The British government always calls James Bond when it needs the seemingly impossible done. Since 1962, we’ve seen 007 stop crazy people from slaughtering people on an extravagant funhouse island, flooding the Earth, destroying rockets, and sparking a world war through the news media. With his arsenal of tools and unflappable charm, MI6’s top spy can find a way out of any sticky situation, thereby ensuring the safety of British Imperialism and unrestrained capitalism.
However, Bond is a fictional character and not a real person, and real people hardly ever succeed against such improbable challenges. At least such was the case for filmmaker Sam Mendes, who encountered a challenging circumstance while filming the sequel to the widely acclaimed Skyfall.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter for the 10th anniversary of Skyfall, Mendes discussed how the public’s perception of his first Bond film was adversely impacted by both its unfavorable predecessor, Quantum of Solace, and the financial struggles of MGM Studios.
“People forget these things very fast, but when MGM filed for bankruptcy, the general feeling in the community was that everything was finished. Mendes remarked, “They can’t afford it, and that’s the end of Bond.”
Production was forced to stop due to that bankruptcy, which gave Mendes, authors Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, together with John Logan, the chance to keep adjusting the script. When filming resumed, Mendes and his team were able to develop a distinctive plot that revived the brand while remaining true to its origins.
With Spectre, which rehired Mendes as director and brought back Bond’s archenemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld as the head of the film’s titular villainous organization, it is obvious that the studio had similar expectations. While Blofeld frequently threatened Bond in his early films,
You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever, where he was portrayed by Donald Pleasence, Telly Savalas, and Charles Gray, copyright difficulties prohibited the villain from showing up in more movies. In actuality, Blofeld’s last appearance prior to Spectre was his ignoble demise at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only (excluding Max Von Sydow’s performance in the non-Eon-produced never Say NeverAgain).
For Mendes and his team, lightning unfortunately did not strike twice. Even though Christoph Waltz had a strong portrayal as the archetypal bad guy, Spectre’s flaws vastly outweighed its positive aspects.
Although it still made $880.7 million globally, making it the second-highest-grossing Bond film of all time behind Skyfall, the convoluted plot that attempted to capitalize on the interconnected storytelling trend popularised by Marvel and formulaic twists all but guaranteed a tepid response from critics.
Mendes has a clear understanding of what went wrong with Spectre when comparing it to his experience working on Skyfall after reflecting on the development of that polarising movie.
These movies are extremely challenging to write. The script definitely changed during those ten months of downtime [on Skyfall] because we had the time to explore dead ends and try things like the Bond/Silva pairing. And when we made Spectre, I was not given that time.
And Mendes claimed that the script showed the difference. I sensed some pressure [with Spectre]. It really makes a difference that Barbara and Michael put some pressure on Daniel and I to attend the following one. It was a big deal when people said, “We want you to do it,” and they wooed me fervently.
In fact, a lot has been written about how quickly Spectre was put together, from the news of Mendes’ return following extensive negotiations in late 2013 through the development and drafting of the script in the run-up to the production’s scheduled start in December 2014.
With a November 2015 release date in sight, the movie required seven months to shoot, with international scenes taking place in London, Mexico City, and Rome. That gave Mendes and his team very little time to work on the movie’s finer points.
Since the movie’s debut, Spectre has been somewhat saved by its sequel, Craig’s last performance in No Time to Die. The influence of Spectre, whether positive or negative, is lessened because No Time to Die wiped the slate clean for the following Bond.
We can only hope that producers will draw a lesson from Mendes’ experience for the upcoming Bond film, whatever it may be. So that Bond may keep accomplishing the impossibly, they must give directors time to do what they do best.