There has been a serious case of déjà vu now that production on the next James Bond film has been stalled. Fans of a certain age will remember a similar thing happening in 1989 after Timothy Dalton’s second outing as James Bond in Licence to Kill. It took six years for another Bond film to arrive on screens, and by the time it made its debut Pierce Brosnan was the new James Bond.
So will Daniel Craig return as James Bond 007 or will he, like Timothy Dalton, pass the franchise torch to another actor?
For the last thirty or so years MGM has been financially unstable. The company has been bought and sold numerous times, and 1989 was no different. That year also saw the release of Licence to Kill – Timothy Dalton’s second (and final) Bond film. Dalton’s tenure brought a new and grittier Bond, following the far-fetched extravaganzas of the Roger Moore era (sound familiar?).
While The Living Daylights was a hit, many thought that Bond’s day in the sun had set. Action films of the time such as Lethal Weapon, Die Hard and the Indiana Jones series made the Bond franchise appear dated and obsolete. It was time for a new Bond to match these new modern heroes (again sound familiar?).
Licence to Kill gave Bond a more ruthless and violent streak, and it ditched a lot of the far-fetched elements to deliver a traditional revenge movie, with added violence. Die Hard composer Michael Kamen was brought onboard to give the film a modern sound, making it sound less like a Bond movie and more like a contemporary action thriller. Kill was met with mixed fan reaction, but more importantly it tanked at the U.S. box office in the summer of ’89 when Lethal Weapon 2, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Batman reigned supreme.
Later that year, MGM was sold to Australian company Quinetx. The company wanted to cut certain deals so the Bond franchise could be partnered with Pathe. This would have meant that the Bond films could be shown on television without the permission of Danjaq (the company owned by the Broccoli family, who control the Bond series). One of the crown jewels in the Bond franchise is the television rights – the films are constantly shown on television, always with large viewing figures meaning that they still make a lot of money even after repeated viewings. Legal battles ensued and Bond was caught up in a tussle that kept him grounded for six years.
During this period, a Bond film was always in development, and a television series was even mooted at one point but nothing made it to the screen. However, as the legal battles raged on, the political climate changed and it looked like Bond really was a relic of the past. Films like True Lies aped Bond’s style and made the franchise appear to be out of touch. When Bond finally appeared again in the winter of 1995, a more modern (and ultimately successful) spin was given to the character by director Martin Campbell and actor Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye.
Brosnan's reign as Bond ended with the over-the-top special effects spectacle that was Die Another Day in 2002. While that final Brosnan film was successful at the box office, it was just too much in a time where action movies featured heroes like Jason Bourne, with grittier action in a changing world climate. Brosnan was replaced by Daniel Craig (although some might say dumped), who gave the world a James Bond for the post 9/11 era. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were both big hits – but now MGM has hit yet another financial hurdle.
Earlier this year Oscar Winner Sam Mendes was hired to "consult" on a new Bond film, following the success of Solace. EON, the production company which makes the Bond movies (EON is owned by Danjaq) develops the Bond films away from MGM, which has been Bond’s home since the 1960s. It is only when a director is hired that MGM starts fronting cash for the film – meaning that EON could potentially make a deal with another studio and take Bond elsewhere - but only after the cutting of a lot of red tape, of course.
However, the franchise is one of the most valuable assets in the vast MGM film library. At the moment EON needs MGM to finance the franchise (if they wish to remain there), but there is the possibility that Bond could be detached from MGM and sold to another studio. Sony Pictures has been after Bond for years – even trying to set up its own competing Bond franchise in the late 1990s. This argument was settled when MGM relinquished their portion of the Spider-Man rights to Sony, giving both studios healthy franchises.
In April EON released a statement which stated:
“Due to the continuing uncertainty surrounding the future of MGM and the failure to close a sale of the studio, we have suspended development on BOND 23 indefinitely. We do not know when development will resume and do not have a date for the release of BOND 23.”
Bond films usually have a 2-3 year turn around, so it would appear that the franchise has been mothballed for the foreseeable future. With Daniel Craig now in his forties, it may make sense to go with a younger Bond in order to appeal to a generation that likes young heroes. In the meantime, Daniel Craig’s schedule is packing up – if Cowboys and Aliens is a hit it could mean a franchise. This would again put his role as Bond in a tenuous position.
Might Craig and EON part ways now that the next film has been delayed? Both Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore played Bond into their 50s and Craig does have a physicality about him that would indicate he has the energy to keep going for that long, if the audience permits it.
However, the question that really needs to be asked is when will James Bond return?
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