My fondness for a bit of Bondness goes back quite a long way. I’m one of those rare creatures who have actually read all the Bond books and short stories, as well as the various official fan fiction books. I’m also in the camp that sits on the right side of history in thinking that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the best Bond films, and that Roger Moore is just as good as Sean Connery.
I’ve found the Bond films over recent years to be heading on an uninspired and somewhat downward trajectory. Keeping the same writers over the Daniel Craig era has led to a narrative and character arc I’m just not overly keen on. They are simply not smart or slick enough, and frankly a bit samey and stale. They also suffer from the trailers giving too much away, and too much promotion and brand pushing. James Bond drinking and promoting alcohol free beer was a massive nail in my Bond enthusiasm coffin. The pushy sponsorship deals and record-breaking stunts make the franchise seem like some money and glory hunting behemoth instead of simply a film franchise. Yes, they are still very watchable films, don’t get me wrong, but they could be better. Don’t even get me started on their flavour of the month choices for Bond songs.
Quite frankly, if you were to ask me right now, would I rather watch No Time to Die or the next Mission Impossible film? I would pick Mission Impossible 7. As a spectacle, movie and franchise, they are better. They are not confined to the certain limitations that the 007 universe has to conform to. They can be bold and inventive, creating new stories, characters and dynamics. This is where Bond seems to be limited. It struggles to stretch away from what’s gone before and rehashes the old as though we are afraid of seeing a new side of 007 or MI6. MI6 is the anchor around his neck, whereas Mission Impossible has the IMF to allow it to swim a little more freely. Bond just seems, well, a bit Brexit.
Looking back to the mid-90’s, after a little gap, Goldeneye rebooted the Bond franchise really rather well. Not only was it a good action film, combining Roger Moore humour and slickness with some Connery action physicality, it did a wonderful job of making Bond’s world bigger. Goldeneye showed us that other ‘00’s existed, and more importantly, that they can interact with Bond and can create great tension and stories.
As best I know, the original Bond book Casino Royale has its copyright expire in a mere 28 years or so. Just like Superman, who’s copyright runs out in 2033, and Mickey Mouse in 2024, copyrights put the character into the public domain after a certain number of years. This is why studios reboot Frankenstein or Dracula stories at every opportunity as their story can be freely used, subject to trademarks etc. Now, trademarks and other legalities will stop certain elements of the Bond world from being used or advertised by other movie studios, such as the 007 moniker, but its certainly something that the Bond producers should consider.
By the time the next James Bond actor has done a 4-film run, that trademark expiry will be nearer to 15 years. By then, surely the producers will start getting twitchy at the prospect of characters and stories laid out in the original book being used – for free – by any rival film or TV studio who cares to. While the original book does not cover many of the characters laid out in the Bond universe, every year more Bond books and Bond universe characters will have their copywrite expire, and again, be free to be used. Due to this, Bond, quite simply, has to adapt and flesh out its universe before it becomes obsolete.
Modernising is one way to refresh the series, which they seem to be doing. When there was an outcry over a new female 007, I was annoyingly miffed. 007 is simply a designation for a double 0 agent, Bond is retired in the next film, so why would he keep it? Because of the mainstream media and lazy clickbait articles, people assumed they were creating Jane Bond and this, frankly, sums the whole problem up. There’s no expansion to the Bond universe and our central character is bound by a designation and subsequently the organisation that provides it. Years and years of stale stories, niceification and a lack of world building has made James Bond an irrelevant bore. There’s no franchise on earth that stagnates its characters like the Bond franchise. As for their idea of modernising, all they continue to do is cut Bond’s balls off and make him just like any other secret service bloke, in any other generic franchise.
I also find it incredibly tedious to listen to people talk about making Bond female. Bond should not ever be female, as it simply wouldn’t be Bond. A female MI6 spy? Yes – sign me up – just write a bloody good original female character set I the Bondverse. I sincerely hope that they have given Lashana Lynch a decent role as the new 007 in No Time to Die and that it hasn’t been done solely for a few sly liner funnies and Bond chuckles.
The ‘debate’ around the colour of any Bond actor is also a tedious and frankly pathetic one in today’s day and age. Does the colour of a Bond actor affect his ability to look handsome and do his job? Well, no. It shouldn’t matter what colour Bond is, as long as he was suave and, more importantly, played by a decent actor. Idris Elba is a fantastic actor but for a 4/5 film arc he is too old to pull off the conventional Bond film character.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the problem with a modern Bond movie is that in a two-hour film you can no longer portray Bond as originally intended. You simply can’t have a smoking, heavy drinking womaniser shooting people and driving irresponsibly. The potential backlash and boycott would stop the film being successful and EON, quite frankly, only care about being financially successful. The sponsorship and product placement deals alone for a Bond film run into the tens of millions, no other film franchise even comes close. Bond simply has to be mainstream in modern film, but there lies the problem, the Bond character is not Bond if it is mainstream. Its already becoming samey and mainstream, so what are they doing about it?
Having flirted with Apple, Netflix and Prime over selling No Time to Die to a streaming platform due to COVID delays, EON certainly aren’t daft. Their price tag of 600 million though was. Bond is no longer the golden goose it was, or even the best at what it does. You can also bet your bottom dollar that any Bondverse TV show rights would go for huge bucks, simply making it undoable for a streaming platform before production and advertising costs are added in.
The thing is, Bond production company and rights holder EON have to ask themselves do they want to be relevant, or do they want to die a slow agonising death? Everything or Nothing, that’s their motto, and they seem to live by it.
The ownership of Bond rights is actually controlled by a company called Danjaq, who licence merch and such like. Danjaq owns EON, who make the Bond films, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios co-own those rights. MGM also own some other franchise rights, such as RoboCop and The Addams Family, but they have not successfully rebooted these into big bucks and two failed rounds of advertising for No Time to Die seems to have left them with very poor cash-flow. MGM seem to always be on the verge of going bust, meaning that it would be easier for a streaming giant to buy or heavily invest in the MGM brand, acquire these franchises, and subsequently gain leverage over EON for the Bond streaming show rights.
EON do know that time is not on their side and they have tried to make other film properties such as last year’s flop, The Rhythm Section. Making movies is an easy business, making financially or critically successful ones is bloody hard.
To go back to the Mission Impossible franchise, you can bet your bottom dollar that after the next two films Tom Cruise will bow out, leaving a popular franchise without a lead. The thing is, Mission Impossible is perfect for a streaming service rollout. An IMF series can be set anywhere, it’s without limitations or jurisdiction. It has many creative freedoms which Bond currently does not have. The Jason Bourne franchise, which forced the movie Bond to re-invent itself into a more physical character, had a good run and was inventive before quickly becoming repetitive. It did however get a streaming spin-off. Other franchises are doing it, so why hasn’t Bond? Quite simply the rights are so well protected and held to such a premium that making it viable is a bit of an issue.
The Bond universe stands still, thinking it’s better than the rest, while there’s simply so much potential out there for world building and spin-offs. You could continue any of the original Bond actors’ eras in either spin-off TV show, or even a YA show set around a young Bond. James Bond Jr was an “interesting” cartoon in my youth, but maybe its time to dust that type of thing off again, bearing in mind James Bond does actually have a real son in Fleming’s books.
Then there’s the 00’s. A double 0’s series could, and should, be amazing. A team of hungry spy’s all vying for a 00 opportunity, all trying to best each other using intellect, wits and charm. Or, how about the adventures of a young M as a 1970’s spy thriller, a Felix Leiter spin-off, or a university set Q series. The Moneypenny Diaries, or a better version of it, could be prime fodder to be turned into a streaming series. If Alfred Pennyworth can have a well-made and successful spin-off show, why can’t a Bond supporting character? Looking back, there was a female double 0 in Thunderball and in The World is not Enough, as well as in the official non-Fleming Bond books. Why cant this character be fleshed out and get her own series?
Or, how about a young Bond series that could introduce a smoking, drinking, womaniser alpha bond, with an older, more seasoned and modern Bond being the film Bond. That way you could actually have an actor like Idris play the elder Bond and a good young actor play him when younger, a bit like the new Die Hard film hopes to do with an arc to cover both actors and stories. The possibilities are there and we haven’t even touched on the villain potential. The political struggles of S.P.E.C.T.R.E, with many famous Bond villains vying to be top-dog, could be a smart and somewhat cut-throat series, with a villain orientated freshness.
The 4/5-year gaps between Bond films are simply getting to too long to be relevant to its audience. Hell, who knows if event cinema will even exist anymore thanks to COVID. To evolve, good, new and supplementary characters need writing and the re-hashing of the old, to fit with the new, has to stop. Bond, M, Q, Felix and Moneypenny are small slithers of a much wider world that needs exploring to add freshness and breathing space. Instead of toning Bond down, fill his world with more interesting, modern and diverse characters and allow him to be himself. The Bond world must evolve, free itself of solely domestic jurisdiction and bring new gadgets, characters and stories with it.
Quite simply, maybe it’s time for EON to stand for Evolve on Netflix.