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.

The blog’s final grade for No Time to Die

Spoilers. So stop reading if you’re spoiler averse.

I finally saw No Time to Die for a second time on Wednesday. It was at the biggest screen closest to me. It wasn’t IMAX, but the regional theater chain claims it’s the biggest screen in Michigan.

I have earlier said I was going back and forth between B-Plus and A-Minus. I’ll go with A-Minus. What I liked before (particularly Bond’s first meeting with M) I still liked. The main weaknesses I found I didn’t think about until after the movie was over.

With the latter, I thought about how SPECTRE went from, “We have people everywhere!” to how the organization could be wiped out with everyone gathered in one big room. But that’s more of a shrug than a big demerit.

As I said in a post a few days ago, No Time to Die is the latest version of “The Hero’s Last Stand.” For me, it was well executed. For others, probably not.

I do think Eon Productions should lighten up on being so self-referential. The DB5 is the main example, Having purpose-built stunt cars is a necessity if you want to keep flogging the DB5, originally built in the early 1960s.

The original DB5s didn’t have carbon fiber bodies or BMW engines. In real life, a DB5 driven by George Lazenby in The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was in the shop constantly. The next Bond actor should have his own “spy car.” Roger Moore got that with the Lotus in The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only.

Bond used to illustrate issue of facial differences

1A, a talk show produced by public radio station WAMU in Washington, on Oct. 12 had a segment about facial differences and how popular entertainment often has villains with scars.

Understandably, No Time to Die, the new James Bond film, figured into much of the conversation.

As noted in a summary on 1A’s website:

Indeed, the main villain in the new Bond film, Safin, has scars covering his face. Many past Bond villains also have facial differences, including Le Chiffre, Jaws, Emilio Largo, Alec Trevelyan, Zao, and Raoul Silva.

(snip)

People with facial differences are speaking up about the harmful impact of being vilified on screen.

The WAMU summary also includes this video posted by a group called Changing Faces UK. It includes a Bond image toward the end.

About No Time to Die’s box office prospects

No Time to Die logo

After two weekends globally and one weekend in the U.S., No Time to Die’s global box office prospects are starting to take shape.

Matthew Belloni of Puck News, a former entertainment lawyer and editor at The Hollywood Reporter, summarized the 25th James Bond film’s performance so far.

Global is still pretty strong, with $145 million for the weekend and $313 million total. Given the costs, there’s almost no path to profitability now (Forbes is predicting about $700 million all-in), but it won’t be a colossal disaster.  

After all the hopes and dreams, No Time to Die opened to just $56 million in the U.S., a solid pandemic showing but nowhere near last weekend’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage ($90 million) or even 2015’s Spectre ($70.4 million), let alone the hyperbolic $100 million floated by some. 

This again comes down to how expensive No Time to Die was to make (approaching $300 million) and market (multiple waves of ads before it finally came out in late September and early October).

Obviously, there is a market for a James Bond movie, even during a pandemic. The question is the size of that market especially when COVID-19 still is a reality.

The blog has stated this before but it’s still the case. No Time to Die was conceived and produced during an era of expensive “tentpole” movies intended to draw customers to movie theaters. Billion-dollar box office movies became almost a necessity.

No Time to Die came out after COVID-19 coupled with streaming changed everything.

Only the number crunchers at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, will know the full story once No Time to Die completes its theatrical run. But the possibility of a popular hit that’s a financial disappointment remains.

NTTD opens in the U.S. with good news, not-so-good news

BOND: Harumpf!

First the good news: No Time to Die is projected to be the No. 1 movie in the U.S. this weekend.

Not-so-good news: The 25th James Bond film’s estimated weekend take (including Thursday night preview showings) is estimated at $56 million, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., which track movie box office data.

That’s behind the U.S. opening of Skyfall ($88.4 million), SPECTRE ($70.4 million), and Quantum of Solace ($67.5 million). In U.S. terms, No Time to Die’s opening is the lowest since 2006’s Casino Royale ($40.8 million), when movie ticket prices were a lot cheaper.

The U.S. results for No Time to Die compare with an international opening of $121 million last week. That, of course, included the U.K., where going to a Bond movie is part of national pride.

Some context: Venom: Let There Be Carnage (a Spider-Man related movie) had an opening of $90 million last weekend.

To be sure: Comparing No Time to Die (released during the midst of a long pandemic) to earlier Bond films is dicey. No Time to Die’s release was delayed three times because of COVID-19.

On the other hand: U.S. audiences are turning out for movies. For whatever reason, in the U.S., Venom trumps Bond. I never thought I’d type that in a sentence.

I suspect Bond 26, whenever that comes out, will be shoved toward the end of the release dates. (joke/sarcasm)

UPDATE: Deadline: Hollywood reports that No Time to Die’s global box office is $313.7 million including this weekend’s U.S. results.

Not surprisingly, the U.K. paced the international results. Here’s the take from Exhibitor Relations Co.

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.

Second sampling of NTTD reviews

No Time to Die poster (date affected by COVID-19)

A bunch of No Time to Die reviews came out the same evening as the movie’s world premiere. But some critics didn’t rush their takes out as fast.

So here is a second sampling of reviews. The excerpts contain no spoilers. Make what you will of the excerpts.

JOE MORGENSTERN, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: “‘No Time to Die’ is the latest James Bond episode and the last one to star Daniel Craig. His performance elevates—all but ennobles—the dramatic core of an otherwise choppy narrative, a succession of impressive but impersonal action sequences and affecting interludes that lead to a stirring climax.”

LOU AGUILAR, THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR: “The last thing James Bond needs today is feminist input to match every other Hollywoke production. But No Time To Die is full of it – and worse stuff.”

KEVIN MAHRE, THE TIMES: “The film is a huge thundering epic (163 minutes long) expertly directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (of True Detective) and features a couple of audacious stylistic flourishes…It’s visually astonishing too. As filmed by the Swedish cinematographer Linus Sandgren (La La Land), it is easily the best-looking Bond to date, with each set piece an excuse to frame gorgeous compositions with richly covered lighting.”

A.O. SCOTT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: “As someone who grew up in the Roger Moore era, when defiance of every kind of gravity was the hallmark of the series, I have trouble adjusting my eyes to the darkness and the possibility of tears. I don’t entirely trust the emotions that the director (Cary Joji Fukunaga) and the screenwriting committee (Fukunaga, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Phoebe Waller-Bridge) put into play, or the weighty themes they reach for.”

K. AUSTIN COLLINS, ROLLING STONE: “It’s to (Daniel) Craig’s professional credit that his performance in No Time to Die, which comes out on October 8th (in the U.S.), bears little sense of that lack of giving a fuck. It wouldn’t fit this movie, which, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, very much carries the weight of culmination.”

Anybody remember ‘Genoma of a Woman’?

If you don’t, it was a thing back in 2019. Genoma of a Woman was supposed to be the title of Bond 25.

Let’s take a look back.

I suppose “trust at your own will” meant “I don’t really know.” But the website got a lot of publicity out of it. That’s how it goes some times.

More than two years later, Genoma of a Woman was throughly discredited as a Bond 25 title.

Did the originator suffer anything? No. He got an invitation to this week’s world premiere of No Time to Die (Bond 25’s actual title). He even to take selfies with director Cary Fukunaga.

OK, I get it that fan sites celebrate characters and actors. But if you put it out there the movie is going to have a ridiculous title, you need to suck it up, admit your mistake and move on.

Clearly, Eon Productions doesn’t care about ethics, accuracy, or any any of that stuff. As long as you say Eon is doing a great job, you, too, can get on the red carpet.

So it goes.

A sampling of No Time to Die Reviews

No Time to Die poster released Sept. 1.

Hours after the premiere of No Time to Die, an embargo for reviews lifted. What follows are excerpts without spoilers.

PETE HAMMOND, DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD: “Bond is back with a vengeance, and that means Daniel Craig taking on the assignment just one more time in a film that proves a fitting finale for the actor who invests the role with more emotion, power, and style in a movie that not only marks a milestone as the 25th time around, but also one not afraid to take some twists, turns, and yes, risks.”

STEVEN WEINTRAUB, COLLIDER (TWEET): No Time to Die “is LOADED with everything you expect in a Bond film but also has a lot of surprises. Was on the edge of my seat for like half the movie. You def want to have the events of #Spectre fresh in your mind before watching. Loved Daniel Craig as James Bond. Great sendoff.”

PETER BRADSHAW, THE GUARDIAN: “(C)raig’s final film as the diva of British intelligence is an epic barnstormer, with the script from Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge delivering pathos, action, drama, camp comedy …heartbreak, macabre horror, and outrageously silly old-fashioned action in a movie which calls to mind the world of Dr. No on his island. Director Cary Fukunaga delivers it with terrific panache, and the film also shows us a romantic Bond, an uxorious Bond, a Bond who is unafraid of showing his feelings, like the old softie he’s turned out to be.”

SCOTT MENDELSON, FORBES.COM: “Yes, it’s a better 007 film than Spectre, and yes, it’s a better series finale (relatively speaking) than The Rise of Skywalker, but if anything, the two years of release-date delays may have helped the film. In October 2021, critics and audiences may be so thirsty for water that they’ll drink the sand, and frankly I don’t entirely blame them/us. Had this film opened in late 2019 or early 2020, it would have paled in comparison to other series finales and other ‘take stock in our legacy’ sequels that opened around that time.”

MIKE REYES: CINEMA BLEND: “With a runtime that is nearly three hours, No Time To Die’s story gets off to a rousing start and doesn’t let up. In the run up to its debut, there have been promises that the Daniel Craig era of films was going to have a proper ending, tying together the five movie saga in an epic conclusion. That claim has absolutely been fulfilled, as the usual franchise antics are mixed in with a story that very much has history, especially Casino Royale, firmly in mind.”

BRIAN LOWRY, CNN: “After 25 movies over 60 years, billing a James Bond adventure as the end of something requires a certain leap of faith. Still, Daniel Craig’s yeoman service comes to its conclusion with ‘No Time to Die,’ a big and length-wise bloated epic that includes the desired bells and whistles, which, despite its flaws, should buy the movie considerable goodwill from an audience that has waited (and waited) for it.”