It’s time for a slight change of pace in my weekly opinion piece where I try and pitch the best direction for the film franchises that are currently thriving, and those on death’s door. This time we are tackling a property which needs no do-over, is raking in the cash, and they’re taking their time to craft the next instalment rather than rushing it out; James Bond.
As excited as I am for Bond 23, the franchise cannot afford to be complacent. As we hear rumblings of Bourne 4, Mission Impossible 4 and another outing for Jack Ryan, Bond has to stay ahead of the game. There is no reason not to keep shaking up tired old conventions and giving us something we haven’t seen before, and believe me, if you’re a Bond fan one of the suggestions I am going to make in this article is pretty outside the box.
The best way to address where the next Bond film should go is to look at the previous outing ‘Quantum of Solace’, a film which (for me) got so much right and a fair few things wrong. I want Bond 23 to be a film which provides pretty much the opposite of everything we got in Quantum.
‘Quantum of Solace’ was a relentless 100 minute chase film as dark, cold and gritty as Bond was at that point. It was a film with a concrete theme about the nature of trust but had little time for character development. It had an interesting but underdeveloped female lead and villain. It had huge scope and great locations but spent so little time in each place that it felt like a waste, and don’t get me started on the action sequences.
‘Casino Royale’ proved that quality not quantity is what counts with action sequences. That’s what we need to return to in Bond 23. I also think that we’ve been missing the lush travelogue of the Connery and Moore films for a long time. True that it is much harder to take an audience to places they have never seen before these days but I don’t think that’s an excuse to not take us to those places. Hell, in today’s world more than ever, we want escapism. We want to see Bond take on the forces of Quantum in the most stunning locales.
And Quantum have been established as the foe that defines Daniel Craig’s Bond and will define his run of films as this character so I see no reason to shirk away from that in the next film. I just think we can do better with the lead villain this time around. I enjoyed the slimy Dominic Greene but there just wasn’t enough character there. Greene joined a long tradition of the Bond villains that I love, the legitimate businessmen, richer than God, powerfully connected, practically untouchable. Yet once Bond knows that this man is the bad guy, he will not stop in the face of overwhelming odds to fuck this person’s life up at every turn, building up the antagonism between the two and coming to a head in the climax.
The problem with ‘Quantum of Solace’ is that by the time Bond and Greene went to head to head, there hadn’t been any antagonism built between them. Their mano a mano fight meant nothing to us as Greene was just a target for Bond, a man he needed to get information from. I think we should have another villain in the vein of Greene, just one who has more on screen time with Bond. One of the things I loved about the last film was the portrayal of Quantum as a modern day SPECTRE as it probably would exist today; an organization whose members hold the highest positions of state across the world and actually play ball with the world powers in order to achieve their goals. Given that potential, there are so many villains you could choose as Bond’s nemesis this time around. You could use that guy who one of the UK Prime Minister’s top aides. Heck, go for broke and have the villain by the President of a country. It’ll have to be a smaller one so as not to piss anybody off though. Try Switzerland, they never seem to get upset about anything.
Tonally, I think we need something lighter this time around. I don’t people left the last film feeling tired of Daniel Craig’s Bond being pissed off at the world, an uncontrollable killing machine unable to relax or crack a full smile until his mission is accomplished, but they will get tired of it if he keeps playing on the exact same note he did in Quantum of Solace. Since his mission to enact revenge on Quantum was completed (though there is still work to be done) and he clearly let go of Vesper’s memory and his need to avenge her, Bond can afford to be a little looser in the next film and not so tortured. It’s the perfect opportunity for Craig as an actor to prove that he can.
I think we need a film in the style of ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, a witty, truly romantic Bond film where the scope and the stakes are high, and where the crux of the film is the relationship between James and his leading lady rather than just a obligatory ingredient. True enough that in the last film Bond and Camille quite rightly didn’t have a romantic relationship as they were kindred spirits still hurting to much from the loved ones they lost to love again, but now it’s time for James to find some comfort in another woman……..an ordinary woman.
One of the things I’m getting tired of seeing in the Bond films is the endless parade of female action heroes and super spies that have been Bond’s female companions for what seems like forever. Camille was an undercover agent, Vesper was a double agent, Jinx was CIA, Christmas Jones as a nuclear physicist, Wai Ling was a Chinese super agent. The last time we got a normal leading lady was Natalya in ‘Goldeneye’ and even she was a computer programmer for a top secret Russian installation. Of course it all has to do with this incessant need to make Bond women ‘strong’, whatever that means. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but I really wonder how many woman who go to the Bond movies actually relate to any of these characters.
What I’d really like to see as the next Bond woman IS somebody that the audience can relate to. An ordinary (though beautiful of course) girl with an ordinary job and an ordinary life who, due to being in the wrong place and the wrong time, gets swept up into 007’s world and actually ends up falling in love with him. Now we can debate whether Bond himself should fall in love with her given what happened to him with Vesper, but I see no reason why he can’t open his heart to her a little bit. Her love for Bond would serve a very specific purpose in the story. It would be, like the two films before it, a film with a theme, with a point. I am not saying that Bond should be light headed and romantic from the opening minute of the new film. He should grow into it as the movie progresses, his cold heart softened by this ordinary and yet extraordinary woman that has come into his life. My fellow Bond acolyte Jamie Williams has often discussed with me how ‘Casino Royale’ was a film about the loss of a man’s soul. This film would be about putting it back together again. Even though Bond put his past behind him in ‘Quantum of Solace’, I still feel we are one piece away from 007 becoming the fully formed hero we all remember from the Connery and Moore days.
Jamie and myself have had many a fun debate about whether Moneypenny or Q should be anywhere near a Daniel Craig Bond film. I do agree that Q should be kept out of it. The perfunctory scene at the start of a Bond film where he visits the Q workshop and is given in depth introductions to the various equipment which will be shoehorned into his latest adventure at some point, along with the trademark quips regarding the prototype gadgets we see in the background is a firm trademark of the Roger Moore era and does not belong in a film starring Craig, even one of a lighter tone. Not to mention one of the best qualities about Craig’s Bond is his ability to think on his feet and improvise in dangerous situations. If he has a utility belt with gadgets that can get him out of any situation then you lose any sense of jeopardy.
But Moneypenny is another story. There is one particular element of the Bond movie mythos which has never been explained or explored that I want to see. How did Bond meet Moneypenny? How did their relationship begin? Did they ever even have a proper relationship? How did it become the flirty, yet distant one that we knew from the films?
Well here’s the bit that knocks you fellow Bond fans out. I propose that Bond 23 tell that story. I propose that the ‘ordinary woman’ who gets swept up into Bond’s latest adventure is none other than the girl who will become Moneypenny. I often wondered what happened to Bond’s female conquests after each film (the ones who weren’t killed anyway). None of them were ever mentioned again giving the impression that each one was disposable to him. Imagine that at the end of the film, despite the feelings they have for each other, Bond and Moneypenny are resigned to the fact that a relationship is not going to be practical in his line of work. They part and Bond laments that this stable force in his life will be gone only to return to Mi6 in London the following week and find that she is its brand new employee. Bond triumphantly returns to the field, reassured that whatever challenges lie ahead, and however bad the job might get, Moneypenny will be there when he gets back, unswervingly loyal to him. It’s a touching ending, totally different to anything we’ve seen in a Bond film and I think audiences could really respond to it.
Yes, maybe it’s a shake up too far but those are the risks you have to take with a film franchise which will be approaching it’s 50th anniversary by the time Bond 23 comes out. You stay ahead of what the audience are expecting and you get them talking. Now it is time to get you talking. Please berate me in the comments section below. I am dying to hear you tell me how stupid this idea is.
Oh, and please give the theme song to someone who can play a tune. Just a give us a Bond song that's a friggin melody with lyrics, it’s not that hard. Get Sting to sing it.