M:I accelerates its output amid longer 007 film gaps

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

The facts are clear. The importance is a little fuzzy.

So, producer-star Tom Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie intend to do two Mission: Impossible film back to back. The movies would come out in 2021 and 2022.

If that works out, that means there will have been four M:I films (all directed by McQuarrie) from 2015 to 2022. There will have been two 007 films (2015’s SPECTRE and 2020’s Bond 25) coming out during that same period.

The M:I development makes sense in that Cruise will turn 60 in 2022. While a fantastic physical specimen for a middle-aged guy, the clock is ticking on Cruise’s time as a movie action hero.

The two McQuarrie-directed M:I films (Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and Mission: Impossible-Fallout) have been big hits. So it’s a natural studio Paramount could secure his services for two more movies. On top of everything else, McQuarrie and Cruise obviously get along.

Once upon a time, something similar was envisioned for the Bond series. John Logan was hired to write Bond 24 (later titled SPECTRE) and Bond 25. Skyfall director Sam Mendes, in a 2014 interview, said that he came back to helm SPECTRE after plans were ditched to do Bond 24 and 25 back to back. Star Daniel Craig had vetoed the idea.

Bond fans have a mixed reaction to this. There are the usual social media posts about Bond is superior, Bond is forever, Mission: Impossible will be done when Cruise is done, etc.

But there are also gibes (such as this one by the author of a Bond-related book) calling Cruise a “teeny man.” Cruise is listed at 5-foot-7 on IMDB.com while current 007 star Daniel Craig towers above him by an entire three inches, according to that same website. Craig is no runt but he’s definitely the shortest Bond in a series cast with tall actors.

(Historical note: Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Eon Productions, had his early successes as a producer after he and his then-partner Irving Allen signed 5-foot-6 1/4 Alan Ladd as a star.)

The M:I news hardly means the end of Bond. And nobody is seriously making that argument.

At the same time, M:I has been showing more energy (perhaps because of the aforementioned ticking clock). On the Bond side? It star, Craig, and lead producer, Barbara Broccoli, wanted to do other things after SPECTRE. “Everybody’s a bit tired,” Craig said during a 2016 appearance.

As I said at the beginning: The importance of all this is fuzzy. M:I will do what it has to do (with the “teeny man” having a BIG say). The Bond series will do what it wants to do. Unlike other franchises, Bond is not totally controlled by a studio and the one studio involved (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) a weak industry player.

McQuarrie to direct 2 M:I films back to back, Variety says

Mission: Impossible-Fallout poster

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Christopher McQuarrie has agreed to direct two more Mission: Impossible movies for Paramount, Variety reported and film them back to back,  citing people familiar with the situation it didn’t identify.

McQuarrie wrote and directed the last two installments in the Tom Cruise series, 2015’s Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and Mission: Impossibl-Fallout. Both were hits, with the latter addressing loose ends from previous M:I adventures.

The decision to film two films at once, with McQuarrie again writing and directing is  “to take advantage of the popularity of the series,” wrote Variety’s Justin Kroll. The first would be out in 2021, the second the following year, Variety said.

Cruise, who turns 57 in July, also is committed to the two movies, according to Variety.

In 2012, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced John Logan had been hired to write Bond 24 and Bond 25. The announcement occurred after the release of Skyfall, the first 007 film to generate $1 billion in global box office.

Star Daniel Craig vetoed the idea of making two Bond films back to back. Bond 24, later titled SPECTRE, came out in the fall of 2015. Bond 25 is scheduled to be released in February 2020.

Other franchises, though, have done back to back productions. Marvel Studios took that approach with Avengers: Infinity War, released in 2018, and Avengers: Endgame, scheduled for release this spring.

UPDATE Jan. 15: Both McQuarrie and Cruise confirmed the news on social media.

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The Spy Command marks its 10th anniversary

Today marks the 10th anniversary of The Spy Command.

It has been a long journey. Initially, the blog was a spinoff of a website (Her Majesty’s Secret Servant) that’s no longer online.

It took a few months for the blog to find its own voice, its own point of view.

Yet it did. The blog’s main reason for being has been to apply some journalistic principles to a fan endeavor.

The blog is a hobby. But it also keeps track of what has been said and revisits whether that’s occurred.

Some James Bond fans don’t like that. They want to celebrate all things 007. If there have been inconsistencies, they don’t care.

That’s fine. There are plenty of sites on the internet.

But here, the basic idea is to keep track of what is happening now while providing context of how it compares with the past.

One example: What really happened with the script of Quantum of Solace? which examined various contradictory accounts of how the 22nd James Bond film came together.

In hindsight, a better title would have been “Whatever happened to Joshua Zetumer?”

Zetumer was the scribe who was doing rewrites during filming. His contributions were noted in stories published while the movie was in production. Examples include a story on the Rotten Tomatoes website as well as pieces on the MI6 James Bond website and the Commander Bond website.

However, Zetumer’s is a forgotten man these days. That’s because of  later stories quoting Daniel Craig how he and Quantum director Marc Forster rewrote the movie during production. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend, I suppose.

Another example: A 2015 post, A SPECTRE reality check, noted how, in 2012, Eon said the SPECTRE organization was passe and that Quantum was much better than SPECTRE in the 21st century. All that changed, of course, once the rights to SPECTRE were secured from the Kevin McClory estate in 2013.

Finally, more recently, the blog documented (so far) the writing process of Bond 25 complete with various contradictions.

Paul Baack (1957-2017) and the Spy Commander in 2013.

Origins

The blog was the idea of Paul Baack (1957-2017), one of the co-founders of Her Majesty’s Secret Servant. He wanted HMSS to have a presence in between issues of the “e-magazine,” which specialized in producing magazine-length stories on James Bond and related topics.

Paul informed HMSS contributors about the blog and said it was all of theirs.

I was the one who took him up on it.

Initially, I was skeptical. But, after a few posts, I got hooked. It was an outlet that quickly became one of my main hobbies.

Over time, I took it over. By 2009, I was the primary contributor. By 2011, the blog established its own voice separate from HMSS. By 2014, the blog was totally on its own after HMSS went offline. On Feb. 8, 2015, the blog took the new name, The Spy Command.

So much different. Yet so much the same.

Since its debut, there have been three James Bond films released (Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and SPECTRE); three Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible films; and a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (which I long thought would never happen).

Blog Highlights

The blog tries on occasion to get into the business side of the entertainment industry. One of my personal favorite series of posts was a three-part series about the involvement of Film Finances Inc. with Dr. No.

Film Finances supplies “completion” bonds to ensure movies can finish production. The company ended up taking control of Dr. No during post production.

It’s an episode that hasn’t been written much outside of a book Film Finances published about its work with Dr. No, which reproduced many documents. One example was a memo showing Dr. No fell a half-day behind schedule on its first day.

Photocopy of the title page of Richard Maibaum’s 1961 draft of Thunderball

Some other personal favorite posts include those about scripts for Bond movies. In some cases, like this 2015 post about You Only Live Twice, dealt with drafts similar to the final film with a few significant differences. Others, like this 2017 post about a Bond 17 treatment dealt with stories that never saw the light of day.

Perhaps the most enjoyable was an examination of three Thunderball scripts, including Jack Whittingham’s first draft in 1960 and Richard Maibaum’s first try in 1961.

On this 10th anniversary, my thoughts keep going back to Paul Baack, who died last year. Last month was what would have been his 61st birthday. He gave me the chance to contribute. After I had taken over, he always provided encouragement.

If there is an after life, I hope Paul is pleased with the result.

I’d also like to thank, one more time, J. Kingston Pierce’s Rap Sheet blog. The Rap Sheet had some kind words in 2009 about a series this blog did about Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary. That, and other feedback, indicated there was interest in what this blog was doing.

Finally, two replies to posts were particularly satisfying.

In 2013, the blog had a post about how the current Hawaii Five-0 series was remaking an episode of the original series titled Hookman. The post noted how a CBS press release left off the names of the original writers, Glen Olson and Rod Baker. The post raised the question whether they’d get a credit.

Baker wrote a reply. “Thank you for pointing out that Glen Olson’s name and my name were left out of the CBS press release as the writers of the original Hawaii Five-0 ‘Hookman’ episode.. The Writer’s Guild contacted CBS today and that omission was corrected immediately.”

In July, the blog wrote about Adrian Samish, who had been an ABC executive and later one of producer Quinn Martin’s key lieutenants. It’s part of a series dubbed “unsung figures of television.”

The post got this reply: “There are two sides to every story… I am Adrian Samish’s granddaughter and it’s been nice to read some kinder comments about him, especially since he isn’t here to defend himself or tell his side of the story. Thank you for writing this.”

Well, enough sentiment. Bond 25 and other spy entertainment topics are present to be analyzed and written about.

What next for Henry Cavill?

“We want that cape back!” “Mr. Warner” said.

Henry Cavill may be turning in his Superman cape after “Mr. Warner” (Warner Bros.) decided to go in a new direction for its movies based on DC Comics characters. At least The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that Cavill is out. Neither side confirmed the development to the entertainment news outlet.

Cavill, 35, played Superman in three movies, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. When not portraying the hero, Cavill has moonlighted playing spies: Napoleon Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Tom Cruise’s adversary in Mission: Impossible-Fallout. And, of course, he’s a perennial name in the “Who Will Be the Next James Bond?” sweepstakes. He screen tested for Bond in his 20s for Casino Royale.

Assuming THR is correct, what’s next for the Britis actor who often plays Americans? He’s part of a Netflix project, The Witcher. But does he have prospects for other franchises?

Warner Bros. perhaps hoped U.N.C.L.E. might become a franchise. Cavill stepped into the Solo role when Tom Cruise took a pass to concentrate instead on 2015’s Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation.

That M:I film opened just two weeks before U.N.C.L.E. and was a major factor in the latter under-performing at the box office. There’s occasional chatter about doing an U.N.C.L.E. sequel despite that. Still, that would seem a long shot.

Based on the ending of Mission: Impossible-Fallout, it would seem a Cavill appearance in a seventh M:I film is unlikely. Which brings up to the inevitable Bond discussion.

Despite the fact there’s no vacancy (Daniel Craig is to star in Bond 25), the British press loves to pose the question of future Bond possibilities. And British bookies love to take bets, generating still more publicity.

Anecdotally, I’ve encountered people who love Cavill and others who decry him as a block of wood. Regardless, given the current pace of 007 film production, who knows when Cavill would even have a chance?

That’s show business, I guess.

UPDATE (12:45 p.m. New York time): Cavill’s agent says not so fast.

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UPDATE II (1:05 p.m. New York time): The io9 Gizmodo site received the Warner Bros. statement about Cavil. “While no decisions have been made regarding any upcoming Superman films, we’ve always had great respect for and a great relationship with Henry Cavill, and that remains unchanged.”

Doesn’t appear to say a whole lot.

 

Bond 25 questions: Craig’s new movie edition

Time to hit the panic button yet?

So Daniel Craig has a new movie before Bond 25. A movie that will be filming the month before Bond 25’s scheduled start of production.

You know the drill. The blog, as usual, has some questions.

What are the chances of a delay in starting Bond 25 production? Given your leading man is starring in a mystery movie titled Knives Out, probably 90 percent or better.

If Knives Out were a TV movie, Craig could probably squeeze it in before Bond 25’s scheduled start date of Dec. 3. But, by all accounts, it’s a theatrical film. It may be a modest production, but it doesn’t seem likely Craig could complete Knives Out before Dec. 3.

What are the chances this pushes back Bond 25’s fall 2019 release date? That’s an entirely different question, at least for now.

Mission: Impossible-Fallout still met its July release date despite star Tom Cruise breaking an ankle. The production schedule was changed and the crew was kept on the payroll (so they wouldn’t take other jobs while Cruise recovered). The Christopher McQuarrie-directed movie was still doing work until virtually the last minute. But it still met the release date. That’s a lot of off-screen drama.

However, Bond 25 doesn’t have a director at the moment, much less a McQuarrie. Until it acquires one (after Danny Boyle resigned from the project last month), it’s difficult to say what will happen with the release date. It’s a Mr. Obvious observation, but until you have a director, you don’t have a movie.

So what is Daniel Craig thinking? The fact he accepted another movie suggests there’s no way he thinks Bond 25 will be ready to go by Dec. 3. But the blog doesn’t have a mind reading machine. Also, there’s no telling what the state of Bond 25’s script is after scribe John Hodge followed Boyle out the door.

What’s your verdict? No sense hitting the panic button yet. At the same time, if you’re wearing rose-colored glasses, you should take them off.

‘Hunt’ for Bond Revisited: More M:I Connections to 007

Mission: Impossible-Fallout poster

By the by, there are spoilers if you haven’t seen Mission: Impossible-Fallout. For that matter, there are spoilers if you’ve never seen the 007 films cited.

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has returned in Mission: Impossible – Fallout while 007’s next film is scheduled for a 2019 release.

Taking advantage of  Bond’s absence in theaters, many reviewers said Hunt has taken the place of Bond and criticized 2015’s SPECTRE.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation adapted Bond-like settings and scenes in the story. But  Mission: Impossible – Fallout is even more Bond inspired. It has, the escapist tone of the days of Pierce Brosnan, just with a little more grit.

Tom Cruise and director-screenwriter Christopher MacQuarrie redoubled their efforts and made a more spectacular film than its predecessors. The last two M:I films are similar to how Thunderball and You Only Live Twice compared with the three first Eon 007 movies, Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger.

In M:I-Fallout, Hunt again faces off against Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), who — like Blofeld’s SPECTRE — is the author of his pain. Lane was the main antagonist of M:I – Rogue Nation.

‘The Girl or the Mission’

The film’s starts in Berlin, where Hunt and Benji (Simon Pegg) pose as buyers of three atomic warheads. Their cover is blown and Luther (Ving Rhames) is captured. Hunt makes a risky decision: to save his friend. That leaves the case with the plutonium unattended and stolen.

This is similar to GoldenEye, where Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) asks Bond to choose between “the girl or the mission” while General Ourumov (Gottfried John) held Natalya (Izabella Scorupco) at gunpoint. Finally, Bond saved Natalya by gunning the Russian general down.

It’s also similar to Skyfall. M orders Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) to shoot Patrice (who stole a hard drive with data of infiltrated agents). Hunt makes a “judgment call” by shooting Luther to distract the man holding him at gunpoint and save his life. The “fallout” of M’s and Hunt’s action determines the principal threat of both films.

Also in the Berlin scene. we have another familiar Bond meme: a remote controlled car, a function available in the cars driven by Pierce Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day.

HALO Jump

Coming next a HALO jump as featured in Tomorrow Never Dies. Although this time, it’s a much riskier scene when Hunt and his teammate August Walker (Henry Cavill) face a storm during the operation and Walker is hit by lightning, losing consciousness.

In a similar situation to Moonraker and Quantum of Solace, Hunt has to do a little skydiving to reach Walker, reconnect his oxygen and deploy Walker’s parachute, as well as his own.

Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson, from Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) returns and saves Hunt’s life after a cruel bathroom fight with one John Lark, the man he had to impersonate, warning him not to complete his mission of meeting the “White Widow” (Vanessa Kirby) to exchange the missing plutonium.

They walk across a mirrored and red-lighted room that reminds us to Die Another Day’s Álvarez Clinic in Cuba. Ilsa tells him that he’ll be a dead man if he meets the woman because Lark has a contract on him. It’s known he’s meeting the White Widow that night, so they’ll kill him on sight. In a similar context in which Bond met Severine in Skyfall, both heroes manage to beat all the assailants and escape alive.

In exchange of the plutonium spheres, the White Widow and her accomplices want Solomon Lane, who’s been transferred to a prison to another in France. Hunt forgoes the originally conceived plan (which dealt with killing every witness) and pushes the prison van into the Seine, having Luther and Benji extract Lane trough the water, the same method in which Franz Sánchez escaped in 1989’s Licence to Kill.

The breakout of Lane pits the French police against Hunt and a chase ensues through the streets of Paris, on motorbike and then on a small BMW, as he is chased by Ilsa who has been given orders from MI6 to terminate Lane.

Not only there’s a particular shot as the BMW makes a backwards spin above some steps which is very reminiscent to A View to A Kill, where Bond (Roger Moore) chased a parachuting May Day (Grace Jones) in a Renault 14, but we have Ilsa trying to do the job of any 00 agent: terminate someone who is a threat for national security.

Mole Revealed

Hunt and his team –- and the captive Lane — reunite with IMF Secretary Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) in a safe house, much as Bond did at the beginning of Quantum of Solace with Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) in Siena.

Stunt teased by Tom Cruise on Instagram earlier this year.

Walker is revealed as a mole and a shootout ensues, breaking Lane free again. As a result of this confrontation, Hunley is badly hurt by Walker and dies showing his trust to Hunt, much like M at the end of Skyfall.

Just like in the 23rd Bond movie, in pursuit of Walker, Hunt also holds from a scaffold in the bottom of the elevator his enemy is taking, as Bond did in Shanghai when chasing Patrice.

The film’s climax takes place in Kashmir, where Lane and Walker attempt to detonate a nuclear bomb using the plutonium spheres that have fallen into their hands. Ilsa and Benji fight Lane, Hunt goes for Walker.

A long helicopter chase ensues and that includes a few references to SPECTRE’s helicopter fight in Mexico, with Bond fighting Marco Sciarra and the pilot, pushing them away and taking control of the vehicle.

Just like Blofeld at the end of the same film, Hunt and Walker both survive the helicopter crash.

Showdown

This takes us to the final showdown between Hunt and Walker atop the cliff of a mountain, as the remains of the one of the helicopter’s cockpit hang loosely of a wire.

A shot of ice caps falling close to both men looks greatly inspired by Die Another Day, in the scene where a clinging Bond faced the power of the Icarus satellite beam in Iceland.

While this scene overall may be reminiscent of the confrontation between Hunt and rogue IMF agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) in Mission: Impossible II, but there are some links to the antenna fight between 007 and Trevelyan in GoldenEye.

In the beginning of 1995 film, Trevelyan gets half of his face burned by a chemical explosion in Arkhangelsk. In a similar way, Walker gets an acid fluid from the helicopter straight into his face, leaving him badly scarred side. At the end of GoldenEye, Bond and his former friend fight in a small platform at high altitude as both attempt to make each other fall to the vacuum.

A clapperboard from Mission: Impossible-Fallout

Finally, Bond lets Trevelyan fall and the villain, agonizing, is finally terminated when the whole antenna structure crushes him. In Walker’s case, as he’s about to get Hunt, the IMF agent forces the wire over him and the hook gets impaled into his face, making him fall to his death.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is, of all the M:I movies, the closest to a James Bond film. While some people may feel offended for the way they ripped the Bond archive in more than a way this time, I’ll recognize the great taste Mr. Cruise has and the respect he had for 007’s legacy during his interviews promoting the movie.

Mission: Impossible-Fallout: A film Bruce Geller might love

Mission: Impossible-Fallout poster

As I watched Mission: Impossible-Fallout, I kept wondering what M:I creator Bruce Geller would think. My guess: I think he would approve.

The best episodes of the original 1966-73 series featured slick plans devised by Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) and Jim Phelps (Peter Graves). While the plans were brilliantly devised, the Impossible Missions Force would be forced to improvise when things went wrong or surprises occurred.

Previous Mission: Impossible films, which debuted in 1996, have this same feature. But in the newest installment, IMF leader Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has to improvise more often, more quickly than ever before.

The new film also has a personal angle (an apsect Geller wouldn’t have been fond of) — something the 007 film series has featured constantly since 1989. But for M:I-Fallout, the personal angle doesn’t overwhelm the proceedings.

As a result, Hunt isn’t out for revenge (a la Licence to Kill, GoldenEye, Die Another Day and other 007 films). No readings of poems (a la M in Skyfall). No villain with a “personal” connection to the hero (SPECTRE’s new version of Blofeld).

The trailers for Mission: Impossible-Fallout have emphasized that evoke set pieces from 007 movies (Licence to Kill and Tomorrow Never Dies). Some fans complain that’s ripping off Bond.

But, in the end, they’re only set pieces and don’t take up that much screen time. What’s more, there are twists involved that weren’t shown in the trailers.

Mission: Impossible-Fallout still is mostly its own thing. It tips its hat to the original show via a Lalo Schifrin-inspired score by Lorne Balfe. It’s not the first time the movie series has embraced Schifrin. Joe Kreamer, composer for 2015’s Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, also weaved Schifrin into his score. Balfe does it his own way. (CLICK HERE for a feature story Jon Burlingame did for Variety about Balfe’s work.)

Meanwhile, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, who also worked on M:I Rogue Nation, keeps things at a frantic pace. The movie has a 147-minute running time. That’s almost as long as SPECTRE’s 148 minutes. But M:I-Fallout, overall, moves more quickly. At the same time, McQuarrie’s movie isn’t just set pieces strung together.

As a fan of the original TV show, I still don’t care for how the first movie in the Cruise series made Jim Phelps into a traitor. At this point, I just have to rationalize the film series is an alternate universe.

At 56, you’ve got to wonder how much longer Cruise can keep the Mission: Impossible film franchise going. But that’s something most viewers won’t think about until after they’re headed home from Mission: Impossible-Fallout. GRADE: A-Minus.