Why Have We Heard So Little About Bond 26?
The shooting of the last Bond film, No Time to Die, wrapped up back in 2019, and the film itself came out in late 2021. This makes it almost three years after the completion of a film known to be the last for the Daniel Craig cycle, and a year after that film’s release.
One might have expected by this point to hear something about the plans for the next iteration of the franchise — indeed, to have heard much about it (however much of it may have been rumored, tentative, outdated or simply the usual PR drivel). However, just about every story we hear about the project basically tells us that nothing has been decided, and the next Bond film remains far away (a June piece in Variety telling us that no new actor is in the running for the lead of a film whose filming is two years away, implying a by no means hard release date in 2025).
Just why has so little been said — and if we are to believe what is said, decided — after all this time?
There actually seems no shortage of factors. Some two-and-a-half years into the COVID-19 pandemic the box office is recovering, but not by any means recovered, which fact has been plenty to make decision makers in the industry drag their feet on big decisions. Given that amid that chaos No Time to Die was, at best, an acceptable performer rather than a really stellar one — and given that it was a highly publicized exit for a crop of Bond films that, the official line went, had been rapturously received, underwhelming — one would think them particularly sensitive to that mood. That it was suggested that young people in particular were losing interest (seemingly confirmed by how just the weekend before No Time to Die came out they flocked to the debut of Venom 2, and then a scarce two months later came out for Spiderman in record-breaking numbers) must have been particular cause for anxiety. There are the question marks over the international market that seem likely to remain even after the pandemic fades, like the receptivity of the hugely important China market, while those spinning plots for the series may be ultra-cautious about any Russian element in the story for that reason, and others. (Will even Western audiences embrace a story about a “new Cold War,” or be repulsed by it?) Moreover, all of this is happening as interest rates resurge, with all it means for the costs of shooting a big movie with an uncertain schedule.
Still, that far from exhausts it, with one factor much on my mind the franchise’s long-time survival strategy, to which the current environment has not been conducive. After the ’60s, during which the Bond films had been setting the trend in pop culture in numerous ways (pioneering the high concept movie generally and the action-adventure film specifically, feeding “spymania,” etc.) the makers of the Bond films have kept up public interest by shamelessly seizing on whatever trends came along.
In the 1970s there always seemed to be something out there they could use (blaxploitation, kung fu, underwater and outer space adventure, etc.), and on the whole it worked. However, like so much else this practice offered diminishing returns on effort, as the trend-chasing of the ’80s in particular showed — the attempts to follow in the footsteps of contemporaneous Hollywood action movies yielding particularly weak grosses at that commercial low point for the series (epitomized by the response to Licence to Kill). The ’90s, which was a decade pop culturally more devoted to recycling the ’60s and ’70s than to any new ideas, left even the Bond films’ trend-chasing looking like a recycling of earlier efforts (with the Asian/martial arts elements of Tomorrow Never Dies, like the essential bait-and-bleed plot of the film, a reworking of material from those ‘70s-era Bond films, in that case The Man with the Golden Gun).
Moreover, the twenty-first century has been less fertile still. In its early years it offered the approach for which Batman Begins is a model — and the makers of the Daniel Craig films made full use of it, taking what Ian Fleming himself called a “cardboard booby” with utmost seriousness — frankly, pretentiousness-in concocting an origin story-telling prequel grounded in its action, and darker and more downbeat in tone, with said tone the more conspicuous as running times got way longer. Some didn’t care for this (myself included), but the claqueurs who review movies at the least put on a good show of being enthusiastic, and whether this was because of the turn or in spite of it, the resulting movies did sell a lot of tickets.
Now looking at the latest iteration of the Batman franchise in this very year’s The Batman and it seems we still have . . . seriousness and pretentiousness in the making of a dark, downbeat, origin story-telling prequel about a “cardboard booby” that goes on and on and on for three hours. Two decades later, and we are still in the same place, more or less, with regard to the whole approach to storytelling, while even those more superficial elements the storytellers can use to stoke up wide audience interest have not changed much. Superheroes and zombies were the two big ideas circa 2002, and so they remain in 2022 — and while I don’t think the makers of the next Bond film feel quite desperate enough to make Bond wear a cape, or have him fight zombies (yet). The result is that any reboot of the series made with the prevailing trends in mind is likely to look a lot like the last reboot of the series, the same thing we have had for two decades. And I think that what all that means for those trying to repackage Bond as interesting and contemporary and relevant should not be underestimated by those wondering about the protraction of the process. Putting it bluntly, this time it isn’t just the makers of the Bond movies who are out of ideas, it’s everyone else, too, leaving them with nothing to “borrow” for their purposes, and that much more reason to go on dithering for the time being.
Originally published at https://raritania.blogspot.com.