig.

The Bond producers instinctively know very well when the time is ready to replace a Bond actor. They have had this experience ever since the debacle with George Lazenby. It seems that other, newer spy franchises have similar problems now. Paramount’s Mission: Impossible-franchise sooner or later will face similar questions. So Craig’s four Bond films simply may prove too difficult to beat with a new actor in the lead as of the next film, both critically and financially. And perhaps therefore MGM and Eon Productions are adamant that Daniel Craig will be lured back one more time. Although it is Craig himself who has the final word.

Scenario II: Daniel Craig stays

Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig after Skyfall received a BAFTA award
Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig after Skyfall received a BAFTA award

In the case of Daniel Craig returning as Her Majesty’s Secret Agent, MGM and Eon may already open up an expensive bottle of Bollinger for the near-safe upcoming financial success.

Yet the creative people behind Bond 25 might get some serious inspirational problems. Because when Craig returns, most likely Waltz will return as well. So how can Neal Purvis and Robert Wade write a plot that wants to finish the unresolved SPECTRE storyline, while at the same time evolving the Bond 25 story into a more satisfying standalone mission with a more “typical” ending, so that a new Bond actor can be more easily fit into a 26th (or 27th) adventure?

This is going to be the biggest challenge for the pre-production people of Bond 25. Tying the loose ends, while at the same time writing a fresh, perhaps more typical mission for 007. Also financially and production-wise, Bond 25 may easily become as expensive as “SPECTRE,”

The recent news that Sony Pictures supposedly offered Craig $150 Million for two more Bond films drew a lot of attention. Although the news has been debunked already, MGM and Eon Productions will most likely offer Mr. Craig a staggering pay check anyway. The new movie distributors (Sony Pictures, or perhaps Warner Brothers or Universal Pictures) will most definitely set the return-on-investment terms very high if a new deal is struck. And obviously the new production/distribution team are aiming at creating a second billion-dollar Bond.

The writing process of Bond 25 will therefore become the most crucial aspect of the production. The Sony Leaks have proven already that even the most established professional screenplay writers may have problems in writing an “airtight,” convincing story in which every act makes sense.

SPECTRE therefore resulted in some critical backlash about the farfetched personal ties between the characters Blofeld and Bond. So it is perhaps wise to let Blofeld go ‘underground’ again (From Russia With Love? Thunderball?). In any case, this time around, the writers need to do better and show they are worth the money.

Of course I am implying quite a bit. No one knows what kind of story we can expect for the 25th 007-film if Craig returns. Yet I do think it’s better if one focuses more on the needs of the long-term future of the franchise.

It is better that during the running time of the 25th film we slowly get rid of all the complicated background history and continuity gymnastics (perhaps during the first quarter) and slowly replace it with a less convoluted standalone mission and new re-invented approach to action sequences until the very end of the film.

It could also be better, even easier for future productions, if Craig returns one last time (perhaps even two more times). Despite the tremendous difficulties that can arise with Craig back as Bond.

Which actor fills the gunbarrel in Bond 25?
Which actor fills the gunbarrel in Bond 25?

The best of two difficult challenges?

To summarize the two possibilities, Bond 25 will be labelled a “reboot” by the media if Daniel Craig doesn’t play 007 in it. I wouldn’t be entirely thrilled of that prospect.

For Daniel Craig personally, it will mean that he, as a recently crowned co-producer no less, got the best send-off as James Bond in SPECTRE — something that many of his predecessors would have loved to see happening.

But it leaves the Bond franchise in more uncertain territories. It has to use the overused, uncreative, storytelling “reset button” that Batman and Jason Bourne used before them, it will most likely confront Craig’s successor with an unfair high amount of expectations that the media once had from George Lazenby, and lastly it could possibly create financial uncertainty for the franchise.

The other option, the return of Daniel Craig, proves difficult too.

It most certainly needs magnificent writers to deal with the events from “SPECTRE” in a less convoluted way. How can you bring back Blofeld if he’s on the brink of being put to Belmarsh Prison? And how do we deal with now “boyfriend” James Bond and his girlfriend Madeleine? And how can we turn Bond 25 into a more “typical” standalone mission, with a more “formulaic” ending, so that Craig’s successor can take over his mantle more easily and more cleanly in Bond 26?

Conclusion

Both options are difficult, and will cause some serious headaches the upcoming months in the offices in California and 138 Piccadilly, London. And for both options MGM and Eon Productions already have written several scenarios.

But my gut feeling tells me that the latter option could force some renewed creativity back into the heads of the writers.

And I don’t say that to support Daniel Craig’s return and other short-term needs of the 25th Fleming thriller. I especially say this for the sake of the long-term longevity and continuation of the Bond franchise once Craig throws the hat in the ring.

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