It's official. Following the phenomenal success of Skyfall, Sam Mendes will return to helm the twenty-fourth James Bond film, which will be released in the UK on 23rd October 2015. With the film over two years away, already social media sites and tabloids have been buzzing with speculation about what sort of film we can expect. Fortunately we can dismiss the suggestion that Sebastian Faulks' Devil May Care will form the basis of the next film. (If in the very unlikely event that a continuation novel will be filmed, let it be an early John Gardner, such as Icebreaker (a brilliant title) or Nobody Lives Forever (one of the most exciting of Gardner's Bonds)). More realistically, just what sort of film can we expect for Bond 24?
For a clue to what Bond 24 will look like, we have to look at the patterns of what has gone before. With John Logan returning for writing duties, we should expect a film that combines spectacle and action with emotional depth. There will be some traditional elements too. Bond's surrogate family – Moneypenny and Q, who rejoin M – is now back in post, and M's wood-panelled office seen at the end of Skyfall, which recalls the office of Bernard Lee's M, hints at a more conventional style of briefing. But don't expect the new M to be any less hands-on than his predecessor. As I've suggested in an earlier post, M's expanded role in recent films has in part reflected increasing political oversight of intelligence services, as well as advances in technology, allowing easier and more direct communication between individuals and closer tracking of agents. We may not see Mallory travel so extensively as his predecessor did, but there's a fair chance that he'll still be paying close attention to Bond's mission.
I think there'll be more humour in Bond 24, but the witty one-liners will continue to be underplayed. Those looking for a big film with less introspection and a greater sense of fun might not be disappointed, though. Across the series, the Bond films have tended to follow a trajectory of ever increasing scale as each film attempts to out-do its predecessor, followed by a purge as the series goes back to basics and the cycle is reset. Casino Royale represents a back-to-basics Bond, but it is arguable whether it marks the start of a new cycle. Certainly, both Quantum of Solace and Skyfall had bigger budgets than Casino Royale, but their plots have seemed somewhat limited in scope. The threat posed by Dominic Greene's plot is not fully realised, robbing audiences of a 'ticking bomb' denouement, while Raoul Silva's plans are focused on destroying individuals, not nations. That said, the simple desire to better the success of Skyfall might encourage the production team to think big and induce the sort of plot that gets Blofeld out of bed in the morning.
What about the one of the contentious aspects of the Craig era – the absence of the gunbarrel sequence from the start of the film? I don't have the figures, but I wonder whether its absence is contentious only to the relatively narrow constituency of Bond aficionados. For the casual Bond fan, or those introduced to Bond via Daniel Craig's films, I'd be surprised if its placement at the end of the last two films is an issue, and I don't remember any newspaper review of Skyfall bemoaning the gunbarrel's absence from the start. As much as it pains me to suggest it, I expect the gunbarrel to be kept at the end of the film. The gunbarrel at the start of the film was once very well established, but as soon as the sequence was significantly altered for Casino Royale, the spell was broken, making it easier to alter and relocate the sequence for subsequent films. While the association between the start of the film and the gunbarrel sequence has weakened, the association between the sequence and the end of the film has become stronger, and it now seems just as appropriate to close a film with the sequence as open it.
As for story, inspiration as usual will be drawn from the pages of Ian Fleming's novels. There's still plenty of unfilmed material, and my hope is that we'll see something based on the short story 'Octopussy', ideally with a bit of skiing thrown in. I'd like 'The Hildebrand Rarity' to be used as the title of Bond 24, but I fear I will be disappointed.
All this is idle speculation, but clues to what we can expect of Bond 24 are more likely to be offered by the films that immediately precede it than the films that date further back. The Bond films are not nostalgia-fests (which is one of the reasons why we are able to discuss the 24th film in the series), and the series has adapted with the changing times, being influenced as much by the prevailing cultural environment as influencing it. The series may not manage to bring all Bond fans with it (nothing wrong with that, of course), but it gains many new fans, who help keep James Bond alive into the next generation.