Another day, another James Bond rumour. Of all the great franchises out there, 007’s—perhaps appropriately—seems to play its cards the closest to its chest. Eon Productions always rations information about where their legendary character is going right up to the point they are ready to announce his destination, and for what looks to be Daniel Craig’s fifth and final outing in the role, this time is no different. Yet this time the rumour mill, courtesy of a story in The Express, has thrown up an unusual possibility.
The as-yet-untitled Bond 25 will end, apparently, with the death of James Bond.
This got me thinking, because the typical reaction to this would be a shocked gasp, a firm shake of the head, and a stiff dry Martini. “James Bond can’t die!” You can almost hear the clamour of middle-aged men who have been following this franchise since Roger Moore bedded women half his age in a safari suit angrily huffing those words, shaking off another nonsense newspaper report with various rebukes. “Bond is the main character!” “Bond is the hero!” “Bond, in the end, wins the day, kills the bad guy, saves the world and shags the girl over a load of diamonds which were being used to power a gigantic laser in space!” (or something).
Here’s where I’m wondering… maybe Daniel Craig’s 007 *should* bite the bullet.
Hear me out on this. Because it does, at first, seem like a terrible idea. Why would anyone end the story of a character, particularly James Bond, with them meeting their maker? Surely that would be the most downer ending of a Bond movie in over five decades (beating out even the tragic last few moments of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). That Express article does however make an interesting parallel with 2017’s Logan, which saw Hugh Jackman hang up his claws as Wolverine, the most celebrated export from the X-Men franchise, and which of course ended with Wolverine’s very sad but equally very noble death.
This parallel is a keen observation because when you look at both the characters of Jackman’s Wolverine and Craig’s Bond, their paths are not too dissimilar thematically. Both are charismatic, taciturn and also somewhat reluctant heroes. Both are marked deeply by losing the woman they love— Wolverine by Jean Grey in X-Men: The Last Stand, or maybe after Days of Future Past, or as it’s the X-Men films who the hell knows?) and Bond with Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. Both have also visibly aged over the course of their spells in the role, and indeed such ageing has factored into the DNA of the movies themselves. Logan is all about Wolverine’s—or here, of course, Logan’s—‘old man’ decay and Skyfall chiefly questioned whether Bond was physically capable of still being a 00.
Logan was also all about endings. Jackman was kissing goodbye to a role he had played for 17 years, which had defined his entire career to that point, and Wolverine’s tragic, anti-hero arc made sense to end with him giving up his life in service of rediscovering a purpose he had lost. Daniel Craig is in a similar position as he goes into Bond 25; he will have played Bond, once the film presumably lands in 2019, for 14 years – a role which turned him from a respected British character actor into a global, household name and cinematic mega-star. He has also, arguably, played the darkest and most introspective James Bond in the entire illustrious history of the franchise. Would a similar journey not suit this era-defining Bond?
Here’s where the question gets deeper into the idea of quite who James Bond is, and what he’s now for.
It’s a question that producers Barbara Broccoli & Michael G. Wilson, and their respective writing teams, have been grappling with since 2002’s Die Another Day nearly imploded the franchise under the weight of Austin Powers-parody. Casino Royale was, in 2006, very much a rebirth in step with half a dozen major franchises undergoing post-modern revivals which aimed to tap into the post-9/11 ‘reality’ of a world which was struggling to embrace escapism. Bond was now competing against the Jason Bourne’s of the world and Craig’s introduction, as a lithe, cold and vicious incumbent Bond, equalled the playing field. As Alyssa Ottema argues in The Bond-Bond Girl Hybrid: A Look at the Evolution of Casino Royale, Bond was even feminized in that movie:
In transitioning the original Bond to the silver screen of the 21st century, the character undergoes an ideological shift and there is a decrease in overt misogyny. Directorial choices place Craig’s Bond as the object of the gaze, allowing Bond to play the role of both the heroic, masculine spy and the attractive, somewhat feminized object. Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond exemplifies the ambiguities present in Fleming’s model of the character. The tones of misogyny and sexism are quieted, revealing a Bond who is both a direct replica and a direct contradiction of the original character conception.
However you looked at it, Bond still had a place in the world.
Skyfall threw all that into question. As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the character, Eon wanted to remind us how while Bond may age, he will never die. The pre-credits sequence of Sam Mendes’ film—probably the best since GoldenEye—ended with Bond shot in the chest, falling into what for any mortal man would be a watery grave. We all know Bond is immortal by this stage. Six actors in the role over five decades and twenty-plus films proves that 007 somehow has a magic touch when it comes to cinematic longevity, despite the fact he is a womanising assassin who should have stayed a “relic of the Cold War” as M in GoldenEye accuses him of being.
Yet the persistent question remains – who is James Bond really *for* in this day and age?
Back when I was a boy, back in the 1980’s & 1990’s, Bond typified the fantasy life of a lad obsessed with heroes, villains and great stories of action and adventure. Most lads wanted to be Bond – to travel the world, bed the most exotic women, have a license to kill the bad guys. For decades and a couple of generations, Bond was the boyhood ideal, and such youthful fantasy never really leaves you. The world, however, has changed. Craig’s Bond was too serious, too adult, too grown up and intense, to really appeal to children in the same way Sean Connery did to boys of the 60’s, as Moore did in the 70’s, or for my generation Pierce Brosnan did in the 90’s. None of those Bond’s took it as seriously, and nor did their films.
Don’t get me wrong: I love Daniel Craig’s Bond. He may well be the strongest personification of Ian Fleming’s character created in his 1950’s novels we have ever seen committed to celluloid, and Casino Royale & Skyfall are probably in my top 5 Bond movies of the entire franchise (mainly because they’re great *films* in their own right). But in a cinematic landscape dominated by Marvel superheroes and the rebirth of Star Wars, how many young lads—or indeed girls for that matter now, as geek culture has thankfully grown beyond the boy’s bedroom—truly see Bond in the same way as we did back in those previous decades? The escapist sparkle has long gone from this franchise, as Spectre proved in 2015.
Now I liked Spectre. In fact, the more I watch it, the more I like it. It’s the kind of ‘background Bond’ you can throw on on a Sunday afternoon and casually dip into, like some of the mid-range Moore or Brosnan Bond films. It could also well be the weakest film Craig has done in the franchise yet (Quantum of Solace may be quite boring, but it’s more artful and creatively interesting). Spectre proved, without a shadow of a doubt, Craig is a square peg in a round hole when it comes to the jaunty, escapist Bond films of yore. In attempting to tap into that, be the throwback that legions of fans were calling for after the dark introspection of Skyfall, Spectre made the point: Craig ain’t your Daddy’s 007, and he never will be.
You get the sense Craig may have known that by the time the film finished shooting. Much like Connery, he doesn’t carry Bond with ease. Moore treasured the role across his entire lifetime (I saw him on stage seven months before his death and he was still throwing out A View to a Kill anecdotes), Brosnan too (despite a few tense moments) seems to enjoy the memories, but Connery has over the years worked hard to distance himself and you feel Craig, too, does not want to be eternally defined as James Bond. It’s tough, really, because like Connery he *will* be. No actor will ever escape James Bond. He is too powerfully ensconced within popular culture and has been for decades. It’s a cross you have to bear when you strap on the Walther PPK.
Spectre, however, proved Craig functions better in the role when he’s channeling the inner core of who Bond is and what makes him tick. He ambled through the spectacle of Spectre like he was on a secret agent holiday, never truly feeling particularly in much peril, before riding off into the sunset with the girl, old-Bond style. No previous Craig film had ended in such a classic Bond fashion – each film either saw him seeking vengeance, finding closure or rediscovering purpose. Spectre ended with Bond finding a new life with a woman he had zero chemistry with, whose passionate love affair you could probably encapsulate on the back of a crisp packet. It wasn’t the ending he deserved.
Craig’s Bond has been on a journey, a journey unlike any other Bond. Not only has Craig’s Bond had to adapt to a cinematic and cultural environment which has evolved past the character, with the age-old casual sexist and misogyny apparent in the films even up to the early 2000’s having forcefully been eradicated, Bond 25 is now happening in the slipstream of an incredible few years for women’s rights and solidarity, following a multitude of terrible, hugely public scandals. It’s telling that the rumoured Bond 25 plot concerns 007 helping to train up a capable female 00, who could well be his replacement. It’s probably the closest to the long-desired gimmick of ‘Jane Bond’ the franchise will ever give us.
Yet Bond has also been on a narrative journey under Craig. Loose and prone to retcon it may be, but Casino Royale through to Spectre has all tied up so far in terms of continuity. Connery’s early films *sort of* did this but not to nearly the same extent, in terms of characters and character journeys being carried through film to film; only Skyfall doesn’t really have the spectre (pun intended) of Vesper hanging over it – her ghost dominates both Quantum of Solace & Spectre in terms of Bond’s psychology as to why he does what he does. Skyfall adds the underlying permanence going back to his formative years, which Spectre too then builds on. Jarring as it sometimes has been, Craig’s Bond has a clear, defined arc: facing the past and letting go.
Spectre may try and convince us that journey is complete with Madeleine Swann but, well, pull the other one, James. We’re not buying it – not least because their relationship isn’t a fraction as powerful as the Bond/Vesper relationship in Casino Royale, but simply that it doesn’t feel *right* that Craig’s Bond just sails off with the girl. It didn’t feel right for Timothy Dalton either, but then he was a Bond before his time – a proto-Craig before anyone knew the character could go there. Spectre is the fake out ending and you would hope that the assumed writer-director team of Bond 25, John Hodge & Danny Boyle, will work quickly to undo it and set Bond back on course.
Spiralling back to my point, in which case, maybe Craig-Bond’s course makes the most sense to be death, or perhaps a level of sacrifice.
This could also symbolically trigger a similar rebirth for Bond that we saw in 2006. Whatever happens after Craig vacates the role, James Bond has to find his place in the world again. No Bond film has ever lost money, and both Skyfall & Spectre made over a billion or troubling a billion respectively, but the majority of those punters I would put serious money on being those grown up kids with their fantasies of being Bond. What happens when that generation become too old to get to the cinema or start dying themselves? Are the next generations going to celebrate James Bond as the hero of their time, or will they be paying to see Avengers 25 instead?
James Bond cannot ignore these questions and while they stretch long beyond Bond 25, perhaps Daniel Craig’s Bond reaching a level of closure and equilibrium thanks to a noble, Logan-esque sacrifice, would both befit the tortured angst of his character journey, and remind everyone why we need James Bond again.