We hadn’t been expecting this, had we? Just a few short months after committing to direct the 25th James Bond movie, and equally not long before shooting is scheduled to commence, auteur Danny Boyle has walked away from the biggest project of his entire career. In a statement, Eon productions head-honcho’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, plus 007 himself Daniel Craig, cited the good old ‘creative differences’ as the cause, giving no further details. The rumour mill as *to* those reasons is now in overdrive but the real question is this…
Should we have seen this coming?
Let’s be honest, making a James Bond film is probably harder than it should be, even when you factor in all of the production costs, timetables and realistic issues of bringing to bear a $250 million budget picture in the biggest and longest-running cinematic franchise in movie history. If it isn’t Craig facing down press hounds who have no idea what sarcasm means and taking ages to decide whether he wants to play the part again, it’s legal problems which have, in various ways, haunted Eon and Bond for around three decades now. If it isn’t legal problems, it’s script issues or, as we are now seeing, the search for a director willing to tackle Craig’s (apparently) last roll of the dice as 007. It’s already been three years since the last movie and now there’s a chance the gap between Spectre and Bond 25 could be five years instead of four. Everything Bond-based takes (diamonds are) forever.
It wasn’t always this way. Cast your mind back to the days when Cubby Broccoli, the charming producing impresario who wrangled to adapt Ian Fleming’s hard-boiled, pulpy 50s spy thrillers to the big screen, was in charge and the frequency of Bond movies caused far less of a wait. These were, admittedly, different cinematic times – the 60s, when Bond films were pumped out in some cases year on year, but beyond that beyond one exception The Spy Who Loved Me, no Bond movie until the late 80s took more than two years to appear. Even when the series overcame knotty legal issues in the early 90s before the advent of Pierce Brosnan’s tenure, his run of pictures into the early 2000s mostly held to the once every two year pattern.
Granted, many of these critically were not great pieces of cinema, particularly the efforts across the 80s. Yet they entertained Bond fans the world over, always making a profit on production, and keeping the 007 flame alive. When Casino Royale in 2006 brought not just huge box office returns but critical acclaim to the franchise, off the back of Craig’s casting as an edgy, neo-Fleming Bond riffing off the source material, hopes were high that 007 would not just become a regular fixture again but maintain a level of dramatic quality that belied the casual roots of the Cubby years. The failure of Quantum of Solace in 2008, crippled by a Writers Strike and too heavy a reliance on the Jason Bourne franchise (by way of an IKEA production design stop), kickstarted where we have ended up today. A new Bond movie every four years. In the last decade, we have seen only two James Bond pictures.
Now, admittedly, both Skyfall and Spectre between them made approaching $2 billion dollars, more than probably the entirety of the 70s and 80s Bond pictures combined, so from a fiscal standpoint the Bond franchise has nothing to worry about, but fans are starting to feel starved of 007’s attention and, the simple reality is, they aren’t getting any younger.
When you look at much of the Bond fanbase, it’s made up of—and I very much include myself in this—boys (and some girls) who never really grew up. In the Internet-starved days of four TV channels and repeats every Sunday, we were fed a regular diet of Bond movies before embracing either Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan at the movies. Young people of today are not pining for the latest 007 adventure. They’re eagerly awaiting the next Star Wars, or the newest chapter in the saga of Marvel’s ever expanding cinematic universe. Kids aren’t growing up wanting to be Bond anymore, they want to be Iron Man or Captain America or Rey and Finn. While they dream about heroes who define them, their fandoms are locked in bitter, pointless wars involving trolling directors, bullying people off social network platforms or simply descending into racist, sexist madness. It’s happening everywhere. But along the way, Bond is losing his power as an icon in a rapidly changing world.
Perhaps this isn’t merely a symptom of Eon’s production difficulties. Perhaps this is also a sign of how times are changing in terms of equality and cinema’s treatment of female characters. It was heavily rumoured that Boyle sought to recognise #MeToo in his version of Bond and if not do away with the role of the ‘Bond Girl’, then certainly reconceptualise it for a new age. This has already been happening in Craig’s tenure; Casino Royale killed the girl, in Quantum of Solace he never sleeps with her, in Skyfall it turns out essentially to be his mother, and it’s telling that when Spectre tries to give us a much clearer, more recognisable Bond Girl figure of old, she loses something in the character stakes. Bond has already started to outgrow many of the tropes which made the older and original films and struck such a chord with audiences of the day.
Again, James Bond does not quite seem to know where he fits in the modern cinematic landscape.
Should we, then, have seen Danny Boyle stepping away coming? Is 007, despite his strides as a character under Daniel Craig and the franchises’ metamorphosis away from the cartoonish buoyancy of the 20th century, unable truly to exist in a modern paradigm? Is Boyle’s departure a sign that Bond looks destined to be a franchise without the slickness of Marvel or the transcendent pull of Star Wars, one which may have to fight to remain relevant and iconic?
Let’s see. We’re in danger right now, however, of other people doing it better.