Bond 21-25 questions: Assessing the Craig era edition

Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace

The Daniel Craig era of the James Bond films is drawing to a close. A thoughtful reader drew my attention to an August 2020 article by the Screen Rant site assessing Craig’s tenure.

Still, until No Time to Die comes out, there’s only so far you can go. Or is that correct? Naturally, the blog has questions.

Was the Craig era really that different? Absolutely.

Ian Fleming’s Bond novels referenced how his creation had relationships with married women. In the Eon film series, M lists “jealous husbands” as a possibility for hiring $1 million-a-hit-assassin Scaramanga in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun. But 2006’s Casino Royale was more explicit.

Anything else? The tone often was more violent, in particular a killing Bond performs early in 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Quantum also had a more political point of view courtesy of director Marc Forster.

Did the Craig era follow earlier Bond films in any way? Yes. The Craig films, like earlier Eon Bond entries, adapted to popular trends in cinema.

In the 1970s, Bond films followed blaxploitation movies (Live And Let Die), kung fu (The Man With the Golden Gun) and science fiction (Moonraker).

In the 21st century Craig movies, the series followed Jason Bourne films (Quantum, including hiring a Bourne second unit director), Christopher Nolan Batman movies (Skyfall) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (SPECTRE, moving to tie all of the Craig adventures together).

Anything else? Some Bond fans argue Craig is the best film James Bond. No Time to Die (apparently) is the final chapter. No doubt there will be more debate once No Time to Die can be viewed.

Bond 25 questions: The Total Film edition

One of the many No Time to Die posters

This post includes spoilers. Stop reading now if spoilers aren’t your thing.

Total Film this week published a detailed story about No Time to Die. Naturally, the blog has questions

Did Daniel Craig really say No Time to Die’s theme was “love and family”?

He did. Sounds almost like a Fast and the Furious movie, doesn’t it? In this case, Craig told Total Film that Bond’s family is Moneypenny, M and Q with Lashana Lynch’s Nomi “a distant cousin who you’re not sure about.”

One of the most hyped aspects of the movie was how Phoebe Waller-Bridge was among the screenwriters. Any additional details?

Of course. “Phoebe came on, and she injected some brilliance into the situation, and a tone I was really after,” Craig told Total Film.

“What we wanted to do was… not ridicule (Bond). It’s sharing in the fun with the audience,” Craig told the magazine. “But you’ve got to be respectful of what it is.” 

According to Total Film, Waller-Bridge “punched up Ana de Armas’ character Paloma – a fresh-faced CIA field agent who Bond crosses paths with in Cuba – and brought a myth-pricking irreverence to the story.”

What about agent Nomi and her relationship with Bond?

“Bond is going to be Bond no matter what happens,” Lashana Lynch told Total Film. “But it’s about how people react to him. That’s the difference between the earlier films. In this film we are vocal. We are opinionated. We know how to stop [Bond] in his tracks, and to teach him something.”

What about the sets?

“We have really gone out of our way to make some really gorgeous big sets,” says production designer Mark Tildesley. The designer originally was recruited to the film by Danny Boyle, the project’s first director who departed over “creative differences.”

What about Rami Malek’s Safin?

“Safin is pulling all the strings,” Eon boss Barbara Broccoli told Total Film about the character. “He’s controlling all of those megalomaniacs out there. He’s created them.”

What does that mean?

I suppose that in Quantum of Solace that Quantum was BIG. In SPECTRE, SPECTRE was BIGGER. Perhaps Safin is EVEN BIGGER!

About those defenses of Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace’s soundtrack

Recently, there have been podcasts and videos defending 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

If you love the 22nd James Bond movie made by Eon Productions, good for you. But there’s a recurring theme that those who aren’t as enthusiastic (including this blog) are somehow ignorant and their observations aren’t legitimate.

Here’s a recap of some aspects of Quantum that fall short.

When does Quantum of Solace take place? Casino Royale took place in 2006 (based on timestamps of surveillance videos). Eon Productions said Quantum took place shortly (the exact amount varied but supposedly it was an hour or so). But it wasn’t *years* later.

Vesper sacrificed herself at the end of Casino Royale. But she made sure that Bond got Mr. White’s mobile phone number.

Even in the 2000s, mobile phones acted as a GPS device. Vesper wanted to make sure that Bond could track Mr. White down. That’s why she got him Mr. White’s phone number.

In those days, street thugs were smart enough to use “burner,” or disposable, phones. Mr. White wasn’t? Or, was Bond not bright enough to track down Mr. White despite knowing his phone number?

Quantum fans will say that’s being picky. But it was Eon’s marketing campaign that stressed this was a direct sequel! Except those involved couldn’t match up the direct sequel to the original film.

Did M get shot? In the sequence after the main titles, it sure looks like it. But those who have better Blu Ray/DVD players that I do have screen captures where a long, thin metal object blocked the bullet. OK, fine. But that was not obvious watching it the theater first run. The audience in the theater should know what’s going on.

The thirsty villagers: Bond and Camille discover an underground lake, part of a plot to ensure a monopoly of water in South America. They walk past a lot of thirsty villagers, desperate for water. Do Bond and Camille let them know? “Hey, there’s a big underground lake back there!” No, of course not.

M’s quick turnaround: M shows up with several agents to take Bond in because (wait for it) he’s gone rogue. Bond beats the agents up. Then M says she trusts Bond because she’s his guy. Oh.

This week, I heard from a Quantum fan who said he doesn’t watch movies to find mistakes.

Guess what? Neither do I. But when the filmmakers throw them your face, it’s hard to overlook.

If you love Quantum, great. But don’t claim those of us who can detect imperfections are at fault.

Bond as strategic thinker

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

I’ve been re-reading Ian Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale, for research. Something leapt out at me. James Bond is not the best strategic thinker.

Bond, thanks to Felix Leither providing much-needed funds from the U.S., bests a Communist operative, LeChiffe at the gaming tables. After winning, Bond drinks a lot of champagne while LeChiffre prepares a counter-attack. Bond eventually is captured.

Too late, it occurs to Bond he should have been more prepared.

He squirmed at the thought of himself washing down champagne at the Roi Gallant while the enemy was busy preparing the counterstroke. He cursed himself and cursed the hubris which had made him so sure that the battle was won and the enemy was in flight.

Chapter 16, The Crawling of the Skin

The thing is, Bond never really learns that lesson. In the novel From Russia With Love, Bond knows the situation is a trap but decides to ride the train to the end. In Dr. No (both novel and film), Bond travels to Crab Key with basically no plan, just bringing a gun with him.

Both the literary and cinema Bond doesn’t do much in the way of planning. In Quantum of Solace, Bond bounces from one situation to another. In the film Skyfall, Bond sort of, kind of, has a plan but M still gets killed.

Bond, of course, is a blunt instrument. On some occasions, he’s the dull instrument who nevertheless comes out on top. In Casino Royale (both novel and 2006 film), he’s been taken in by Vesper. In the film, he even loses all the money.

About those Bond film series gaps

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Last week saw another delay announced for No Time to Die. That has prompted some entertainment news websites to look back at how the gap between SPECTRE and No Time to Die ranks among Bond films.

With that in mind, here’s the blog’s own list.

You Only Live Twice (1967) to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): This isn’t getting the attention as the others.

But You Only Live Twice came out in June of 1967 while On Her Majesty’s Secret Service debuted in December 1969. That was about two-and-a-half years. Today? No big deal. But at the time, the Bond series delivered entries in one- or two-year intervals.

This period included the first re-casting of the Bond role, with George Lazenby taking over from Sean Connery. Also, Majesty’s was an epic shoot.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) to The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): This period often is written up as the first big delay in the series made by Eon Productions.

It’s easy to understand why. The partnership between Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman broke up. There were delays in beginning a new Bond film. Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct but exited, with Lewis Gilbert eventually taking over. Many scripts were written. And Eon and United Arists were coming off with a financial disappointment with Golden Gun.

Still, Golden Gun premiered in December 1974 while Spy came along in July 1977. That’s not much longer than the Twice-Majesty’s gap. For all the turmoil that occurred in the pre-production of Spy, it’s amazing the gap wasn’t longer.

Licence to Kill (1989) to GoldenEye (1995): This is the big one. Licence came out in June 1989 (it didn’t make it to the U.S. until July) while GoldenEye didn’t make it to theater screens until November 1995.

In the interim, there was a legal battle between Danjaq (Eon’s parent company) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, which had acquired UA in 1981. MGM had been sold, went into financial trouble, and was taken over by a French bank. The legal issues were sorted out in 1993 and efforts to start a new Bond film could begin in earnest.

This period also saw the Bond role recast, with Pierce Brosnan coming in while Timothy Dalton exited. In all, almost six-and-a-half years passed between Bond film adventures.

Die Another Day (2002) to Casino Royale (2006): After the release of Die Another Day, a large, bombastic Bond adventure, Eon did a major reappraisal of the series.

Eventually, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided on major changes. Eon now had the rights to Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. So the duo opted to start the series over with a new actor, Daniel Craig and a more down-to-earth approach.

Quantum of Solace (2008) to Skyfall (2012): MGM had another financial setback with a 2010 bankruptcy. That delayed development of a new Bond film. Sam Mendes initially was a “consultant” because MGM’s approval was needed before he officially was named director.

Still, the gap was only four years (which today seems like nothing) from Quantum’s debt in late October 2008 to Skyfall’s debut in October 2012.

SPECTRE (2015) to No Time to Die (?): Recent delays are due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But pre-production got off to a slow start below that.

MGM spent much of 2016 trying to sell itself to Chinese investors but a deal fell through. Daniel Craig wanted a break from Bond. So did Eon’s Barbara Broccoli, pursuing small independent-style movies such as Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Nancy, as well as a medium-sized spy movie The Rhythm Section.

Reportedly, a script for a Bond movie didn’t start until around March 2017 with the hiring (yet again) of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The hiring was confirmed in summer 2017. Craig later in summer of 2017 said he was coming back.

Of course, one director (Danny Boyle) was hired only to depart later. Cary Fukunaga was hired to replace him. More writers (Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Scott Z. Burns) arrived. The movie finally was shot in 2019.

Then, when 2020 arrived, the pandemic hit. No Time to Die currently has an October 2021 release date. We’ll see how that goes.

Bond 25 questions: The trailer, soundtrack edition

No Time to Die poster released Sept. 1.

The No Time to Die publicity machine got reactivated this week, including a new trailer and details about the soundtrack being released.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

What’s the big takeaway?

It’s very clear that No Time to Die is back to “saving the world” territory.

The new trailer shows agent Nomi (Lashana Lynch) saying villain Safin “will kill millions.” Bond (Daniel Craig) says if his team is unsuccessful there won’t be anything left to save.

Eon Productions has shied away from such sweeping, big stakes since Craig took over as Bond. Quantum of Solace, for example, dealt with water rights.

I’m not exactly sure about the stakes of SPECTRE. Bond and his allies sought to prevent something from being deployed related to observing people. But SPECTRE already seemingly had the ability to record every single phone conversation on the planet. It wasn’t very clear how things would be any worse if SPECTRE succeeded.

Anything new catch your eye?

The No Time to Die ad that debuted during the Super Bowl showed Bond and Nomi is a plane or glider. In the new trailer, we see it can become a submarine.

That idea isn’t new. One of the earliest Gerry Anderson shows was Supercar, a craft that could fly and be a submarine. (I actually had a Supercar toy as a kid.) The 1964-68 series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea featured the Flying Sub, which flew and could travel undersea.

Still, it’s an element of fantasy that hasn’t been part of the Daniel Craig era of James Bond films.

Hey, what happened to Steve Mazzaro?

For the uninitiated, No Time to Die composer Hans Zimmer told Variety in June that he needed Steve Mazzaro’s help to do the movie’s score because of a tight deadline.

As part of that interview, Zimmer said: “Steve should really be the top name on the Bond film.”

Naturally, there was no mention of Mazzaro in the press release Eon Productions put out with the soundtrack cover.

There were quotes from the likes of Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson and director Cary Fukunaga about the genius of Hans Zimmer. Of course, Fukunaga doesn’t mention how his composer choice, Dan Romer, got fired from the project.

Does that surprise you?

No. When I read the Zimmer interview in Variety, I took his remark about how Mazzaro should get top billing as an empty compliment, not something he meant seriously.

Still, it’s another example of how studios and “artistes” count on people not remembering what has been said previously. So it goes.

The canard that haunts the Bond franchise

The prototype for the “reveal” of SPECTRE (2015)

Last week, a website called The Ringer became the latest outlet to repeat the canard that the James Bond films were forced to change in tone to be more serious.

The article was called “Austin Powers Still Haunts the James Bond Franchise.” Here’s an excerpt:

But as excellent as some of (Daniel Craig’s) Bond films have been, fun probably isn’t the first adjective that comes to mind when describing Craig’s take on the character; that was a point unto itself. “Mike Myers fucked us,” Craig told the Bond fan site MI6 Confidential Magazine in 2014. “I am a huge Mike Myers fan, so don’t get me wrong—but he kind of fucked us.”

He’s referring to—what else?—the Austin Powers franchise, Myers’s iconic spoof of Bond and the larger spy genre.

The problem with this often-repeated trope is Austin Powers was hardly the first to poke fun at Bond’s expense.

As early as 1964, future Bond Roger Moore played 007 in a variety show skit.

In 1965, The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71), a wildly successful, if improbable, situation comedy, featured man-child Jethro Bodine returning from the theater after seeing Goldfinger. Jethro recites the plot to his rich uncle Jed Clampett, who has lost none of his common sense despite his sudden wealth.

After listening to Jethro, Jed has one question: “Why didn’t he just shoot him?” Jethro, who had been smiling moments before, is crestfallen.

Despite that, Jethro decides that being a “double-naught spy” is his life’s calling because double naughts engage in a lot of “fightin’ and lovin’.” Jethro takes the Clampett family truck and adds a bulletproof shield (a meta tub), defensive weapons (two rifles that can be fired when Jetro pulls on strings tied to the rifles) and an ejector seat. Naturally, the latter figures into the episode’s final gag.

In fact, Jethro’s quest to be a “double naught” became a running gag for multiple episodes. There was a follow-up story the next season as Thunderball was coming out.

The Beverly Hillbillies wasn’t the only show to poke fun at 007. It happened all the time during the 1960s. Another example: A 1966 episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show titled “The Man From My Uncle,” in which Godfrey Cambridge played a character named Harry Bond. (“Yeah. Please no jokes. I’m not 007.”)

And, of course, there was Get Smart, a parody of Bond and the spy craze that ran for five seasons (four on NBC, one on CBS).

So, the Austin Powers series, consisting of three movies, was hardly plowing new ground in making light of Bond. Indeed, the Austin Powers series ended (for now) with Austin Powers in Goldmember in 2002, the same year as Die Another Day.

The first new serious, Daniel Craig film, Casino Royale didn’t come out until 2006. Casino Royale had been influenced (in terms of a more serious tone) by the Jason Bourne films starring Matt Damon. With 2008’s Quantum of Solace, the Bond series went full Bourne, bringing in Dan Bradley as second unit director, who had the same job on the Bourne films.

By Casino Royale, and certainly by Quantum of Solace, Austin Powers was receding into memory.

Meanwhile, with 2015’s SPECTRE, the Bond series embraced one of the Austin Powers tropes. It had been revealed that Austin Powers and his arch-enemy Dr. Evil were really brothers. In SPECTRE, it was revealed that Craig/Bond and Blofeld were foster brothers. And SPECTRE came out more than a decade after Austin Powers in Goldmember.

In the words of Daniel Craig, if Austin Powers “fucked us,” it was self-inflicted.

Coronavirus snaps Marvel’s release date stranglehold

Poster for Black Widow

The coronavirus and the worldwide pandemic it caused have broken Marvel Studios’ hold on the late April/early May release schedule.

Black Widow, the newest Marvel movie, has been delayed from its long-planned May 1 release date, Variety reported.

The move was inevitable. Across the globe, movie theaters are being shut down to combat the virus. The virus can spread quickly and authorities are breaking up large gatherings of people.

Early this month, No Time to Die’s release date was pushed back to November from April, with a March 31 world premiere event canceled.

Since then, a number of movies have seen their release dates delayed. The ninth installment of The Fast and the Furious series was pushed back to April 2021 from May 2020. At this point, a movie can’t be shown in a theater in many markets, including the U.S., France, China, and Italy.

Regardless, the announcement is an end of an era for Marvel.

Marvel, now owned by Walt Disney Co., began producing its own movies starting with 2008’s Iron Man. Originally Quantum of Solace was scheduled for the May 2, 2008, date in the U.S. but was delayed. Iron Man grabbed the date and things weren’t quite the same after that.

In 2009, Marvel had no films. But since 2010 (starting with Iron Man 2), Marvel characters have dominated the last weekend of April or first weekend in May. That includes 2014 (when Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 had the date).

In 2016, Warner Bros. initially challenged Marvel for the first weekend of May date with Batman v Superman. Marvel then said it’d come out with the third Captain America movie (later Captain America: Civil War) at the same time. Warners retreated and brought out Batman v Superman on Easter weekend.

In 2018 and 2019, Marvel moved up two Avengers movies (Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame) to the last weekend in April

All of this is a reminder of how real-life overcomes entertainment. As stated before, Marvel/Disney had no real choice. Regardless, it’s the end of an era.

Documentary about Craig 007 films in the offing

Daniel Craig in Skyfall

A documentary about the Daniel Craig era of James Bond films has been produced, it was announced at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

MoMA held an event where the documentary was referenced.

Marcos Kontze, webmaster of the James Bond Brasil website, published a post on Twitter that included a short video.

According to that post, the documentary titled Being James Bond would include Craig’s screen test for 2006’s Casino Royale, the first of his five Bond films. The Arts Commented blog had another post on Twitter that said the event included a short clip from the documentary.

There were no details how soon the documentary would be available.

Bond 25 questions: The potpourri edition

New No Time to Die poster

We’ve had a few No Time to Die developments recently. Naturally, the blog has a couple of questions.

Will the gunbarrel be at the beginning?

Hard to say, but this week’s Cary Fukunaga video suggests it’s a strong possibility.

“The white dots on the screen…the adrenaline starts pumping,” Fukunaga’s voiceover says, accompanying the Daniel Craig gunbarrel from SPECTRE. “Settle in and get ready for a ride.”

That sounds like a description of the first 20 Bond films when the gunbarrel was at the start of the movie. Things got changed up with 2006’s Casino Royale, which began a new, rebooted timeline. The gunbarrel appeared at the end of the pre-titles sequence.

Then, for Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, the gunbarrel appeared at the end of the film. There was some pushback from fans. That generated pushback to the pushback where other fans questioned how dare fans question the artistry of the films. The comments section of this 2012 post demonstrates both sides of the argument.

The gunbarrel was back at the start of SPECTRE, although it wasn’t the best executed, including having Daniel Craig swinging his arm wildly showing he’s holding a gun.

In any case, Fukunaga at least sounds more appreciative of the gunbarrel logo than his Bond directing predecessor Sam Mendes. We’ll see.

Why didn’t Scott Z. Burns get a script credit?

Supposedly, the ace Hollywood “script doctor” in early 2019 was on his way to save No Time to Die’s script. Certainly, The Playlist website made it sound that way in a February 2019 story.

To give credit where credit is due, The Playlist was the first to report Burns participating in the writing of the film. Saving the script? Not so much. Burns ended up not getting a credit while Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, director Fukunaga and scribe Phoebe Waller-Bridge did.

Ultimately, script credits are decided by the Writers Guild of America. The rules are a bit complex but in general favor the early writers over those who rewrite. There is also a cap on the number of credits available. In this case, Burns had no seat when the WGA musical chairs of writing credits ended.