The less we read about the production of any given James Bond movie, the better. Recent headlines about the new “doomed” movie in the franchise—Bond 25, due out in the spring of 2020—read as déjà vu.
In November 2007, hours before the beginning of a three-month strike by the Writers Guild of America, screenwriters turned over the first draft of a script for Quantum of Solace to Daniel Craig, who was reprising his role as 007 for a second time, after the 2006 release of Casino Royale, and the movie’s director, Marc Forster. Of course, the script needed revisions, which the Hollywood writers’ strike complicated. So Craig, a theater kid to the end, took his pen to the script. “There was me trying to rewrite scenes,” Craig recalls in a 2011 interview, “and a writer I am not.” Quantum of Solace, released in fall of 2008, never quite amounted to a coherent Bond plot, proving to be a shaky, languid action movie which paid a greater debt to Jason Bourne than James Bond. In recalling the movie’s disastrous production, Craig says he told himself those famous last words on the tip of every Bond actor’s tongue: “Never again.”
Having survived his Quantum of Solace debacle, Craig teamed up with Sam Mendes to direct his 2012 entry, Skyfall, a great flick that established Craig in the lineage as a great Bond. Mendes also directed Craig’s 2015 entry, Spectre, a meandering and mediocre movie which was reported, upon release, to be Craig’s last. It would have been a dismal farewell, if so: Spectre reanimated the classic Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, only to transform the overall Bond movie experience into a glorified TV crime procedural. Spectre was, in a word, exhausting for all involved: the audience as well as the lead actor. A month before the movie’s release, Craig told Time Out magazine he’d “rather slash [his] wrists” than play James Bond again. Still, Craig stressed his desire for a vacation before making any definitive decisions about his participation in the next Bond movie. “If I did another Bond movie,” Craig said, “it would only be for the money.” Indeed, Barbara Broccoli and MGM ponied up a fuckton of cash, $25 million, to cast Craig in the forthcoming Bond 25.
The movie’s success depends upon first-time Bond director Cary Fukunaga, who replaced the project’s previous director, Danny Boyle, after he resigned citing “creative differences.” So far, Fukunaga’s oversight has proved somehow more tumultuous than the earlier Boyle news cycles. On Monday, The Sun reported a “mutiny” on set after Fukunaga showed up “several hours” late to a taping “because he was playing on his PlayStation.” The headlines undermine the hype generated after the producers’ recruitment of Rami Malek, who will play the movie’s villain, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who is working on the script. Malek and Craig have reportedly struggled to film scenes together due to their schedules, and Malek has addressed rumors about the production turmoil. On Tuesday, Fukunaga responded to his alleged absenteeism, insisting he hasn’t slacked off from shooting Bond 25 to play Red Dead Redemption 2 in his trailer. “It’s still the best job in the world,” Fukunaga wrote in an Instagram caption, “and I’d never disrespect the hardest working cast and crew. We’re all in this together.” Still, Fukunaga couldn’t possibly demonstrate a higher commitment to Bond than Craig, who had surgery last month to repair a broken ankle suffered while filming in Jamaica.
Craig’s run as Bond is coming to an awkward, stumbling finish. In the seven years since Skyfall’s release, observers have obsessed over the proposition that Idris Elba would succeed Craig to become the first black Bond. Four years ago, the late Roger Moore caused a controversy when he said Bond should be “English-English”; he later denied the comments were racially motivated and said the reporter put words in his mouth. Still, Moore’s comments about Bond’s “English” identity informed the larger discussion about the potential for a black Brit to inherit a film role pioneered by a Scotsman and later taken up, with unfortunate results, by an Irishman. Craig and Elba have made fun of the rumors and the rivalry they’ve supposedly created; after all, Elba’s casting was, 11 years ago, Craig’s proposal.
The controversies have, in recent years, cast Craig as little more than an obstacle to Elba. Craig has suffered physical injury and the psychological torture known as writing in order to rescue the film franchise from oblivion in the 21st century. Broccoli praises Craig as if Sean Connery never existed: “Daniel Craig is Bond, forever, as far as I’m concerned.” Undoubtedly, Broccoli and Michael Wilson shoved $25 million across the table with minimal hesitation. Craig will continue playing a role that he, and his critics, have come to resent.
Craig and Fukunaga are rushing headlong against the curse that ensures that each Bond actor’s final Bond flick is, inevitably, his worst. Connery lived to regret Diamonds Are Forever; Moore aged beyond belief in A View to a Kill; Pierce Brosnan concluded his run with Die Another Day, the most ridiculous Bond movie made to date—a real milestone for a film franchise that includes Octopussy and Moonraker. For Craig, Skyfall would’ve been too soon and too perfect as a final note to his Bond career. So Fukunaga has Craig shuffling on crutches, working through a ritualized disaster. Thirteen years ago, Craig reinvigorated an ailing character who’d succumbed to widespread parody. Now we find our hero hobbling over to craft services under a Caribbean sunset.