007: Road To A Million review | not shaken or stirred but mildly diverting

007: Road To A Million
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Brian Cox is on good, villainous form in Amazon’s curious Bond-themed game show, 007: Road To A Million. Here’s our review.

When Amazon bought the rights to the James Bond franchise in 2021, we can only imagine their frustration on realising that Eon Productions had absolutely zero desire to develop a Bond Extended Universe, filling their schedules with Moneypenny: Origins and such like.

As 007 producer Barbara Broccoli reaffirmed recently: “Our focus is making the feature films. When we get going on a Bond movie it takes our full attention for three or four years so that’s our focus. We make the Bond movies for the big theatrical screen and everything about the Bond movies is for audiences to see around the world on that format, so we’ve not wanted to do television.”

James Bond might now have his older movies pop up on Amazon Prime, but the chances of a new feature every two years or a raft of spin-offs are slim to none. How then to justify the purchase? Why, a gameshow, of course! 007: Road To A Million is surely the logical means of cashing in on the globally recognised and still quite esteemed 007 brand, no?

In this case, eight pairings are thrown together – made of a diverse cross-section of British life, in terms of racial demographics and a combination of siblings, married couples and good friends – and are sent to locations featured in James Bond films from across the decades to complete challenges set by the watchful Controller, as portrayed by Brian Cox, communicating with the teams remotely and setting questions that allow them steadily to accrue cash on their, yes, road to a million.

The opening episode focuses almost entirely on the Scottish Highlands, the setting of the memorable climax to Skyfall, and around the Bone brothers, a pair of cockney lads who we watch climbing fairly steep mountains as they seek a metallic briefcase located around a remote loch. Inside the case lies a multiple-choice question they must answer to advance to the next level. Once they choose, they let off a canister of smoke, a signal denoted by colour. Green is correct. Red is incorrect. And so established is the formula for the succession (pun intended) of challenges set by Cox’s Controller.

The Bones grew on me, I’ll be honest. At first they seemed like extras in the Nag’s Head pub from Only Fools And Horses, but their dynamic (one relatively smart, the other, er, less so) soon clicks as they move onto Venice, setting of Casino Royale and Moonraker, for the next challenge. The first episode also features a pair of Muslim sisters, both of whom are very nice, and both of whom fall at the first fence. Oh dear.

If you can imagine a cross between energetic 90s game show Challenge: Anneka and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?, just with a huge budget and lots of tenuous James Bond connections, then you have the general feel of 007: Road To A Million. It isn’t very complicated. The challenges generally mean we watch the pairings wander around glamorous locations – husband and wife Josh and Kamala visit No Time To Die’s Matera in Italy – before facing challenges such as scaling giant cranes or measuring man-eating snakes, either to reach or answer the next question.

The whole thing feels like it dips a toe in and out of Bondian waters with dizzying regularity. 007 fans will instantly know these locations and make connections to the films, and will no doubt rejoice at sightings of Bond’s old Bentley or references to ‘Kincaid’ (Albert Finney’s groundskeeper in Skyfall). They might also be disappointed at how otherwise lacking in Bond minutiae this all is. The flavour and feel is Bond, yet it barely makes any direct reference to the character or the franchise at all, which in some respects feels strange.

Especially when you consider Cox. He quipped recently, I suspect with tongue very much in cheek, that he believed he’d signed up to be in an actual Bond film for this, only to learn it was a gameshow after the fact, but he’s absolutely playing a machiavellian 007 villain.

He’s more Ernst Stavro Blofeld than he is Chris Tarrant. In fact, he’s deliberately some kind of fusion of Blofeld, Succession’s grouchy media baron Logan Roy, The Apprentice’s Sir Alan Sugar, and maybe even a touch of Sir Patrick Moore’s GamesMaster. Cox sets the challenges but we also cut to him reacting in casually pithy or sinister tones to things the contestants say. I wouldn’t be surprised if he said, “Take care of the Bone brothers… see that some harm comes to them.”

The episodes even begin with a version of the Bond ‘cold open’, structurally, with the first flashing forward to Josh and Kamala even though they don’t appear until the second outing, and the first hour ends on a cliffhanger with the Bone brothers that we see resolved at the beginning of the second. Each episode then has a Bond-esque credit sequence set of opening titles, clearly riffing on the movies’ famous openings. And because this is Eon-licensed, David Arnold, Thomas Newman and Hans Zimmer’s more recent Bond scores fuel the challenges.

So why doesn’t it more directly reference the Bond movies? It’s strange. Perhaps to broaden the appeal of a concept that is, technically, a reality television show, given the contestants are improvising real people, reacting to undoubtedly set rules by producers and directors. They know enough not to have phones that would make solving the challenges easy, and will I’m sure have been vetted for whether they could cope with snakes or tarantulas or great heights and so on. There’s naturally a level of artifice to something as constructed as this, with money behind it. But it’s still a gameshow when all’s said and done.

Maybe that’s why – to expand appeal. If all the contestants were Bond fans, they’d probably all look like the chubby middle-aged ex-cops Nick and Keith, who we meet in Naples in the second hour, sweating their way around the heel of Italy, going “Oooh that’s a bit like Live And Let Die, look!” Eon and Amazon probably realised it wouldn’t make the best telly. But is this really going to pull in people who aren’t, like me, and perhaps you reading this, Bond obsessives? Surely this is mainly for us, right?

Either way, 007: Road To A Million, while perfectly diverting and fun, and well made enough to avoid staining the Bond brand, does say more about where the Bond franchise currently exists in the wider world of streaming and IP than anything else. Amazon clearly wants to exploit Bond content, but are stuck with a production company with a lot of bargaining power which, unlike Marvel or Disney, really wants to keep James Bond tethered to an older world of production. They want it to stay classy. They want it to stay premium. They want us never to get sick of Bond as we’re arguably a bit sick of endless average Marvel or Star Wars products right now.

Does this make sense as a halfway house? Maybe it does. Maybe it’s enough to appease the Amazon bean counters worried about value for money, while allowing Broccoli and the Bond family to focus on the big challenge ahead, perhaps 007’s biggest yet – reinventing him for a whole new generation. If this is that trade off, I can live with it. Now I’m just hoping Brian Cox ends the final episode by turning to viewers and saying, “James Bond will return… now fuck off!” 

Yeah right. I must be dreaming.

You can find A J. on social media, including links to his Patreon and books, via Linktr.ee here.

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