Bond 24 questions: the writers edition

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis.

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis.

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are back? There’s been no official announcement but it was reported last month by The Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye that the writers were retained to rewrite John Logan’s efforts.

Bamigboye had a number of Skyfall and Bond 24 scoops proven correct. Example: he wrote that Purvis and Wade were initially not going to be back for Bond 24, while their Skyfall co-scribe John Logan would be the new 007 film’s writer. Purvis and Wade subsequently confirmed they were leaving the series. Until, it now seems, things changed.

How extensive will Purvis and Wade’s Bond 24 script work going to be? If the duo end up getting a credit, you’ll know it will have been substantial.

The Writer’s Guild has extensive guidelines on how much work a scribe (with a team of writers such as Purvis and Wade counted as a single entity) should do to get a screen credit. A writer or writing team must contribute more than 33 percent of the finished product for an adapted script, 50 percent for an original one. Bond 24 falls under the adapted category since it uses a character who originally appeared in a novel.

Getting a credit isn’t as simple as counting lines of dialogue. A credit is supposed to reflect “contributions to the screenplay as a whole,” according to the guild. It’s possible, for example, for a writer to change every line of dialogue but for the guild to determine there’s been no significant change to the screenplay.

In any case, if Bond 24′s credit reads something like, “Written by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade,” Purvis and Wade will have done more than revamp some dialogue or tweak a scene or two.

Is this unusual?It’s the normal method of operation for both movies in general and James Bond movies in particular. Even 007 films that had only one writing credit had contributions from other writers. For example:

–From Russia With Love had a solo screenplay credit for Richard Maibaum, but also an “adapted by” credit for Johanna Harwood, while Len Deighton did work that didn’t earn a credit.
–You Only Live Twice had a “screenplay by” credit for Roald Dahl but an “additional story material” credit for Harold Jack Bloom, the film’s first writer.
–On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had a Maibaum solo credit for the screenplay but an “additional dialogue” credit for Simon Raven, who rewrote dialogue in some scenes.
–Tomorrow Never Dies had a “written by” credit for Bruce Feirstein. Other writers took a whirl without credit between Feirstein’s first draft and his final draft.

As far as anyone knows, Live And Let Die really represented the work of only one writer (Tom Mankiewicz), and he did plenty of rewrites himself.

Is this any reason to be concerned? The Daily Mail also reported the start of Bond 24 filming was pushed back to December from October. If true, that should still be enough time for Bond 24 to meet its release date of late October 2015 in the U.K. and early November 2015 in the U.S.

What should fans look for next? The date of the press conference announcing the start of Bond 24 filming. There should also be a press release. If Purvis and Wade get a mention in that press release along with John Logan, that’ll be a sign they did a fair amount of work on the script.

Repeat after me, ‘Writing a James Bond movie is hard’

Bond 24 writer, err co-writer, John Logan

Bond 24 writer, err co-writer, John Logan

John Logan is learning a lesson that the likes of Paul Haggis, Bruce Feistein, Jeffrey Caine and Michael France learned before him. Writing a James Bond movie is hard.

You can be a hero one day (Logan after Skyfall, Feirstein after GoldenEye, Haggis after Casino Royale) and out the door the next (Feirstein for a period during Tomorrow Never Dies until he got asked back, Haggis after Quantum of Solace).

Screenwriting in general is tough. If you’re in demand, you make a lot of money. If you’re not, it can be humbling. Studios make fewer, more expensive movies. With the stakes so high, there are all sorts of people — directors, stars, studio executives — looking over your shoulder. Bond movies take it a step further. You have the Broccoli-Wilson family, which has controlled the franchise for more than a half century. They have definite ideas of what they like and don’t like.

Screenwriters don’t tally up a lot of multiple 007 screen credits. An Oscar winner such as Paul Dehn had only one. Other one-time only scribes include John Hopkins. Roald Dahl and Michael France. Some writers toil without even getting a credit, such as Len Deighton and Donald E. Westlake, hardly slouches as authors.

All of which is a long way of saying it’s remarkable that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have been summoned, according to Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail, for a sixth turn writing a James Bond movie, taking over for Logan, who, in turn, rewrote their script for Skyfall. The only writer who has more Bond screenwriting credits is Richard Maibaum (1909-1991) with 13. Maibaum had the advantage of a long-standing relationship with producer Albert R. Broccoli.

Maibuam and the Purvis-Wade team have one thing in common. They’ve taken their share of flak over the years. The British film historian Adrian Turner, in a 1998 book about Goldfinger, made it clear he didn’t think much of Maibaum, painting Dehn as the one who brought the Goldfinger script into shape. Purvis and Wade, meanwhile, get criticized on Internet message boards and social media by some fans as hacks. It helps to have a thick skin.

Feirstein, Haggis and Logan were the final writers on three significant 007 hits: GoldenEye (reviving the franchise after a six-year hiatus), Casino Royale (a reboot of the franchise) and Skyfall (the first billion-dollar Bond film). They got invited back but in the cases of Feirstein and Haggis it was hardly easy going. Something similar may be going on with Logan. He was hired to write a two-film story arc, but that plan got scrapped as part of the price to get Skyfall director Sam Mendes back for Bond 24.

The situation undoubtedly is even more complicated and can only really be appreciated by those who’ve gone through the same grind. But the basic lesson still stands. It’s hard to write a James Bond movie.

Purvis and Wade return to rewrite Bond 24, Daily Mail says

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis.

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis.

Five-time 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have been hired to revamp John Logan’s Bond 24 script, Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail reported.

The move also means that the start of production has been delayed until December, according to Bamigboye, who had a number of scoops about Skyfall proven correct. (CLICK HERE for examples.)

Here’s an excerpt:

Purvis and Wade have been asked to ‘punch up’ the script and sprinkle in more gags, emphasising the witty repartee between Daniel Craig’s 007 and Naomie Harris’s Miss Moneypenny, and focusing on the interplay between Bond and Ralph Fiennes’s M.

Bamigboye originally reported that Purvis and Wade wouldn’t return for Bond 24 and that Logan — who rewrote their Skyfall script — had been hired. Purvis and Wade later confirmed their departure and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced that Logan had been hired to write Bond 24 and Bond 25.

Originally, Bond 24 and Bond 25 were supposed to be a two-movie story arc. That plan was jettisoned as part of the deal to get Skyfall director Sam Mendes back for Bond 24. Mendes himself confirmed all that in April.

PREVIOUS POST: PURVIS & WADE, AN APPRECIATION

Our updated Bond 24 accuracy list

Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes

Thanks to Sam Mendes, the accuracy of some additional Bond 24 reports can be evaluated.

Bond 24 and Bond 25 originally were to comprise a two-part story but the plan was jettisoned: The DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD site said in October 2012 that Bond 24 and Bond 25 were to be a two-movie story arc.

Then, BAZ BAMIGBOYE OF THE DAILY MAIL WROTE in February 2013 the plan was deep sixed and they’d be stand alone movies.

Mendes, in his April 10 interview on the PBS Charlie Rose show confirmed pretty much all of this. The move away from the two-part approach was part of the reason why the Skyfall director agreed to come back for Bond 24, he told the host starting around the 18:00 mark of the show.

Unfortunately, Mendes was in the middle of explaining that when Rose interrupted him with a question and no more was said on the subject. Check

What follows is text of a previous post with appropriate updating.

John Logan hired to write Bond 24: reported by the U.K. Daily Mail on OCT. 25, 2012.

John Logan hired to write both Bond 24 *and* Bond 25: Reported by the Deadline Hollywood Web site on OCT. 26, 2012.

WHAT HAPPENED? Barbara Broccoli in an interview on the Crave Online Web site published NOV. 12, 2012 denied it.

Congratulations on signing John Logan for two more scripts.

Barbara Broccoli: Well, we are working on another film in the future but we actually haven’t announced that we’re going to do two. We don’t know what we’re going to be doing.

Oh, so what was the news that he had a two-story arc?

Barbara Broccoli: That was a Hollywood announcement, not from us if you notice.

However, the same week, Gary Barber, the CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, said on a conference call with investors that Logan had been hired to write the next two Bond films. Check.

Sam Mendes, after saying he wouldn’t direct Bond 24, is considering doing just that: reported by Deadline Hollywood in a story on May 28, 2013.

WHAT HAPPENED. Mendes, in an interview on the Stage News Web site published June 12, 2013 confirms that’s happening.

Mendes, whose Bond debut as director of Skyfall last year turned out to the most commercially successful of all the 007 films, grossing more than £100 million at the domestic UK box office alone and over $1 billion globally, added that he is in discussions to direct the next Bond film.

“But nothing is going to be determined until Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [now previewing at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane] has opened,” he said. “I’m literally here from 8.30am to midnight every day, and it occupies every inch of my attention. So we’ll make decisions about that once Charlie has opened.”

Mendes ended up signing on for the project and an announcement of that, along with a fall 2015 release date for Bond 24 was announced last year. Check.

The Daily Mail was the first to report (also in a 2012 story linked above) that the writing team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were departing the Bond film series. The writers confirmed that development with on Collider.com. Check.

All of this is a reminder that news about Bond 24 is likely to leak out before any official announcements, similar to WHAT HAPPENED WITH SKYFALL. The trick — as stated before — will be to figure which reports are on target (despite denials) and which aren’t.

John Logan tells Empire that Bond 24 first draft almost done

Bond 24 writer John Logan

Bond 24 writer John Logan

Bond 24 scribe John Logan tells EMPIRE IN AN INTERVIEW that he’s nearly done with the first draft of Bond 24′s script.

Here’s an excerpt, beginning with a quote from Logan:

“The new movie continues the themes of Skyfall. Some of the characters and themes that we began to introduce in Skyfall will play out, I hope successfully, in the next movie.”

(snip)

A more direct line of questioning was required. Will we see the return of Quantum? “No comment.” Will we see Blofeld in Bond 24? “No comment.” Will there be any other Double-0 agents? A pause, which gave us a quantum of hope. “Ah… no comment!”

While coy, the interview represents the most concrete news the new movie’s script since Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced in November 2012 that Logan would write Bond 24 and Bond 25. That announcement confirmed media reports that Eon Productions had denied just days earlier.

Logan wrote the later drafts of 2012′s Skyfall, revamping work done by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Logan, so far, is the only writer assigned to Bond 24.

It remains to be seen what Skyfall themes Logan is talking about. The movie’s villain was killed as was Judi Dench’s M. It also introduced a new M (Ralph Fiennes) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris).

For the full Empire interview with Logan, CLICK HERE.

MI6 Confidential interviews Purvis & Wade

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis.

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis.

MI6 Confidential, the James Bond fan magazine, is out with a new issue that includes an interview with five-time 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.

In issue 24, the duo “talk candidly about their years with Bond,” according to an MI6 Confidential promo. The writing team’s work on Bond spanned more than a decade, from 1999′s The World Is Not Enough, through 2012′s Skyfall.

Purvis and Wade have now departed the series. Bond 24 is being written by John Logan, who rewrote Purvis and Wade on Skyfall. Logan is also slated to write Bond 25.

As we discussed IN A JAN. 11 POST, four of the five Purvis/Wade movies involved a theme where either Bond isn’t “fully” Bond yet, or he’s lost his mojo and needs to get it back.

Also in issue 24 of MI6 Confidential is a feature on John Glen, director of the five 1980s 007 films, about his career; a story about the casting of the female leads in 1989′s Licence to Kill; a story about Denise Richards; and a story about highlights of John Barry’s scores of Bond movies.

The price is 7 British pounds, $11 or 8.50 euros, plus postage and handling. For more information, CLICK HERE.

An early Bond 24 accuracy checklist

Bond 24 writer John Logan

Bond 24 writer John Logan

Nobody *really* knows when Bond 24, the next 007 film, will come out, but over the last six months, enough has occurred to start an accuracy checklist concerning news reports about the movie.

John Logan hired to write Bond 24: reported by the U.K. Daily Mail on OCT. 25, 2012.

John Logan hired to write both Bond 24 *and* Bond 25: Reported by the Deadline Hollywood Web site on OCT. 26, 2012.

WHAT HAPPENED? Barbara Broccoli in an interview on the Crave Online Web site published NOV. 12, 2012 denied it.

Congratulations on signing John Logan for two more scripts.

Barbara Broccoli: Well, we are working on another film in the future but we actually haven’t announced that we’re going to do two. We don’t know what we’re going to be doing.

Oh, so what was the news that he had a two-story arc?

Barbara Broccoli: That was a Hollywood announcement, not from us if you notice.

However, the same week, Gary Barber, the CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, said on a conference call with investors that Logan had been hired to write the next two Bond films. Check.

Sam Mendes, after saying he wouldn’t direct Bond 24, is considering doing just that: reported by Deadline Hollywood in a story on May 28, 2013.

WHAT HAPPENED. Mendes, in an interview on the Stage News Web site published June 12, 2013 confirms that’s happening.

Mendes, whose Bond debut as director of Skyfall last year turned out to the most commercially successful of all the 007 films, grossing more than £100 million at the domestic UK box office alone and over $1 billion globally, added that he is in discussions to direct the next Bond film.

“But nothing is going to be determined until Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [now previewing at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane] has opened,” he said. “I’m literally here from 8.30am to midnight every day, and it occupies every inch of my attention. So we’ll make decisions about that once Charlie has opened.”

Check.

Meanwhile, much less certain, is that actress Penelope Cruz will be in Bond 24, the subject of many stories. To see a sampling, CLICK HERE.

In general, news about Bond 24 is likely to leak out before any official announcements, similar to WHAT HAPPENED WITH SKYFALL. The trick will be to figure which reports are on target (despite denials) and which aren’t.

UPDATE (June 15): Here’s one more. The Oct. 25 Daily Mail story cited above was also the first to report that the writing team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were departing the Bond film series. The writers confirmed that development in a Nov. 19 story on Collider.com. Check.

RE-POST: a modest proposal for the post-Skyfall 007 series

Originally posted Feb. 19, 2012. Re-posted because, well, subsequent events make this post look even more interesting in hindsight. While it’s not official Bond 24 will be delayed so that Sam Mendes can direct, another four-year gap is looking like a possibility. The days of an every-other-year production schedule clearly seem to be in the past. Every third year looks like a stretch at this point. Perhaps the “Bond market” can only bear a movie every fourth year or so.

So what happens after Skyfall? The 23rd James Bond film is still filming, of course, but we got to thinking what happens in the future.

Michael G. Wilson, co-boss of Eon Productions


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which co-owns the franchise with the Broccoli-Wilson family, wants the series to get back to an every-other-year schedule, something it said as part of its 2010 bankruptcy filing.

But MGM relies on Eon Productions to actually produce the films. Michael G. Wilson, co-boss of Eon along with his half-sister Barbara Broccoli, has talked about how wearying making Bond movies are, including in 2009, (“Filming Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace back to back took a lot out of time and energy so at the moment we are all just recharging our batteries.”) in 2005, (“We are running out of energy, mental energy…We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”) one in 2004 or 2005 (“It doesn’t give me a problem to do one in three years instead of two. The studio may feel different, but these are very hard to put together. They take over your life. When we’re working on the script and production, my wife will say, ‘Do you realize you’ve been working seven days a week?’ So I don’t mind doing something else; to me it’s fine.”) and in 1999 (“We don’t have any ideas at this point…It just seems that this one’s [The World Is Not Enough] been particularly hard.”).

So maybe it really is time to give up on the idea of James Bond films coming out at regular intervals.

To maintain an every-other-year schedule, around the time you have one filming coming out, the story for the next should at least be taking shape. MGM’s bankruptcy gets most of the blame for what will be a four-year gap between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. But there are signs the scripting of Skyfall has been a drawn-out affair regardless of MGM’s financial ills. For example:

–In January 2011, when it was announced that Bond 23 would be a go after MGM exited bankrupctcy, the script wasn’t done. John Logan, hired to rewrite drafts by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, said in a Feb. 17 interview with the BBC that he’s been working on Skyfall for “over a year.” That means he would have begun work on Skyfall around the time of the January 2011 announcement.

–Earlier, in August 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported the movie’s script “isn’t ready” and, at that point, not even sent to MGM for review. This, after Eon announced in June 2009, more than six months after Quantum of Solace debuted, that Purvis, Wade and Peter Morgan had been hired to write Bond 23. But the release also noted that Morgan wouldn’t start writing until he completed other scrips.

Eon has mined all of Ian Fleming’s original novels and short stories. Wilson has ruled out, on multiple occasions, basing a film on any of the Bond continuation novels. (CLICK HERE FOR ONE EXAMPLE.) So Eon is pretty much on its own to develop stories.

Wilson’s stepfather, Albert R. Broccoli, lived to make 007 films and, after ending his partnership with Harry Saltzman in the mid-1970s, cranked out Bond films on an every-other-year schedule from 1977 through 1989. Wilson isn’t Broccoli. We take him at his word that he finds it a grind; he has said it for too long and on too many occasions to doubt it. He’s either 69 or 70 (different reference sources place his birth year as 1942 or 1943) and he’s been involved with the film series longer than Cubby Broccoli was.

So, maybe, Eon should follow the lead of Ian Fleming Publications. Starting in 1981, IFP (previously known as Glidrose) published 007 continuation novels mostly on an annual basis, first with John Gardner, later with Raymond Benson. That ended in 2002 as new management took over. Since then, IFP has come out with other projects such as the “Young Bond” novels. Meanwhile, its last two regular continuation novels, 2008′s Devil May Care and 2011′s Carte Blanche, were done more as “events” rather than part of a regularly published series. Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks was done as a period piece, Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver featured a rebooted 21st Century Bond, who would have been born around 1980.

Perhaps Eon should view its Bond films as “events,” with a gap of four years, maybe more, between movies, each a stand alone. Studio marketers have hyped “the return of Bond!” before after a hiatus (1995′s GoldenEye and 2006′s Casino Royale).

In any event it’s clear Wilson & Co. aren’t enthusiastic about an every-other-year schedule. Skyfall had scripting delays that had nothing to do with MGM’s financial problems. As long as Eon controls half the 007 franchise, it’s going to be like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole for MGM to have Eon come out with 007 adventures every other year.

ADDENDUM (Feb. 20, 2012): Just to be clear, as a matter of personal preference, we’d like Bond movies to come out more often than called for above. We call this a “modest” proposal because it calls for no changes in the cast of characters.

To get Bond movies more often, one of the following is going to have to happen: 1) Eon agrees to use continuation novels (because you’d at least have a starting point, something that would save time in story development); 2) Michael G. Wilson retires (though that alone doesn’t guarantee it); 3) MGM, or Sony or somebody else buys out the Broccoli-Wilson family (something that would be unpopular with much of the fan base), causing a jump start in the frequency (again not guaranteed).

Something has to got to give in the MGM/Eon dynamic: either MGM backs off an every-other-year schedule or Eon accelerates the pace of movie development or some combination of both. Maybe every third year, but *no* backsliding (Casino Royale was originally supposed to be released in 2005, but was delayed a year). The modest proposal above is a compromise that could occur without taking more far-reaching steps. Essentially the “modest proposal” is more or less the status quo of the past decade, simply recognizing it for what it is.

Questions about a (possible) Nolan-directed 007 film

Logo of Syncopy, Christopher Nolan's production company

Logo of Syncopy, Christopher Nolan’s production company


WARNING: This is very much putting the cart before the horse. Nobody has said Christopher Nolan *will* direct Bond 24. The U.K. Daily Mail has reported only that the director has been *approached* about the job. Bear all that in mind before reading the following.

This week, the Daily Mail newspaper in the U.K. reported that Christopher Nolan, director of three Batman movies from 2005 through 2012, had been “approached” about directing Bond 24.

The writer, Baz Bagimboye, had a number of scoops about Skyfall, the most recent 007 movie, that proved to be correct. So, it got the attention of a lot of fans. If Nolan eventually signs on the dotted line, it raises a number of questions about Bond 24. Among them:

1. What happens to writer John Logan? Logan was brought in by director Sam Mendes to rewrite Skyfall. Eon Productions originally announced that Peter Morgan would collaborate with scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Eventually, Morgan left without getting a screen credit. But Logan evidently impressed somebody because he was hired to write Bond 24 and Bond 25 while Purvis and Wade departed the series.

But things can change, as Morgan can attest. Christopher Nolan is fond of writing his own movies, either by himself (Inception) or collaborating with his brother Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer (the three Batman movies or the upcoming Man of Steel, which was produced by Nolan). If Nolan comes aboard, will Logan stay or go?

2. Do other members of Nolan’s posse also participate? Nolan has a production company, Syncopy. That logo ended up being featured at the start of the third Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, along with the logos of Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures. Ditto for Man of Steel. The Syncopy group includes Emma Thomas, a producer who’s married to Nolan, and Charles Rovan, another producer. Also, Nolan frequently collaborates with Wally Pfister as director of photography. Pfister is directing Transcendence a movie scheduled for a 2014 release.

While Eon may be interested in Nolan’s services as a director, would it also hire Nolan-affiliated producers such as Thomas and Rovan? Eon, led by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, has its own group of supporting producers, including Gregg Wilson, the son of Michael. On the other hand, Eon has probably would be open to hiring Pfister. That would be similar to Skyfall, where Roger Deakins was brought on as director of photography because Mendes wanted him.

3. Would Hans Zimmer be the newest 007 composer? Zimmer also works frequently with Nolan. Again, that’s a situation similar to Skyfall, where Thomas Newman was hired as composer because of his relationship with Mendes. A Zimmer-scored Bond 24 might be similar to Skyfall in other ways. Mendes said that Nolan’s The Dark Knight from 2008 influenced the 2012 007 movie. Some tracks of Newman’s score (particularly the Shanghai sequences and the action sequences at the Macao casino) sounded similar to Zimmer’s music for Nolan’s Batman films.

4. What would the running time of a Nolan-directed Bond 24 be? Probably not short. Batman Begins was 140 minutes, The Dark Knight was 152 minutes, Inception was 148 minutes and The Dark Knight Rises was a whopping 165 minutes.

UPDATE (May 22): The Latinos Post Web site has a short article about actresses Nolan has cast in various movies and whether they could become part of the cast of a Nolan-directed Bond 24.

More (belated) HMSS reviews of Skyfall part I

Skyfall's poster image

Skyfall’s poster image


First in a series of reviews intended for a never-published issue of Her Majesty’s Secret Servant.

By Peredur Glyn Davies

Skyfall is the worst Bond film in a long time.

The standard pattern of the Bond film plots, characters and narrative arcs that have sustained Eon’s 007 franchise for 50 years has been largely eschewed by director Sam Mendes and scriptwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, in favour of a film that goes places and does things that anyone familiar with classic Bond films will find unusual and even alien.

Just look at it. The gunbarrel sequence is in the wrong place. Bond is actively refused an exploding gadget by Q –and this Q is barely out of short trousers. The main Bond girl is a septuagenarian. The final act, which should involve Bond infiltrating the villain’s lair, is the exact opposite of that.

The climactic sequence takes place, not in a tropical locale, but in a wintery Scotland (even the funeral sequence in The World is not Enough was more glitzy). James Bond (Daniel Craig) in Skyfall is, rather than the superhuman quipmeister audiences are accustomed to, a frail, dejected shell of his former cinematic self, a man who can hardly do pull-ups and misses a stationary paper target five yards away. For goodness’ sake, he can’t even be bothered to shave.

What kind of a Bond film is that?

I could go on — and will. Scarcely recognisable, here, are the stock characters we are all familiar with: the expository boss, the comic relief gadget-master, the doomed beauty with a cute name, the burly henchman with no dialogue, the main villain who wants to blow up the world (and it doesn’t really matter why he does).

All right, Mendes has made some effort to include something close to them, but he too often goes wide of the mark and, instead of the two-dimensional characters that we are used to in a Bond film, characters who fulfil a role and help propel the film to its classic denouement with Bond and Girl 3 aboard a stranded boat in the middle of the sea (it is usually a stranded boat in the middle of the sea), Mendes and the writers give us a bevy of characters who actually develop and change over the course of the film. Our opinion of them changes and matures during the course of our time with them, and they end up as characters we actually care about.

What kind of a Bond film is that?

Take Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). He is surely meant to be the Admiral Godfrey character — the stuffy bureaucrat who stands in Bond’s way and who will get his red-faced comeuppance when Bond proves he can save the day just fine without any help from Whitehall, thank you very much. But Mallory, in relatively little screen time, subverts our expectations, makes us realise that he is not just some suit but a savvy war veteran with a compassionate heart and, I’d warrant, damnably clear grey eyes. When he takes his seat behind the mahogany desk at the end, it actually makes sense—we understand why he is there.

Or look at Severine (Berenice Marlohe). The sacrificial lamb character — Jill from Goldfinger, Aki from You Only Live Twice, Plenty from Diamonds Are Forever, Solange from Casino Royale — who is supposed to turn up, shag Bond, and pay the piper so that we the audience know how very naughty the villain is, that he would engineer the death of even his beautiful concubine if she stood between him and his villainous scheme.

But Severine, in her brief scenes, reflects an inner torment and depth of character that makes us understand why she behaves the way she does. Of course, Severine meets the end that her type always do, and perhaps it was not warranted here, given Bond’s promise to her to save her—but remember that our man Bond is a cold bastard and that what he does is get the job done, regardless of the price.

And then there’s good old Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), whom we first meet, not behind her desk á la Maxwell, Bliss or (Samantha) Bond, but out in the field being efficient and lethal, wielding guns and driving cars as if women can somehow be Bond’s equal in this universe.

They even call her Eve to pull the wool most cruelly over the audience’s eyes. When she finally takes her expected place in our little jigsaw in the final scene, I suppose we do now know why she’s there, why she prefers to work behind the scenes rather than in front of them, and why she and Bond have the flirtatious relationship that we know they do. By the final scene, all our players are in their appropriate positions, the green light above the oak door flickers on and we know we are back in familiar 007 territory. But it takes a hell of a time to get there.

And what kind of a Bond film is that?

As noted, M’s Judi Dench screen time is greatly increased in Skyfall over previous iterations (even more so than in The World is not Enough), so that her role becomes more than just the exposition that viewers expect. She certainly holds the leading female role over Eve or Severine. So instead of Bond and his lady sharing body warmth in a remote chalet in front of a roaring fire, we find Bond and M skulking in a dusty Scottish manor with the threat of doom hanging over their heads. There is little romance in this film.

What’s all that about, Mendes? Bond is shown to respect and perhaps even (after a fashion) love his boss, and we are shown how this urge to protect her leads him to risk everything in an almost hopeless gambit of luring his enemy to him.

Ah yes, the enemy. Silva (Javier Bardem) is certainly camp enough for a classic Bond villain, but again he almost ruins the Bondness of the film by making us sympathise with his point of view.

Silva is indeed Bond from a parallel universe, a Bond that might have been, an agent gone wrong through the fault of others. His deformity — he has been hideously scarred by hydrogen cyanide which he administered himself — makes him appropriately vile for the rogue’s gallery, but rather than monopolising on this deformity, Mendes and the writers don’t use it as the sole character prop for the villain, which is what one might often expect.

Instead, we are allowed to focus on what makes this man tick, and are given the chance to consider why he would do the things he does. Mr. Silva is truly a criminal genius. He almost makes succeeds in making Bond look foolish: he is ahead of him almost throughout the film, revealing that Bond too can fail. Do we want a James Bond who can fail? Bond in Skyfall’s latter half is frantic, desperately trying to stop a dozen threats happening at once, and the coolness and calmness that we expect of the world’s greatest secret agent is hardly there. He even needs help from Mallory and Moneypenny in shooting baddies during an attempt on M’s life!

A fleshed-out villain? A genuine relationship between 007 and M? A Bond whom we think might actually not succeed this time?

What kind of a Bond film is this? It is a long time since we have seen a James Bond film that subverts the expectations of what one presumes a James Bond film should be. Really, only in a film like From Russia with Love do we see a movie where Mr. Bond can be his own character and where we cannot predict where the next scene or sequence will take us. Of course, that film was made before the template was truly set out. That 1963 film was made before the expectations of what makes a Bond film were seared onto an international consciousness, before the scriptwriters felt shackled by convention.

Hundreds of wannabe 007s have splayed over cinema screens since Bob Simmons (doubling for Sean Connery’s Bond) first turned and fired into a bleeding gunbarrel in 1962. Some of the wannabes even outbonded Bond, and perhaps, in doing so, the template that Eon constructed has become stale, the expectations of audiences have been being met rather than shaken and stirred, the endless repetitions satisfactory only in a clinical, functional way.

Perhaps it really was time to take Bond out of Bond, and make, not a Bond film, but a film with James Bond in it. Start at the core, trim the excess.

Ian Fleming gave the world a character and the world played around with it. Strip away the expensive suits, the ludicrous cocktails, the funny gadgets and the wisecracks, and you can then start afresh. You can start from the beginning with James Bond and remake his world.

“Into the past,” Bond says to M, and, as they leave behind them the trappings of the 21st Century world and head north for the misty fells of Bond’s homeland. So too the filmmakers can leave behind the gilt-edged excesses of 50 years and wipe the slate clean. Build a new template by challenging the old one. Maybe if you did that you would end up with a film like Skyfall.

So, yes, I would call Skyfall the worst of all the Bond films.

But, on the other hand, would I call it the best film in the canon?

Yes, I would. With pleasure. GRADE: A+

(C) 2013, Peredur Glyn Davies

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 132 other followers