007: Road to a Million review – Bond spin-off has a licence to thrill
It might be an offbeat choice for a companion series, but Prime Video's competitive reality show is irresistibly fun.
It's fair to say that the announcement of 007: Road to a Million in March 2022 raised a few eyebrows, Roger Moore-style.
It was inevitable that Amazon's earlier acquisition of MGM would lead to Bond spin-offs being developed for its Prime Video streaming service, but few expected the first offering out of the gate to be an unscripted, reality competition series.
Here, nine pairs of regular people are "unleashed on an epic global adventure" and must take on a set of physical challenges, before facing a string of brainteasers, inching their way closer towards winning a £1 million jackpot with each correct answer. Get just one question wrong and they're eliminated from the contest.
The decision to opt for a show like 007: Road to a Million over, say, a small-screen Felix Leiter series might smart all the more for Bond fans given that this show is the first slice of 007-related action we've seen in over two years, and the only one we're likely to get for the foreseeable – over four years after principal photography wrapped on Daniel Craig's final outing No Time to Die, we're still being told that the hunt for his successor hasn't "even begun".
That additional burden will doubtless count against 007: Road to a Million, which promises to transport ordinary people into the spectacular world of Ian Fleming's secret agent.
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In fact, the show's links to the franchise that allegedly inspired it can, at best, be described as loose – it originated as a concept for a generic adventure game show, with the Bond IP later being appended to the format to help sell it to audiences, and it shows.
Later episodes do attempt to up the Bond quota somewhat, introducing more spectacular physical challenges of the sort we're used to seeing from the 007 movies, as well as glamorous settings and recognisable franchise iconography, including a cameo for the Aston Martin DB5 (with modifications).
But the first episode is rather prosaic – it's almost comical having the grand, bombastic Bond soundtrack play over footage of contestants struggling to climb a steep hill and wading up to their waist in a Hebridean loch. Casino Royale, this ain't.
The addition of Brian Cox as a Bond villain archetype, pressing buttons from behind a desk in a secret HQ and crowing over contestants' failures, is a neat twist, and the Succession star's presence certainly adds a little class to proceedings - but his character of "the Controller" is more mischievous troublemaker than full-blooded antagonist, closer to Knightmare's Dungeon Master than Spectre's Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
To enjoy 007: Road to a Million to its fullest, you really have to judge it on its own merits – because, while it may not be the full-blooded Bond spin-off you're hoping for, it's an awful lot of fun regardless.
Its secret ingredient isn't the added allure of a connection to cinema's most famous spy, but the casting of the contestants – South West London siblings James and Joey (aka "the Bone brothers") are a particular highlight, delivering plenty of big laughs as they tussle with Cox's controller.
The show works because watching its charismatic ensemble tackle physical challenges and wrestle with a series of trivia questions to win cash prizes is plenty entertaining enough, without any extra trappings.
It's more of an ilk with the BBC's Race Across the World than the Bond films, and if it's enjoyed purely as a competitive reality series, 007: Road to a Million absolutely works.
If the show were part of a larger Bondverse composed of multiple film series and TV projects – and you still have to suspect that's where the 007 series will end up going, despite protestations that this show won't "usher in a new era of Bond spin-offs" – then it'd probably go down just fine.
As the one and only product to emerge from Team Bond for years, it'll face impossibly high expectations – and that's a shame, because 007: Road to a Million is a hugely enjoyable ride that has plenty to offer. It just won't scratch the itch of a fandom waiting for the next actor in line to finally strap on the Walther PPK.
007: Road To A Million launches exclusively on Prime Video on 10th November – try Amazon Prime Video for free for 30 days. Plus, read our guides to the best Amazon Prime series and the best movies on Amazon Prime.
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