We got some interesting tidbits for James Bond 25 late last week. The big news is that Lea Seydoux is returning to the franchise, potentially making Dr. Madeleine Swann the first reoccurring leading “Bond Girl” for the franchise. There was talk of Izabella Scorupco’s Natalya Simonova (the best Bond Girl from the best Bond movie) returning for Tomorrow Never Dies and Pierce Brosnan wanted that film’s Michelle Yeoh to return for Die Another Day (with Halle Berry’s Jinx presumably filling the co-star slot). If this comes to pass, Swann will return to live and let die. The film tried to sell the idea that Swann was more than just a shag, that she was grand enough and their relationship solid enough that Bond would essentially retire to spend his days with her.
On one hand, that doesn’t really show in the screenplay, as (through no fault of Seydoux’s) the movie jumps straight from “I hate you!” to “I love you!” in a blink of an eye. Now, to be fair, if you consider the last four 007 movies to essentially be Bond’s first four key adventures, then in this timeline he’s only had one old-school Bond Girl in the form of Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. Olga Kurylenko’s vengeance-driven Camille Montes was a platonic pal who bonded with Bond over similar issues, while the Bond Girl in Skyfall was technically Judi Dench’s doomed M. Maybe this version of 007 essentially falls in love with (and is willing to retire for) any somewhat intelligent hottie who challenges him and still thinks he’s dreamy.
Dr. Swann is the first such woman to survive her initial encounter. While I wasn’t crazy about Kingsman: The Golden Circle, it tried to tell a story about a dashing 007-type spy who ended up in a committed relationship and tried to do his job without cheating on his girlfriend. That’s, of course, assuming director Cary Fukunaga and writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade don’t do the obvious thing and kill her off in the first act in a lazy attempt to replicate On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. What this all signals, as does the apparent return of Ralph Fiennes (M) Ben Whishaw (Q) and Naomie Harris (Moneypenny), is that James Bond 25 is going to be a full-on sequel to Spectre. That sounds like either a terrible idea or a grand challenge.
No, I don’t know if Christoph Waltz will return as Blofeld, but since the character was captured alive at the conclusion of the last movie he can show up or not as the narrative requires. Fukunaga has noted that the first 007 movie he ever saw was that final Roger Moore flick, and he (like most of us) is a huge fan of the Duran Duran theme song. While I’m hoping that this new flick won’t be a copy of A View to a Kill (which itself was a loose redo of Goldfinger with a bit of Superman: The Movie thrown in for good measure), the film’s San Francisco location would be interesting if this sequel picks up on the whole “surveillance = evil” themes of Spectre while dealing with the current moral rot of Silicon Valley.
All of this is dancing around the elephant in the room, which is that I hated Spectre when I saw it in October 2015 and I hated it again when I rewatched it on Blu-ray (fun fact: the subtitles give away Waltz’s villainous alter-ego an hour prior to his name-revealing monologue) a few months later. It looks great, but it plays like a weak sauce redo of Skyfall while trying and failing to mix “serious origin story” 007 with the kind of high camp associated with the late Sean Connery and early Roger Moore entries. However, I’m not displeased that James Bond 25 will pick up where Spectre left off. In an era when sequels often just retcon or ignore the installments that they didn’t like, it counts as courage to play with the hand you’re dealt.
I will presume that the choice to make James Bond 25 into a sequel is partially motivated by a need to hit that February 14, 2020 release date. If you recall, it was the 2007 Writers Guild strike that partially caused Quantum of Solace to become an outright sequel to Casino Royale. As someone who likes Quantum of Solace more than you (as one of two dozen existing 007 flicks, it works as a deeply political change-of-pace entry), I am intrigued by the notion of doing such an explicit continuation yet again. Financially speaking, it was no surprise that it was still a huge hit ($200 million domestic/$881m worldwide), since the movie still gave you the nuts-and-bolts elements (big action, cool vehicles, hot girls, exotic locales, etc.) that fans require from the series.
It was a clear case where even the bad reviews didn’t necessarily hurt the movie since they still assured fans that they’d get what they wanted out of it. Ironically enough, the 007 series, more than most, has the ability to wipe the slate clean every time out, which is why I wasn’t remotely worried for the long-term health of the saga after I saw (and loathed) Spectre. But the choice to sequel-ize seems, on its face, like an unnecessary burden. It also qualifies as a fascinating artistic challenge. Whether you liked Spectre or not, it works as a kind of finale to the Daniel Craig 007 story, where he discovers the big truth about his shadowy nemesis, takes down the organization that’s been puppet mastering the last three movies and walks away with the girl.
The key reason this intrigues me is that it runs contrary to current thinking when it comes to big franchises. We just had a blockbuster Halloween movie ($253 million on a $10m budget) that explicitly wrote-out six prior “in continuity” sequels just because they could. We’ve been threatened for years with a possible Alien sequel that picks up after Aliens and ignores everything that came afterward. The Terminator sequels and reboots are always quick to ignore everything after Terminator 2: Judgment Day, while Superman Returns stumbled by making itself a kinda-sorta sequel to Superman and Superman II (but not Superman III or The Quest for Peace). As such, there is something almost noble about EON, MGM and friends not totally ignoring Spectre but acknowledging that it happened and trying to make a good movie out of its continuity.
To be fair, many franchises have flourished by embracing their continuity. The Saw franchise made it something of a trademark, while the Fast and Furious movies broke out only when they leaned-in to their convoluted storytelling (with a cinematic universe created by accident as a result of being unable to get both Vin Diesel and Paul Walker back for the first two sequels). The Mission: Impossible movies have become more narratively entrenched while turning Ethan Hunt into Tom Cruise’s most autobiographical role, and the MCU has thrived by successfully balancing stand-alone franchises with interconnected long-form narratives. While the pre-release press tour will surely be filled with choice quotes concerning why Spectre didn’t work (with assurances that the next one will be better), it is oddly encouraging and intriguing that they aren’t just starting over from scratch.
I have no idea what the new James Bond movie will be about. Nor do I know if it will acknowledge the grim reality where the American president is a fumbling wannabe Blofeld who single-handedly turned Jon M. Chu’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation into the most prescient blockbuster of the post-9/11 “We’re so topical now!” tentpoles. But the choice to keep Dr. Swann (and the rest of the field-ready 007 Scooby Gang supporting cast) intrigues me specifically because I thought Spectre was such a botch. Whether due to scheduling convenience or a genuine artistic desire to pick up the pieces, the choice to not conveniently ignore the much-derided prior installment automatically makes the next Bond flick an intriguing curiosity. After all, if the Creed franchise can artistically excel using the goofiest of the Rocky sequels…
James Bond 25 (which will presumably be called something else) opens courtesy of Annapurna (in North America) and Universal/Comcast (overseas) in February of 2020. As always, we’ll see. Just don’t kill off Dr. Swann, because that would just be lazy.
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