On Bond 26, the next James Bond, and how to save the franchise

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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.)

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Forget a James Bond movie – television should be 007’s new home

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We’re living in a golden age of prestige television, with TV dramas finding popular acclaim on an international scale, not to mention commercial success. It’s not difficult to imagine a James Bond TV series, with time, reaching similar levels of success as Game of Thrones – one of the most popular and well known intellectual properties in the world, James Bond would certainly garner people’s attentions. 

More than that, though, an ongoing television serial would allow for deeper storytelling than we’ve seen in the Bond franchise so far; one of the things Spectre was criticised for was mishandling the conclusion to an ongoing story arc across the movies – a Bond TV show would allow for a far more successful attempt at an ongoing storyline.

A recent post for Yahoo about a James Bond TV show. Within the article itself, I outline a couple of different concepts for the show, so that’s worth checking out.

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Rebooting a Franchise: Who is James Bond?

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As it happens, I am not actually a massive fan of James Bond; I’ve seen one of the films (Skyfall; competently made and engaging enough, but not stunning) but I’ve not read any of the books. It’s one of those franchises that I respect from afar, rather than ever really engaging with.

Still, though, something I am interested in is this whole climate that’s grown up of reboots and restarts and remakes, and Bond is a franchise that is interesting in that regard; it’s one where recasting the lead is a fairly frequent occurrence, but the majority of the time it’s been done as a soft reboot rather than anything else. (Think Ed Norton to Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers, as opposed to Christian Bale to Ben Affleck in Batman vs Superman.)

Previously, the recasting of Bond has been something that’s just done, and ignored – you know, like, “George Lazenby is James Bond now, don’t question it, just get on with it”. And, you know, fair enough – it’s worked very well for them so far – but I’m interested in what might happen were the recasting made into the central conceit, and main selling point, of the movie.

What if, when watching the new movie, you didn’t know who Bond was?

Okay, so, hear me out. You know how James Bond is a spy, yes? I know typically we see him doing more of an action-y sort of thing, but for the film I have in mind, we’ll begin with him undercover, doing some infiltration work at a glitzy party (it can, obviously, give way to action scenes later, but I like the possibility of a tense, slow burn thriller.)

But, like I said: what if we didn’t know who Bond was? We’re beginning with him undercover, so there’s no reason why we have to know which of our glamourous party guests is Bond, right?

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This is something that Eon (or whoever it is now, I think Eon has lost the rights) would emphasise in the marketing campaign, leading up to the film’s release.

A poster for each of our potential Bonds, and four different trailers – each one implying a different candidate for the title role. One trailer for Idris Elba; one trailer for Ian De Caestecker; one trailer for Lara Pulver, and one trailer for Alexander Siddig. (Which is not to say that I’m advocating any particular one of them for Bond, but more that there needs to be variety in these choices; it doesn’t work if they’re all generic, square jawed action stars.)

There are dual benefits to this, I think.

Obviously, from the point of view of Eon (or whoever), it should work out pretty well; if they push the “Who is James Bond?” campaign really well, they can get people genuinely invested in it, and that should hopefully result in a wider audience turn out, because people really want to find out who it is. You’d also have the extra free marketing as it creates more of a social media buzz, and leads to more interest – you know, people saying who they hope it is, digging in and analysing it, etc etc.

I also believe, from a story point of view, this would actually be a really unique and exciting movie. If you’re going into it with all that context, it’ll be more than just another action movie – I know that I personally would find it to be a much more tense affair in general.

There’s a lot of different ways you can go with the story, incidentally; I think probably you’d kill one of the potential Bonds early on, just to ratchet up the tension a little. Maybe you’d have a bit of a fake out, seemingly confirming that one candidate is Bond, before revealing they’re Alec Trevelyan, AKA 006. I do think, though, you’ll have to reveal who Bond is by around the end of Act Two, just because we need to see Bond being Bond, and the mystery can’t be sustained forever.

(Tempting though it would be to kill off all potential candidates in the opening 5 minutes and then introduce a new guy, that’s probably actually a very bad idea for numerous reasons. Absolutely hilarious, mind you.)

Still! That concludes my pitch for the first post-Daniel Craig James Bond movie. He’s probably still got one more left, doesn’t he?

Let’s say, then, that this is going to come out in 2020, featuring various new and exciting actors, directed by the Russo brothers, and written by me. It shall be called Bond, because I like the simplicity, and the mystery it evokes.

What do you think?

Related:

Forget a James Bond movie – television should be 007’s new home

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On James Bond, white Scottish men, and Idris Elba

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What’s interesting about the debate around Idris Elba playing James Bond is that it actually shouldn’t be happening.

Now, I don’t mean that in the sense that Idris Elba would be brilliant as James Bond (he would be). No, the thing is that James Bond’s race doesn’t actually matter – “white guy” isn’t intrinsic to the character.

Rush Limbaugh, who I know essentially nothing about, said that James Bond was originally “a white [man] from Scotland”. That’s actually wrong. James Bond wasn’t written as Scottish in the first place.

Sean Connery is Scottish. Ian Fleming actually didn’t think that Connery should play James Bond, because he was Scottish, and James Bond wasn’t.

But in the end, Ian Fleming thought Sean Connery was such a good James Bond, he actually then wrote James Bond as Scottish because of Sean Connery.

Now, I will admit, I am not an expert on James Bond. I haven’t seen any of the films, bar Skyfall. I’ve not read any of the books. Generally, I know more about the actual iconography of James Bond, than about James Bond the character.

But I do know that there is a precedent for changing his race on the basis of an actor doing a damn good job at playing the role.

And Idris Elba would be a damn good James Bond.

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