For fans of the franchise who remain unconvinced by Daniel Craig’s time on her majesty’s secret service, the stories leaking from the production of the latest film Spectre are further evidence that the time has come to hand 007 a glass of scotch and a revolver. Craig’s Bond always had less of an air of an expense-account gentleman spy and more the demeanour of a spornosexual plumber. This is a Bond who’d sooner take photographs of his abs in the bathroom mirror than go bird-watching.
Stumbling after the surefooted remake of Casino Royale, there is no disguising the tedious drivel that was Quantum of Solace, nor that Skyfall borrowed heavily from the Home Alone franchise. Whether it was the underground train timed to crash when Bond appeared, or the wholescale technological ineptitude of MI6, the decision to explore Bond’s roots was the series equivalent of The Phantom Menace. When the indulgence of the writers and a misplaced urge to service the fans overtook the need for a polished work of cinema.
The malaise of the series has now become clear, with the recent Sony hacks revealing that the next instalment is riddled with script issues. The reintroduction of Blofeld is expected, but the leaks throw up concerns from producers that the final act is a mess, and Blofeld’s motive entirely unclear. We can expect the clunky introduction of another ‘serious’ love interest after Bond’s multi-part moping over Vesper Lynd. Gone is the frivolity and the deftness of touch from the original series. The gadgets have been replaced by product placement, with Bond more likely to swig a Heineken than carry an exploding pen. Even the return of an old nemesis raises concerns that Bond’s finest days are behind him, and that we are trapped on repeat, the copies neither as funny or action-packed as the excellent Kingsman, nor as gritty and compelling as the Bourne movies.
Rather than resisting the urge to reveal Bond’s past, the latest films have wallowed self-indulgently, replacing pyrotechnics and foreign intrigue with Bond’s miserable schleps while driving a Ford. Was the Ford also a submarine? Did the Ford have anti-aircraft missiles? You would be forgiven for suspecting that the glove box contained no more than a box of tissues and a six-pack of lager.
Bond has always had product placement, and the movies have often hinted at a deeper emotional vulnerability, but this juggernaut has lost direction. The news that Mexico is giving the production of Spectre $14 million to portray the country in a positive light should horrify fans, with Craig’s Bond now fronting a franchise that has descended into the territory of Wish You Were Here. To save a fraction of the film’s budget, there is every chance that it is being softened. Bond is now pulling its punches at the behest of commercial sponsors. The writing team cannot touch real-world issues in espionage for fear of losing tax breaks, offending worldwide audiences, or failing to appeal to a key demographic. Despite the current tensions between Russia and the West, we can expect to see Bond praising the fine people of Mexico, or taking photographs of it with his Sony mobile phone. Will Bond ever return to Russia? If Putin bungs through a tax incentive, perhaps Bond will turn for the FSB. For taking money from foreign governments and swapping his ammunition for blanks, and because the series has run out of ideas, I don’t expect James Bond to improve, I expect him to die.