FWIW, observations about Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Last week, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer talked a bit about the future of the James Bond film franchise. The studio didn’t say a lot but it was the most actual news since SPECTRE began its theatrical run last year.

So, here are some conservative observations about Bond 25 and what’s coming next.

It’s taking longer to reach a new 007 distribution deal that people initially thought:  Sony’s most recent 007 distribution contract ended with SPECTRE.

Some, including Michael G. Wilson, co-boss of Eon Productions, which actually makes the 007 films, expected a new deal to be reached by January or February. No deal is in place and MGM CEO Gary Barber told investors last week there’s “no rush.”

Barber also said MGM has talked to many studios about a deal and he’s confident MGM will reach a good deal. But it also *suggests* other studios want better terms than the last Sony deal — 50-50 financing but Sony having to accept only 25 percent of the profits. For the first billion-dollar Bond — Skyfall — Sony only got $57 million in profits while MGM made $175 million.

More than ever, the MGM-Eon partnership is an uneasy one: When MGM was in bankruptcy in 2010, it said it planned to put Bond films on an every-other-year schedule. Barber’s remarks last week — Bond films will come out every three to four years — marked a formal surrender from that.

Eon bosses Wilson and Barbara Broccoli aren’t interested in making Bond films every other year. They have other irons in the fire, including plays and television projects. One suspects MGM would like Bond films more frequently than less frequently. But MGM relies on Eon to make Bond films and there’s only so much it can do. During’s last week investor call, Barber played up MGM’s other projects.

Also, the Eon side has lived through a lot of different MGM executive regimes ever since MGM bough United Artists in 1981. You could make the case that Wilson and Broccoli have no reason to be any closer to Barber than his various predecessors.

Take the over in over/under bets about when Bond 25 comes out: If this blog had to bet, it’d still bet on 2018 for a Bond 25 release date. But if the talks for another distribution deal drag out a few more months, a 2019 release date suddenly looks more reasonable.

As a general rule, there seem to be more reasons for a later release date than an earlier date. In 2012, Sony executives said they expected a 2014 release date for Bond 24. Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig slapped down the idea in a joint interview, saying a Sony executive was getting ahead of himself. Sure enough, Bond 24, later called SPECTRE, came out in 2015.

BvS brushes off bad reviews, has $166M opening

Batman v Superman poster

Batman v Superman poster

UPDATE III (March 28): Actual U.S.-Canada weekend figures came in on Monday, March 28 for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The haul was a few million less but still large, at $166 million, according to Exhibitor Relations.

That means the movie was the seventh-best opening weekend of all time and No. 2 Warner Bros. opening, with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part II retaining the crown at $169.2 million.

ORIGINAL POST (March 27): For Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, all the bad reviews were like bullets bouncing off Superman’s chest. The superhero movie had an estimated opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada of $170.1 million.

It was the sixth-best opening weekend of all time, unadjusted for inflation, entertainment research and data company Exhibitor Relations said in a post on Twitter.  It was also the biggest Warner Bros. opening ever, Exhibitor Relations said.

The development was a welcome piece of good news for Warner Bros. The studio had a terrible 2015 at the box office, so having any hit would be a relief. However, Batman v Superman also represents the studio’s attempt to catch up to rival Marvel Studios and its extended fictional universe of superhero films.

Batman v Superman specifically sets up a Justice League movie scheduled to go into production next month for a November 2017 release.

The Justice League of America is DC Comics equivalent to Marvel’s Avengers super hero group. (The JLA was first and was a revamp of an even earlier group, the Justice Society of America.) Marvel has produced its own movies since 2008, including Avengers films in 2012 and 2015.

Batman v Superman, besides its title characters, includes Wonder Woman as well as cameo appearances by other characters who’ll be part of the Justice League.

The movie had some setbacks. It originally was set to come out in July 2015. Warners pushed it back to May 2016 but retreated after Marvel announced it was going to have the third Captain America movie in the same date.

That film ended up being Captain America: Civil War, which is almost like another Avengers film and will bring Spider-Man into Marvel’s film universe for the first time.

Then, came the reviews. Batman v Superman received so many pans, it has a 29 percent rating (as of this morning) on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

Variety has estimated Batman v Superman will need worldwide ticket sales of $800 million to break even. Given all the hype, it probably needs a $1 billion box office to be seen as a success. People likely be watching carefully how much next weekend’s box office falls off for BvS.

Regardless, after all the setbacks, Warner Bros. executives presumably are breathing easier about the expensive movie.

UPDATE: Batman v Superman’s estimated worldwide box office currently is $424.1 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

UPDATE II (7:50 p.m., New York time): Warner Bros. executives took a victory lap later Sunday, including a quote about there’s “a disconnect between critics and audiences,” according to ComicBookMovie.com.

Bond movies to come out on a 3-4 year cycle, MGM says

MGM logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer said this week that James Bond movies will come out on a “three-to-four year cycle” and it’s not hurrying to strike a new 007 distribution deal.

The disclosures were made by MGM chief Gary Barber during the question-and-answer portion of the company’s fourth-quarter and year-end earnings conference call.

Six years ago, when the studio was in bankruptcy, it produced a plan calling for Bond films to again come out on an every-other-year basis. After Skyfall came out, Barber began backpedaling during a November 2012 investor call. This week, he made clear an every-other-year 007 schedule is never going to happen.

The 007 films have “been on a cycle of every three to hour years and I anticipate it will be on that same three-to-four year cycle,” Barber said.

The executive provided no timetable for Bond 25, except to say it is “under discussions with our partners at Danjaq.” Danjaq LLC is the parent company of Eon Productions.

The CEO of MGM later cited the three-to-four year cycle as a reason why the studio isn’t hurrying to strike a new Bond distribution deal.

“There’s no rush,” Barber said. “We’re evaluating all of our options. We will advise on the deal when we actually make it.”

Sony Pictures has released the last four Bond films. After MGM came out of a bankruptcy, Sony struck, in hindsight, a bad deal to distribute what turned out to be Skyfall and SPECTRE.

Under that accord, Sony co-financed the two 007 films while getting only 25 percent of the profits. Sony got $57 million for Skyfall while MGM took home $175 million, according to documents that became public because of the Sony computer hacks.

Sony got even less for SPECTRE, because that movie had a higher budget and lower box office. Danjaq got more than Sony because it’s paid a percentage of the grosses of the movies.

None of this was mentioned during the conference call. Barber said this week that “every single studio” is interested in being MGM’s 007 partner.

BvS: Dark and somber, but what’d you expect?

Henry Cavill after reading the latest Batman v Superman reviews

Henry Cavill after reading the latest Batman v Superman reviews

One vague spoiler awaits. There will be a warning.

Well, nobody should have been surprised.

Throughout the production of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the makers talked about how their story was real. Very real. And very serious. If you ever wanted to know what the real world would be like with superheroes, this movie would let you know.

Director Zack Snyder, a disciple of Christopher Nolan and his somber style of film making, even did some trashing talking of Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man, an escapist superhero film that was a decent hit in the summer of 2015.

After two changes in its release date, Batman v Superman is out. This time, movie critics were doing the trash talking, causing Snyder’s film to have a “fresh” rating of only 30 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes website. You have to have a lot of pans to get a score that low.

A recurring criticism is the movie is dour and dark. The San Francisco Examiner’s reviewer says “everything is shrouded in a kind of black sludge.”

Again, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Snyder directed 2013’s Man of Steel (with Nolan co-producing and co-plotting) where the costume of Superman (Henry Cavill) has such dark shades of blue, red and yellow it looks as if the uniform actually is dirty.

Vague spoiler follows.

To give Man of Steel more intellectual heft, there is some religious imagery. (Filmmakers often look to the Bible and Shakespeare to add gravitas to their efforts.)

Snyder continues that in Batman v Superman to the point it seems like opening on Easter weekend was planned all along, even though it wasn’t.

The thing is, the movie isn’t as bad as some of the reviews suggest. Not the biggest endorsement, admittedly but it’s the best we can do.

Ben Affleck is good as Batman, even if this version shows signs of finally going off his rocker for good. Ditto for Jeremy Irons as Alfred. The blog’s favorite moment is when Alfred reminds his employer that it was Bruce Wayne, acting almost like a spy, who got a key piece of information rather than Batman punching out a lot of guys.

Cavill is fine in what’s an almost thankless role because this seems more like a Batman film with Superman as a supporting player rather than co-leading character.

The filmmakers did experiment with Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), making him much younger than previous incarnations. Think an evil Mark Zuckerberg (played by Eisenberg in The Social Network). The results are uneven but it was an attempt on a different take. I thought the Gal Gadot version of Wonder Woman was a plus, but again it’s definitely a supporting character. Overall, at 151 minutes, it’s too long but better superhero movies have the same fault.

Warner Bros. has a lot riding on the movie as it tries to get competitive with Marvel in superhero films. Despite the reviews, Batman v Superman generated $27.7 million in Thursday night showings in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Deadline: Hollywood website.

Batman v Superman needs a $1 billion global box office to be seen as a success, so Warner executives had to be pleased with the results despite the baby seal treatment by the critics.

UPDATE: It turns out Snyder did, well, pee on one key part of the Superman mythos. The Spy Commander missed it, but New York magazine’s Vulture website caught it. If you want to see what, or who, it was click on the link.

Happy 100th, Donald Hamilton

A 1963 re-issue of Death Of a Citizen

A 1963 re-issue of Death Of a Citizen

Today, March 24, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of author Donald Hamilton, creator of Matt Helm.

It has been 23 years since the last Helm novel, The Damagers, was published. It’s common for fans of the series to get out their copies every so often to re-read the adventures of the American “counter-assassin.”

The Helm novels, unlike Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, were written in the first person. The stories are like a cross between Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels and the more fantastic elements of Fleming’s 007 stories. Because the reader only discovers things as its hero (or anti-hero) does, you get sucked into the rhythms of the story before realizing just how much fantasy there is in them.

For example, with the sixth novel, The Ambushers, Helm ends up in a machete fight with an ex-Nazi while a missile is ready to be fired. But the journey to that point is pretty grim and gritty. By the time of the machete fight, you’re so caught up in the story you’re not going to stop there.

The first novel of the series, Death of a Citizen, was done as a one-off. Helm, who has been living peacefully for 15 years after World War II, is suddenly drawn back into his former violent life. An editor suggested with a few changes (including the character’s first name, George and killing off Helm’s wife) it could be turned into a series. The character became Matt Helm. Hamilton settled for Mrs. Helm getting a divorce.

The books were turned into comedies with Dean Martin, produced by Irving Allen, the former partner of James Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli. There has been talk for years of a series Helm film but nothing has developed.

Hamilton died in 2006. There is one unpublished Helm novel but the Hamilton family has held onto it in case a new movie develops. For now, fans of the novel have to be satisfied with re-reading Hamilton’s well-told stories.

The Guardian’s daft 007 proposal

Carmine Infantino's cover to Flash No. 123, "The Flash of Two Worlds."

The Guardian’s proposal for alternate-universe 007s sounds a lot like “The Flash of Two Worlds” story published by DC Comics in 1961.

The Guardian has come out with a story in effect saying don’t choose between Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba as the next James Bond but do movies with both — at the same time.

The British newspaper cited how, “We are, after all, living in the era of Marvel’s highly successful expanded universe of interconnected movie and TV superhero stories. Star Wars’ take on the concept is moving forward apace, and Warner Bros has 10 films based on the DC Comics back catalogue planned between now and 2020.”

That sets up the meat of the proposal:

But Bond is just as big as any of the above, and right now seems even more suited to being split into multiple strands. Elba fans reckon the Hackney-born Londoner would make the perfect 21st-century 007, while Hiddlestonians see their Eton-educated man as the epitome of traditional Flemingesque toff sophistication. So why not take the opportunity presented by Craig’s mooted departure and give both versions screen time?

Here are two reasons why the Guardian’s idea is daft.

–Expanded universes and multiple/alternate universes are not the same thing.

To use Marvel as an example, the Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man co-exists in the same fictional universe as Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Chris Evans’ Captain America. The characters have been featured in separate films and have also been in movies together. That’s what Warner Bros. is moving toward with the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie that opens this week.

What The Guardian is calling for are movies featuring alternate universe versions of Bond. Eon Productions opened the door to this concept when it rebooted the 007 series ten years ago with Casino Royale. The production company decided to start over, but kept the popular Judi Dench as M, with the explanation that Dench is playing a different version of the character than she did previously.

The Guardian is calling for an Elba 007 set in the present time and a Hiddleston Bond set in the time of the original Ian Fleming novels. Unless the two Bonds suddenly develop super powers, like the two versions of DC Comics’ The Flash, the two Bonds can never meet because they’re in separate universes.

Still, some fans might be intrigued with watching alternate takes. So let’s look at the second reason.

–Eon has trouble enough producing one James Bond movie every three years. Do you really expect it to produce, in effect, two series at once?

Michael G. Wilson, Eon’s co-boss, has talked since at least 1999 about how exhausting it is to make Bond movies. Barbara Broccoli, the other co-boss, told the Los Angeles Times in November 2012 that she didn’t want to hurry future 007 installments.

“Sometimes there are external pressures from a studio who want you to make it in a certain time frame or for their own benefit, and sometimes we’ve given into that,” Broccoli said. “But following what we hope will be a tremendous success with ‘Skyfall,’ we have to try to keep the deadlines within our own time limits and not cave in to external pressures.”

Also, even with a three-year gap between Skyfall and 2015’s SPECTRE, the scripting process was chaotic. So imagine that situation squared as Eon produced twin Bond series. And that doesn’t take into consideration other ideas put forth by The Guardian, including a Netflix series (similar to the Netflix shows featuring other Marvel characters) featuring Moneypenny.

Finally, on top of all that, Broccoli and Wilson are interested in various non-Bond projects. In that respect, they’re more like Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman than they are the other co-found Albert R. Broccoli, who never did a non-Bond film after 1968.

Critics get out the knives for Batman v Superman

Batman v Superman poster

Batman v Superman poster

As Jack Benny used to say, “Well!”

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Warner Bros. answer to Marvel Studios’ extended superhero franchise opens Friday. It’s not going over well with critics — at all. The movie has a 37 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website (as of 6 p.m. Wedneday, New York time) that collects reviews.

But it’s not just the low rating. Critics who’ve attended advance showings apparently have been inspired to rip the film with Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman.

So, here’s a non-spoiler sampling of the pans along with some praise.

A.O. SCOTT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: ” Intellectual pretension, long an occupational hazard in the superhero business, has been elevated to a creative principle. …(Director Zack) Snyder, for his part, deploys signifiers of importance without having anything much to say.”

SOREN ANDERSEN, THE SEATTLE TIMES: “The powers that be at Warner gave director Zack Snyder (“Man of Steel,” “300”) a budget of $250 million, according to published reports, and what he has given in return is a movie that treats the audience as an enemy, a victim.”

LAWRENCE TOPPMAN, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER: “The score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL reaches the decibel level of a departing 767, the fireballs quadruple in size and frequency…And the story, like the testicles of a weightlifter on steroids, dwindles away to nothing.”

DUSTIN PUTMAN: THEFILMFILE.COM: “By understanding the massively damaging events in “Man of Steel” should be tackled head-on rather than swept under the rug, director Zack Snyder has made a suggestive, blemished, but ultimately superior follow-up, a work worth deconstructing and pondering.”
COLIN COLVERT, MINNEAPOIS STAR TRIBUNE: “They should have called it “Batmeh v Supermeh. Running 153 minutes, with a swollen budget of $250 million, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is pure overpriced, overproduced, overlong pulp. It is an interesting idea of a film created by people who have no earthly idea how to do it.”
NICHOLAS BARBER, BBC: “Snyder and his team have taken their Batman from the pages of Frank Miller’s game-changing graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns, and as a result they get just about everything right, from Wayne’s banter with his prickly butler, Alfred (Jeremy Irons), to the sleek-yet-sturdy Batmobile.”