A few quirks in the development of No Time to Die

No Time to Die poster released Sept. 1.

Every movie has its quirks on the way to the silver screen. No Time to Die certainly had its share. Here are a few.

The writing

July 2017: Eon Productions announces Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are writing Bond 25. At this point, Daniel Craig’s return as Bond hadn’t been announced yet.

December 2017: Eon boss Barbara Broccoli says on a Hollywood Reporter podcast that Purvis and Wade were “busy working away, trying to come up with something fantastic.”

May 2018: John Hodge is announced as the sole writer of Bond 25, to be directed by Danny Boyle.

August 2018: Boyle departs Bond 25 over “creative differences.” Hodge leaves also. Purvis and Wade end up returning.

Boyle vs. Fukunaga

Spring 2020: Production designer Mark Tildesley worked under both Boyle and his replacement, Cary Fukunaga. Tildesley says during Boyle’s time on the project, the art department had built a 350-foot rocket and a Russian gulag set in Canada.

February 2019: The MI6 James Bond website says for most of the Hodge/Boyle script, Bond was imprisoned by the villain.

September 2021: Fukunaga tells The Hollywood Reporter that the Boyle-Hodge project was “more tongue-in-cheek and whimsical.”

Query: If all of this is correct, did Boyle want a “whimsical” story set in a Russian gulag? A sort of modern-day Hogan’s Heroes?

Bond 26, etc.: The real question going forward

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

A Forbes.com article out today says that James Bond still is popular and relevant. That really isn’t the correct question.

The real question is whether the series can continue to grind out new entries at $300 million a pop.

There is certainly a market for James Bond films. Even if the audience is aging, fans turn out for Bond. But at what price?

In 2012, there was a market for a movie featuring John Carter (another character from the creator of Tarzan). But not one that cost $200 million or more to make. Walt Disney Co. had to report a big charge against earnings.

In 2013, there was a market for a Lone Ranger movie (even a Tonto-centric one). But not one that cost $240 million to make. With the Lone Ranger, the special effects budget should have mostly been for squibs to simulate gun shots. But the makers of the movie went way beyond that.

Back in the day, Cleopatra (1963) was a very popular film. Financially, not so much. As big as the audience was, 20th Century Fox couldn’t earn a profit on its theatrical release.

I’ve seen some fans say they have no personal stake in how No Time to Die does at the box office. So it doesn’t matter to them.

Maybe so. With No Time to Die, it’s doing better in the U.K. and Europe than in the U.S. The final numbers remain to be seen. But spending $300 million (or so) makes it harder to earn a profit.

The question facing Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the studio’s future owner, Amazon (assuming Amazon’s planned acquisition of MGM gets regulatory approval) is whether it’s time rethink and re-evaluate Bond film budgets.

Presumably, Bond 26’s leading man won’t be paid $25 million (Daniel Craig’s reported salary for No Time to Die). Perhaps Eon’s Barbara Broccoli will remember how her father did business and negotiate harder than she did with Craig. Presumably Bond 26 won’t have pandemic-related delays that added to the tab.

Perhaps. Presumably. We’ll see.

About that No. 1 spoiler for No Time to Die

No Time to Die poster

YES, there be spoilers. So if you’re spoiler sensitive, stop reading now. This is your last warning. To make what seems like an obvious point to me, spoilers are necessary for this post. I gave this post the most bland title to avoiding giving things away.

No Time to Die wraps up a five-movie arc featuring Daniel Craig as James Bond. It’s a self-contained Bond universe that (mostly) doesn’t concern the previous 20 Eon Productions movies.

Eon Productions got the idea in the middle of the arc (in between Skyfall and SPECTRE). Still, it’s now official these films are their own thing. That’s much the way that Christopher Nolan’s three Batman movies are their own thing, not related to any other Batman films.

Whether Eon wants to admit it or not, the makers of the Bond film series are following the same path set by Fox and Marvel movies featuring Marvel comic book characters

With 2015’s SPECTRE, Eon specifically adapted interconnected storytelling featured in movies made by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios. With No Time to Die, Eon has doubled down on that concept.

2017’s Logan (made by Fox before it was absorbed by Disney), we had the final Hugh Jackman adventure as Logan/Wolverine. In 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, we had the concluding tale of Tony Stark/Iron man (Robert Downey Jr.), ending an arc of more than a decade.

The concept, of course, is The Hero’s Last Stand. The hero falls, but falls heroically. The audience weeps.

When executed well, it works.

To be clear, The Hero’s Last Stand goes back a long time. It was included in genres as diverse as Biblical epics (Samson and Deliah) and Westerns (Ride the High Country and The Shootist). But Bibical movies and Westerns aren’t popular anymore.

But comic book films are.

For example, Tony Stark makes the ultimate sacrifice to save those who matter the most to him. Sound familiar?

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron about to make the ultimate sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

You may respond that’s a coincidence. No, it’s not.

The tabloids ran stories in 2018 and 2019 speculating about whether Bond 25 would kill off Craig’s Bond. They also had stories asking whether Eon or Danny Boyle, No Time to Die’s original director wanted to kill Bond off.

The Sun said in August 2018 that Boyle quit because he did not want to kill off Bond. The Daily Star said in April 2019 that it was Boyle who wanted Bond “to die in the arms of returning Bond girl Lea Seydoux in the 25th spy movie Shatterhand.” (Oops.)

Regardless, we now know that somebody did. The notion of Bond dying has been in plain sight for more than three years.

To be sure, movies can have similar themes and still be good. High Noon and Rio Bravo featured western lawmen who were outnumbered by the bad guys. But the two movies had considerably different takes on the same notion.

Many Bond fans despise Marvel films. Many fans are in denial that Bond has been adapting Marvel film concepts (including Eon boss Barbara Broccoli).

Of course, it also works the way around. Both Nolan’s Batman movies and Marvel’s film output have been influenced by Bond. Example: Look at casino scenes in 2012’s Skyfall and 2018’s Black Panther, for example.

Regardless, all still comes down to execution. So how does No Time to Die’s version of The Hero’s Last Stand compare?

When I finally saw it, I’d have to say very well. The ending had been spoiled for me. Not in a, “I stumbled it while surfing the internet” way but hearing it presented to me full on. Nevertheless, watching it for the first time, it felt genuinely emotional.

You may disagree. And that’s fine. The thing is, Bond’s exit in No Time to Die is not brand-new territory.

Non-spoiler NTTD review

No Time to Die logo

This is intended as a very quick review of No Time to Die. No spoilers here but I’m preparing a post that deals with the No. 1 spoiler.

After all this time, was it worth it? Yes, very much so. I am going back and forth whether it’s a B-Plus or A-Minus.

If you’re a fan of Daniel Craig/Bond, you’ll love it. If you don’t care for Craig/Bond, it won’t change your mind.

No Time to Die was in a position to take liberties knowing it would be the last movie featuring Craig, who is adored by Eon boss Barbara Broccoli. Knowing that, you can take more chances. That’s all I will say until later.

The movie is mostly executed extremely well. The score by Hans Zimmer (and Steve Mazzaro) is better than I thought it would be. They even found a way to get Mazzaro into the main titles.

It weaves bits from the title song by Billie Eilish and Finneas throughout. We haven’t experienced that so much since 2006’s Casino Royale, where David Arnold did the score and co-wrote the title song.

As I get older, I tend to appreciate the more talkative scenes more. One of my favorite scenes is when Bond, gone from MI6 for years, goes to M’s office. It’s quite good, with both sides of the conversation getting in their points.

And, for those who were concerned Bond was emasculated in this movie? Well, it didn’t happen. The trailers didn’t give away everything.

The movie mostly moved faster than a film running 163 minutes. It could have tightened some action scenes. But, these days, you can say that about most movies.

Hours after I saw the movie, I began to think about plot holes, questions, etc. But it’s a success when you don’t ponder that during the movie.

My main concern, if you want to call it that, is the movie is too self-referential. To examine that in more detail requires spoilers.

The blog will get to a more spoiler post soon.

Bond 26 questions: The (eventual) search for a new Bond

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions were interviewed on a BBC Radio show on Sept. 27. The duo indicated they weren’t in a hurry to find a successor for Daniel Craig as James Bond.

“We’re not thinking about it at all,” Broccoli said, according to a Variety summary of the interview. “We want Daniel to have his time of celebration. Next year we’ll start thinking about the future.”

Naturally, the blog has questions.

How seriously should we take these remarks?

In general, a CEO always is supposed to be thinking about the future. Barbara Broccoli certainly qualifies as a CEO.

On the one hand, there are signs that Broccoli has at least thought about a post-Craig future for Eon’s Bond film series.

No Time To Die director Cary Fukunaga told Total Film that he had a meeting with Broccoli before he was named to helm the 25th James Bond film.

“At that point Daniel said he wasn’t doing another one, so we spit-balled all the potential new Bonds – that was exciting,” Fukunaga said in that interview.

On the other hand, there are signs that Broccoli is really, really reluctant to let go of Craig. “I’m sort of in denial,” she said in the BBC interview. “I would love for Daniel to continue forever.”

Personally, I take her at her word. She is not anxious to move on from Craig.

Will the search (whenever it starts) be complicated?

Searching for a Bond actor is never easy. The next search will have additional complications.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, has agreed to be acquired by Amazon. But that deal hasn’t been completed and is subject to regulatory review.

It remains to be seen what Amazon will do with MGM assuming the deal goes through. Eon likes some current MGM film executives and has lobbied for Amazon to keep them on board.

Regardless, assuming Amazon completes the deal, that will be an additional piece of complication.

What’s more, Eon has its own issues. Wilson turns 80 next year. There are popular fan theories that he may retire after No Time to Die. Who knows whether that’ll be the case. Still a new Bond isn’t the only succession issue facing Eon.

Bond 25 questions: THR’s Fukunaga story edition

No Time to Die’s back story is often opaque

The Hollywood Reporter has come out with a big feature story about Cary Fukunaga, the director of No Time to Die.

But there are elements that don’t square up previous tellings of No Time To Die’s back story. Naturally, the blog has questions.

Whose idea was it to bring aboard Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a writer for the 25th James Bond movie?

According to THR, it was Fukunaga’s, of course.

At Fukunaga’s suggestion, Phoebe Waller-Bridge was brought in to work on the draft he wrote with Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who have worked on every Bond film since 1999’s The World Is Not Enough.

Except, supposedly it was the idea of star Daniel Craig. For example, there’s this story from IndieWire in February 2020:

 The “Fleabag” creator, whose Amazon Prime Video series picked up six Primetime Emmy Award wins last year, was brought onto the film back in 2019 at the behest of star Daniel Craig.

Oh. Well, the winners get to write the history. Both Fukunaga and Waller-Bridge were among the winners of the No Time to Die saga.

How big a factor was #MeToo in No Time to Die’s development?

Apparently, a lot. We won’t really know until the movie comes out shortly. But THR’s story has some clues.

A quote in the THR story from Lashana Lynch: “Cary had big discussions with Barbara (Broccoli) and Daniel about how to give the female characters equity, how to keep them in charge of themselves, how to give them solo moments where the audience learns who they are.  It was really important to empower the female characters as stand-alones. And I think that he kept that in mind throughout the whole shoot.”

A quote from Barbara Broccoli in the new story:

“I think people are coming around — with some kicking and screaming — to accepting that stuff is no longer acceptable. Thank goodness. Bond is a character who was written in 1952 and the first film [Dr. No] came out in 1962. He’s got a long history, and the history of the past is very different to the way he is being portrayed now.”

Finally a quote from Fukunaga himself in The Hollywood Reporter:

“Is it Thunderball or Goldfinger where, like, basically Sean Connery’s character rapes a woman?” Fukunaga told THR. “She’s like ‘No, no, no,’ and he’s like, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ That wouldn’t fly today.”

Why did Bond 25 switch from Danny Boyle to Cary Fukunaga as director?

Bond 25 has a complicated history. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, long-time Bond screenwriters, were hired in 2017 to develop a script. They worked on it for months. Then, in 2018, it became known than director Danny Boyle and his writer, John Hodge, made a pitch.

An announcement came out in spring 2018 that the Boyle and Hodge team were hired. The initial script was set aside.

But later that year, they were gone. Fukunaga would soon be hired.

The key excerpt from THR’s story:

With Boyle, there was a deviation of visions. His version was more tongue-in-cheek and whimsical. Broccoli and Wilson wanted something more serious for Craig’s final outing.

This leads to a lot of questions. Did Eon, which at one time loved the Boyle-Hodge pitch, not realize the tone was different? Did Eon not vet Boyle and Hodge?

We’re less than a week before the premiere of No Time to Die. Many fans don’t want to hear about this.

Still, The Hollywood Reporter raises more questions than answers

THR: Boyle’s Bond 25 was more whimsical

Cary Joji Fukunaga, director of No Time to Die

Danny Boyle, the original director for Bond 25, had in mind a project that was “more tongue-in-cheek and whimsical,” The Hollywood Reporter said today in a feature story about Cary Fukunaga, who ended up helming the 25th James Bond movie.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson “wanted something more serious” for actor Daniel Craig’s final turn as Bond, according to the entertainment news outlet.

After Boyle’s departure, Fukunaga told THR, “I emailed Barbara and was like, ‘Is there a chance to talk about this?’ She responded right away, and we set up a meeting the next week. I didn’t have a pitch or anything, just asked them what they’re after and what wasn’t working.”

This raises all sorts of questions. In 2018, Eon put aside a script it had been developing after Boyle pitched a supposedly great idea that wowed Eon and executives at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In May 2018, it was announced Boyle was directing with John Hodge doing the script.

The main question is did Eon and MGM vet Boyle and Hodge and the great idea? Boyle apparently did not vet how Eon works.

In the article, Fukunaga is credited with suggesting Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a writer for No Time to Die, Bond 25’s eventual title.

GoldenEye screenwriter talks about the 1995 move

GoldenEye’s poster

The SpyHards podcast conducted an interview with Jeffrey Caine, one of the screenwriters on GoldenEye.

Caine was one of three writers who received some form of credit for the 1995 James Bond film that marked the return of James Bond to the big screen after a six-year hiatus. The other credited screenwriters were Michael France and Bruce Feirstein. Kevin Wade did uncredited work on the script.

Here are some of the highlights from the interview:.

Caine discusses the differences between Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli

Caine says Wilson wanted to work in stunts first and write a story around them. Caine felt you should write a story and insert stunts.

How it turned out:

“I sort of got my way because Barbara (Broccoli) took my side.”

The scribe’s view of the cinematic Bonds actors:

Caine says Daniel Craig has the toughness but not the suaveness while Roger Moore has the suaveness but not the toughness. Caine liked Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan better

About the change with M in GoldenEye:

Caine says he drafts didn’t have a woman M (who would be played by Judi Dench). That took place after writer Bruce Feirstein took over.

To listen to the entire interview on the SpyHards podcast, CLICK HERE.

Broccoli, Wilson discuss Bond’s future (a bit)

No Time to Die logo

The Sunday Times, one of press baron Rupert Murdoch’s “respectable” publications (as opposed to his tabloids), published a big story about the saga of No Time to Die. Also, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson talk a bit about the future of the cinematic James Bond.

Wilson, 79, told the newspaper that the way star Daniel Craig has played the part of Bond since 2006’s Casino Royale may carry over in the future.

“Daniel’s made an indelible impression,” Wilson told The Sunday Times. “So it’s inevitable that what he brought will be, in some way, incorporated.”

At the same time, both Wilson and his half-sibling, 61, left themselves some wiggle room.

Concerning potential future Bond actors, Wilson added: “We don’t have any frontrunners — we haven’t even thought about it — but whoever it is will take on the role and adapt the character to their personality. It’s always been the case.”

Here was Broccoli’s take:

“It’s a big decision for us because we’re entering into a partnership with an actor,” the Eon boss told The Sunday Times.

“It’s not like casting a movie when you find the best actor at the time — it’s about resetting the whole template for the movies to come. So it’s not just about what colour hair an actor has and if they fit a certain type — it’s about where you want to take the movies and what you want to say. And we have to make that decision. We’re not going to make it based on polls.”

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, has agreed to be acquired by Amazon. Broccoli avoided specifics how that $8.45 billion deal, which is subject to regulatory approval, could affect Bond’s future.

 “The truth is we don’t know,” Broccoli told The Sunday Times. “Until the deal is approved and we are able to get into deep discussions with them we don’t know. At the moment we’re not really any more enlightened about what they want to do and how they see things and how we fit in.”

The article goes over a lot of No Time to Die history many fans are familiar with. For example, the Danny Boyle saga, his departure as director, the hiring of Cary Fukunaga as Boyle’s replacement as director and the uncertainty, for a time, whether Craig would come back for a fifth Bond film. Craig also has a number of quotes where he had f-bombs in his quotes, but they’re cleaned up.

The Sunday Times piece also is full of Bond-related puns such as sub-headlines that read “Never Say Never — Again!” “Doctor Oh No,” “From China with Love,” and “Die? Another Day.”

The story is behind a paywall except for a short preview.

No Time to Die: An eventful week

No Time to Die poster

This week had to be one of the most eventful weeks related to No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film.

The premiere of a 45-minute documentary. The return of an official No Time to Die podcast series. The leader of Eon Productions making an over-the-top boast. The first tickets going on sale.

After five delays (two because of a change of director, three because of COVID-19), the die seems to be cast. Daniel Craig’s finale as James Bond, wrapping up more than 15 years as the incumbent cinematic Bond, is on the horizon.

Here are some highlights:

–Being James Bond, the documentary about Craig’s tenure as Bond, debuted on Apple TV. Many fans got emotional, going to social media to express how they felt.

I read a lot of these testimonials. They were honest and sincere. And it’s not hard to figure out why. Craig was first cast in 2005. For people younger than 35, Daniel Craig is the Bond they know best. Even if you’re not a fan of Craig/Bond, you have to respect something like that.

–The official No Time to Die podcast returned after a hiatus of almost a year. The podcast began in September 2020 but abruptly shut down after another COVID-related delayed.

The first episode was an expanded version of one that first went out a year ago. The revised episode began with a discussion with Eon boss Barbara Broccoli and her half-brother Michael G. Wilson.

Broccoli didn’t undersell the (not so) new Bond film. No Time to Die, she said, “is a cinematic masterpiece.”

The movie world is full of hype. But “cinematic masterpiece” are loaded words. Broccoli is doubling, tripling (or more) down. She clearly has an attachment to Daniel Craig that goes beyond the normal movie hype.

–Today, Friday, Sept. 10, was a rush for those in the U.K. who sought tickets for the Sept. 28 premiere at Royal Albert Hall. Social media saw testimonials from those who attempted and the few who got tickets.

It wasn’t perfect. For example, the coordination between No Time to Die social media didn’t mesh with a new U.S. NTTD spot that debuted late on Sept. 9.

Still, it was a big week for Bond fans.