After quite some time in the shadows, the James Bond rumour mill has kicked into overdrive with the announcement this week that the 25th film in cinema’s longest running franchise will be arriving in November 2019 (or very late October if you’re in the UK). That’s a whole year later than most Bond fans were expecting, given the usual three-year cycle most of us have come to expect. An interesting debate has arisen around the usual questions, however, and it concerns continuity.
Before we get to that, here’s the current state of play. MGM have announced the release date, as studios are often wont to do with major franchises (look at how Marvel let us know what they’re up to years in advance), but since the release of Spectre in 2015 the producers of the franchise, EON, have been locked in a difficult financial back and forth over distribution. Last year, Sony’s distribution rights expired and it seems Bond stewards Barbara Broccoli & Michael G. Wilson have struggled to find a replacement. This no doubt accounts in no small part for why 2019 and not 2018 is when 007 is returning.
There is also the unresolved issue of Bond himself, Daniel Craig. A lot of misreporting has circled around the actor, especially since his clearly flippant comments about not wanting to play the role anymore were taken seriously by many, and while almost certainly Craig has made his choice by now, the MGM announcement wasn’t accompanied by confirmation Craig is coming back in the role that made him a household name. This could indicate negotiations are still ongoing, that maybe Craig wants extra time to finish other projects, or indeed that he’s not coming back at all.
Right now, it’s uncertain.
Most people do expect Craig to star in a fifth and final outing, which would make him the longest serving Bond ever, eclipsing the late Roger Moore (still makes me sad to say ‘late’) for length if not amount of appearances.
The end of Spectre, mind you, was crafted by Craig, EON and Sam Mendes as a possible trap door for Craig to walk out with a happy ending. The final scene sees Bond and latest love interest Madeleine Swann, the daughter of the assassin partly responsible for the death of his one true love Vesper Lynd, drive off in his 1960’s Aston Martin for, conceivably, the life robbed of him with Vesper.
This takes me back to continuity because a lot of people have real issues with elements of Spectre and the way 007’s story could end under Craig, to the point some fans I’ve been talking with on social media have actually championed ignoring the end of Spectre and set Craig off on a whole new adventure with nary a mention of Madeleine. Don’t get me wrong, the script and the chemistry between Craig and Lea Seydoux as Madeleine didn’t nearly do a good enough job of selling their dynamic as the great big love affair for Bond to leave his license to kill behind. Unlike his beautifully constructed relationship with Eva Green’s Vesper in Casino Royale, this one was not remotely earned.
Nevertheless, to ignore Spectre would be a narrative and creative mistake. Similar misgivings have been aimed at the very use of SPECTRE as an organisation in the film, plus the introduction of Christoph Waltz as Ernst Stavro Blofeld aka Franz Oberhauser; many fans believe SPECTRE should have been layered in as a developing villainous group and Blofeld’s reintroduction was a misstep. Again, tethering him to Bond via a childhood backstory is a little bit too Austin & Dougie Powers for me, but like it or not, these were the creative choices Mendes and Bond writers Neal Purvis & Robert Wade made.
Remember, the use of SPECTRE was an immediate response to the kind of rights and legal issues which have plagued EON and the franchise across almost the entirety of its five decade run. Broccoli & Wilson would have been excited at the prospect of using the organisation not seen fully in the Bond series since the 1960’s, it made a lot of sense to bring they and Blofeld back in a fresh, interesting way reflecting the modern, edgier sensibilities of Craig’s 007. Whether it worked or not is open to debate: the point of continuity is a deeper issue because, again, to ignore the inclusion of these elements in any Spectre sequel would be a mistake.
Continuity and James Bond has always been quite unique. Up until the 2006 reboot with Craig, the Bond franchise completely stood outside of any issue of continuity. Every film in the Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan era had the same essential template, with revolving villains, world-destroying threats and love interests, but almost always the picture ended with 007 taking out the bad guy in his lair and copping off at the end with his leading lady.
The same was true of Sean Connery, even if continuity did trickle through his films lightly with the escalating threat of SPECTRE, but even that didn’t last; Blofeld was completely recast on two occasions after Connery’s final film You Only Live Twice. When Connery returned for Diamonds Are Forever, he faced the same man with not just an entirely different face but an entirely different personality thanks to the performance approach taken by Charles Gray, camp as Christmas as opposed to Donald Pleasance’s creepy take in YOLT.
This is interesting because at the time Connery quit the series after five films in 1967, briefly producers considered introducing a continuity reason for why a man with a new face, in George Lazenby, was playing Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Plastic surgery? Bond becoming a codename? None were seriously considered for long and in the end Lazenby’s cheeky “this never happened to the other fella” at the beginning to camera, breaking the fourth wall, was the closest the series got in-film to addressing why 007 had a new face.
A major opportunity for continuity came in OHMSS when the film ended, memorably, with Bond married to Diana Rigg’s Tracy, only for Telly Savalas’ Blofeld (another recast) and his hench woman Irma Bunt shot her dead on their honeymoon. The next film saw Connery return but after a brief, badly-handled pre-credits sequence in which he seeks ‘revenge’ and seemingly kills Blofeld, he’s very quickly back to business as usual. No mention is made directly of Tracy, no mourning takes place, no references to OHMSS, and Blofeld later returns with a new plot. In a dress. Yeah.
Once Moore took over, any light attempts at continuity, which had always been half-baked, disappeared. Moore’s films were quite specifically standalone and formulated of a template, though oddly enough For Your Eyes Only in 1981 saw Moore’s Bond visit Tracy’s grave and take out a horrendously comic version of Blofeld, more as a slight to Kevin McClory and the ongoing SPECTRE rights lawsuit that had been going on for years than anything else. It took the series twelve years, in a strange nod and with a completely different Bond, to even acknowledge Bond was married at all.
The Brosnan era also flirted slightly with continuity elements, but almost entirely stuck to the same template applied in Moore’s run. In GoldenEye, references are made to Bond’s parents being killed in a climbing accident but this is a callback to Ian Fleming’s original novels and not the film franchise in any way. Later in The World is Not Enough, Elektra King asks Bond if he ever ‘lost a loved one’ and Brosnan, quite neatly, avoids the question (the title too oddly is a callback to OHMSS). That’s as deep as it ever went with him. The producers and writers all were at pains to avoid Bond having to cleve to any sense of ongoing storytelling or continuity.
So when we arrived at Daniel Craig’s era, the change was surprisingly to many. Casino Royale didn’t just tap more deeply into Fleming’s source material than any Bond film since the 60’s, it also directly created a story and antagonists followed up in in Quantum of Solace, two years later. The organisation of Quantum were created as a proxy for SPECTRE, still legally out of bounds, and characters beyond the usual 007 surrounding crew reappeared – such as Jesper Christensen’s Mr White. Skyfall seemed to chart its own course when Mendes took over directorial duties, but even that film used the death of Bond’s parents—hinted at in GoldenEye—as a key narrative touchstone for exploring Bond’s history as the franchise hit 50 years.
The real bone of contention for those concerned about continuity comes with Spectre. Mendes returned and his writing team specifically decided to tie everything from the four Craig films together – Quantum, despite being established as a major organisation to rival SPECTRE if anything, turned out to be an arm only of SPECTRE. White was just a lieutenant of Blofeld, as was CR villain Le Chiffre, QOS villain Dominic Greene and Skyfall’s villain Raoul Silva. It was all Blofeld, working behind the scenes, as Blofeld always did. The author of all Bond’s pain, as one particularly poetic line of dialogue described it.
Arguably, this was a pretty major retcon. While making the previous three movies, EON had no idea SPECTRE was going to end up back on the table. It would be foolish to imagine Spectre’s choices were all part of a grand, Marvel Cinematic Universe-esque master plan. They weren’t. If anything, they were suggestive of giving Daniel Craig a possible out. Tying up all the loose ends in his run so they could let him drive off into the sunset and potentially reboot the franchise with a new actor, even though Broccoli has been particularly vocal about how Spectre wasn’t considered an ending for Craig’s Bond. Mendes has intimated differently.
Regardless, Spectre exists. The continuity established across Craig’s films exists. The death of Vesper Lynd has haunted him across all of these movies, even if she isn’t mentioned in Skyfall. The death of M and their developing mother/son dynamic carries over into his psychology and personal choices in Spectre. These are not elements that can be ignored if Craig returns. Some have suggested Madeleine could just be written out off screen, with Bond picking up another mission without missing a step. To do that would be completely out of step with the tone and style of Craig’s Bond, where continuity has mattered and he has a distinctive character arc.
It’s actually why Madeleine should reappear in Bond 25, in some form, because a happy ending doesn’t remotely fit the brooding, tortured 007 Craig has crafted over the last decade. It would make a lot more sense for her to die in the pre-credits sequence, perhaps at the hand of SPECTRE or what’s left of that organisation, putting Bond on a quest for vengeance against Blofeld’s people. Christoph Waltz is likely to re-appear as the master villain so having Madeleine form a major part of Bond’s psychology—which for Craig is to lose what he loves—would make for a far stronger sequel than just ignoring Madeleine, or even Blofeld and SPECTRE.
If for whatever reason, Craig doesn’t return for Bond 25, the goal posts can of course change. There is no evidence to suggest continuity will or should carry through from Craig’s run to whoever plays 007 next. Bond isn’t like the Doctor from Doctor Who, which in essence has a similar construction; the Doctor every few years gets a new face, the show reboots and often so do its villains and supporting players, but that show retains a level of continuity between the past incarnations of the Doctor which Bond cannot do, not without fundamentally changing how you make James Bond films.
A new Bond should, in theory, be the first Bond all over again. Rebooted. The board cleared. All enemies and friends, past, present or future, available to be reimagined. If we get a new 007, there is no reason we can’t have a new approach to SPECTRE or a re-cast Blofeld. That’s exactly what should happen. But equally, cinema has changed since the days Bond could marry, his wife die, and in the next film audiences happily accept him barely raising an eyebrow. Audiences used to cinematic universes except continuity, expect consequences, and expect sophisticated character development.
Bond has done that over the last ten years, hence why Craig’s run has been probably the strongest, in creative terms, since the early days of Connery. Continuity within the lifespan of each James Bond matters. 007, as he continues to evolve and remain interesting and relevant in a new century, deserves that level of sophistication. Otherwise other franchises may begin catching up and, even worse, some may even begin doing it better.