So, James Bond.
Bond is probably the franchise I care about least – the only one I’ve ever seen was Skyfall, which was entertaining enough, but hasn’t really prompted me to search out any of the others – but have the strongest opinions on. Though I suppose that’s strong opinions on what would actually get me to care about the franchise.
Anyway. Bond is in the news again at the moment because Danny Boyle has left Bond 25 under a cloud of creative differences, meaning that what is presumably going to be Daniel Craig’s last film as the infamous spy has been delayed further, and probably won’t be very good. This I am not, admittedly, especially interested in – I figure all that’s going to happen is the film comes out a year or so later, directed by a rising star who’s talented, but not so experienced that they have the clout to disagree with the studio, and still feel beholden enough to an opportunity like this that they wouldn’t walk away when higher ups start to interfere.
No, what I’m interested in again is Bond 26, and how the franchise is going to be refreshed and rebooted once again – I suspect that there are a lot of conversations about that going on behind closed doors anyway. It’s something I wrote about a few years ago, kicking around a couple of ideas for a potentially interesting way of approaching the first film in a new Bond series, but thinking about it again lately, I’m not really convinced that idea is quite radical enough.
So, let’s backtrack a second. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the Craig era, with all its grim realism, was at least in part a response to Austin Powers, right? After Mike Meyers did the parody version, they couldn’t quite get away with another Bond film that was quite so over the top, hence moving in the other direction.
The question then becomes, I think, what is the next Bond era going to be a response to? Well, it’ll be stuff like Jason Bourne or John Wick, but particularly it’ll be a response to Mission Impossible: the big, successful action thrillers of the past few years, the ones that have cornered the genre and defined expectations for that type of film. The obvious response to that, you might think, is for Bond to try and go bigger and better – to get the next leading man to do even more dangerous stunts than Tom Cruise, to have even better fight choreography than John Wick, whatever.
I’m not convinced that’s the right approach, though. If we accept the premise that other franchise have perfected the action thriller genre, then surely Bond shouldn’t be trying to play that game anymore. There’s a need, I think, to look at what James Bond as a franchise can do uniquely, playing upon all the interesting resonances the character has as a cultural icon, a genuinely weighty part of the zeitgeist.
What’d interest me personally is if, over the next decade or so, James Bond isn’t presented as one linear narrative, but instead a much more creator-driven anthology of one-off instalments. Start developing a series of individual films, at a range of different budgets, with different lead actors and different directors. The franchise as it stands currently hasn’t had much to do with the character of Bond from the Ian Fleming’s books for a while now; it’s time to embrace the fact that Bond is an archetype more than anything else now, an idea that’s so big and influential and famous, such that getting different actors and directors to offer their own take on the character would be rewarding in the same way that having different Hamlets is rewarding.
Get Chris Nolan to do a black and white, 1960s Bond starring Tom Hardy. Have Riz Ahmed to star in a globetrotting thriller that engages with Bond’s colonial legacy. Do a low budget, psychological thriller that leans in on the espionage angle and asks, if ‘James Bond’ really is a code name, who is the man behind 007? Offer the series to people like Steve McQueen, Lynne Ramsay, Noah Hawley, Andrea Arnold, Kathryn Bigelow or Denis Villeneuve; cast people like Idris Elba, Gillian Anderson, Emily Blunt, Tom Hiddleston, Thandie Newton or David Oyelowo.
Artistically and creatively, it’s the best choice for the Bond franchise moving forward – the chance to do something genuinely new and interesting with a film series that’s perhaps starting to spin its wheels a little bit. It’s a chance to refresh the character, to attract big stars who might not want to be attached to an ongoing series for years, and tell stories that only James Bond could.
(It’ll never happen, of course, but after the second James Norton Bond movie you’ll kinda wish it did.)