A new 007 movie is coming, and the hype train has started already. We know it will see the return of Daniel Craig to the role, and it will be called Spectre. I’m making an educated guess here, but I’d say it will be a modern-ish action movie in which Daniel Craig beats the crap out of a lot of people and some familiar Connery Era tropes make an appearance to remind you this is still part of Cinema’s most cliché spy franchise. Oh, and Skyfall was a big hit, so it will probably be a bit like that. If I sound like I’m down on it, please forgive me. I like Bond movies. I don’t know why, most of them are terrible, but it’s true that you usually know what you’re getting yourself in for when the lights go down. I liked Skyfall, I loved Casino Royale. Still, I wouldn’t describe myself as excited. I refuse to get caught up in any hype for big franchise movies anymore, and it’s sort of Daniel Craig’s fault. Let me start at the beginning…
Casino Royale is the Bond film the series needed since the 80s. (Don’t get me wrong, Pierce Brosnan was a great bond, even if he only managed one great Bond film.) In many ways it was the antithesis to everything wrong with cinema of the late 90s, it was dramatic and excessive, but in its approach to the franchise, Casino Royale was almost entirely reductive. The philosophy was entirely about returning to the core elements of the character. Who was Bond, and if you separate him from the clichés, what would a man like that be? What would a high-tech British secret service really look like in today’s world, and what would their enemies be. At the same time, it drew authentically from the source material, with the second act of the film a very pure adaptation of Ian Fleming’s original novel. Casino Royale is probably the best Bond movie ever made. The sequel is where things start to fall apart.
I don’t have a lot to say on Quantum of Solace as a film. Its flaws are obvious. It is confused, it lacks a clear focus and it positions itself as a direct sequel to Casino Royale, despite that film tying up all its loose ends pretty well. But I don’t hate that film, at the time I ascribed its failings to that same reduction that had made Craig’s debut so satisfying. It seemed likely that in their effort to rethink the series, they had also rethought its approach to sequels and made a misstep. There are worse Bond films in the canon, and the series is successful enough that a better film is rarely more than five years away. Life, and the movie industry trundled on, and the great 007 hype machine started to talk about Skyfall.
It makes sense, I suppose, that the cast and crew would want to distance themselves from Quantum of Solace. The film had a bad rep, their new offering was about to hit the screens and you could tell they were trying to pitch this one as something special. Daniel Craig in particular was probably aware that his future as Bond was resting on the success of Sykfall. One Win, One Loss is ok. One Win, Two Losses and he probably wouldn’t have made it to his fourth Bond film. And that’s when Daniel Craig made his exclusive interview to Time Out that I would love to link you to, but for some reason, no longer exists on Time Out’s website. Don’t panic, people were so thrilled to discover that Skyfall wasn’t going to be the mess Solace was, they quoted the relevant bits everywhere!
Take this section, where Craig informs us that a lot of the writing was actually done by Marc Forster and himself, after the writers’ strike landed on them. How badly affect were they? “We were fucked” are his exact words.
Time Out: It seems that the script is sometimes an after-thought on huge productions.
Craig: ‘Yes and you swear that you’ll never get involved with shit like that, and it happens. On “Quantum”, we were fucked. We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it. I say to myself, “Never again”, but who knows? There was me trying to rewrite scenes – and a writer I am not.’
Time Out: You had to rewrite scenes yourself?
Craig: ‘Me and the director [Marc Forster] were the ones allowed to do it. The rules were that you couldn’t employ anyone as a writer, but the actor and director could work on scenes together. We were stuffed. We got away with it, but only just. It was never meant to be as much of a sequel as it was, but it ended up being a sequel, starting where the last one finished.’
It’s a shame, but hey, these things happen. A lot of people were affected by the Writers’ Strike then. (Check out Season 7 of Smallville for the most distressing examples.) Still, compare and contrast with Daniel Craig just before the release of Quantum of Solace.
For those who find press junkets cringe worthy, here Daniel Craig describes Quantum of Solace‘s approach as “Just making sense.” Just one of many glowing interviews he did before the release of the film.
I know there are people who will tell me that this is an unreasonable criticism. Daniel Craig is an actor, 007 is a big franchise, and a press junket is there to promote the film. Of course the man would say glowing things about the film he is in, it can be hard to judge a film from inside the production, a lot of money is riding on its success, etc. etc. etc. But, allow me to play Casino Royale and be the reductionist, because I think the situation is really quite simple.
Quantum of Solace was a mess of a film, it was being produced at a difficult time and the studio weren’t prepared to delay production until the writers’ strike was over, partly because they wanted their profits to arrive good and on time and partly because they didn’t want to strengthen the arguments of those striking. Because of this, most of the in production writing for Quantum of Solace was done by the director and the star, at least one of which has freely admitted to having no talent for the job. He has gone on to admit that the results were not as intended, nor were they really satisfactory. Argue ambiguity all you like but the phrase “We got away with it, but only just” doesn’t exactly scream confidence in one’s work. Then, this man travelled the world as the face of the film, trying to convince you all to part with your money to see it.
It’s not the worst Little White Fraud in the world, of course. PR companies and advertisers lie to us every day, and we know it. It is a bargain we have struck with the world, we accept that every day someone is trying to find more subtle and invasive ways to part us from our money, we become a little bit more cynical and in return? Well we get movies like Quantum of Solace. I never said it was a good bargain. Our only defense, as I see it, is to not give in to the hype. The world will not change any time soon, and people will still lie to you, but when you see Daniel Craig on TV telling you exactly why you should get excited about seeing Spectre. Just remember, four years later you might be hearing him explain exactly how much of an idiot you were.