Bond's Current Problems Are Old Problems
But while all these specifics paint the picture of a franchise lacking in real direction, they ultimately come down to something Bond has been dealing with for decades. The series was defined very quickly in the Connery era - by Goldfinger (film three) all key aspects of the formula are present - and much of those definitions remain the popular view of 007 to this day. The issue comes in this being a 1960s series based on Cold War-era novels based on World War II vets. That's a very specific type of character, one that we're removed from more and more.
As a result, Bond has been known for its constant reinvention. Each Bond actor brought with them a wider shift in tone - Moore went full-on camp, Dalton grit, Brosnan 90s-modern, Craig youthful grit (and success this time) - but movie-to-movie the series would evolve with the times. It was always a spy adventure identifiable within the franchise, but you can get Bourne-style parkour-focused outings in a boxset right alongside madcap sci-fi. This can be seen best with Moonraker: previous entry The Spy Who Loved Me had promised "James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only" but after the success of Star Wars the series pivoted into the sci-fi named Moonraker, changing Ian Fleming's story to better match that box office success. It worked, holding the title of highest-grossing Bond movie until GoldenEye almost two decades later.
Reinvention and trend-surfing is the unspoken core of the Bond franchise - it doesn't need hard reboots because each movie is that already - but also means its identity can get confused. Everybody knows about the suits, the martinis, the one-liners, the girls, the gadgets... but these are all very surface level. Strip James Bond to his core and you at best have someone who's old-fashioned in a very British sense, with an outdated view on many things but not least sexual politics (even Craig's progressive movies have had him sleep with a former child prostitute and a widow the night after the funeral of the husband he killed).
This is how you get into a situation where Spectre struggles with its legacy and Bond 25 has nowhere to go. Whereas Star Wars' problem is that everybody has a different read on what the franchise is, for James Bond everybody knows it to a point, and then there is not much else. Position this as a media juggernaut where tie-in deals and promotions are an industry unto themselves, and pressures mount up.
How To Fix James Bond
So, with everything laid down, how do you fix James Bond? The short answer is that it's such an anomaly in major franchises that no easy fix exists. There are so many ways to take 007 from here - indeed, the post-Fleming books have explored Bond's youth, his wartime antics, and various period settings, and all have strong big-screen potential - but they don't do much to address the inbuilt problems.
With things so muddled, Bond 25 should take a step back; as with most franchises, from Friday the 13th to Star Trek, the best advice is to not overthink it. Now, 007 isn't as simple as a hockey-masked hulk stalking camp counselors, but neither should it be a mammoth undertaking that takes four years to complete a single movie; the only real difference need be locking in the sponsorship, and even that's not out of the ordinary nowadays. That aside, the biggest thing holding the series back is that it's moving at such a glacial pace.
Eon should stop correcting internally - each Craig movie seems to be trying to fine-tune what came before - and make a basic Bond adventure that follows trends and address dated elements, sure, but ultimately nails the formula (although ditches Purvis and Wade's recurring "on the run" plot). Pick the mission, pick to the villain, pick the stunts, pick the girl and go.
Will it work? It may not be as introspective as Skyfall, but it'll be a solid action movie with the right talent. Then you can do another one in two years, building from there. We don't need a shared universe tease, we don't need a grand character arc, we don't need canon wink twists. That's right: the easiest way to fix James Bond is just make a James Bond movie.
- James Bond 25 (2020) release date: Apr 08, 2020