Differences. Creative Differences.
Oh, Danny Boyle. The press, the press are calling.
Yep, there’s no way that hasn’t already been written online at least a thousand times. To be honest, if I had his number, I’d be calling. Or maybe I’d be better calling the good folks at EON Productions. Just to find out what happened. I want to know exactly why they parted ways with such an established and interesting director.
Then again, if we’re going to talk Bond, I suppose I need to be honest up front. I’m not what you’d call a fully-fledged Bond fan. I wasn’t raised to watch Goldfinger every bank holiday. I didn’t know who George Lazenby was until I first twigged that Diana Rigg, Emma Peel herself, had been in a Bond film. I’ve been known to watch entire Roger Moore outings through a barely contained cringe.
Don’t get me wrong, over the years, I’ve toyed with Bond fandom. I tried to watch the Connery movies when I was becoming a teenage film geek. Only, by then, I didn’t have the grounding that allowed me to see past the wobbly FX and occasionally leaden dialogue and plots. Let alone some spectacularly misjudged character moments. Although I will say this, From Russia With Love is one of the all-time greats.
I watched the early Brosnan releases as they came out. Goldeneye was pretty good. Tomorrow Never Dies got a little tacky for my liking. It was The World is Not Enough that really put the nail in the camel’s back. There were so many things in that movie that felt dated and strained to my tastes. So many missteps. So many missed targets.
I guess, like a lot of people, I tuned out as Brosnan stepped aside and assumed that the franchise was done. There were interesting rumours of a Bond reboot at one point, in a time before the word reboot was such a constant threat. They were talking about setting Bond back in the era of the books, which really got my attention. Until one article whispered the name Bloom…Orlando Bloom. Thankfully, that never panned out.
Then came the news that Eon had secured the rights to Casino Royale. The early days of the press loathing Daniel Craig. Which made no sense to me. Here was brilliant British actor, stepping up to take on such an iconic role. Besides, he’d already snuck a brief Bond audition into his role in the sleek, bleak, honed Brit crime thriller Layer Cake. He just didn’t have black hair. Or Bond and that colours. It’s Damian Lewis and his ginger hair all over again.
As Casino Royale went into production, Bond was more of a punchline than an icon. Matt Damon, Paul Greengrass and everyone involved in the first Bourne trilogy had always taken great delight in comparing their world travelling, violent, Moby loving super spy to a certain 007. They openly called James a drunk, a sociopath, a sex addict. The night I sat down to watch Martin Campbell’s take on a new Bond, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect a movie that dealt with those accusations head on. For the first couple of Daniel Craig movies, the best two for me, his Bond is a drinker. He’s cold and brutal. His relationship to women borders on sociopathic.
Here was a Bond that interested me. Flawed, scarred. A man forged in pain and heartbreak. My problems with his Bond all sit in the Sam Mendes era. Skyfall is very nearly brilliant. It’s so close, until you take a good look at the plot and realise two things. One, the villain’s plan doesn’t make any sense at all. Two, the entire movie is simply there to make Danial Craig’s Bond more palatable to older Bond fans.
As we came out of Quantum of Solace on opening night, there’d been a lot of muttering. A lot of people around my parents age were making no attempt to hide the fact that this wasn’t their Bond anymore. By the end of Skyfall, they were all smiling again. We’d got Moneypenny back. M was a man again. Q had returned, bringing along a few toys. Whilst tacky villains were the order of the day and the theme song was all about the title of the movie again.
And then there was Spectre. Oh my.
The annoying thing with Spectre is that the first two hours are pretty good. That movie is thoroughly enjoyable, right up until the moment Bond wakes up in an automatic torture chair. After that, the entire thing just falls apart.
Which is why I was so interested in Danny Boyle. After Spectre, Sam Mendes made it very clear he was done. Even Daniel Craig took a break from the bowtie and tux. There was a real sense of the franchise regrouping.
The directors Eon began approaching all looked promising. Christopher Nolan had meetings. Christopher Nolan, who’d been talking about his love of Bond for years. There’s a whole snowbound sequence in Inception which might as well be labelled ‘Mr Nolan’s Lovely Bond Reel’. Only he came out of those meetings saying he wished the producers all best, but he wouldn’t be working with them. Then Denis Villeneuve went to see them. The man who did the impossible. He made a solid Blade Runner sequel. He’d also wrecked my nerves with the original Sicario and broke my heart using science fiction with Arrival. But he walked away from Bond to travel to the distant worlds of Dune instead.
The list of new directors was in constant flux, until Danny Boyle stepped into the rumour mill. Oh man, was I excited by that choice. When I heard the Bond producers had put everything on hold because of a pitch that Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge gave them, I became totally invested. For me, Boyle never makes a dull movie. There’s something about his eye, his use of music, his sheer delight in making movies that shines through every frame. True, not all his movies are perfect, but they can all get to you. Sunshine left me speechless. 28 Days Later left me breathless. 127 Hours made me scared to go outside without constantly texting my loved ones with my current location. Whilst Trainspotting 2 features one of the simplest, greatest images of a haunting I’ve ever seen. Just the shadow of a mother, still showing on the wall behind the seat she always used in the first movie. That is pure cinema sequel perfection. Such understated brilliance.
I was one hundred percent in for a Danny Boyle Bond. It would be probably have been something street level, cheaper. Something fast moving, organic, dynamic. Something we’d not seen before. Only the dreaded words appeared. The words that stopped Edgar Wright making Antman. The words that ended many the attempt to make a Flash movie before DC simply dropped that universe altogether. The words that meant Ron Howard was thrust into the driving seat of a Han Solo movie.
I hate those words. We see producers go out of their way to court a director with a big name. They sing to the press about it. We get our hopes up and then, somewhere behind closed doors, it all falls apart. It drives me nuts. Particularly when it’s a franchise. A movie making machine that can afford to take chances, that can afford to let someone take over and steer them in a new direction for just a couple of hours of screen time. Why wouldn’t you do that?
Look at some of those clunkier Bond movies. Diamonds are Forever. Octopussy. License to Kill. Sure, they have their moments, but they’re not cinema gold. They were safe choices that missed their mark.
In a world where Timothy Dalton turned out to be ahead of his time, surely the Bond producers should be willing to learn from their mistakes. They made Die Another Day, for crying out loud. They liked the idea of turning Blofeld into Bond’s whinging step brother. They put Roger Moore in space!
They’ve dulled the sharp point of their own iconic franchise time and again by going safe. Why not try something new? They have the money, they have the history. They have an awesome army of people making these movies with them. The stunt teams. The second unit. The costume and set teams. Why wouldn’t you give that fast, fuel guzzling car to someone with a new vision and let them go for a ride?
Instead we’re back in Bond limbo, waiting to see who accepts the poison chalice next. It’s such a shame. It’s bad enough that Daniel Craig still has at least one movie to make and he’s having to watch the internet delight in debating who’s going to replace him.
If Roger Moore was here, I reckon he’d coyly raise an eyebrow at the whole debacle.