Eon’s new normal: Update

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

This isn’t your father’s James Bond film franchise.

Hire a new director? Great! Except, Cary Fukunaga has to deal with a new television project at more or less the same time.

Got your leading man back on board? Great! Except he began filming a movie just a month (or so) before the latest Bond movie originally was to start filming. Thankfully (from the actor’s standpoint, anyway) the Bond film got delayed until March.

Your latest James Bond film project moving ahead? Great! Except we have to get our latest non-007 project (The Rhythm Section) out of the way first.

When Eon Productions started operations, the idea was to make 007 films every year with other project in between. That lasted as far as 1963 (Dr. No, Call Me, Bwana, From Russia With Love).

Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman went off and did non-007 films (the Harry Palmer series, Battle of Britain) on his own. Albert R. Broccoli, the other co-founder, did one more non-007 project (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) while devoting the rest of his life to the Bond film series.

Saltzman, of course, is long gone, having sold his interest in the mid 1970s. Broccoli, before he died in 1996, yielded control to his daughter (Barbara Broccoli) and stepson (Michael G. Wilson).

Now, the main figures of the Bond series juggle 007 among their various projects. Fukunaga, hired in September to direct Bond 25, is only the latest. Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson have been doing it for years. Writer John Logan juggled various enterprises in 2013 and 2014 before delivering a first draft for SPECTRE.

One reader of the blog pointed out on Twitter that Marvel Studios directors Joe and Anthony Russo are cutting deals for future projects even while the untitled Avengers 4 is in post-production.

That’s true enough. Still, by 2019, the Russos will have directed four movies (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4) in five years for Marvel. During that same period, there will have been just one James Bond film (SPECTRE).

In the 21st century, the 007 film series is like Paul Masson wine. No wine (or film) before its time.

Critics weigh in on Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War poster

Marvel Studios, with one $1 billion-plus hit this year already (Black Panther), is looking for another one with Avengers: Infinity War.

The third Avengers film is intended as the beginning of the end of what we’ve come to know in the film franchise that began in May 2008. Following the movie’s premiere this week, reviews are coming off embargo. So here’s a non-spoiler sampling.

ALONSO DURALDE, THE WRAP: “If you’re a viewer who binges TV dramas because you can’t wait a week to find out what happens, the implied ‘to be continued’ at the end of ‘Infinity War’ may drive you batty. But if you’ve been solidly along for the Marvel ride up to this point, you’ll enjoy this leg of the journey even if it hasn’t yet reached the terminal.”

OWEN GLEIBERMAN, VARIETY: “So is the movie a jumbled, top-heavy mess of cynical franchise overkill? Sort of like the bloated and chaotic ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ taken to the second power? Far from it. It’s a sleekly witty action opera that’s at once overstuffed and bedazzling. The directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, as they proved in the two ‘Captain America’ sequels, are far more stylish and exacting filmmakers than Joss Whedon, who made the first two ‘Avengers’ films.”

ADAM GRAHAM, THE DETROIT NEWS: “‘Infinity War’ quickly turns unruly. It’s like if ‘We Are the World’ had to squeeze in three more verses to give Prince, Van Halen, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, Elton John and Madonna time to shine.”

A.O. SCOTT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: “‘Infinity War’ is a chunk of matter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a vast entity that long ago expanded beyond the usual boundaries of sequelization and brand extension.”

MARK HUGHES, FORBES.COM: “Avengers: Infinity War is the most ambitious, most audacious, most mindblowing superhero film ever produced. It is visually sumptuous, spectacularly entertaining, emotionally shocking and resonant. It is the perfect fulfillment of a promise Marvel made 10 years ago, and everything fans are hoping it could be.”

 

Our modest proposals for Bond 25 Part II

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Despite all the unknowns (leading man, distributor, script, etc.) about Bond 25, Eon Productions is getting plenty of advice about the cinema future of James Bond.

Variety, for example, suggested Kathryn Bigelow or Quentin Tarantino would be good candidates to succeed Sam Mendes as director.

We’ve already done this act once, so here’s our sequel:

Select an up-and-coming director to helm Bond 25: Over at Marvel Studios, executives have a knack for signing up-and-coming directors such as James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Joe and Anthony Russo (the past two Captain America movies) with good results.

Taking such an approach may: 1) Provide a fresh set of eyes on 007 movie making and 2) Help with the budget because you’re signing people before they reach peak earnings power.

Bond 25 after the Sam Mendes-directed SPECTRE and, yet again, homages to past films could use the former. Or, put another way: The DB5, again after it was blown up in Skyfall? Really? Daniel Craig has driven it more than Sean Connery ever did.

Sign your own version of Kevin Feige:  Kevin Feige runs the Marvel movie operation and he’s credited as producer of each Marvel-made film. By all accounts, he’s enthusiastic about his job and has never publicly complained about the stresses of making big movies.

Both Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the co-bosses of Eon Production, have interests in non-007 projects.

A Feige-like deputy could keep an eye on things while Broccoli and Wilson are involved with plays, non-007 films and the like. Such a person could perhaps have kept a closer eye on SPECTRE’s script development while Broccoli and Wilson were involved with The Silent Storm.

The key thing would be to hire a sufficiently talented individual who the Eon co-bosses could trust. Not necessarily an easy task, but one worth considering.

Develop a succession plan if you haven’t already: Michael G. Wilson, at 74, has already spent a majority of his life in Bondage, longer than anybody else associated with the franchise. Over the past 20 years, he has commented more than once about the strains of the job.

Only Wilson knows if he’s up for doing it yet again for Bond 25. But whether it’s Bond 25, 26, 27, etc., nobody lives forever.

Sam Mendes said at a public appearance  that Barbara Broccoli alone will select the next actor to play James Bond. If he’s correct, perhaps there already has been some kind of transition. We’ll see.

Meanwhile Wilson’s son, Gregg, was assistant producer on Quantum of Solace and associate producer on Skyfall and SPECTRE.

 

Captain America: Civil War a test of Marvel’s momentum

Captain America Civil War promotional art

Captain America Civil War promotional art

The “summer” U.S. movie season gets underway this week with Captain America: Civil War being a test whether Marvel Studios maintain its momentum.

The movie already is in release outside the U.S. In terms of reviews, it’s like the mirror image of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Cap has a 94 percent score on the Rotten Tomatoes website, based on 78 “fresh” reviews and only five “rotten” ones, with many U.S. critics yet to weigh in. Batman v Superman scored 27 percent, with 89 approving reviews and 236 pans.

A big opening weekend seems assured. But Marvel at times operates in such rarefied air at the box office, it can get criticism for not opening *big enough*.

Last year at this time, Avengers: Age of Ultron was cast as “only” having a $191.3 million opening weekend, because that was short of Marvel’s The Avengers’ $207.4 million in 2012. Then again, few are going to be sympathetic to Marvel or its corporate parent, Walt Disney Co., if Civil War is seen as not meeting expectations.

Then, of course, there’s the challenge whether Marvel’s latest effort will encourage repeat viewings and generate word-of-mouth to bring more people into theaters. Batman v Superman started out huge ($166 million its opening weekend) but fell off sharply. That film’s global box office, which Warner Bros. had hoped would exceed $1 billion, may fall short of SPECTRE’s $880.7 million.

It will also be interesting to see if Captain America: Civil War will maintain the tone of its 2014 predecessor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which evoked darker, 1970s spy movies.Directors Anthony and Joe Russo , who helmed the 2014 film, were retained for the new movie, which does pick up story threads from Winter Soldier.

The movie's logo

The movie’s logo

At the same time, Civil War is more sprawling, and is inspired by a 2006-07 story line in Marvel Comics that spanned multiple titles. That makes Civil War almost a third installment of The Avengers rather than a Cap adventure.  It’s telling that in the movie’s logo that “Civil War” appear in much larger letters than “Captain America.”

Eight years ago, Marvel Studios began its trek of producing its own films, instead of licensing characters to studios, with the release Iron Man. Marvel plans out movies for years in advance (something Warners is trying to emulate with Superman v Batman and next year’s Justice League film).

Marvel is now in “Phase III,” with Civil War being the test whether it can keep going.

UPDATE: For Marvel, the early news is more than favorable. Captain America: Civil War has generated non-U.S. box office of $200.2 million, Variety reported.

REVIEW: Captain America in a 1970s spy movie

Captain America: The Winter Soldier's poster

Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s poster

Minor spoilers

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Marvel Studio’s take on a 1970s-style spy movie: dark and more than a little paranoid.

For the most part, it works. Put another way: It’s probably not a coincidence that Robert Redford, star of Three Days of The Condor, plays a prominent role in the film.

In this case, Redford has traded in his role of the semi-naïve lead (held down here by Chris Evans’s Cap) for the Max Von Sydow part.

For the uninitiated, 1970s spy movies had a much darker take the bulk of their 1960s counterparts, which tended to be escapist, led by the James Bond series produced by Eon Productions.

The ’70s were a time of real-life scandals involving the CIA and FBI and a U.S. president (Richard Nixon) forced to resign from office. Lest anybody miss this connection, the new Captain America film includes a long shot of SHIELD’s Washington headquarters where the Watergate apartments can be seen in the background.

To get a flavor of 1970s spy/political thrillers, consider this: Another of the era’s movies of note was 1974’s The Parallax View. It featured Warren Beatty as a reporter who investigates a conspiracy to assassinate political candidates. As a reviewer wrote at the time, Parallax is like having Cary Grant fall off Mount Rushmore at the end of 1959’s North By Northwest.

In translating ’70s style spy movies for the 21st century, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo offers a bit of something for everyone. For those who’ve watched the Marvel-produced films that began with 2008’s Iron Man, a lot of what you thought you knew has been turned on its head. But for newcomers, you don’t need to know all the background.

Suffice to say that Cap, the living legend of World War II (as he was billed during a 1960s comic book revival), has a lot of trouble figuring out who his friends and enemies are. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury keeps things from him as does Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Meanwhile, Redford’s Alexander Pierce hovers, much like Van Sydow did in 1975’s Condor movie.

Fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series particularly may appreciate the 2014 movie’s main plot. Without giving too much away (except for hard core U.N.C.L.E. fans), it’s as if the villain’s plot in the first episode of the dark fourth season had succeeded, except it occurred a long time ago.

Put yet another way: this Cap movie realizes the potential of the notion the Bond movies had with the villainous organization Quantum in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

The Russos clearly like shaky cam, but viewers can keep track of what’s going on. At 136 minutes, the movie is a trifle long, but generally satisfying, except for those who hate comic book-based movies under any circumstances.

Be warned: there are *two* epilogue scenes that take place during the end titles. The first is a teaser for 2015’s The Avengers 2. The other is a teaser for Cap 3, which currently is scheduled for May 2016, opposite Warner Bros.’s Superman-Batman movie.

If Cap 3 is as good as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Warner Bros. executives may want to reconsider that Superman-Batman release date. GRADE: B-Plus.