The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

James Bond should retire. Permanently.

Written by: Robert Hamer, CC2K Staff Writer

Last Tuesday, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle bowed out of directing duties on the next James Bond film due to what Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli chalked up to “creative differences.” This makes it far less likely that the film’s principal photography date of December 2018 will happen on schedule as they scramble to find a new director to take the reins.

I can’t imagine Daniel Craig will be patient with them on this setback. He has made no secret of his reluctance to continue on with the franchise, and who can blame him? Most of the James Bond actors before him went on to resent the part, and Craig himself is 50 years old. When he finally reaches the end of his already-thin rope with this supposed “last hurrah” (which already feels weird after the seemingly definitive ending for him in Spectre), I can easily see him dropping out altogether, which would almost certainly delay the movie further as Wilson and Broccoli debate how to recast the role and possibly reboot the series. Which, no, won’t be as easy as finalizing secret ongoing negotiations with Idris Elba as those rumors aren’t actually backed up by any evidence.

I’ll admit, he does look the part…

Are we going to see more James Bond movies? Of course we are. There is just too much money at stake to outright end the continuing adventures of Britain’s favorite suave anachronistic superspy, especially in this modern age of franchises, cinematic universes and “Best Popular Film” Oscars that don’t appear to be going away any time soon. The Daniel Craig run is the most lucrative of the series’ history; no production delays, cost overruns or stars eyeing the exit door are going to dissuade any production company from moving forward on a follow-up to a movie that made over $880 million worldwide, which itself was a sequel to a movie that became the first James Bond installment to rake in over a billion in global receipts. Are we going to see a continuation of the long-running story beginning with Casino Royale going all the way to Spectre, with Daniel Craig returning? That’s less certain, but I think ultimately Eon Productions will do (and spend) whatever they need to in order to keep Craig on board for one last go-around.

But, if it were up to me, I would go ahead and end the whole series now.

I have lost track of the source of this quote, but I remember reading that George Lazenby once stated during a press tour that he didn’t believe James Bond could survive past the 1960’s (gee, I wonder why he wasn’t asked back?). No one is claiming the one-time 007 actor is a prescient movie mogul with good instincts on sustainable cash cows, but on a deeper level, I believe he was on to something. Because after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the last James Bond movie of the 1960’s, the franchise has been struggling to define itself and its place in the popular culture. You see it in all the aesthetic bandwagons the subsequent films have hopped on. Sometimes they’re blatantly trying to take advantage of a burgeoning trend — when people hated how silly Diamonds Are Forever was, they looked at the hottest “gritty” genre taking shape in the early seventies and made the next 007 adventure a blaxploitation film. Star Wars made all the money in the world in 1977, so instead of making For Your Eyes Only as the end credits of The Spy Who Loved Me promised, they sent James Bond into space two years later.

Macho action movies about renegade badasses killing drug lords in South America were all the rage in the 1980’s, so, of course, that’s where Bond went after getting thrown off the police force his license to kill was revoked. The Dark Knight made a whole lot of money in 2008 (way more than Quantum of Solace made), so four years later England’s finest had to face off against a villain who was basically The Joker (“He wanted to get caught! That was his whole plan all along!”). And this isn’t even getting into Film Crit Hulk’s (correct) observation that every James Bond movie is an overreaction to how the previous one was received, either by doubling-down on or running as far away from its predecessor as possible.

This wasn’t a problem for the series when it was one of only a handful of sustained popcorn franchises vying for attention from moviegoers. But now it’s one among dozens of them competing for dominance of the pop culture sphere (though maybe “competing” isn’t the most accurate term, anymore). James Bond used to be the only secret agent on the block — now there’s Ethan Hunt, Jack Ryan, Dominic Toretto (after 2011), Eggsy Unwin, and unarguably the most influential of this century, Jason Bourne. Incidentally, this is also why I doubt progressive gambits like casting a woman or a person of color as the next 007 would “save” the series. Why should we feel hyped for an African-American in these movies when we now have Black Panther? What would be so exciting about a gender-swapped woman Bond when we already have an Atomic Blonde sequel to look forward to? Pulling the trigger on “diversifying” the character would just feel like the franchise is playing catch-up, which is what it’s been doing for decades.

I don’t see the point in continuing to preserve a series suffering from a perpetual identity crisis that only hints at resolving itself after a prolonged period in the wilderness. It really says something about the state of this franchise that the two best entries of the last forty years – and the only two released within my lifetime that are genuinely great as standalone films – were introductions to new actors in a scenario that forced them to evaluate the character’s place in These Changing Times and ended with the (squandered) promise that we were seeing a redefined, exciting, and reinvigorated James Bond for a modern era. I still adore GoldenEye and Casino Royale, but there is no way to seriously look back and see them as breathing new life into the franchise like we felt they would when we first experienced them. It’s easy to single out the subsequent Brosnan films for ridicule, but the Craig era paints an even more dire portrait of where it’s headed despite them being, on balance, “better” movies.

The whole idea behind Casino Royale was Bond himself had become so bogged down in gimmicks and absurdities and accoutrements that he needed a hard reset and be stripped down to his essence in order to work again. They (“they” meaning Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli, Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade) needed to craft a new origin story to rebuild Bond from the ground up. And when they overwhelmingly succeeded, starting off on the best foot they could have hoped for, they followed it up with him moping around Bolivia over the events that made him “become Bond” from the last movie, then going back to his childhood home, and most recently working out daddy issues with his evil stepbrother.

When I saw this scene in the teaser trailer for Spectre, I had a terrible feeling bubble up from the pit of my stomach. I wanted so badly to be proven wrong, but deep down, I knew where this was headed…

Nine years. Four origin stories. Each one promising that this time, now, finally, from here on out, for real, this is the James Bond of the 21st-century! The reason they keep lying to us about that second part and keep spinning their origin wheels is because, in their hearts, they know there aren’t new adventures to go on. There aren’t new stories to tell with this character, no matter how compelling he was in 2006.

And no, I’m not demanding some Chinatown-level masterpiece. The Mission: Impossible movies are hardly paragons of deep cinematic storytelling, but those manage to feel fresh and exhilarating even with their missteps and their star getting up into his late fifties. Frivolous spy action spectacles survive a lot of flaws, but feeling inert is not one of them. That’s an apt description of Spectre, come to think of it: inert.

When we finally see the next James Bond movie, with or without Daniel Craig, what exactly are we looking forward to? People seemed to hate all that “I Am The Author Of All Your Pain” nonsense from Christoph Waltz, so maybe they’ll sprint in the opposite direction like they always do and make the next one so isolated from the previous continuity it feels like something from an entirely different series. Maybe they’ll go full Diamonds Are Forever and turn it into a dopey comedy in response to criticisms that the recent movies have been taking themselves too seriously? Or, hey, Infinity War has been cleaning up at the box office; can’t wait to see the villain win in the end but have a post-credits stinger promising Bond will undo it all by the next one!

What might be interesting, precisely because they would never dare make this movie, is one where he deals with the realities of working for a post-Brexit MI-6. Now that’s a James Bond I would want to see. It starts with him having to make contact with a beautiful-but-mysterious femme fatale agent in France, but for the first half-hour he’s trying to figure out how to get through customs without a valid passport. Maybe have a scene where Q tells him that since Walther PPKs are made in Germany, he’ll have to figure out how to use a WWII-era Welrod for his mission? The villain could be a complete mystery not because he’s some secretive mastermind, but because Europol has all the intel on him and they straight-up refuse to share it with MI-6.

“Martini. Shaken, not stirred.”
“Um, Mr. Bond, Vodka imports stopped since last spring.”

But that’s the rub, isn’t it? James Bond is a fantasy. Everyone knows and accepts that, but people forget he’s a very specific fantasy catering to a nostalgic view of Imperial Britain. This isn’t me reading into anything, either. From his first Bond novel in 1952, Ian Fleming was explicit in his intention to portray his secret agent as the embodiment of English power, controlled exclusively by rich white men, and aggressively imposed across the world. This clinging to the glory days of the masculine, colonialist British Empire is baked into the character. Heck, I can imagine millions of Leave voters honestly believing they had a shot at going back to those days with that classic James Bond swagger when they cast their ballots two years ago. That political fantasy will swiftly end on March 29th, 2019, if not sooner, and when it does, it’s time to end the specific movie fantasy that went along with it as well. James Bond had a good run, but the time has come to hang it up.

But don’t end spy thriller popcorn movies! If anything, we need more new ones, especially since the Russians are, amazingly, The Bad Guys again.