So, this piece of news hit the Interwebs yesterday: Bond 24, officially announced, to be directed again by Sam Mendes and released on this side of the pond on November 6, 2015. While Mendes had withdrawn from consideration some months ago, citing his theatre commitments, and fanboy excitement had been stirred to exploding by the revelation that producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli had met with Christopher Nolan, in the end it seems that after Skyfall blew apart box office records across the planet, no one was willing to let Mendes go – even if that meant delaying production to wait for him to finish up his work on the London stage. So yeah, it blows that we have to twiddle our thumbs two and a half more years, but I’m happy to wait for a production that equals or even betters the last one rather than have a rushed, half-assed job by some other hack-for-hire. Sam Mendes will become the first director to make back-to-back 007 movies since John Glen in the 80’s. And of course Daniel Craig will be back, along with Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw as Q. John Logan is handling writing duties.
That is all we know at this moment and all we are likely to know for quite some time. However, that won’t stop the entertainment press, per their S.O.P., to print thousands of words of misinformation and other misleading nonsense in the hopes of drumming up clicks and ad revenue tied to the golden touch of 007. Whenever a new Bond movie goes into production the same rumors spring up like the annual dandelions in your otherwise impeccably manicured front lawn. They get the same circulation and eventually someone from Eon (Bond’s production company) is forced to issue a denial. In the interest of expediency, I thought I would save the press some time and write the story for them here, based on the fifteen hundred other versions of it we’ve seen ever since the first Bond-related article sprang up in cyberspace many moons ago. They can then plug in the name of the requisite D-list starlet whose overzealous publicist is trying to boost her profile by linking her falsely to a Bond role. Anyone who follows Bond gossip will find it all too terribly familiar. Please to enjoy:
(GENERIC ACTRESS) Set to Star in Next Bond Film
HOLLYWOOD – (Generic Actress) is being wooed to match wits with the cinema’s most dashing secret agent, James Bond, in his next adventure, (Misguided Entertainment Publication) has learned.
(Generic Actress), who has appeared in (Swiftly Canceled CW Teen Fantasy Series) and (SyFy Channel Original Movie Featuring Sharks and Tornadoes), is the number one choice of Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, who are said to be “desperate” to ink the rising star for the upcoming production, tentatively titled Bond 24. “(Generic Actress) is perfect for the role of 007’s leading lady because she’s beautiful and alluring, with that slightly dangerous edge that marks the greatest of the Bond girls,” says a source inside Eon Productions, who asked not to be revealed for this story. “We’re excited that (Generic Actress) will be a part of this film and are certain she’ll make a memorable addition to the James Bond legacy.”
Next up for (Generic Actress) is a formal screen test with Bond star Daniel Craig to take place at Bond’s home base, Pinewood Studios in London, and a meeting with director Sam Mendes. Also rumored to be joining the cast is (usually Kevin Spacey) as the villain, and (Completely Unknown Bollywood Actor) as a henchman. (Forgotten X Factor Winner) will be performing the theme song. Bond 24 is set to be released in cinemas in November of 2015.
Use it wisely, my friends. Royalties are not required, but would be nice. Just leave me your bank account number and password in the comments.
SPOILER ALERT: You might not want to read this review unless you’ve seen The Dark Knight Rises. The reasons why will become apparent soon enough.
Tomorrow Never Dies had been the usual James Bond box office success, which was of particular note on this occasion given that it opened on the exact same weekend in 1997 as Titanic. But it seemed clear to all involved that there was something lacking amidst the bluster and explosions. Pierce Brosnan himself asked for material to challenge him as an actor rather than continue to be a glorified stunt performer. The focus for the next movie then would be more on character, and to that end, producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, now steering the series together after the passing of her father Albert, enlisted the services of director Michael Apted, who had made the acclaimed “Up Series” of documentaries following up on a group of British schoolchildren every seven years of their lives, and had directed Sissy Spacek to her Best Actress Oscar in Coal Miner’s Daughter. The screenplay would return to the vein of Goldeneye, with its shifting alliances and a story set amidst the wreckage of the Cold War. In a first for the Bond series, the primary villain would be a woman. Recognizing also that Judi Dench was too strong a performer to be confined to the customary briefing scene at the beinning of the movie, M would take a much greater role in the plot, with Bond forced to grapple with the consequences of her past mistakes (an element that seems to be replicated in Skyfall, but I guess we’ll see at the end of the week). The World is Not Enough would take its title from the motto of the Bond family, first revealed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: “Orbis non sufficit.”
After Bond becomes an unwitting accomplice in the murder of British oil tycoon Sir Robert King, he is assigned by M to protect King’s daughter Elektra (Sophie Marceau) from the terrorist Renard (Robert Carlyle) who once held her for ransom and has seemingly returned for vengeance. Bond is immediately smitten with the beautiful and damaged Elektra, who intends to continue her father’s work of building a much-needed oil pipeline across treacherous old Soviet territory, in direct competition with three Russian pipelines also under construction to the north. Following a night in Elektra’s bed, Bond pursues a lead to Kazakhstan where he discovers Renard is attempting to steal weapons-grade plutonium from Soviet nuclear warheads that are being decommissioned under the supervision of Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards). Renard, a remorseless, relentless man who is unable to feel pain because of an assassin’s bullet working its way through his brain (an assassin sent by M herself, no less) seems to have an insider in Elektra’s organization, and is successful in escaping with the nuclear material. Bond believes that insider is Elektra herself, who he suggests is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and helping Renard out of twisted devotion to her former kidnapper. But after Elektra’s pipeline is attacked, and M is taken prisoner, it turns out that things are the other way around – Renard fell in love with Elektra and has been her pawn the entire time; she has engineered her father’s murder to seize control of his company for herself. With time running out, Bond must rely on the help of his old frenemy Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) to rescue M and stop Renard from using his stolen plutonium in a suicide attack aboard a nuclear sub that will destroy Istanbul and contaminate the Bosphorus with radiation, rendering the competing Russian pipelines useless and making Elektra’s the sole vehicle for delivering oil to the West.
I observed in my review of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that it was one of Christopher Nolan’s favourite movies, and whether intentionally or not, the plot of The Dark Knight Rises mirrors what happens in The World is Not Enough as well. Bane, like Renard, is a terrorist villain who appears to be the primary antagonist, only for it to be revealed that he is a mere accomplice, driven by love to carry out a suicidal nuclear attack for the true mastermind who appears at first to be the hero’s romantic partner, Miranda/Talia al Ghul and Elektra, respectively. Both men are physically stronger than average, because of an unusual tolerance to pain (Renard cannot feel any, while Bane constantly inhales an anaesthetic gas to numb his sensitivity to it.) Where the films differ is in their treatment of the terrorist. Renard, with the makeup for his bullet wound giving him a perpetually sad-eyed look, is a villain whom you almost feel sorry for – he nears the verge of tears when confronted with his inability to provide Elektra the kind of physical pleasure she has received from Bond. He loves Elektra desperately, yet cannot be the man she wants, and so, with all he has left to offer – his life – he tries to give her the world. Carlyle is excellent and understated, conveying obsession, cruelty and a resigned acceptance of his own fate; a truly complex and intriguing bad guy. Marceau is elegant as a wounded young woman attempting to round out her life with empty pleasures, although when she unveils her true nature she veers a tad hammy. Still, equal opportunity villainy (as director Michael Apted put it) gives Brosnan the chance for a brutal and singular Bond moment when he shoots her dead.
As I mentioned earlier, Judi Dench’s role has been greatly expanded this time and we learn some history about the nameless woman who runs MI6, as she begins to show the motherly side of M that would fully manifest during Daniel Craig’s tenure. She also has a chance for an action beat of her own when performing some MacGyver-like modifications to a nuclear locator card while in captivity to allow Bond to find her. It’s also wonderful to see Robbie Coltrane back as the roguish Zukovsky, who after having his own loyalties tested becomes a full-blown if short-lived ally to 007. And the legendary John Cleese is on hand as Q’s assistant R with some witty one-liners and his talent for pratfalls. But then there is poor Denise Richards. More than enough has been written about her performance in this movie to satisfy the snarkiest Internet commenter. This seems to have been another case where she was shoved in at the behest of a studio uncomfortable with too many European names in the cast, but in Richards’ defense, I doubt Meryl Streep would have been able to do very much with the part, scripted almost as an afterthought with unsayable lines about tritium and radiation levels. Richards looks great though, which is really the only reason she’s there. Scratch that – she’s there because otherwise, with Elektra taking a bullet through her chest, Bond finishes the movie alone, and the filmmakers weren’t brave enough to try that departure from formula quite yet (especially when there are bad puns to be made from Jones’ first name).
Where The World is Not Enough is strongest, ironically, is when it does break away from the routine and venture into new territory. Bond has an emotional journey this time, his defenses peeled back as he tries to achieve justice for Sir Robert King’s death, clean up M’s old mess and grapple with his own betrayal by a young woman he was coming to care for deeply. Apart from the opening leap from an office window and the thrilling boat chase down the Thames, the rest of the rather low-key action (including a ski chase, a confrontation with razor blade-wielding helicopters and a disappointingly unengaging climax set aboard a submarine tilted on its end) suffers from being juxtaposed against character development scenes that are much more dramatically interesting – you find yourself waiting for the shooting to stop and the music to dial back so the movie can get back to its (mostly) terrific roster of actors exchanging nuanced dialogue. That’s where the real movie lies. The World is Not Enough is built on secrets and emotional revelations, not a technical mystery to be unravelled one explosion at a time. Despite critical indifference, centered largely on Denise Richards’ acting and the scaled-back nature of the story, I have a feeling that it’s one that Ian Fleming himself would have appreciated.
On a sadder note, this would be the final film for Desmond Llewelyn as Q, whose farewell as he sinks slowly out of frame after imparting some fatherly advice to 007 is deeply touching. Llewelyn, who joked that he would continue appearing in Bond movies “so long as the producers want me and the Almighty doesn’t,” passed away shortly after the film’s release in a car accident while returning from a signing event. While Llewelyn, somewhat regrettably, never earned very much from his long-running role as the irascible quartermaster, he was beloved by fans and the Eon crew alike and worked tirelessly to promote each new movie as it came out. I had the fortune of seeing him in person in Los Angeles in 1997 when he and Pierce Brosnan appeared on The Tonight Show to hype up Tomorrow Never Dies, although we didn’t get the chance to meet. The applause when he walked out onstage was louder than that which greeted anyone else that night. The spirit of dear old Desmond Llewelyn, I suspect, was indeed returned to his Almighty “in pristine condition.”
Peter Sellers and Orson Welles on the one day of shooting they were able to stand the sight of each other.
According to Bond producer Barbara Broccoli, the final advice given to her by her father Cubby before he turned over the reins was, “Don’t let them screw it up.” Broccoli and her step-brother Michael G. Wilson, who have led the franchise’s Eon Productions since Goldeneye in 1995, are notorious in the movie industry for their unflinching control over Bond’s adventures, and scores of film critics have lamented this, wishing that A-list auteurs like Quentin Tarantino or the Wachowskis could be given a chance to put their own imprint on 007. The Eon family steadfastly refuses, preferring to keep Bond a closed shop and handpick directors who will adhere to their vision of what they believe James Bond to be. It’s difficult to argue with their approach given the ongoing success they’ve achieved, and even more difficult when one considers the first Bond movie made outside the official canon. One cannot imagine more of an object lesson in “screwing Bond up” than 1967’s Casino Royale.
Although it was the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale was not included in the package of big screen rights purchased by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Ian Fleming had originally sold them to a producer named Gregory Ratoff, who first made Casino Royale as a live one-hour TV special in the 1950’s, starring Barry Nelson as an American “Jimmy” Bond and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. The rights were subsequently acquired by producer Charles K. Feldman, who, unable to come to terms with Broccoli and Saltzman, decided to strike out on his own with the world’s first feature James Bond parody. With Peter Sellers signed to play Bond and Orson Welles as Le Chiffre, one might think something at the very least mildly entertaining might result; unfortunately, it didn’t (depending on how much entertainment one derives from watching cinematic train wrecks.) Sellers walked off the movie before finishing his scenes, and a patchwork story featuring David Niven as a retired Sir James Bond was slapped together to try and pad the movie out to an acceptable running time. Five directors, parades of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them stars and some unfunny surrealist attempts at comedy result in a goofy, incoherent yet oddly stylistic and unmistakably 60’s mess.
The plot, such as it is, is that with the “Connery” James Bond missing, a baccarat expert named Evelyn Tremble (Sellers) is recruited by the original Sir James Bond and Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress, getting to use her real voice this time) to impersonate 007 and try to bankrupt Le Chiffre at the gaming table. Though given plenty of opportunity to find laughs with the material, Sellers plays his part completely and stubbornly straight – he’s like that hilarious friend you have who refuses to crack wise for the rest of your guests because he had a bad day. The problem is, the actors who are playing the movie for laughs, like Niven and Woody Allen (as Sir James’ hopeless nephew Jimmy Bond, who turns out to be the evil mastermind behind the entire affair because of his inferiority complex) aren’t the slightest bit funny. Long stretches ooze by during which you’ll be hard pressed to crack a single smile while you wait for Sellers to return, since at least his story bares some resemblance to what Ian Fleming wrote. After Sellers abandoned the production, the collective decision among the movie’s remaining creative team seems to have been to compensate by throwing in the kitchen sink, the dishwasher and a couple of refrigerators. If Republicans want to complain about out of control spending, they should watch the last twenty minutes of this movie. With Sellers and Welles long out of the picture, the casino floor erupts in a massive brawl that somehow manages to include Frankenstein’s monster, George Raft accidentally shooting himself, Jean-Paul Belmondo looking in a phrasebook to understand how to say “ouch” in English, clapping sea lions wearing “007” tags and a squadron of parachuting Apaches who proceed to hold a ceremonial war dance that turns into a mass performance of the mashed potato, before the entire building explodes from a bomb accidentally swallowed by Woody Allen. I only wish I was making this up.
Amidst the outpouring of nonsense, the production did manage to sneak in some tremendously beautiful women: Barbara Bouchet is simply luscious as Miss Moneypenny Jr., Daliah Lavi slinks vampily through two scenes for no apparent reason, and a yet-to-hit-it-big Jacqueline Bisset pops up briefly as a barely clothed spy who shares a brief romantic interlude with Sellers before slipping a mickey in his champagne. Ursula Andress is her usual gorgeous self, if her part is regrettably cut short by Sellers’ departure.
Burt Bacharach handles scoring duties, assisted by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and contributes the movie’s singular lasting contribution to popular culture: the song “The Look of Love,” performed by Dusty Springfield, which would go on to become something of a jazz standard and feature in the Austin Powers movies. Otherwise, this movie is nothing more than a morbid curiosity – you can’t really call it a guilty pleasure, since there’s little pleasure to be gleaned from watching otherwise distinguished actors like Niven, Welles, Belmondo, William Holden and Peter O’Toole make utter asses of themselves in service of… nothing, really. Perhaps if one were to consume a copious amount of acid prior to watching, some deeper revelation of the secrets of the universe might unfold, or at the very least, the plot might make sense.
Casino Royale would be something of a thorn in the side of Eon Productions for the decades that followed, with Michael G. Wilson often suggesting going back to it and showing Bond’s origins. But it wouldn’t be until the rights were finally untangled in the mid-2000’s and returned to Eon that they’d get their chance and be able to adapt Ian Fleming’s groundbreaking first James Bond novel with the respect it deserved – and not screw it up.