The history of Bond movies is already spanning over 50 years now and has thus seen several highs and lows since “Dr. No” graced the silver screens around the world.
There has been greatness (Goldfinger’s laser, Blofeld’s lair, Moore’s puns) and not-so-greatness (Bond’s gorilla costume, Brosnan’s invisible car, Moore’s puns). There has been beauty, ugliness and death.
It’s no wonder then that everybody has a different perception of what a film about 007 has to be like. Some prefer the more fantastic, escapist Bond movies, others only accept the “gritty Bond” as the ultimate one.
Over the years the series has established lots of idiosyncratic tropes and standard scenes, some have been omitted while others continue to live on. For good or for bad, that has everyone to decide for her/himself.
For this reason, I decided to list a few things I want to see in a Bond movie (again), whether I missed them in the last couple of movies or I have never seen in the franchise before, supported by my two guest authors aka henchman Jaws Ronin and Necros I_AM_BETTER.
This is an open letter to the current producers of the Bond films- take a look at our suggestions and take them to your heart if you are clueless in which direction you want to go with the franchise.
Hint: People on the internet always have the best ideas and are always right in all matters.
[alert type=red ]WARNING: This article contains, no is even made up of personal opinions.[/alert]
Guest author I_AM_BETTER:
001) A larger-scale villain’s master plan
A villains grand Master plan that actually threatens the world. There has not been anything like that for a long while. Blofeld had a diamond laser that could scorch entire cities. Stromberg had hijacked nuclear subs and was gonna start WW3 so he could build his underwater society. Drax was going to kill the world’s population with nerve gas, so he could rebuild with his perfect space society. Let’s look at the recent Daniel Craig-era villains; Le Chiffre was laundrying crime syndicates money via poker game, Dominic Greene was stealing Bolivia’s water sources and Silva was just wanting to kill M… We need some true feeling of danger, on a global scale. How about it?
002) A truly good Bond title song (DEE)
I know I will cause a stir with that statement, but I think there has been no good Bond title song since…Licence To Kill (1989).
“Goldeneye”, performed by Tina Turner, was a noble attempt at recreating a Shirley Bassey theme for the 90s, but the pathos and glamour remained shallow and superficial, while the accompanying title sequence is admittedly still one of the best though.
“Tomorrow Never Dies”, sung by Sheryl Crow, fares slightly better but still fails. The song tries to evoke a 60s feeling and has some nice instrumental highlights, but the overall lack of a catchy chorus or a compelling melody in combination with Crow’s somewhat thin voice brings it down in the end.
Not much of a improvement is “The World Is Not Enough” by the band Garbage. While Garbage and its lead singer Shirley Manson were a truly inspired choice for a change, their talents are sadly wasted on a fairly nondescript song that mixes overused lyric- and sound-elements from the “Bond Songs 101” catalogue into a monotonously boring sing-along. The less said about Madonna’s fairground bumper car- techno with Flamenco-intro auto-tune excess “Die Another Day”, the better.
Well, at least she tried something new though, something that can not be said about Chris Cornell’s power-ballad “You know my name” for the movie Casino Royale which again walks the well- trodden songwriting paths of the Brosnan era. The generic guitar track and the overly dramatic, obtrusive orchestra parts are complemented by Cornell’s vocals, that sound unusually forced, as if he desperately wanted to squeeze at least a bit of drama from the bland chorus.
You are trying too hard, mang.
Lesson to be learned: Making a James Bond song by the ways of an Aerosmith ballad does not work.
Too bad the Bond producers learned nothing and insisted on clumsily inserting contemporary elements without rhyme or reason, as to be witnessed by the example of Jack White’s idiosyncratic guitar play that was integrated into -or should I say forced upon- the sound of “Another Way To Die”, title of the horrible Jack White/Alicia Keys duet that appropriately opens the equally uneven Quantum of Solace.
The fact that Jack White’s shrill voice and Alicia Key’s soulful intonation don’t harmonize at all becomes painfully obvious when they sing together, much to the discomfort of the listener who instantly feels shivers running down the neck, but for all the wrong reasons. A Bond song has to have a certain smoothness to it and not sound as if someone just pulled the tail of Blofeld’s cat.
Which leads us to the latest Bond song so far, namely “Skyfall” by Adele, a song striving so hard to sound smooth it turns out as one monotonous sound soup. “Skyfall” is an spectacularly unspectacular by-the-numbers number whose chorus is almost indiscernible from the verses, maybe owed to the reality that it’s kind of hard to build a proper melody around a chorus that ends with the fictitious, somewhat awkward sounding bisyllabic word “Skyfall”. Adele’s wailing TV-casting show singsong and the ridiculous supporting choir do the rest to make you wish Madonna would return with her squeaky auto-tune voice to prevent you from falling asleep.
None of those newer Bond songs was able to achieve that unbeatable melange of ominous melodies, often cryptic lyrics filled with eroticised death wishes and/or romanticism (which are in stark contrast to Bond’s rather unromantic attitude) and impeccable songwriting. The producers have been wise enough to mix the formula up here and then and frequently hired new artists and bands that brought their own sound into the equation without completely omitting the idiosyncratic elements (Duran Duran, A-ha, Pretenders, Wings).
The newer songs indulge in a pale mimicry of the songs of the Connery-era, yet they are never achieving the same impact.
My advice to the producers: Get new songwriters, artists whose voices fulfil meet the requirements of the song and ditch the orchestral pomp in favour of a more subtle use of instruments. Also be careful when you decide to modernize the sound- see Madonna.
I suggest to hire Goldfrapp or Chris Corner (former lead singer of the now retired Sneaker Pimps), because they already made songs that could fit as intros for Bond movies.
003) The return of a cool-headed, sophisticated villain (DEE)
What would the Bond movies be without their iconic villains?
There is Blofeld in his different incarnations of course (Telly Savalas being the best), but also Christopher Walken as Max Zorin or Yaphet Kotto as Kananga who left their indelible stamp on the series with their performance. Not to speak of Gert Fröbe, whose villain Auric Goldfinger even lent the movie its title.
What is fascinating about these characters is the fact that they were always able to match 007 in terms of suaveness, coolness and sophistication. I have never been a big fan of the iconography of the noble flawless hero fighting the depraved scum-of-the earth villain. This may be working for fantasy movies and such but otherwise it’s a quite boring concept. I need no Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris or David Caruso proving their moral superiority over the drug-selling, woman-slapping and human-trafficking villain with his greasy semi-mullet and his sleazy pimp moustache.
The Bond villains, while undeniably ruthless and sometimes slightly demented -which manifested in flamboyant mannerisms- always showed flawless manners and impeccable taste for women, clothes and interior design. It was impossible to hate them, because they had an endearing charm about them that could easily rival that of Bond, while 007 was entrenched too deep enough in the darker spectrum of the grey area to claim moral superiority over the bad guy. In other words, Bond and his adversaries always met on eye level.
But one day that tradition suddenly ended. Christopher Walken probably played the last truly larger-than-life villain of the series (not counting the somewhat complex-ridden Maximilian Largo alias Klaus Maria Brandauer from the non-official Bond movie Never Say Never Again).
All villains from the Dalton-Bonds, both Joe Don Baker and Jeroen Krabbe from Living Daylights as well as Robert Davi from Licence to Kill have been rather mundane, but it still worked as the relative “realism” of those movies was a necessary change of pace for the series.
Alec Trevelyan aka Sean Bean aka 006 from Goldeneye was another more down-to-earth baddie, but that was still forgivable, as his character served as a catalyst for the closure of Bond’s Cold War- career and cleared his way for adventures in a no longer bi-polar world. Yet, this marked the first time in the series that the villain was outright ill-tempered and had a personal vendetta against the MI6 going- Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) from Licence to Kill does not count, as only Bond had a beef with him but not the other way round.
Elliot Carver, the Rupert Murdoch- caricature from Tomorrow Never Dies was at first glance a step into the right direction. He had a master plan that was as megalomaniac as it was outlandish, he was narcissistic and he wore a kind of Mao jacket- all indispensable signs of a legendary Bond villain in the making.
Sadly, Jonathan Pryce, no stranger to overacting, took the hammy road and gave Arnold Schwarzenegger a hard time for being the campiest movie villain of 1997. None of the typical Bond-villain character traits which are a certain gravitas, a sense of dignity and a sparse but effective use of body language, are on display. Instead, Pryce portrayed Carver as a non-stop babbling Rumpelstiltskin, whose main means of expressions are synchronized jaw-eyebrow movements and compulsive shrugging. Low point of his performance must be the moment when he tries to provoke Michelle Yeoh’s Chinese spy character with a mockery of a Kung Fu routine.
The World Is Not Enough gave us the novelty of a female Bond villain (Electra King!), portrayed by Sophie Marceau, but her role was woefully underwritten and she had again a rather murky revenge agenda against the MI6, particularly against M (Judi Dench). She and her henchman Renard (a kind of Darkman variation without coat or coolness) are at closer inspection practically both brainwashed PTSD- victims, which does not make for glamourous evil-doers.
Then there is Die Another Day‘s Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) who is actually the “whiteface” version of the Korean Colonel Moon – long story, involving a factually questionable excursion into genetics, don’t bother… In the end he is just a guy with pathetic daddy issues who has the most powerful weapon of the world at hand and has no better use for it than to erase the DMZ between North- and South Korea. If there is one thing the old Bond villains cannot be accused of then it is a lack of imagination.
That the makers chose to go for a more grounded villain for Casino Royale is understandable, as the movie was meant to make us forget the kitsch excesses of its predecessor. And it’s kind of tough for me, who is a big fan of the Hannibal TV-series, to admit that Mads Mikkelsen’s turn as “Le Chiffre” is a bit unremarkable, bleeding glass eye and all. Sure, he was intended to be a mere tool for a hitherto unknown bigger villain, but that does not excuse the paper-thin characterization. He is just another bargain baddie who cannot make good decisions or keep a cool head.
Not surprising though is the fact that the worst Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, has also the worst villain, Mathieu Almaric as Dominic Greene aka “The Angry French Midget”. As Quantum is nothing more than an afterthought to Casino Royale, his character is appropriately enough just an afterthought to “Le Chiffre”. Actually, “afterthought” is too nicely put, Quantum feels more like a burp by someone who could not properly digest Casino.
Time to finish with the latest villain, “Silva”, who is portrayed by Javier Bardem in Skyfall. Like in Tomorrow Never Dies, this marked another noble attempt to establish a more flamboyant, eccentric villain and yet again they failed. The potential of Silva, who is clearly modelled after the Joker from The Dark Knight (I won’t go into lengths here…), is squandered with the decision to found his motivation on -yes, no- a private vendetta against the MI6 and particularly M(other).
“Yawn.” – Q
Maybe those more grounded villains do actually fit better in our time, but lest we forget, the Bond franchise always had one foot firmly planted in the fantastic realm and the friction between real world elements and escapism is one of the main points of attraction of Bond movies.
My wish: Abandon all the vengeful stock villains that have a score to settle with Bond/MI6/M. We have enough of them in the Mission: Impossible franchise already. Bring back a villain we can look up to and secretly cheer for. Update the concept if necessary, but in a subtle and elegant way.
Suggestions: Martin Landau, Frank Langella, Samuel L. Jackson or Chow Yun Fat maybe? Or why not go the female villain route again and do it correctly this time? Sigourney Weaver would be an obvious choice, but I can also imagine Gong Li, Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep filling that role adequately.
Guest author RONIN:
004) A villain’s secret lair
What do I want to see again in the Bond franchise? A villain’s secret lair! I don’t mind if they bring those back again. Maybe not anything outlandish as a volcano lair but something that might look plausible. High tech traps, armed guards, utilitarian style background, the works. But for the love of god, subvert, avert, deconstruct, reconstruct, the tropes associated with a villain’s lair. If I wanted it played straight, I’ll watch the old films. But they have got to shake it up a bit with the secret lairs!
005) Ski/Snow chases and diving scenes (DEE)
They have always been an integral part and trademark of the Bond action canon and set the series apart from competitors.
Has there been a ski chase captured on film before On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?
Some movies copied the concept -most notable being Die Hard 2, True Lies and Inception– but could rarely live up to the scenes in the Bond movies, the best of them being filmed and choreographed by the German ski racing legend Willy Bogner, who often filmed them while skiing backwards on special skis, facing the actors/stunt men.
The World Is Not Enough had a decent snow chase and Die Another Day a serviceable car chase on ice, but since them the Bond action never went below 0° Celsius again (yes, Celsius. Bond is a European spy).
Same goes for the many diving scenes in the series, the underwater battle from Thunderball being the deservedly most legendary among them, closely followed by the Lotus-turned submarine in The Spy Who Loved Me and the duel of the small submarines in For Your Eyes Only, at least in my humble opinion. Again, it has been a long time since Bond’s changed the tuxedo for a wetsuit, namely since a very formidable excursion below the sea surface in Tomorrow Never Dies. (Bond breaking through the ice of a frozen lake in Skyfall does not count.)
My suggestion: Bring on the ski chases- youtube is filled with videos of professionals doing the most unbelievable stunts, technology and new techniques have pushed the envelope of what is possible in the field. Bring all possible vehicles and scenarios into play, give us chases with skidoos, skis, snowboards, ice skates, sleds etc…
Same goes for the diving scenes. Maybe give us a scene that takes place in the deepest depths of the ocean, that would be a first for the series. You could get advice from James Cameron. And the guys who made “Ice Road Truckers”.
006) Bring back the glamour (DEE)
I won’t go into lengths here as we already covered most of that point in the previous paragraphs. This is mainly aimed at the Bond movies with Daniel Craig.
For me, Bond has not to be reinterpreted as a “blunt instrument”, whatever that means. Make no mistake, I appreciate the fact that they bestowed the character with a sense of danger again. But why does he have to remain such a brute off the “battlefield” or as Kenny Loggins would put it, the “danger zone”?
It’s another fascinating contrast that got lost in the general overhaul of the series. Even the US-redneck Jason Bourne has better manners than Craig Bond. Guess the screenwriters based their depiction of 007 more on British soccer hooligans than on British gentlemen.
One could argue that Craig’s movies show the evolution of Bond, means he still has to earn his later coolness, but we are already three films in and the character is still arrested in a prolonged phase of a kind of existential crisis with no improvement in sight.
My suggestion: Give Bond back his suaveness, both on the societal stage as well as in his job. In the preceding movies, spy duties like sneaking, mauling and killing were (often) conceived in a manner that was equal to 007’s social skills in terms of elegance.
It is also time to ditch the depressive angle, let Bond have more fun at doing his job and indulge in all the benefits that come with it. In the long run this could mean that Craig has to be recast, but this is a sacrifice I am willing to accept. Bye bye, Bond.
007) Bond needs to go down. Down Under. (DEE)
No other action hero, not even Indiana Jones, has traveled the world as extensively as double-0. Literally every place has been visited by him at least once: Japan, China, the USA, Switzerland, Russia, yeah he has even been to space!
Nonetheless there are two whole continents Bond has never been to: Antarctica and Australia. The omission of the former one as a destination is understandable, due to its unforgivable lack of potential hostile agents and Martini-serving casinos (could be a cool location for a villain’s lair though- just saying).
But there is no excuse why our favourite movie agent has not been to Oz and its surrounding islands yet. Imagine all the hypothetical plots. He could spy on his super-rich Rupert Murdoch-type villain from the balcony of the opera in Sydney. Ayers Rock would make for a spectacular location for a dramatic showdown.
Another highlight could be Bond dueling with an Australian double agent (“THAT’S a knife.”). And snakes- the third most important animal species in the Bond saga following sharks and Blofeld’s cat- Australia is cluttered with them!
A plot could involve a microchip with crucial information, that somehow gets into the pouch of a Kangaroo, hilarity ensuing.
How about countless gratuitous helicopter shots of Bond walking on mountain ridges in New Zealand? There is a plethora of possibilities opening up.
Do you agree? What are your wishes for the upcoming Bond movies?
Let me know!
PS: Dear producers, please consider my self-written Bond song I sent you last week (“Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be Secret Agents”). Thank you.
Guest authors: I-am-Better is amateur internet film critic and co-founder/regular of the “Breakfast on Planet X” podcast. Ronin aka Godzilla_Fanboy is internet amateur film critic and movie buff.