Where next for James Bond?

With the next film years away and the future of the Bond series in question, it’s time to speculate where it could, and should, be going next…

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Copyright MGM/Eon Productions.

It’s a difficult time to be a Bond fan. Only a few months have passed since the release of the twenty-fourth film, Spectre, yet we have already been cast adrift, caught in limbo between film releases. Only the tiniest morsels of news are fed to us, either from tabloid reports or the ever-unreliable internet rumour mill. This time around the wait feels even worse, as Daniel Craig has become Schrodinger’s Bond, simultaneously returning for the next film and never coming back.

On the other hand, all this time does give us more opportunity to speculate. The producers of the Bond franchise, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson, have a lot of decisions to make about where to go with the series, especially following the lukewarm reception of Spectre in certain critical circles. A new approach is desperately needed if the series wants to remain a brand leader, with fresh blood on the writing team, in the director’s chair, and maybe even with Bond himself.

Personally, I’d like to see Daniel Craig return for a final film, just to give himself the chance to go out with a bang and conclude the Blofeld/Spectre can of worms that they’ve so clumsily opened. But recent events, including Craig’s less than enthusiastic remarks, have made such an outcome increasingly unlikely. And if Daniel Craig’s heart isn’t really in it, perhaps that’s for the best.

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The original drawing of James Bond, as commissioned by Ian Fleming.

So if Dan’s out, who should replace him? This is the area that gets the British press really excited; rarely a month goes by without a new, exclusive story about the next actor to take on the role. Tom Hardy has asserted that he’d “smash it out of the park” if given the opportunity, whilst Poldark star Aidan Turner reportedly “had talks” with Bond producers just last month. Meanwhile, Tom Hiddleston has spoken cagily of the role as an “extraordinary opportunity”, and even Peep Show’s Olivia Coleman was suggested as an April Fools’ choice by the Daily Mail. One name that refuses to go away is Idris Elba, revealed to be the favoured choice of Sony Pictures Chairman Amy Pascal in 2013. It’s been a discussion so overwrought that the actor himself has claimed that he “can’t even talk about it anymore”. Elba’s candidacy for the role has been elevated much thanks to apparent controversy of casting a black actor as James Bond. It’s quite a ridiculous debate, but has incensed a lot of anger on the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is the internet.

Despite all this sound and fury, Idris Elba isn’t going to be James Bond. Much like another bookies’ favourite, Damien Lewis, Elba is simply too old. He’ll be 44 this year, and assuming that the Bond films will continue to run on three year cycles, that doesn’t give him much time before he has to hang up the holster. As much as I may like Idris Elba, I don’t think any of us want to see a repeat of Roger Moore’s geriatric turn in the dinner jacket, who typically seemed a step away from cashing in his licence to kill for a free bus pass.

Many of the popular younger choices are also unlikely – Henry Cavill, for example, already has an iconic character to his name and a schedule full of DC Universe sequels. If you’re the betting kind, you’d be wise putting money on thirty-something British actors without any hectic franchise commitments over the next decade. Indeed, if Daniel Craig’s casting is anything to go by, the next 007 may well come out of nowhere.

My personal choice would be the legendary Michael Fassbender. The German-Irish actor has already proven his suave credentials with Inglourious Basterds and the recent X-Men films, and he has the cruel, ruggedly handsome appearance of Bond as he is described in the novels. Unfortunately, it seems doubtful that an actor as busy and prestigious as Fassbender would tie himself down to a series of Bond films, and there’s been a distinct lack of buzz around his claim to the role. Nevertheless, a man can dream.

Looking at the most probable names currently in circulation, Aidan Turner certainly seems an attractive prospect. He’s demonstrated his diverse acting chops in a number of television appearances recently, but is yet to find a major, starring role on the big screen, which would likely make him one of the cheaper options for the film’s investors. He’s also youthful 32, which puts time on his side if he’s keen to beat Moore’s record seven films in the official series. My girlfriend likes him too, so it would at least make my life easier during the inevitable repeat viewings. Tom Hiddleston isn’t a million miles off either, and he’d certainly bring some star power and an existing fan base to the role. But I can’t help but feel he’s a little too obvious and a little too Brosnan – it would be disappointing to see the producers making such an obvious choice.

Beyond the casting of James Bond, the rest of the personnel need to be accounted for. Ideally we’ll see the return of the recurring cast of MI6 characters, with Ralph Fiennes as M, Ben Wishaw as Q, and Naomi Harris as Moneypenny. Behind the camera, however, a change-up is seriously needed. The writing team needs a comprehensive overhaul, with the talentless Neal Purvis & Robert Wade jettisoned for good. Towards the ends of last year, rumours spread that the production team had contacted Mad Men writer Matthew Weiner to work on the next Bond instalment (which, despite the claims of the Daily Express, is not going to be set in the 1960s). Although this news should be taken with a grain of salt, such a move would be hugely welcome, choosing a writer with proper dramatic credentials and none of the fanboy-baggage that plagued Spectre’s derivative script.

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Who’ll be behind the camera this time?

Of course, with Sam Mendes almost certainly gone for good, a new face is required in the director’s chair. Although much of the Bond fandom is calling for the return of Martin Campbell, the helmsman behind Godeneye and Casino Royale, I think we can aim a little higher than that. Whatever one thinks of Sam Mendes, he was at least a director that brought his own creative vision to the franchise and appeared to be more than the dull journeymen we’ve been dealt for much of the series’ recent history.

Ideally, three names come to mind when filling the director’s spot for Bond 25. The first, and probably most optimistic, is Christopher Nolan. He’s made no secret of his love for the James Bond films in the past and has paid direct homage to them multiple times, perhaps most notably during the snowy climax of 2010’s Inception. When asked about his chances of directing his own Bond film, the 45-year-old has been cagey, asserting that “it’s not a no, but it’s not a yes”. Nolan might be a little too expensive and a little too controlling for the folks at Eon Productions, the company behind the 007 films, but the opportunity of combining Nolan’s name and the Bond brand would surely be too great to pass up.

Looking elsewhere, there are a number of smaller scale directors with the necessary abilities to helm a Bond film. Last year Denis Villeneuve was acclaimed for his crime-thriller Sicario, which highlighted his deft hand for action in addition to character drama. He’s also been very vocal about his admiration for the James Bond films, stating that he’d “love to do a James Bond movie one day”. Taking a more left of field approach, Atonement director Joe Wright would also be an interesting choice. 2011’s Hanna illustrated that he could direct action compellingly, and his penchant for long takes lends his films an artistic flair that often elevates quite pedestrian material. Although his recent catalogue has been somewhat hit and miss, with a quality script he could create an exciting and visually distinctive Bond film.

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A simpler time, when you always knew what you were getting. Copyright MGM/Eon Productions.

With the cast and crew dealt with, the fundamental question facing Bond 25 is what direction to take the film in a broader sense. Do we go for a stripped back, Casino Royale style spy thriller, or continue to incorporate more absurdist and humorous elements in the vein of Skyfall and Spectre. I’ve always preferred the films that stay closest in tone to the realistic, cynical edge of Fleming’s novels, and would welcome a return to such a style. But I’m not really averse to a more whimsical quality, and with the immense popularity of the Marvel and Star Wars brands recently, that certainly seems to be the direction that Hollywood is going. While Spectre is a film I love dearly, it’s confused tone was undeniably an issue; it was a film that wanted to have its cake and eat it, often acting like a Moore style romp against a surprisingly gritty personal story, and the final product just felt a bit muddled. As long as we don’t have any more Fiat airbag gags, we’re moving in the right direction.

More than anything, however, the producers need to scale down the budget and reassess what it is they are trying to do with Bond films. Skyfall’s unprecedented, billion-dollar success came in a perfect storm that has proved impossible to replicate. James Bond should be, first and foremost, an espionage thriller. It is not an action franchise, and it has no place competing with blockbuster superhero films and sprawling, Hollywood mega-sagas.

If Casino Royale taught us anything, it’s that when in doubt, go to Fleming. In stripping the series back to the core elements and reassessing what made Bond great, the franchise was able to make itself relevant again. References to old films are fun, but if you’re just drawing attention to iconography that was done better before, the result is a film that can’t stand on its own two feet. Likewise, bogging the films down in personally motivated stories and inter-connected plot threads only makes Bond’s world feel heavily contrived. Bond 25 should obviously pay respect to what came before it, but be bold in blazing its own trail.

These are just a few of my thoughts as a long term, and probably unhealthily obsessive, James Bond fan. In a world where big-budget action franchises are only growing larger and larger by the day, I want Bond to show everyone else how it’s done, not limp along in the rear. 007’s fertile heritage consists of industry leading stunt work, special effects, set design, and most importantly, writing. A film is nothing without a taught, intelligent script, and that’s what Bond will need if he’s going to thrive for another fifty years.

Deadpool Review

With a script that isn’t funny and action that fails to excite, Deadpool falls well short of expectations.

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Ryan Reynolds in costume as Deadpool. Copyright 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

There’s a peculiar self-confidence to Deadpool. It’s a feeling of assuredness, not only in the film’s eponymous hero, but permeating throughout the events on screen. For its entire duration, the script is all too eager to break the fourth wall, wink at the audience, and remind you just how clever it is. The jokes are crass and fly in your face without much subtlety, while references to pop culture and other comic book movies are incessant. It’s akin to an irritating friend, nudging you all the way through to make sure you’re getting his jokes. Despite all this, there really isn’t much in Deadpool to warrant  such self-assurance. Beneath a veneer of gimmicks, genital jokes, and non-linear sequencing, there exists a very average superhero film.

From debut director Tim Miller, Deadpool is a story of Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), a foul-mouthed former mercenary who dons a red suit and takes on an alter-ego following a medical procedure that leaves him horribly disfigured but enhanced with super-human abilities. Swearing revenge upon Ajax (Ed Skrein), the psychopathic mutant who ruined him, Deadpool pursues a bloody campaign to track down the villain and exact his bloody justice. If that story rings a surprisingly conventional tone, that’s because it is. Where Deadpool attempts to distinguish itself is with an adult sense of humour and a mocking, self-referential attitude towards comic book cinema.

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Ed Skrein as Ajax. Copyright 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

The problem is that Deadpool simply isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. The jokes arrive thick and fast, but more often than not they outstay their welcome or rely on a somewhat outdated knowledge of popular culture (a female with close-cropped hair is hilariously referred to as “Ripley, from Alien 3!”). Admittedly, such a sense of humour certainly has an audience, and my screening of the film wasn’t short of laughter. But for a script that seems so pleased with itself, much more should be expected.

Of course, Deadpool involves as much action as it does comedy, but in this regard the viewer is served the same unengaging, computerised spectacle that has become commonplace in the genre. The violence quotient has been substantially increased, but the total lack of excitement remains the same. In a film that takes such pleasure in mocking the tropes of superhero films, it is inexcusable for Deadpool to equally succumb to their failings. Miller’s pedestrian visual style simply has none of the distinction that his script requires, and the result is a conclusion that descends into protracted tedium rather than a triumphant finale.

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Even Deadpool himself was shocked by the quality of the script. Copyright 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Even if joy can be found in its humour, there’s little else in Deadpool to encourage repeat viewings. Ryan Reynolds may provide a convincingly charismatic performance, but he’s given little to work with next to a plot that’s barely there and a cast of one-note supporting characters. The action set pieces are unrelentingly dull, while Deadpool’s crude one-liners become an exhausting annoyance within an otherwise uninspired script. As Careless Whisper plays out and the credits roll, both comedy fans and action enthusiasts are likely to find themselves disappointed. I know I was.

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