The Current State of James Bond

As Danny Boyle exits 'Bond 25,' we look at where the franchise currently stands.
James Bond Skyfall Train

As Danny Boyle exits ‘Bond 25,’ we look at where the franchise currently stands.

In 2018 the state of the James Bond franchise is mixed, at best. Between the tepidly-received Spectre and the previously announced Bond 25 director Danny Boyle out, the series is on shaky ground. And while there will always be a built-in fanbase for these movies, you could forgive general audiences for being less enthused right now.

And if a report from The Telegraph is to be believed, Boyle’s exit represents a worrying pattern. It’s worth noting that the article quotes an unknown source, and contains details that are dubious. The report suggests that Boyle may have exited the project due to a disagreement with Daniel Craig over the casting of the film’s villain. Boyle allegedly wanted to cast Cold War star Tomasz Kot, but the producers, including Craig, were against this decision.

While Craig’s position would undoubtedly give him say over certain decisions, the suggestion that he would block Boyle from casting an actor strains credibility. And that being the cause of the director’s exit even more so.

The report also hints at what Boyle and co-writer John Hodge had in mind for the story of Bond 25. Sources claim that the film would have dealt with contemporary issues, such as Russia’s uncertain place in the world, drawing comparisons to the Cold War with a Russian antagonist. This would have replaced a previously written script by veteran Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, making it the first film in the series without the duo’s involvement since 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies.

This sounds like a strong idea to close out Craig’s tenure as Bond, focussing on contemporary issues that face real-life spies. Albeit in a very overblown way, of course. However, as with the casting disagreements, this should all be taken with a grain of salt. But what we can take from this is an idea of why the series appears to be stuck in something of a rut.

Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have watched over the Bond series for many years — since 1979 and 1987, respectively. And in that time, the duo have become somewhat notorious for their desire to maintain a sturdy status quo for the films. While we have seen the occasional rocking of the boat, such as Casino Royale‘s fresh start and M’s impactful death in Skyfall, the franchise has maintained a relatively stable course. To the point where most see any radical shake-up as a pipe dream.

This is in direct contrast with 007’s biggest competitor, the Mission: Impossible franchise. Tom Cruise has asserted himself as one of the top decision makers of those movies, and they’ve been all the better for it. The choice of director has always been solid, usually someone who Cruise admires. And because of this, each filmmaker has been able to put their own unique stamp on the series, with little meddling from the studio. When the results are as strong as the recent Fallout, written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, maybe Bond could learn a thing or two from this approach.

The producing duo has also been keen to keep Purvis and Wade onboard for a long time, and in their 19-year run, we’ve only seen two truly great movies. And a fair amount of middling ones. Their late addition to Spectre is also perhaps why the movie felt like several different stories, from various Bond eras, rolled into one.

And in this modern era of Bond movies, one trend, in particular, has emerged. The films are at their best when reinventing themselves, adding a fresh coat of paint, but can’t seem to figure out what comes next. In 1995, GoldenEye struck the perfect balance between the Bonds of Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton, readjusting all the major players and bringing the series into a modern context… And then came the other three Brosnan films.

The series immediately backslid into the worst elements of the Moore era, curiously around the time Purvis and Wade came onboard. God-awful puns and wink-wink humor were cranked up to 11, in a way that, by the late 1990s and especially early 2000s, felt terribly dated.

Then came Casino Royale, wiping the slate clean (although rightly keeping Judi Dench) and opening up a whole new world of possibilities. Only to be followed up by Quantum of Solace. A poorly-directed, charmless blunder, and one of the worst hits of the 2007 writer’s strike.

Four years later we got Skyfall. A film that examined Bond’s place in the world, had him experience genuine loss for the first time since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and set up a whole new status quo. Only for Spectre to somehow both return to business as usual AND act as a clumsy attempt to tie up loose ends, needlessly connecting all four reboot movies together.

If there was ever a time for a fresh perspective to come in, it would be now, to give Craig a satisfying send-off. And with frequent writing partners Boyle and Hodge working on their own script for Bond 25, we may have been in for a singular vision, the likes of which the series hasn’t ever really seen. Now I’m not really one for speculation regarding the “creative differences” reasoning that’s often given in these cases, and this one, as I feel it can force out some of our worst habits as moviegoers. And miracles have emerged from worse productions, after all.

Yet a small part of me also can’t help but be disappointed every time an interesting filmmaker exits a big movie. Especially considering the script would have been written with Boyle’s visual flair in mind. At this time, though, we don’t know which version of the script will be used. But even if it gets a significant re-write, I’d prefer to see at least the seed of what Boyle and Hodge wrote.

And with the studio holding to that November 2019 release date, it’ll be up to Boyle’s replacement to make quick work of whichever script is pushed forward. However, considering the proposed list of directors, things might not be so bad.

Deadline reports that we now have two new potential directors, in addition to the two previously considered. First up is Jean-Marc Vallee, director of Dallas Buyers Club and the series Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects. Vallee is one of the last directors I would have imagined for 007, but I can’t say I wouldn’t be into it.

The director has a wonderful dream-like sense, with an ability to reflect on memories that would be unlike any other Bond movie. And after doing some of his best work on HBO’s Sharp Objects, he’d certainly be an impressive get. However, the report does note that Vallee is the least likely contender, due to scheduling conflicts, but the fact that he’s even being considered is exciting.

The other contender, described as being “a real possibility,” is Edgar Wright. Now that would be something. Wright’s one of the directors whose name is always brought up in relation to just about any franchise, and the thought of his Bond movie will surely create some buzz. Especially after proving what a terrific action movie director he is with last year’s Baby Driver.

One drawback here is that I’d rather see Wright build his Bond from the ground up. Wright’s movies are all dripping with his sensibilities, so a part of me would be a little disappointed to see him have to work with somebody else’s script.

Another is that Wright already faced difficulty working within a studio-controlled setting, leading to his exiting Ant-Man. As a result, I’d be surprised to see him go back into the studio system after his experiences on that film. But, of course, I’d be absolutely thrilled to hear that Wright is onboard, regardless of the scenario.

The other two names in the hat have been considered before, but remain in the running. First is David Mackenzie, director of the brilliant Hell or High Water and the upcoming Outlaw King. Mackenzie would be an excellent choice, having proven his knack for escalating tension in recent years, making him a great fit for Bond (as long as Chris Pine can play the villain).

Second is ’71 director Yann Demange. A solid choice who I’m sure would do a good job, although I can’t help but feel he’s the least exciting option here. Not that he’s a bad director, and his upcoming White Boy Rick shows promise, but he wouldn’t be my first choice in this group. That being said, I wouldn’t complain if he were announced either.

Obviously, the first name that people jumped to is Christopher Nolan. And as Bond-y as parts of Inception feel, I can’t imagine this happening any time soon. Nolan would absolutely want full control over the project, doing it his way, as he did with Batman. And this scenario doesn’t seem particularly likely, as I just can’t see Wilson and Broccoli being willing to accommodate his demands. Especially not after the situation with Boyle. A nice idea, but maybe one that ought to be put to rest.

The Bond movies have endured for more than 50 years now and shouldn’t go away. But if they’re going to remain at the forefront of audience’s minds, they’re going to need to bring in some fresh energy to liven things up. And while it remains to be seen who will take the reigns on Bond 25, we’re all hoping they can give 007 the shot in the arm he needs.

And then maybe, just maybe, we can get the Idris Elba Bond movie we’ve all been waiting for.

Hayden Cornmell: Sometimes knows what he's talking about.