Danny Boyle's Beatles-centric musical rom-com Yesterday is a perfect explainer for why it's a good thing he's not making James Bond 25. In April 2018, Boyle was the original director named for the fifth (and likely final) outing of Daniel Craig as secret agent 007, which was a dream job for the filmmaker. However, Boyle and his screenwriter John Hodges abruptly left the project in August 2018 citing creative differences. All of this occurred while Boyle was shooting Yesterday; if his disappointing James Bond experience colored his making the Richard Curtis fantasy, it reestablished that Danny Boyle is better off making his own original works.
Recently, Boyle opened up about why he parted ways with Bond 25, noting his belief that trying to fit his creative style into the confines of a major movie franchise like James Bond isn't for him after all: “I learned my lesson that I am not cut out [for franchises] otherwise you’re digging in the same hole. I am better at not quite in the mainstream franchise movies, is the honest answer.” Out of respect to Bond 25's new director Cary Fukunaga, Boyle is diplomatically silent about why his vision didn't mesh with what Bond's longtime producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson wanted. Whatever the case, Boyle's ideas ultimately proved too radical for James Bond, which maintains certain tropes that have ensured its success for over 50 years.
Even though all of this Bond drama occurred during Yesterday's production, it didn't seem to affect the crowd-pleasing musical rom-com. Yesterday creates a world that magically erased The Beatles from existence so that only struggling musician Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) remembers the Fab Four once existed. Malik goes on to become a global pop star by passing off The Beatles' songs as his own, but he struggles with the guilt of being a fraud and with his growing romantic feelings towards his longtime manager Ellie Appleton (Lily James).
Jack ultimately chooses love, truth, and happiness over fame and fortune, a rather fitting reflection of Danny Boyle brief fling with Bond 25.
Is Yesterday Really About Danny Boyle's Failed Bond 25?
Obviously, Yesterday is not a direct commentary by Danny Boyle on his Bond 25 experience - the production timeline alone disproves that - but there are some loose parallels at play here, regardless. One of the interesting aspects of Yesterday is how Jack himself matter-of-factly isn't perceived as a star by his new Los Angeles-based record label and manager Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon). And, as the label asserts control over Jack's image and career, they begin to rework The Beatles' songs (which were, after all, written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the 1960s) to make them suit modern pop music tastes. This humorously includes Ed Sheeran's suggestion to retitle "Hey Jude" into "Hey Dude".
Despite being a fraud, Jack battles with the label to protect the integrity of The Beatles music and, in a way, this could also reflect the problems that led to Danny Boyle quitting Bond 25. This is not to imply the director is by any means a fraud like Jack (though Malik does possess raw talent as well) but rather, Boyle and John Hodges understandably wanted to seize an opportunity to put their unique stamp on James Bond. Boyle and Hodges reportedly clashed with Bond's producers over their choice of casting for the villain and their idea to kill off Craig's 007. Not surprisingly, the producers balked at such risky breaks from their winning formula.
It's easy to draw parallels: Boyle is Jack and Eon are the music label. After all, Boyle is a filmmaker who is used to seeing his personal vision realized untampered. The struggle between art and commerce is a powerful theme in Yesterday but it's something Boyle was dealing with concurrently in his desire to bring his vision to James Bond; it would be no surprise if some of the lessons Boyle learned bled into Yesterday.
Yesterday Shows Why Doing A Bond Movie Could Be Bad
Through the story of Jack trying to bring The Beatles' music back to the world while still maintaining their artistic integrity (at the cost of his own), Yesterday shows the burden of delivering popular media to the audience. Though he always held reservations about what he was doing, Jack did enjoy the rush of performing the Fab Four's music and seeing it connect to audiences all over again. But by the end of Yesterday, it becomes a major source of stress and anxiety as Jack had to give the label and the audience what they wanted (which wasn't always the same thing) and maintain The Beatles' artistic purity - all while getting lost in his own lie and realizing that this new life as a pop star was keeping him away from Ellie, who represented the life he really wanted deep down.
Similarly, by choosing to walk away from James Bond - and his own dreams, as a lifelong 007 fan, to make an official Bond movie - Boyle chose to hold onto his own artistic integrity. While there are certainly rewards to working within an established global franchise like James Bond (the same can be said for superhero movies like Marvel), a filmmaker ultimately has to surrender his independence and function within that franchise's system. The producers always have final say over a property like James Bond because, after all, directors are hired hands who supervise shooting an individual film but the producers are the ones who are truly responsible for the continued profitability of the franchise for all involved.
A director like Boyle made his career (and won a Best Director Oscar) pursuing his unique personal vision. At the end of the day, he realized James Bond is a corporation's intellectual property that Boyle can't really bend into his own art. Ironically, for Yesterday, Boyle held back a significant amount of his propulsive, electric, signature style fans love about his films like Trainspotting and 28 Days Later (a franchise Boyle co-created). Instead, the director chose to play up the story's loving homages to The Beatles and the delicate sweetness of Jack and Ellie's romance - which also worked and once more proved Boyle's own versatility as a director.
Yesterday Proves Danny Boyle Is Better On His Own
After he became a star in Yesterday, Jack quickly learned that all his label and audience wanted was The Beatles' music and no one was interested in his own original songs. Malik tried to be content with the knowledge that he was merely a Beatles cover artist and he soon found it was impossible to be anything else. Jack tried to slip his own original song, "The Summer Song", into his album but Debra hated and rejected it. This reflects a downside for directors who helm major franchises as they can become synonymous with a property like Bond and get trapped by that success.
Someone like Christopher Nolan was already a well-respected director but he became a household name thanks to The Dark Knight Trilogy, the success of which raises the expectations of all of his other films (ironically, Nolan is also a lifelong Bond fan who may never direct an official 007 movie but he worked in an elaborate action sequence in Inception that's an ode to On Her Majesty's Secret Service). Similarly, Zack Snyder is finding his post-DC Films career colored by the incessant demand for the Snyder Cut of Justice League (though he continually fuels that demand). James Gunn will always be linked to his greatest success, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, which was thrown into chaos after Disney temporarily fired him in 2018. Even James Cameron has returned to the Terminator franchise he created but hadn't been a part of since Terminator 2 in 1991.
After his exit from Bond 25, Boyle said "learned quite a lot about himself" from his brief experience working with a major franchise. Indeed, Yesterday's success is further proof that Danny Boyle is better off not making franchises and continuing to create original works, especially in a marketplace overpopulated with cinematic universes. Yesterday is a welcome alternative to spandex, superpowers and remakes, and while his Bond 25 would have been thrilling, Boyle should be proud to be one of the leading directors unencumbered by the burden of a franchise.
Curiously, in Yesterday's altered reality, not only are The Beatles missing but so are other famous British creations like Oasis and Harry Potter. One has to wonder if, in a bit of revenge, James Bond also vanished from Yesterday's world - and Danny Boyle simply isn't saying.
- Yesterday (2019) release date: Jun 28, 2019
- James Bond 25 (2020) release date: Apr 08, 2020