I’ve always been in favor of honesty and truth telling. I generally lay my opinions on the baccarat table in plain view on Twitter and on the #Bond_age_Pod. Mathis would comment about how I have a tell in 5 Card Stud. Everyone’s got their own perspectives on the Bond series and they’re all refreshingly different. 23 movies (going on 24 in a matter of days) means that nobody has to agree with anyone else! And unless you start calling You Only Live Twice the best of Bond, I will congratulate you on your notions and carry on Bonding. If I’ve ever said anything remotely negative about someone’s opinion, I’ve done so in jest, tongue fully in cheek, aware that objectivity and Bond are not regular bedfellows (most likely just a bit of spontaneous intercourse with no further obligations).
And now in the spirit of this truth-telling, I have a confession.
I hope that SPECTRE will stink. I’m talking about Die Another Day-levels of epic embarrassment. Do you consider this an irrational desire? Pfft. My hopes are no more or less rational than my undying love for The Man with the Golden Gun or my perverse affection for making derogatory comments about You Only Live Twice. It makes perfect sense to want to point and laugh at a movie and think “This is f’ing terrible and I love it.”
No! These are not the ravings of a megalomaniacal villain set on box office anarchy, no, sir. I have reasons for wanting the Bond franchise to fail. Hear me out. In my lifetime I have witnessed the resurrection of Bond franchise three times already. I know how perceived success and failure dictates Bond’s creative direction. I am not a masochist (I don’t think) and I want to be entertained by SPECTRE, but I also crave a truly terrible Bond. I want slide whistles and awkward interracial coupling. I want embarrassing villains and rampant bimboistic behavior. I want sharks… and I’ll even accept some piranhas if necessary… and a winking fish statue. Is it too much to ask to have another winking fish statue? Isn’t it just a bit of tedium to expect a good movie and then see a good movie? Where’s the suspense? Where’s the surprise? On #Bond_age_Pod 12, I already told you how this movie is going to play out. It’ll be good and we’ll all be like “Yay SPECTRE!” But we won’t meant it. We won’t really be excited. Our expectations will have been met. Bob’s your uncle. Start counting down to Bond 25.
The global, unimaginable success of Skyfall meant that EON would continue this new trajectory of predictability. Dour Bond. Angsty Bond. Dark and brooding Bond. Bond with more overt Shakespearean themes. Skyfall Bond traded in nostalgia with a nudge and wink, but the narrative and the film in which James Bond existed could have been any modern day Hollywood action thriller with a quality production team not helmed by Brett Ratner. Sam Mendes scrubbed away any potential for embarrassment just as Thomas Newman’s score scrubbed away John Barry and David Arnold. Mendes’ slick and shadowy direction that dispensed with many of Bond’s frivolities pushed 007 further towards the mainstream, towards greater financial success and the certain predictability of 8/10s and 3-star ratings and up. That crossover appeal meant that Bond would be back for a second hit of success, like a coke fiend coming back for more after that introductory freebie. Skyfall blends into SPECTRE blends into SPECTRE 2: Aha! Blofeld! blends into SPECTRE 3: The Search for Bond’s Lost Kitten. (The Oscar-nominated heartwarming and tragic tale of a boy who became a man who came to terms with his parents death with the help of a fluffy white kitten that’s subsequently stolen from him by a mysterious bald man in a Nehru jacket.)
Unless this all ends now.
Since the initial height of the spy craze in the mid-1960’s James Bond has been ever popular but always just on the fringe of overwhelming financial success. After Skyfall‘s record-breaking box office numbers, I fear that Bond’s creative direction for the near future will be strictly dictated by that ever-present focus group called the “lowest common denominator” — the “lowest common denominator” expects wall-to-wall action, amazing stunts and quality filmmaking of an increasingly palatable and vanilla variety. Where have you gone, John Glen?
I’ve been talking Bond on social media daily for nearly three years now. Because of these conversations, my perspectives have changed and my opinions whittled down with great precision. In 2015, it’s very clear that there are two very different audiences for a Bond movie. There are Bond fans and then there are movie fans that also like Bond. These two groups overlap like a two-bubble Venn diagram. (No other bubbles. Let’s not complicate matters with clarity). I, a Bond fan, want something different. Bond fans want — nay, Bond fans crave a Bond that has the potential to drop an Octopussy on your unsuspecting, complacent moviegoing asses. Let’s see Ben Whishaw hang with ladies dressed in red spandex suits borrowed from the set of Greatest American Hero. Wait, you don’t think that sounds like a good idea? Aye! Therein lies the gap between Bond fans and non-Bond fans. Bond fans willingly walk that tightrope. Movie fans just want to sit in a comfortable chair with their popcorn and be entertained. A team of female acrobats in red spandex fighting evil art connoisseurs? Cinemultigoogleplex audiences would run for the exits.
For me this notion came to a violent head when EON assigned Bond theme duties to Sam Smith. Sam Smith is a multi-platinum selling artist. He’s won Grammys and stirs the souls and cockles of a certain demographic. Sam Smith was by and large chosen as the SPECTRE theme song artist to sell $1.29 downloads to people who don’t watch James Bond. That’s the reality. This was a decision driven my financial surety, not the hopes and expectations of the longtime, die hard Bond fan. The die hard Bond fan wonders if Sam Smith’s big secret is that he’s got a third nipple. Maybe a fourth. Hope for a fourth nipple notwithstanding, Smith’s song is comfortable. It’s offensively palatable. It’s dull and lifeless. Where’s the risk? Where’s the potential to fail as mightily as two mismatched artists crooning the awesomeful “Another Way to Die”? (Shoot em up. Bang. Bang. #AmIRight?)
The direction of James Bond might be seen as progress in the eyes of popular culture and the critical mass. But the Bond that Bond fans grew to love never went more than a movie or two without some glorious, heinous misstep that had critics calling for the end of the series and Bond’s head on a skewer in a museum of 20th century antiquities. Over the years Bond became critic proof because Bond fans loved the nonsense (and we all had our subjective favorite bits of nonsense), loved the eccentricities that the series had just accepted as commonplace. But now, in this brave new Bond world, Bond is championed by critics and the mainstream public. And it doesn’t seem like we’re going back to the glorious, old 007 anytime soon… unless, of course, SPECTRE turns out to be complete and total self-implosion stinkbomb.
And if that happens, I’ll be the guy outside the theater cheering, embracing that miserable failure… welcoming the coming of the new Bond (that also happens to be the old Bond). And in that case, there’s only one man for the job. And no I’m not talking about goddamn Idris Elba or Damian Lewis. One man stands ever by, ready at a moments notice, knowing fitfully that the needs of the few (Bond fans) outweigh the needs of the many (everyone else).