With Spectre set to open on 3,927 screens Friday in its U.S. debut, the James Bond film has already received two sets of reviews.
The first — and by Hollywood standards, most important — set is financial. In its first week of limited international release, Spectre shattered U.K. box office records, clocking over £41 million ($63 million) to eclipse an 11-year-old benchmark set by Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. And according to pre-release audience estimates, the 24th “official” Bond installment could earn around $75 million over its American launch weekend.
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The second set of reviews — by actual movie critics — has been decidedly mixed. Spectre currently boasts a not-so-hot 60 percent RottenTomatoes.com freshness rating, with The Guardian awarding the thriller five stars (for its “pure action mayhem with a real sense of style”) and The Washington Post alternately dismissing it as “overcompensating and dutiful.”
To be sure, Daniel Craig’s latest outing as 007 must surf in the turbulent wake of 2012’s Skyfall, the most lucrative Bond movie to date (with more than $1.1 billion in worldwide grosses) and an unmitigated critical breakthrough. But to hear it from veteran series co-producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli — the half-siblings who operate the Bond series’ longtime production company Eon Productions and licensing wing Danjaq, which have overseen all double-0 filmic efforts since 1962’s Dr. No — the burden of expectation remains uniformly high, whether the previous installment was a blockbuster or a bust.
“If you make a bad picture, one that’s not so successful, you think, ‘Oh god, that’s the end of the series!’” says Wilson, seated in the company’s office at Southern England’s venerable Pinewood Studios. “When you make one that’s very successful, you think, ‘Oh god, how are we going to live up to that? What is the audience going to say if you don’t come up with the goods?’ No matter which way, we’re always running, trying to be better, trying to surprise the audience and give them excitement for their money.”
It begs the question: Which film did they fear effectively killed 007?
“Plenty of people have rung the death knell of Bond,” says Broccoli, the daughter of Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, the larger-than-life, Italian-American producer who ushered the secret agent from the page to the screen. “I remember when we started with Goldeneye, people were saying, ‘Now that the Cold War is over, Bond is not relevant because there is peace in the world.’ Well, do we need to remind people how that was inaccurate?”
As gatekeepers of the franchise, Broccoli and Wilson were responsible for hiring Daniel Craig as Pierce Brosnan’s 007 successor and taking the series into edgier territory in 2006’s Casino Royale. With Skyfall, they induldged director Sam Mendes biggest creative risks: killing off Judi Dench’s M character and effectively showcasing Bond as he wrestles with mid-life crisis and impending obsolescence.
In Spectre, the kind of spectacular set pieces moviegoers have come to expect alternate with discrete soupçons of backstory that fill in the audience’s blanks on the seminal childhood experiences that made an 11-year-old orphan evolve into “Bond. James Bond.” But according to the producers, certain Bond core values remain sacrosanct.
“The other night I was watching a film with my wife. They had the hero going down a freeway smashing up cars and there were all these people,” recalls Wilson. “I said, ‘We’d never do that in a Bond film!’ Bond never puts the public at risk.”
Adds Broccoli: “He’s responsible. The Bond character, we’ve kept a tight rein on certain parameters. He isn’t corruptible. He isn’t in it for his own personal glory or gain. He is a knight. He represents all the good people out there who are fighting the evil forces. I think we’re good about letting directors exercise their own spin on things. But the parameters were set a long time ago.”