Last week it was announced that James Bond Will Return … in November 8, 2019 for his official 25th big screen outing under the Eon Productions banner. It’ll mark the 57th anniversary of Bond in film, but there are still a lot of questions left. Who will play Bond? Who will direct Bond? How can they make up for how terrible Spectre was?
The first question – who bears the numbers – is arguably the most important. Rumors abound that Craig is returning, and a lot of people seem excited about his potential return. After all, it’s familiar and safe, and change is scary. But is a fifth Craig outing really what we should want? I am on both minds of the issue – which is a fancier way of saying I don’t particularly care. On the one hand, Daniel Craig is a fine Bond, and I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing him return. On the other, far more powerful hand, it’s time to move on.
Bond 2019‘s release will mark the 13th year of Craig playing Bond, which will make him the longest running Bond. (Roger Moore played him for 12 years between 1973 and 1985, albeit in seven movies to Craig’s possible five.) Craig is hugely responsible for bringing the franchise back from extinction in 2006 with Casino Royale, and in doing so probably torpedo’ed Clive Owen’s career.
However, Craig is not the definitive Bond, nor should anyone be. This franchise was able to survive over half a century by giving Bond the ability to “regenerate.” With this new movie, it will be 50 years since George Lazenby had to be the unfortunate trial balloon (taking over for Connery in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), but since then we’ve been conditioned to accept new faces as part of his character. Keeping an entire generation tied to a single actor for this character will make it harder to move on when Craig finally really has enough. (Which, even not taking into account the sarcastic hyperbole of “slashed wrists,” he probably has.)
Besides, for all the many, many complaints one could levy against Spectre, it succeeded on one point: bringing an end to Craig’s “story.” He discovers who was responsible for the death of Vesper Lynn and decides (for no good reason) to throw away his gun instead of killing Blofeld before driving off to points unknown. It also works on a thematic sense – his era begins with him having to kill in Casino Royale and deciding he doesn’t have to in Spectre. It’s a bit clumsy and unearned, but it’s something of a character arc. If there was a time to move past the Craig era, it’s now.
As for the how? Just do it and move on. All of the suggestions to make us “okay” with this change are unnecessary at best. I understand the popularity of the Code Name Theory (that “James Bond” is a Code Name used by different spies), and that’s fine not to disprove, but there’s no need to make it canon. Craig passing the torch to another Bond is a spectacularly bad idea since a) a double Bond adventure takes away from the uniqueness of The One True Bond and b) it might just make us which we had Craig back. More importantly, the new Bond must stand on his own without being constantly reminded of the previous guy since it’ll just make him seem like a pretender to the throne. They can throw in a “this never happened to the other fellow” reference – which would go towards fulfilling every mega-blockbuster’s mandatory allotment of Easter Eggs – but besides that play it straight.
Besides, the worst thing that can happen is giving us another origin story. It was necessary in Casino Royale because we needed to know that this incarnation of 007 was a new thing. Regardless of how horrible Spectre was, that film is not seen as the death knell for the franchise in the same way Die Another Day was. The modern Bond era still has a cache of good will built up, while the older film epitomized the previous franchise’s utter obsolescence. Seeing a guy “learn to be” James Bond again would essentially be empty filler that keeps us from getting what we really want – super spy saves the world from utter destruction/domination.
Admittedly, the Craig movies have added a new level of complexity to the franchise by delving more into Bond’s past and allowing him to be broken. And writing around his detailed history might seem difficult, but they can just ignore it. Bond never needed a past before, and he still doesn’t entirely need one. Most of the best elements of the series have existed from its start. The visual and musical cues. The opening title sequence. Most notably, the relationship between Bond and Team Bond – M, Q, and Moneypenny. While Dench/Fiennes, Wishsaw and Harris definitely have more to do as his support staff than the previous trio, it’s difficult to imagine the old films without Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, and Lois Maxwell at Bond’s side. (Llewelyn himself ran from Connery all the way through Brosnan.) Even the “interconnectedness” isn’t new; Spectre was responsible for the actions in 6 out of the first 7 Bond movies (save Goldfinger) in very much the same way they are now. The organization was only exiled from the Bond universe because of a rights issues. While we might finally know the name of Bond’s childhood home, for the most part, it’s the same basic franchise.
Yet any desire to change, update, or put a different spin on the brand is yet another reason to drop Craig. Bond films are built around the Bond actor (i.e. Connery films don’t feel like Moore don’t feel like Dalton …). According to rumors, the producers are going after some major directors for the new one. Names bandied about include Christopher Nolan, Edgar Wright, and Denis Villeneuve – all of whom have distinct voices (and hopefully far better things to do). It would be a disservice to some of today’s best filmmakers (as well as to the Bond franchise as a whole) to force them to fit their style to fit the Craig framework rather than to allow them to establish their own visual style with their own Bond.
For many, it might be disappointing to see Craig go, but it’s not like he’s Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Spectre combined the worst parts of the Moore era with the worst excesses of modern blockbusters. That type of tonal inconsistency is a good sign that it’s time to try something new. And we can all agree to forget how they Martha‘ed by making Blofeld Bond’s super secret half brother.