Who Should Be The Next James Bond?
The next James Bond?
With the dull regularity of the inevitable shitty puns about being shaken not stirred and other clichés that have quite literally been trademarked by the makers of the films, whenever a James Bond actor reaches their fourth film, there’s speculation in the showbiz press about who’s going to take over the role.
The process usually involves whether it’s time for a black actor to become James Bond, or whether it should be a woman. The way this is usually framed is to suggest that a beloved franchise is under threat from political correctness and to hint that it would be a great tragedy if this were to occur, as it would mean that the type of people who want to replace Christmas with ‘Winterval’ would have won.
So, let’s do that.
Bond is a deeply conservative, establishment figure; both the character and the franchise. He’s a tool of the government, and also a moneyspinner for billion pound turnover businesses. So it’s unlikely that any actor playing James Bond in the near future will be too radical a departure from the formula, but the success of a franchise like James Bond depends on regular reinvention. This is in much the same way as Doctor Who also engineering audiences to accept a change of lead actor. The difference is that Doctor Who has regenerations as a plot device that facilitates replacement of the lead actor within the narrative and allows previous actors to return, but the James Bond films skip over the issue somewhat and just parachute in a new actor every decade or so.
Daniel Craig’s debut, Casino Royale, was a reboot for the franchise, presenting him as a newly qualified agent. As Judi Dench was still in her role as M, which she also took when Pierce Brosnan was Bond, there’s some room to infer that Craig’s Bond is taking on the name and that the name comes with the number, and Craig is the next Bond ‘in universe’. Skyfall exploring Bond’s family history doesn’t really allow for this, so we’re unlikely to see Daniel Craig’s James Bond resigning and handing the identity over to someone else, as neat a way as it would be to introduce an actor that wasn’t a similar white male approaching middle age.
What Daniel Craig seemed to understand about Bond, and which perhaps only Timothy Dalton also understood, is that the character is a tragic, doomed, figure that’s a bit sad really, and the audience’s participation in the fantasy is also slightly pathetic. Pierce Brosnan’s Bond had a line aimed at him by Judi Dench about being a ‘sexist Cold War relic’ or something similar, which was a bit of a poor attempt to contextualise the character, as of course, she was proven wrong, and within the story being told, he was still needed and there was still a place in the world for an agent provocateur that could walk into the bad guy’s base and piss them off, then blow it up.
But Craig did genuinely move beyond that, which is highlighted in an article that Laurie Penny (whose work you should all be reading, if you aren’t already) recently wrote about The Tragedy of James Bond – Penny argues that Bond should remain played by a white male actor because the character is all about masculinity in crisis and attempting to define what that means. I can’t disagree with her argument, but I think that the problem with how James Bond should be portrayed goes deeper than just this.
In understanding that James Bond is a misogynist – and also arguably a rapist (I’m gonna explain this one in a bit, stick with me) and going with it and acting the role that way, not trying to excuse it, Daniel Craig has nailed the appeal of the character.
(Okay, let’s just unpack the ‘rapist’ thing for a second. The much older Bond films had Sean Connery regularly hitting women and then restraining them and kissing them. Usually they then gave in. Would that really happen? It’s pretty rapey. The books are even worse – there’s a bit where a woman gets Bond to urinate on her by pretending to step on sea urchin spikes and claiming urine is the best cure. This is her way of seducing him. Tricking him into pissing on her. No, seriously. There’s also a conversation about being able to test whether men are gay, because gay men can’t whistle. Presumably because they suck each other off so much it deforms their lips, or something. Again, it’s in there, so as well as the general sexism, Fleming’s James Bond is probably worse than you even already believed. Worst of all, however, are the times throughout the films when he sleeps with women as a means to an end. If they knew his full agenda, would they still have sex with him? Probably not, so it falls into the same category as undercover police having relationships with women in political protest groups who didn’t know their full identities and agendas, with the police have recently apologised for and are bracing themselves for being sued over.)
None of which, I hear you say, is coming closer to what you probably thought this piece would be about – something along the lines of whether Idris Elba was right for the role, or if Tom Hardy could do it justice, or if Sue Perkins should have a shot.
So, it’s time for me to declare a personal interest. As Laurie Penny says, James Bond is an increasingly guilty pleasure that’s getting more difficult to defend and we wonder why everyone likes him when he does terrible things and is a total dick. We wonder if we can be the same, perhaps? Is a part of the fantasy to see how much we can get away with? Okay – disclosure time. I used to really want an Aston Martin, and once when I had a bit of cash after selling a house after a breakup, I very nearly bought one to cheer myself up. I did have a word with myself though, and thought that whilst it could be fun, if it broke down in a busy high street, or I accidentally clipped someone else’s car in it, the amount by which I’d be thought a total wanker would increase significantly. I didn’t think I could get away with it. I’m just not quite rich or egotistical enough to not have fucks to give about that sort of thing. I didn’t really want to buy into an off-the-shelf middle-aged white-male fantasy, because I don’t think anyone can really get away with it unless, like Bond, they’re dead inside and really truly don’t care.
So, what I’d really like is for not for anyone to reinvent Bond or try to make the character relevant or cool again, but for Daniel Craig to stay in the role and double down on the shit bits and see if audiences go with it or not.
I want him to get flabby, and get a hairpiece like Connery, and get slow and arthritic like Roger Moore, and think acting consists only of smirking or grimacing like Brosnan (Dalton actually can act and seemed to understand this all too, so I’m leaving him out of this).
Despite – or perhaps because of – my having seen every Bond film and read all the Fleming books, I don’t see James Bond so much as a tragic figure, but a deeply sad one, and I’d love to see Daniel Craig really go with the whole Austin Powers, Our Man Flint ridiculousness of the role and kill it forever by remaking Moonraker or something horrible like that.
I have half a suspicion he’d actually enjoy it, and would love to give Bond a final hatefuck send off.
That’s what I think the next Bond film should be. I don’t know if this all means I’m old and jaded, or have just grown up a bit.