Bond Talk After Dark: Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?
As 2017 ends, I see a lot of Bond fan sites wondering what 2018 will bring. Many assume a wealth of information will drop in the early months of the new year. While that’d be swell, a look back at our own archives suggests we’re in for about ten months of false rumors, leaked locations and casting calls, and a specific blend of actual news and tabloid fabrications. Using past timelines as a guide, some pieces of the puzzle are actually overdue - Sam Mendes was announced for Spectre over two years before the release of that film - but if you’re looking for plot synopsis, character lists, or even a damn title, odds are we won’t be getting these things until October or so. (One fun thing: Naomie Harris was rumored as Moneypenny a year and a half before Skyfall tried to surprise us with it, and of course the instant Christoph Waltz was announced for Bond 24, everyone knew in their hearts he’d be playing Blofeld. Maybe stop with the surprise character reveals this time?)
No, we probably won’t be hearing facts for a while, which tends to only deflate anticipation. How many speculative discussions about Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve can be had before the eventual hiring of a competent, non-rock star journeyman director is greeted as Actual Bad News? No weight will be given to the fact that the series has always been a producers’ franchise, and has flourished under hired gun directors - anyone less than the popular candidates for Greatest Living Directors will be a disappointment. I guess Eon knows their business, but it feels like there’s a value in getting out in front of that kind of buzz.
But in the vacuum of silence, we ponder. We do, and the British tabloids do, most recently claiming that Eon’s casting net is in search of an American or Canadian actress for the next Bond film. In their sights? No less than Meghan Markle - until she became engaged to Prince Harry. Man, what a coincidence! That same article claims Ilfenesh Hadera (Baywatch) is in the running. That’d be cool!
They also think Bond 25 will have an Elon Musk-designed spaceship. Fine. That’d be cool too.
There’s a recurring complaint about the Daniel Craig era, that Bond goes rogue too often in these films. They’re not wrong, and I get the frustration, but for perspective here’s a list of pre-Craig films in which 007 has acted against or independent of M’s orders:
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The Living Daylights
Licence To Kill
Die Another Day
The only 007 with a clean record here is Roger Moore, who tended to disobey M’s marching orders in smaller, gentler ways. Usually with his dick. The fact is, going rogue has been a staple of Bond since Ian Fleming was writing him. (M even asks Bond go off-book and off-duty to kill the scum who murdered M’s friends in the Fleming short story “For Your Eyes Only”.)
People also forget that going rogue - or acting independently, at any rate - was kind of Bond’s initial selling point. That “license to kill” was a big part of his appeal. He was a hero representing the establishment, sure, but one with autonomy. To the middle-class schlubs reading the books and going to the movies (and to the marketing folks selling 007 to those schlubs), Bond’s 00 status meant answering to no one, in a postwar climate where men went from answering to parents, to answering to commanding officers, to answering to bosses at work. Bond had no parents, was done serving in the military, and traveled the world with a goddamn MURDER PASS. At his core, the appeal of Bond was that he did whatever the fuck he wanted.
So acting on his own has always been Bond’s thing. Yet you see folks online clamoring for a Bond film in which he “just gets his orders and go on a proper mission.” But having him do that in 2018 has become, well, tricky. We for the most part don’t trust the institutions giving Bond those orders these days (just ask Jason Bourne), so the screenwriters have had to navigate an action hero who is, essentially, a tool of the corrupt establishment.
For me, part of the fun is watching how they navigate that; Skyfall turned the dilemma into its theme and Silva (a villain created specifically by the unsentimental machine which Bond serves) feeds a film-long question that 007 is asking himself about the life he’s chosen. Spectre kind of punted it, but the idea introduced in Quantum of Solace - that the evil organization Bond is chasing has shadowy tentacles inside Whitehall itself - was an intriguing one. One always hopes for more creative solutions to “how do we get around the fact that Bond is working for the Actual Bad Guys”, but as of the last three films, the writers have been content with Bond converting his colleagues and direct superiors to his cause. Would that it were so simple in the real world.
As we head into 2018, people are more politically binary than ever, with Brexit happening in the UK and our own shitshow Stateside. How that shakes out into the world of Bond will be interesting on both sides of the screen. Because while the creatives behind the franchise have been pretty openly progressive in their views when asked, there’s an ugly truth I’ve recognized in Bond fandom, and it’s that some of those folks crying out for a “proper mission” really do want Bond to be their shining, xenophobic, conservative (and absolutely white) knight. Here’s a Twitter bio I ran into recently:
That user at one point questions Rachel Weisz’ “Jew propaganda”, and has concerns about white genocide. His header photo is Rachel Weisz’ husband.
So that can take some air out of one’s Bond 25 enthusiasm.
But in a way it makes me even more sad that I won’t live to see what comes next. Because this stuff is a death rattle. Bond fans can pine for the way it used to be all they want, but since 1962 this franchise has looked forward. (Another reason you'll never see a return to Cold War-set Bond.) Jet packs, GPS, smart blood. It's always been about holding up the silhouette of 007 against the here and the five-minutes-from-now. And after these shrieking dinosaurs finally sink into the tar pits, a new generation of Bond fans will transition into creators, and will continue the character’s evolution, maybe leaving behind some of the traits that attract the uglier fans. That’d be cool.