Devotees of Bondage – ahem – the world over breathed a deep sigh of relief last week when – finally! – the happy news emerged that the Hollywood studio MGM had successfully negotiated their way beyond their bankruptcy-threatening financial woes. Crucially, this meant that production on the 23rd James Bond film, actively suspended in April last year, was now firmly back on track for a November 2012 release and with successive instalments set to be released every two years thereafter. Let Joy and Jubilation reign in a suitably Maurice Binder-designed fashion! The as-yet-untitled Bond 23 will be directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, The Road To Perdition) and, best of all, will see the return of Daniel Craig as Her Majesty’s finest Blunt Instrument.
For a time, there was a very real fear that Craig – a magnificent and authentically-riveting incarnation of Bond – would have his tenure as the death-proof superspy cut short by legal woes, much in the same way as the terrifically-underrated Timothy Dalton’s ultimately was. The scenario of Craig ultimately being forced to accept a Dalton-like legacy of merely two films – made plausible by the six-year delay between Licence To Kill and Goldeneye as well as Craig’s increasing demand in Hollywood – would have been a bitter pill to swallow, especially since Craig’s astoundingly-good debut in Casino Royale is one of the franchise’s absolute high-points.
The Bond series new-and-improved schedule means that Craig, who took on the role in late-2005 aged 36, can still compete the five instalments he’s contracted for and potentially depart the series after Bond 25 in late 2016 while in his late 40’s – and before he starts to stretch credibility – having achieved a Connery-esque legacy (if we discount the 1971 comeback Diamonds Are Forever) and a firm place in the Bond movie pantheon.
However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. With Craig’s return now assured, the immediate and intriguing question concerns what can be expected from Bond 23. A big drawback of 2008’s determinedly-humourless Quantum of Solace is that it ultimately struggles to work as a standalone film: as a direct sequel to Casino Royale you absolutely need to have seen that film to understand the plot. And as a resolution to Casino’s story, it wasn’t particularly satisfying, because the film actually played like a hard-and-fast second act of a trilogy, which makes sense as this was the original intention for Quantum.
The film actually ended with a cliffhanger scene, involving Jesper Christensen’s Mr.White, which enticed 007 towards pursuing the Blofeld-like leader of the shadowy Quantum organisation. According to Quantum’s director Marc Forster, “If I [had] kept the scene, the producers wouldn’t have had a choice but to make it a trilogy. Now they can start anew.” After decades of rigid adherence to formula, I rather liked the idea of the series temporarily following an extended storyline for a period (it’s not without precedent: the second, third and fourth Star Trek movies are directly linked too) and, given that the producers set up the mystery of the SMERSH-like Quantum so effectively, it would be a shame to leave it dangling. Why not give Craig’s Bond a modern-day Blofeld?
Whatever plotline they pursue, connected or otherwise, the presence of Sam Mendes in the director’s chair certainly gives cause for confidence. Mendes’ great strength lies in his ability in mining human drama which makes him ideal to wrangle this key (and greatly applauded) aspect of Craig’s Bond and, given that Mendes and Craig worked well together on The Road To Perdition, there’s an existing rapport. As with Marc Forster, you can hardly complain about Mendes’ lack of action film experience – this is very much the purview of the series’ supremely-efficient Second Unit.
If I have one wish for Bond 23, then it’s for the film’s score to make a glorious return to habitually using The James Bond Theme within the film itself. Composer David Arnold made the bold decision to withdraw it for Casino Royale, saving it for the very end when Bond essentially becomes the dapper spy we all know and love – and it worked surprisingly well. He continued the approach with Quantum of Solace and, again, the theme appeared at the end – this time with the famed Gunbarrel sequence – but, as the saying goes, absence does make the heart grow fonder: it will have been a whole decade since we had 007 jumping headlong in to peril to the strains of his own immortal theme. I’m sure I am far from alone in my appetite to see the return to a rollicking classical Bond score like he achieved with his grand debut in Tomorrow Never Dies.
… and if they can get a few laughs in there too, all the better. In the meantime: the 50th anniversary of the cinematic Bond will be marked with a new film featuring a great Bond – put that in your Martini and shake it!