This year No Time to Die will mark the end of Daniel Craig’s run as Ian Fleming’s James Bond. So in preparation, it’s time to look back on his era as the famous secret agent. Ever since he burst onto the scene after Pierce Brosnan stepped down, Craig is accepted as the definitive Bond next to the late Sean Connery (Rest in Peace), and it’s easy to see why. The down to earth approach in counteracting terrorism has won over worldwide audiences even when the suspension of disbelief is pushed off a cliff. There are many ups and downs through the four films under his belt, so let’s start this retrospective with the first in the series, 2006’s…
Following the critical disappointment of Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan received a phone call from producer Barbara Broccoli confirming his end as 007. In a recent interview, he reflects on both the experience and Broccoli’s decision to move on:
“There’s no regret. I do not let regret come into my world…It just leads to more misery and more regrets. Bond is the gift that keeps giving and has allowed me to have a wonderful career. Once you’re branded as a Bond, it’s with you for ever, so you better make peace with it and you’d better understand that when you walk through those doors and pick up the mantle of playing James Bond.”
Broccoli and co-producer Michael G. Wilson recall the situation Eon Productions was going through at the time after complimenting Brosnan’s understanding of her decision. They are quoted in the book Nobody Does It Better: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of James Bond:
“We did discuss it with Pierce, and he was gracious about it, and he’s a great guy. He was a great Bond and he did four wonderful films with us. We then sat down to figure out what we were going to do with Bond 21. Michael and I felt at the end of Die Another Day that we had sort of taken bond along a sort of fantastical journey and that we had kind of reached the point of no return in terms of a little bit too much CGI: the invisible car and things like that.” – Barbara Broccoli, co-owner of Eon Productions.
“…We’d just read the newest draft of the treatment – and Barbara said to me, ‘What do you want to do?’ We had just won the lawsuit and now we owned Casino Royale and I said, ‘I’d just like to start all over again. I’d just like to make Casino Royale and clear the whole thing out.’ She said, ‘Exactly what I want to do. Let’s do it.’…We just started with Sony and went over to see Amy Pascal, then head of Sony. She said, ‘Oh it’s going to be great working with you.’ You know, she’s very enthusiastic. ‘So when are we going to have Casino Royale? Who are you going to have as Q and Moneypenny?’ ‘They’re not going to be in it.’ ‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Well, what about the girl?’ We said, ‘Girl dies in the end.’ She said, ‘This is a Bond film?’ ‘Yeah, it’s a Bond film.’ ‘Oh my god, no, no, no.’ I said, ‘This is what we’ve got to do, because we’ve just gotten too fanciful with the invisible cars and all that stuff. We’ve got to bring it back down to Earth.’ And to their credit, the studios all went along with us, both Sony and MGM. Our feeling was that if we kept going the way we were going, it was going to kill off the franchise. The same thing happened with Moonraker. We stuck with Roger, but we just couldn’t keep going with that. We had to change direction, because it was getting ridiculous. So we had to change, but Moonraker was the most successful picture, and the next pictures weren’t as successful. But it was an important change.” – Michael G. Wilson, co-owner of Eon Productions.
This is the only Craig film to be based on any of the books as Eon spent years trying to re-acquire the rights after several adaptations were made from numerous studios like the 1967 satire starring David Niven. Interestingly enough, the negotiation for the rights from Sony led to MGM relinquishing their portion of film rights to Spider-Man, which eventually blossomed into its own trilogy directed by Sam Raimi, followed by a reboot and a collaboration with Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. At the time, Craig’s casting proved controversial. The late Roger Moore recounts the details in his book Bond on Bond: Reflections on 50 Years of James Bond Movies:
“The day before Daniel was confirmed as 007, Barbara Broccoli emailed me to tell me of their choice. I was delighted – and it was my birthday too. However, it seemed, at first, that I was in the minority. The British Press all but vilified him: too short, too blond, not good-looking enough, and they took great joy in mocking Daniel for wearing a life jacket on board the military launch that brought him speeding up the Thames to a press conference with waiting journalists. I had never experienced such a massive hate campaign. Websites were set up demanding Pierce Brosnan be reinstated and peddling very negative comments and opinions about Daniel. I felt hugely sorry for Daniel, as, although he would have turned a blind eye to them, he would have been very aware of what was being said…The doubters were soon silenced – and many were converted.”
Directed by Goldeneye’s Martin Campbell and written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis, this is regarded as not only the best in Craig’s lineup, but also one of the best bond films of all time. Does that still stand fifteen years later?
Taking place after earning his double-o status, James Bond (Daniel Craig) must prove to M (Judi Dench) that he is both a capable agent and a smart poker player by gambling millions at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. His target opponent is the global terrorist financer Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) who’s trying to pay back his debts. Along the way, he gets acquainted with the accountant Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and they try to survive the stakes on and off the poker table.
This can be described as the anti-Die Another Day in how many tropes this origin story scraps. The reliance on computer effects is swapped for genuine stunts like the opening parkour chase that rivals the best of Bruce Lee. They’re so real that watching the behind the scenes features is just as entertaining as the movie itself. Especially when an automobile crash won a world record for flipping seven times in one take. The gadgets are locked away in exchange for down to earth weapons like bombs and guns. Who needs a laser watch when a machete or a few drops of poison can get the job done?
The one liners are still around to develop the chemistry between Bond and Vesper, who is the most layered bond girl in the whole series (sorry Honor Blackman). She’s rarely treated as a sex object down to being fully clothed in a shower scene with Bond after witnessing his daily assassinations. Green and Craig keep their connection alive even when bickering with one another at the start, which makes their turn around more believable given the characters are just starting their careers. And just when you think the honeymoon will never end, the last twenty minutes pulls a straight flush on the blueprints that have remained untouched since 1962.
There’s also the villain, who doesn’t need a giant satellite to give Bond a proctology. Just a simple motivation to pay off his debts as drops of blood seep from his eye. Despite his quiet mannerisms and pitiful nature, he’s still threatening when putting Bond’s heirs to the test with a swing of a rope. It shows that anyone from a commoner to a business man can become this kind of person in the real world. If that doesn’t catch your attention, then the background details on repeat viewings will offer something new that connects to the bigger picture. But what’s all this without a compelling score? Courtesy of David Arnold, the music invigorates the mellow cool downs and high octane chases on foot and behind the wheel. Trombones and French horns get to extend their chops as numerous duck and cover shootouts take place in distinct locations. This is easily one of the best scores that can even compete with the Goldeneye video game soundtrack.
Then there’s of course Craig himself as the agent, bringing out a vulnerable side behind the ego and alcohol consumption. The theme song You Know My Name, performed by Chris Cornell, establishes that he knows how expendable he is to MI6 despite all of his skills, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. He is flawed at the start, letting his license to kill go to his head. It creates conflict with everyone around him as they try to save him from himself when things don’t go his way. But he’s so dedicated that he will even ignore a woman who wants to sleep with him if he gets the information he wants. There’s a sense of honor and duty taking center stage, but also a hint of fighting himself following an incident where he washes the blood of his enemies off his tuxedo. They say ambiguity leaves room to speculate about a person than an actual backstory, but this adds a strong lore to this famous agent. While the James Bond formula hasn’t tried to fix what wasn’t broken, cleansing it in a forest fire was a huge risk that paid off with more opportunities to expand upon a style the was ahead of it’s time in The Living Daylights.
Reading the book before revisiting the film, it’s amazing how the material stays loyal while adapting to a new era, and not just by bringing Dench over from the Brosnan movies. This was the first Craig film to release in a post 9/11 society. Much of the aftermath can be felt with one action sequence taking place in an airport and the villain using his money to finance terrorism. Changing the card game from Baccarat to Texas Hold’em highlights how the poker boom of 2003 had a huge influence on pop culture. The card game might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the way the directing conveys bluffing between players and their reactions to what their opponents are hiding is what keeps it from becoming stale. Oh, and there’s also millions of dollars at stake that could possibly fund terrorism. It’s more about what goes on in the background rather than just guessing who has the bigger hand. Other than a few minor changes for the sake of the medium, this is an adaptation that stands on equal ground with its book counterpart after Eon Productions spent a long time in a legal battle for their own property.
Casino Royale is a perfect adaptation of the novel, a stalwart reboot, an exciting action experience, and still one of the best Bond films of all time fifteen years later. The down to earth setting is more relatable, each gritty action sequence has something different to offer, the Bond girl is more than just eye candy, the poker scenes know how to keep viewers on edge, the villain is both sympathetic and intimidating, You Know My Name is one of the best theme songs in the franchise, David Arnold’s score injects the necessary intensity and calmness when needed, and Daniel Craig cements himself with his performance capturing both a vulnerable and hardened agent still learning the ropes. You could say this follows the Bond tradition by starting each new era with the best outing, but that’s not a bad thing if you want to see what separates each actor from one another. If you’re looking for the classic formula, you’ll sadly be disappointed with all the subversions. But if you were put off by Die Another Day’s fantastical direction, then allow this to bring you back to reality and assure you that this is a promising start to a new era of Ian Fleming’s immortal character.
Pros: memorable theme song, authentic stunts, tense poker scenes, down to earth setting, quiet yet intimidating villain, David Arnold’s score, layered Bond girl, gritty action, Daniel Craig
Quantum of Solace
While it was beaten by Happy Feet on its opening weekend, Casino Royale’s reputation lived on through word of mouth. Its domestic grossing of $167 million has been dwarfed in the coming years, but considering that it wasn’t expected to make more than $100 million, it was a huge success. Its worldwide grossing ended up with more than $606 million. There was even speculation that Craig would receive an Oscar nomination for his role. Alas, the Oscars did not yet see action films as high art and Craig was snubbed.
Otherwise, Eon Productions moved forward with a direct sequel: something that wasn’t common in a series of self-contained adventures. This resulted in 2008’s Quantum of Solace. A script was written by Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, but it was tossed by the time Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction) was hired to direct. Forster stated that he was not a fan of James Bond which cast a shadow on the film. To make matters worse, Hollywood was in the middle of a writer’s strike and thus couldn’t hire anyone to finish the script. Two hours prior to the 100 day protest, Haggis, Forster and Michael G. Wilson had an incomplete script, and Craig took it upon himself to rewrite several scenes with Forster. Haggis recounts his feelings when Forster tossed his material after Eon Productions persuaded him to return:
“When I started the script, I started almost completely over, because I had a different idea, and we just weren’t as in sync on that one. I was taking bigger risks for me and the character, and I don’t think they were comfortable with it. In fact, during production I got a call from Marc Forster, who said, ‘It’s going really, really well, but we cut the ending.’ I said, ‘What do you mean you cut the ending?’ ‘We didn’t need it.’ ‘Well how does it resolve?’ And he said, ‘No, no, it’s gonna be great.’ ‘How’s it gonna be great if you cut the ending?’ My idea was that Vesper had a child with the other guy, and that’s why she betrayed Bond. It wasn’t just blackmail; it was bigger than that. The villain had put this child in the orphanage, and Vesper just didn’t know. Bond, being an orphan himself, hunted down the child’s location, feeling he owed it to Vesper, and wanted to be sure the child was taken care of, although he never wanted anything to do with it. And with that he walked out and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ But they cut all that.”
At an hour and forty minutes long, this is the shortest film in the series and one of the most polarizing coming off its predecessor. Looking back, is it misunderstood?
Picking up shortly after Casino Royale, Bond chases down his lover’s killer and discovers that he’s part of an organization that has been living in the shadows. At the expense of M’s trust, Bond goes on a killing spree in an attempt to find out what this organization is. Along the way, he gets roped into helping Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) take down the supposed environmentalist, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) after hoarding a reservoir of water for ransom in the desert.
Not a bad setup for an ongoing story, but unfortunately after a theme song that goes in one ear and out the other, nothing new is discovered that hasn’t already been explored in Casino Royale. The idea of Bond still grieving has potential, but between Dominic Greene, who’s one of the most forgettable villains, and conflicts that are resolved insultingly quickly, the story goes around in circles without a strong motivation for the lead. It’s a good thing this is the shortest film in the series because it outstays its welcome halfway through the adventure. And following the release of Spectre, the mysterious Quantum organization is now obsolete, which takes up a good chunk of the story and action.
Speaking of which, none of that retains the perfect layout of its predecessor. Coming off the success of the Bourne films, the action utilizes fast editing and shaky cam to try something different: it doesn’t work. It’s cluttered and claustrophobic because you can’t see where everything is in between close ups that last from one to three seconds, unlike Casino Royale which relied on wide shots and long takes to immerse the viewer in the stunts. Only one shot has clear action and it’s where Craig and a runner fall through a glass ceiling. Other than that, these scenes might as well be placed in a Yahtzee cup because there’s nothing to make out from all the scattershot editing on land or sea. Ironically, the slower scenes are when the direction is level-headed and we can take in the gorgeous scenery of Italy, Austria and Bolivia.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing redeemable in this. Daniel Craig is still charismatic when he’s allowed to stretch his personality with friends and foes. Several scenes paying tribute to past films also work in the context of the story. And it does have some creative imagery such as the opera house where we’re allowed to appreciate the other worldly designs without the fast editing. But aside from that, this has very little going on and yet acts like a grand epic, obviously trying to disguise how little story there is in the long run.
There’s not much else to say about Quantum of Solace other than it’s the worst movie in the Craig era. The plot is wasted on what should’ve been an interesting dive into Bond’s pain, the villain is a complete bore, the theme song is expendable, several story elements are now obsolete, and the action is poorly edited to the point of hospitalizing the audience. Casino Royale was always going to be hard to top, but even the worst bond sequels have something memorable about them, good or bad. There’s nothing in this that warrants a second viewing outside of learning how not to make an action film. If you want to see how low a franchise can sink after a successful reboot, enter at your own risk. But if you want a true successor to Casino Royale, leave this dry well to the buzzards.
Pros: Daniel Craig, slower scenes, breathtaking scenery, opera house
Cons: Poorly edited action, boring villain, forgettable theme song, questionable writing, obsolete plot points
Despite making twice its budget, Quantum of Solace left both critics and fans disappointed. Forster reflected on the experience as one of the most rushed productions he ever worked on:
“It was tricky because we didn’t have a finished script…at that time, I wanted to pull out and Ron Howard pulled out of Angels and Demons at the time, which Sony was about to do and they sort of shut down…I thought, ‘Okay, maybe I should pull out because we don’t have a finished script.’ But everybody said, ‘No, no, we need to make a movie. The strike will be over shortly. So you can start shooting what we have, and then we’ll finish everything up.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but the time crunch…’ So ultimately I said, ‘Okay’. The idea was to make a follow-up to Casino Royale and ultimately I felt like, ‘Okay worst case scenario the strike goes on, I’ll just make it sort of like a 70’s revenge movie; very action driven, lots of cuts to hide that there’s a lot of action and a little less story. To disguise it.’ It was pretty crazy because you’re under incredible pressure, especially doing a Bond film, and especially doing the follow-up Bond film to Casino Royale which is the best book Ian Fleming ever wrote, I feel, and was the best Bond movie in a long time. The script was so good, the story was so good, it was a true emotional story especially when Vesper dies, with the sinking house—it was really well done. Then ultimately you have a follow-up with an incomplete script based on no book and you have to deliver. At the same time, we only had five or six weeks to cut the movie once we finished principal photography. You have six weeks to edit before the movie actually then goes into sound and comes out. While you’re shooting you’re also editing, and you’re trying to figure out if the story works…That was, to be honest, the least of my concerns because we were editing as we were going and the key for me was to make sure the visual effects are looking good, and to make sure the story would work. My nightmare was if the strike keeps going, we don’t have a completed story, plus we have a release date, plus we have five weeks to cut it, plus if all of this doesn’t work the film still comes out and you’re the person responsible for it. So I thought, ‘Okay, am I going to work after this?’
Campbell reflects on the production despite being busy with several projects at the time:
“I know the strike had a lot to do with it. Haggis wrote the original script, and he’s credited for it, but I know they rewrote him. He did a great job on Casino and I think it took him about five weeks. We hardly changed anything when it came in. Maybe a couple of tweaks, but a terrific, wonderful writer. I think he delivered a script to them, which I read, which I thought was pretty damn good, and for whatever reason, they rewrote it all, as often happens in those circumstances.”
“I enjoy Daniel Craig, I think he’s a damn good Bond but the film as a whole, there was a bit too much flash cutting for me. I thought Casino Royale was better. It was just like a commercial of the action. There didn’t seem to be any geography and you were wondering what the hell was going on but there you are, call me old fashioned and an old fuddy duddy!”
Needless to say, the writers strike had a profound effect and things didn’t seem to get better afterwards. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio backing Eon Productions, was experiencing financial troubles and filed for bankruptcy in 2010 due to piling debt from various factors such as slumping DVD sales. This meant that many of their films were put on hold while they searched for creditors to bail them out of the red. How bad was it? Fifty jobs were cut in their proposed bankruptcy plan. This is why there is a larger time gap between Quantum of Solace and the next film in the series, Skyfall. Originally scheduled for 2010, the financial troubles pushed it back to 2012, which coincided with the series’ 50th anniversary. In this case, the delay helped the film with a giant marketing campaign that saw Daniel Craig and the Queen of England parachuting into the London Olympics:
Eon Productions enlisted Sam Mendes: a director with film experience like American Beauty and Road to Perdition as well as stage experience with Cabaret and Oliver! Purvis and Wade returned to write the script with outside help from Oscar nominated screenwriter, John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator, Hugo). The film premiered at the Royal Albert Hall with an opening that would make a red carpet blush. Crowds turned up to celebrate the anniversary of one of the biggest franchises of all time as there seemed to be more confidence in the cast during interviews on what the film would entail. But where does that leave Skyfall itself after Quantum of Solace?
A mission involving a stolen hard-drive goes south after Bond is shot and he seemingly disappears from society. Meanwhile, M is facing pressure from the new chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (Ralph Fiennes) to resign from MI6. But when former agent turned cyberterrorist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) blows up the headquarters, Bond returns to take him down, lest Silva kills all the agents he has information on, including M.
Being an anniversary celebration, this attempts to harken back to the classic formula while keeping its own identity, and it succeeds in balancing the old and new. Several plot points ironically predicted the future in cyberterrorism being a major threat in the digital age. How the worst terrorist attacks can originate from a person’s computer, even if they’re wearing pajamas. Despite all the callbacks, the retro elements have their own spin. Q (Ben Wishaw) is a young man at odds with Bond’s “experience” as opposed to the older veteran played by Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese, evidently reversing the roles with strong generational differences that manage to get along. The mysterious Eve (Naomie Harris) starts out as a capable agent with a personality that can handle Bond’s ego over trivial matters like shaving. And in a twist of fate, it’s Judi Dench’s M that is the real bond girl despite the presence of Bérénice Marlohe’s Sévérine. Her connection with Bond is the central focus from the moment she utters the words, “Take the bloody shot!” From then on its a marvelous reflection on both her role in the franchise and her connection with Craig’s incarnation as both a boss and a parental figure, given that he is an orphan. It’s this personal journey that gives Skyfall an advantage over its predecessor, exploring the connections Bond has with characters old and new. Craig still has great chemistry with everyone around him, with various interactions shaping the new world the franchise is entering.
As for the action, it feels like it woke up from a coma. No more choppy editing to confuse everyone. It’s back to the long shots and trucking shots that made Casino Royale a spectacle, with each unique set piece testing the physical limits of the actors and stunt people (Craig apparently did most of his own stunts). Add Thomas Newman’s score that serenades the quiet moments and ignites the chases and you can see why many consider this to be the best Bond film. While it’s sad that David Arnold wouldn’t return for the rest of this era, Newman still knows how to evoke a breath of fresh air into a familiar soundtrack. The theme song performed by Adele is worthy of its Oscar win combining a smooth yet somber tone with foreboding lyrics, aided by a stylistic title sequence created by veteran designer, David Kleinman.
But a hero is only as good as its villain and Javier Bardem nails Silva with a bang. There’s a playfulness to his introduction, but as things fail to go his way, he starts to become insane and unpredictable. Bardem takes his melancholy role from No Country For Old Men and gives it an elegant sense of humor akin to Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective: a mad genius who’s charming, but shows his true colors when the chips are down. In hindsight, his plan is somewhat convoluted. Not only does it mimic the Joker from The Dark Knight, but the suspension of disbelief is broken when thinking over the majority of coincidences his plan entails like knowing a train schedule and wanting to be captured despite hiding in the shadows. Ironic that he didn’t prepare for unexpected factors like fire extinguishers. For a character like the Joker, the happenstances work because his goal is to spread chaos by any means necessary. Having a narrower endgame contradicts the execution of Silva’s plan that has more improvisation than things going accordingly. Nonetheless, the ensuing game of cat and mouse has such grandiose in the stakes and collateral damage.
This is also the best looking bond film thanks to famed cinematographer, Roger Deakins (Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and much more). The scenery highlights the joys and dangers of being an agent in Shanghai and London with giant dragons, wide landscapes, multicolored highways, warmly lit rooms, and a phenomenal hand to hand battle set against a bioluminescent jellyfish. Each new location finds a different style and takes full advantage of the cinematic format.
The House Battle
Aside from the villain’s convoluted plan, the other dividing point is the house battle in the third act. In recent years it’s been compared to the likes of Home Alone in how Bond, M and groundskeeper Kincade (Albert Finney) have to make use of the limited supplies left in the house to fend off Silva’s army. But it’s a fascinating setting showcasing some of Bond’s past and the ensuing battle is a worthy confrontation after a narrow escape from the jaws of death. Silva is at his boiling point when he starts chucking incendiary grenades at Bond while his helicopter obliterates the Aston Martin DB5. While it sounds goofy, the execution is still dark as every kill builds on top of another to a daring ending that pays off in its experimentation.
Skyfall is the real sequel to Casino Royale, treading the fine line between innovation and tradition. The new and old characters collaborate well together, the story is multilayered with deep connections and themes, the grim song is worthy of the Bond name, the action is exciting in staging impressive stunt work, the villain is memorable as a menace and an equal, the classic references have new twists, it has the best cinematography of all the Bond films, and it goes in daring directions that pay off. Had the villain’s plan been more grounded in execution, it would’ve made this the best entry in the Craig era. But as is, being one spot lower than Casino Royale is still an accomplishment. If you’re a fan that misses tradition, this brings everything into the modern age without alienating its longtime devotees. If you’re accustomed to the down to earth approach this era ushered in, the tone strikes a perfect balance between witty humor and grim scenarios. Whichever tone you prefer, there is enough here to satisfy Bond fans of all generations for the past and future fifty years.
Pros: Roger Deakins’ cinematography, new cast, exciting action, bold themes, entertaining villain, new twists on classic references, risky direction, Thomas Newman’s score, somber theme song, Daniel Craig
Cons: convoluted plan
Following its release, Skyfall became the first Bond film to earn over a billion dollars at the box-office. It reignited the flame in the franchise and won two Oscars for Sound Editing and Original Song. This brings us to the most recent film in the series, 2015’s Spectre. Yes, that Spectre. The announcement sparked much anticipation as this was the first time since Diamonds Are Forever that the organization would make a legit return to the series. Mendes stated he wouldn’t return for the next installment, but quickly retracted his comment. This makes him the first director in over thirty years to direct two Bond films back to back. Logan wrote a first draft, but after it was rejected by Eon and Sony, he left the project. Later on, Jez Butterworth, who had polished the final draft to Skyfall, was brought in to rewrite a new script. Unfortunately, like Quantum of Solace, Spectre found itself fighting several battles just to see the light of day.
First, you might be asking why it took so long to incorporate the infamous organization that originated in the Connery Era. This can be traced to an ongoing legal dispute that started in 1959. Six years after Fleming’s Casino Royale, one Kevin McClory proposed a James Bond film taking place in the Bahamas, which eventually became 1965’s Thunderball. However, sources indicate that Fleming took McClory’s script and turned it into his next book released in 1961. McClory didn’t receive credit and thus legal battles over Thunderball, Spectre and James Bond himself ensued. It was so bitter that it took a toll on Fleming’s health. At the time, he was diagnosed with heart disease and even suffered a heart attack in court. In 1963, the two parties came to an out of court settlement: Fleming held partial rights to the Thunderball novel, but was required to credit McClory in future prints. Additionally, Eon Productions kept the James Bond property, but McClory held the literary and film rights to Thunderball, Spectre and its iron fist leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. McClory would be named sole producer on the 1965 film adaptation and licensed his copyright to Eon Productions for ten years, with the provision that he would not produce another adaptation of Thunderball in that same timespan. This is why the following movies You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever were the only films to incorporate the organization. After ten years, McClory worked on producing a remake of Thunderball which ended up being the non-canon entry Never Say Never Again starring Sean Connery. At this point, 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me was not allowed to use the Spectre IP.
In a 1999 lawsuit between Sony and MGM, McClory claimed that he was owed money from past Bond films for being the co-creator of the cinematic character. The case was dismissed on the grounds that he had waited too long to file a junction. It wasn’t until November 15th, 2013, seven years after McClory’s passing, that his estate sold the rights to MGM giving Eon Productions full use of the organization. As of now, Eon Productions holds all the rights to the cannon and non-canon Bond films that were once in McClory’s possession, including Thunderball and Never Say Never Again.
The other hurdle Spectre faced was the 2014 hack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. A film called The Interview was set to premiere in theaters in December 2014. However, the film angered North Korea for depicting the assassination of Kim Jong-Un. Then on November 24th, 2014, a group calling themselves the Guardians of Peace hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment, leaking private emails, employee records, and several film titles. Co-writer/co-director Seth Rogen recounts the experience on the HBO Max documentary The Perfect Weapon:
“You wouldn’t assume someone’s stolen property was instantly going to be made available for public consumption by the media. Sony were the victims of a crime. And then the media took the victims of the crime and made it a hundred million times worse. I go to New York to, like, do the final week of promotion for the film. It’s a very weird thing to do. To promote a thing that is causing the world distress at that moment. And that’s when, like, it really ratcheted up a notch. I literally got on a plane and left New York in the middle of my press tour. I think I was like on the way to do Jimmy Fallon, and I was like, ‘Let’s go to the airport. Like…I don’t think this movie’s coming out, guys.’ And I went back to LA, and went to Sony, and was like, ‘What’s the plan? Like, is it gonna be pulled from theaters? It seems like people don’t want to play the movie anymore.’ I think Michael Lynton didn’t want to leave the theater owners, you know, looking like the bad guy. So he then was like, ‘I’m gonna pull the movie. I’m just gonna say…it’s…it’s, it’s pulled. And we all need to come as like a united front, and say [that’s what we want]’ And we we’re like, ‘Absolutely not.’ A couple days later, we were all gathered in our Bungalow on the Sony lot. And they were like, ‘There’s a press conference coming, and Obama’s gonna talk about it, I think.’ And we were like, ‘He’s not gonna talk about it.’ Like, and it was the first question. He was like, ‘Yeah, theaters should play it. Um, we shouldn’t succumb to these threats.’ And we were all like, ‘Great! But everyone just bailed.'”
During the leak, an early draft of Spectre was stolen while emails revealed arguments between Sony, MGM, and Eon Productions on the film’s escalating budget from $250 to $275 million: nearly a whopping $100 million more than Skyfall. Other emails revealed a distribution deal by Sony that led to much contention following the release of Skyfall. Ben Fritz, the author of The Big Picture: The Fight For the Future of Movies elaborates:
“Sony desperately needed globally popular franchises and was willing to bend further backwards than any studio to get 007. Or more accurately, to hold onto them, as it had released Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, too, while MGM was spinning into bankruptcy. In order to release the movies that would end up being 2012’s Skyfall and 2015’s Spectre, Sony agreed to cover half their budgets but receive only 25 percent of their profits. So on Skyfall, which grossed a massive $1.1 billion, Sony’s profit was a measly $57 million. MGM, meanwhile, made $175 million, and Danjaq got $109 million. Many Sony executives were mad at Amy Pascal, the studio’s motion picture chief. They thought she had a history of making bad business deals in order to look good to the creative community. Even Pascal had to admit it was a pretty crazy agreement. ‘Who else is going to make such a one-sided deal with MGM?’ she asked Barbara Broccoli in an email.”
So after jumping through so many hoops, where does Spectre rank among the other films in the Craig era?
Bond is having a hard time getting along with the new M (Ralph Fiennes) after a destructive mission in Mexico City. Meanwhile, M is dealing with micromanagement from Max “C” Denbigh (Andrew Scott) who wants to shut down the 00 program and replace it with a new drone facility known as the Nine Eyes. But Bond has a chance to prove his worth by tracking down Spectre and their leader Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). He is also out to protect Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) from Casino Royale after he reveals how much of a grasp his former employer has on society.
As you can tell from that last sentence, this was supposed to tie all the events of the previous films together after the studio spent years working out the rights with McClory’s estate. Unfortunately it’s too little too late because all the previous films were self-contained even with some being a direct sequel to their predecessor. Especially in Skyfall where Raoul Silva is clearly a lone wolf, but is now retconned as an agent connected to the organization. It’s completely forced and it doesn’t work. Had this idea been alluded to in Casino Royale, even if they didn’t have the rights, it would’ve been a more organic build-up. But after attempting something similar with Quantum of Solace only to throw it away, it comes off as a last ditch effort to build another cinematic universe. Ironically, there’s a lot of good material when this acts as its own adventure. The main titles and Sam Smith’s song The Writing’s on the Wall brings a different style and tone to Bond’s character hinting that despite his gruff exterior, he’s having doubts on continuing his career. There’s a side mission involving Moneypenny, Q, and M trying to take down Max’s Nine Eyes program with more commentary on human vs machines in the digital age. He’s obviously working for the bad guy even if it’s treated like a twist, but it’s nice to see the supporting cast in the field as opposed to just behind a desk.
The action sequences are meticulously calculated and bring a fast break to the snail’s pace, but the inconsistent tone shows when the gruesome fights are mixed with out of place jokes like an old man having his airbags deployed. But sequences like the pre-credit helicopter brawl and a car chase between Bond and Dave Bautista’s Mr. Hinx highlight the tactical camerawork Mendes employs that would go on to be utilized in the excellent 1917. Relying on as few edits as possible makes the punches and crashes more believable while also paying tribute to films like From Russia With Love. This also broke a world record for the largest film stunt explosion when Bond and Madeleine escape from Spectre’s headquarters. It may look computer generated, but this video proves otherwise. Too bad the final battle is anti-climactic with its attempts to tie everything together amounting to a disappointing pay-off.
Not even the femme fatales bring much to the scenario. There was a lot of hype surrounding Monica Bellucci being the oldest Bond girl in the series, and yet she only gets five minutes of screen time that barely connects to anything. She’s just another passing flame that gets snuffed out by a bland romance between Bond and Madeleine. This is no fault from Léa Seydoux, because the story is very bipolar in developing what little chemistry they have. One minute she’s bragging about how she won’t fall for 007’s charms, but the next minute she and Bond make like rabbits after surviving a close call with Mr. Hinx. It comes out of nowhere, they have nothing in common, and it’s nowhere near as believable as his interactions with Bellucci. It would be interesting to see Bond have a relationship with an older woman given that this era shows him trying to have a connection with someone while indulging in his dangerous career.
But the worst sin this film commits is the lack of attention between Bond and Franz Oberhauser, later revealed to be Blofeld. Between the side story and out of place comedy, the most important element is relegated to the third act. And even then, there’s not much development between these supposed step-brothers, which is a waste of Christoph Waltz’s talents. He’s been cast as so many villains in recent years that one would think that this would be a natural fit. But without a script that focuses on their relationship, all the collected ingredients for an intimidating presence fail to come together to build on a personal story that had a lot of potential with an important antagonist. Keep in mind that Eon Productions spent many years trying to acquire the rights to this property only to put more focus on the drone subplot. The movie is named after the organization, and yet this is all they do with the character? It’s a complete waste de-evolving the identity of the Daniel Craig Bond with a formula that doesn’t fit the down to earth approach of the digital age.
Spectre is not one of the worst Bond films. In fact, it’s more rewatchable than Quantum of Solace, but it feels underdeveloped after all the effort Eon Productions went through to acquire the Spectre property. What should’ve been a more in-depth analysis of Bond’s early life and family turmoil turned into another digital age commentary with little connection to the new James Bond style. Several elements still hold up like the pre-credit sequence, the opening titles, the theme song, the cast, the acting, the locations, and the action. But the snail’s pace is a bore to sit through, the romance has no spark, the final battle is anti-climactic, the jokes come at the wrong moments, and the attempt to connect everything together falls flat while wasting a villain played by a two-time Oscar winning thespian. By focusing more on the formula and less on trying new things, it went one step too far in sacrificing its identity without an evolution. One could accuse Skyfall of doing the same, but that was a side benefit in a mission to tell a personal story expanding Bond’s background. This alienates both longtime viewers and newcomers by failing to live up to the hype surrounding Blofeld and backtracking on the tone that won people over in 2006. So it’s hard to say who would enjoy this experiment. But with the villain returning for the final film in this era, Spectre could have a chance at redemption if it capitalizes on what it originally promised, meaning this is a necessary viewing whether you like it or not to prepare for what’s coming next.
Pros: Elaborate pre-title set piece, stylish title sequence, powerful theme song, clever camerawork, passionate acting, dedicated cast, calculated action
Cons: anti-climactic showdown, bland romance, shoe-horned retcon, late universe connecting, snail’s pace, wasted Bond girls, out of place jokes, weak villain
After all the hype surrounding the release, Spectre was the turning point in the Craig films that divided audiences against each other. Ever since Casino Royale, there’s been a battle between branching into new territory and keeping to tradition. With each new entry, the gritty tone has been a point of contention for die hard fans who long for the days of gadgets and clever jokes. But to those who see Craig as the definitive agent, those elements get in the way of enjoying what sets him apart from the other actors. Many argued that this formula came at a cost of a consistent tone and that this was late in tying all the previous adventures together when they should’ve been treated as self-contained stories:
“Butterworth was brought in by Mendes to do a final polish on Skyfall and a more significant draft on Spectre. His work on the first film didn’t seem to be major. His contribution to Spectre was more significant, and so he must share the blame for that mess of a screenplay. The one thing the filmmakers seemed sure of was that they wanted to reintroduce Blofeld, which was a great idea. But from the start, all the rest of the ideas seemed to be either misconceived or just plain terrible. At different times, Blofeld was reported to be an African warlord, and, different versions of either the Lucia Sciarra or the Madeleine Swann characters, before they finally settled on the worst idea of all – making him Bond’s long-lost, sort of half brother. Hard to figure whey they couldn’t just make him what he has always been – the leader of an international terrorist organization. Early versions of the script also had either Bill Tanner or M himself turn out to be Spectre’s mole in British Intelligence, the character who eventually became C in the final film. The idea of revealing a beloved character to be a villain is an idea some writers can’t resist, but is always a terrible one, because it just makes loyal viewers feel sad and bad about life. After the final scene of Skyfall sets 007 up to head out on a classic Bond adventure, the film has him go rogue yet again, which at this point in the series has become a worn-out notion. And the idea that Blofeld was behind all the villains and capers in the Craig era is an idea that probably seemed cool on paper, but comes across as horribly cheesy on film. – Ray Morton, senior writer of Script Magazine
“There is a moment in the film where Blofeld tells Bond, ‘I’m the author of all your pain,’ and I’m, like, ‘This is NOT the Marvel Cinematic Universe where you planned four films and everything connects.’ I mean Marvel takes you with breadcrumbs and you’re like, ‘I get how everything comes together.’ In this case, it’s like an after thought of trying to put things together. Like, you’re telling me that Silva, who’s on this personal quest and vendetta for revenge, because he was handed over during the 1997 handover back in China and all this stuff, that somehow he was part of your organization? That was a deeply personal revenge narrative where he wanted to get at M and MI6. There’s no trace of Blofeld in there. For me, I’m like, where did he come from? Where would he have been? I just don’t buy any of that. Blofeld to me was so one-dimensional – not even two-dimensional – and so disappointing. I was bored. – Lisa Funnell, author of For His Eyes Only: The Women of James Bond
By the time the revelation that Blofeld was actually Bond’s foster brother, who had not only killed his parents because “mom liked you best,” but also had masterminded every enemy in the series to take some sort of spoiled, tantrum-tinged revenge, my brain was already hitchhiking home. Just as well. The movie, incredibly, just got worse from there, until the only rational explanation for what happens on-screen during the finale and climax is that it was all a fantasy that Bond was having while Blofeld is drilling his brain – a la Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or The Twilight Zone’s ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.’ This wasn’t just sad, it was a travesty and tragedy.” – Ric Meyers, author of Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Book
“This Bond did such a great job at being such a modern more serious Bond that we believe in. When he starts to be that old Bond, he comes across as goofy. It’s weird, and it’s not just goofy, but that old Bond that tries to push up on chicks, it’s downright creepy now.” – Korey Coleman, Double Toasted podcast.
“At the end of the day, I was a little disappointed in the film. I enjoyed Skyfall thoroughly, but in Spectre, for instance, Blofeld, who over the series has been built up as this very powerful, enigmatic character, felt very weak. And I didn’t buy the stepbrother business. I thought all that was most peculiar. And then there was something like the scene with Monica Bellucci that went off on a tangent that had nothing to do with the main story. Marvelous opening sequence, brilliant, I loved all that. I thought the Mexican side was superbly directed and very exciting, but I felt sort of the second half of the movie just went downhill, basically. It all starts with the script. One or two good action sequences, and a great punch-up on the train and so forth, but the story was disappointing. Lea Seydoux was fine – she’s a very good actresss – but narratively speaking, it was weak.” – Martin Campbell, director of Casino Royale
While it wasn’t as hated as Quantum of Solace, Spectre left something to be desired even with its box-office earnings trailing behind Skyfall at $880.7 million. Although, Sam Smith did win an Oscar for his song The Writing’s on the Wall, even if he wasn’t satisfied with his performance at the ceremony. Afterwards, Craig stated that he’d rather slit his wrists than come back to do another entry, but was talked into starring in the next film.
“Daniel always makes remarks like that. Well, excuse me, you’ve earned a hundred million dollars off the f@#king movie. This is a knee-jerk reaction to this stuff. It’s just very hard work for him and he gets beaten up a bit, but he’s 120 percent committed to these movies and will remain that way until he stops doing them.” – Martin Campbell.
As of now, there remains speculation on how this era will end with the final installment No Time to Die. Craig has citied multiple injuries over his fifteen year tenure as the reason for stepping down following its eventual release. Slumdog Millionaire’s Danny Boyle was supposed to direct while his frequent screenwriter, John Hodge, would pen the story. However, both left in August 2018 due to creative differences with Eon Productions. A month later, they were replaced with Beast of No Nation director, Cary Joji Fukunaga. On top of that, the pandemic delayed the release date several times starting in November 2019, then February 2020, April 2020, November 2020, April 2021, and finally October 2021. Rumors spread about MGM trying to sell the distribution rights to several streaming services as a way to make their money back from all the delays, although they asked for a whopping $600 million for the rights. That all came to a close on May 26th, 2021 when Amazon bought the studio for $8.5 billion making them the new owners of the franchise. It’s been over a year since No Time to Die was supposed to release after a $66 million marketing campaign. Currently, it is set to premiere at both the Zurich Film Festival and the Royal Albert Hall on September 28th, followed by a wide release in the UK on September 30th. Meanwhile, America will have to wait until October 8th to experience Daniel Craig’s last go as James Bond. Whether or not that changes due to the delta variant locking down the world is anyone’s guess. Recently Sony’s Hotel Transylvania: Transformania pushed a marketing campaign highlighting a return to theaters. However, it was cancelled and the distribution rights were sold to Amazon for $100 million. In another story, James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad earned less at the box-office than viewership on HBO Max despite critical acclaim and the media pointed fingers at anti-vaxxers for spreading the delta variant, thus keeping people away from cinemas. However, with the success of Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings at the box-office, Sony pushed the release date of Venom: Let There Be Carnage to October 1st as a possible way to avoid competition with No Time to Die. At this point, all’s fair in love and war at the box-office and only time will tell if we will see Craig drive off into the sunset this year after his confrontation with Rami Malek’s Lyutsifer Safin. Lets toast a martini for the best.