I really liked SPECTRE. No, it certainly wasn’t perfect but it had some great set pieces, style and – something I’d felt was missing in the rebooted series – a sense of fun. As usual, the credits confidently told us that James Bond will return but before that happens, there are five questions that I think need addressing.
Please note that the following post contains full spoilers for SPECTRE (plus the occasional spoiler for previous Bond movies but, come on there must be a time limit) . If you’ve not seen it yet, why not bookmark us and pop back later?
1. Literally. What happens next?
Until Quantum of Solace, none of the Bond series had ever been a direct sequel. But now, just three films later, we’ve had not just our second sequel but a full-blown attempt to build something close to an ongoing continuity across all four (recent) movies.
With that in mind, it’s tempting to assume that the next movie will also follow on either directly or in terms of continuity. But how exactly are they going to do that? I’d be happy if it meant seeing more of Christoph Waltz‘s Blofeld (look, I said they’d be spoilers) but perhaps it would be more powerful to go down a different route next time and hold his inevitable escape back a bit for a future installment. But what about Madeleine Swann? Assuming the next movie’s Bond is not a happily married man and still focused on hit lists rather than shopping lists she’ll either need to have left or died. I’d bank on the latter but in my view this feels too similar to Vesper’s story to be really satisfy. Personally, I think the filmmakers missed a trick in SPECTRE in this regard – when she said she can’t do this and left Bond, Madeleine had the chance to be a genuinely new take on the Bond girl. To leave it to the next movie feels sloppy and also gave us an unnecessarily sentimental ending to the current film.
However, I’m actually not sure they will continue with this continuity. The 20 films before Casino Royale managed to pull off something pretty unique in film by being a series of films with ongoing characters (often but not always played by the same actors) but where each entry had next to nothing to do with each other. Bond famously fell in love, married and then lost Tracey in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but it’s not even referenced in the “next” film (Diamonds are Forever). Instead of a strength , the strong connections made between SPECTRE and the rest of the “NewBond cinematic universe” seems to have been a major source of complaint about the latest movie. (If you haven’t read it there is a particularly good piece in the Rolling Stone on this aspect, which is well worth a read if you have time.)
So, will we get a sequel, another “reboot” or something more akin to the pre-Daniel Craig movies? It’s a decision that will have a massive influence on the next film.
2. On a related note, what (officially) happened to this Bond before SPECTRE?
Admittedly, depending on what they decide for question 1, this one might not really matter. But if they do go the sequel route, I’d really like them to clear up a couple of things that have been bothering me about this timeline.
When Casino Royale came out it was pitched as “reboot”, establishing a new grittier timeline to sit alongside what we’d seen before. We saw Bond’s first kill, we met a new (un-eaten) Felix Leiter and we all conveniently overlooked the fact that Judy Dench’s M had already been in four movies with Pierce Brosnan. When Skyfall broke the fourth wall by giving us some little nods to the series’ past, it was easy to write it off as being part of the 50 years anniversary celebrations. But with more of these nods in SPECTRE it started to feel like filmmakers are trying to have their cake and eat it. The problem with this is it starts to get really confusing.
In Casino Royale, we see apparently see Bond’s first kill and his first love. He joins and leaves the 00 program within a movie and by movie three he’s being written off as a jaded has-been. Exactly what has happened to him in between? Doctor Who brilliantly alludes to the idea that we only see a tiny proportion of the thousands of adventures (millions perhaps) that the Doctor and his companions experience. After Skyfall, I decided to go with a similar idea applying to Daniel Craig’s Bond – we saw him arrive in Casino Royale, grow in Quantum of Solace and then rejoin him many years later in Skyfall. Depending on which way the wind was blowing each day, the other adventures could be either totally unseen or (more fun, but overlooking some major plot points) broad versions of the stories from previous Bond movies.
SPECTRE’s story and how it links to the other recent Bonds kind of nixes both options unless we are to believe that only these four stories are related but they span a long time period and that Bond doesn’t really age. So now we have a guy who joined the 00 program fairly old, falls in love on his first mission, resigns, comes back, disobeys orders during his second mission, does lots of stuff that’s not worth our or Blofeld’s attention and then is a washed up mess in Skyfall and then SPECTRE – yeah, I’m finding this hard to swallow.
3. What exactly is a “James Bond movie”?
The next movie needs to decide what type of Bond film it wants to be.
I enjoyed both Casino Royale’s grittiness and the older films’ silliness but I just don’t think they can work together in the same movie. It feels quite churlish to question the logic of a Bond movie given things like continuity, the actor’s age and even their face and mannerisms certainly never mattered in the earlier installments. But those films were escapism, never trying to be anything else and intrinsically (and increasingly) ridiculous. Since Casino Royale, the series has been played so seriously that it’s impossible and remiss not to call out these things.
My own biggest complaint with SPECTRE was that the the tone was all over the place. I’ll be there whether Bond 25 is a silly, fun piece of escapism or a deep exploration of the psyche as long but I just hope it’s not both. I also hope the man himself manages to make his mind up…
4. Who exactly is James Bond?
The next movie doesn’t just need to settle on a tone, it needs to also settle on a character.
I could take or leave most of the backstory in general. He’s an orphan? Interesting. He grew up in a spooky house in Scotland? Meh. He was a brother/not brother to Blofeld? Nope, sorry. But it’s his character now that I’m feel they keep changing. He loved Vesper and she made him want to leave the program? I can understand that. He has grief stricken and sought revenge? well of course. So he shagged anyone who came along? Hmm. And fell in love with Madeleine, wants to leave the program again and is happy putting her in direct and permanent risk of harm? No, just no. He feels obsolete in a world of high tech gadgets but is happy to hawk Sony products at every opportunity? He is a loyal single-minded servant of his country except when he’s quitting every other mission?
From the next film, I feel Bond needs to go back to being Bond. In my mind that means a Bond who is charming, ruthless and shallow. He’s not a nice person because he’s seen and done too much, but that’s also what keeps him alive. I’d like him to be funny too but mainly in a cold, vicious, I-just-joked-about-killing-you way. To be fair, Daniel Craig actually does this brilliantly and it was good to see him get more opportunity to do so in SPECTRE. I just wonder if he’ll get to do it again…
5. And finally, who will be playing him?
Decisions behind the scenes will also be important. I’d be amazed if Sam Mendes comes back a third time (although he surprised us all by doing a second) so it’s likely we’ll have a new director in charge. Daniel Craig has also given some mixed signals in interviews but it sounds like the next film might also have to introduce a new actor as 007 himself. On the surface of things, this matters very little. But as the series has shown, it’s not only strong enough to survive this, it’s likely to be accompanied by a change of direction.
The more I think about it, the more it feels that these decisions might just hold the key to what goes on screen. A gritty sequel, a light-hearted reboot with a wise-cracking Bond, a return to the old ways? One thing we can be sure of – James Bond will return.