Daniel Craig or Idris Elba? James Bond Needs a New Mission Statement

007 requires a bigger overhaul than just a license to kill renewal after Danny Boyle exit.

September 5, 2018 5:00 am

So when did making a new Bond movie morph into Mission: Impossible?

Back in the good old days of Connery and Moore, the franchise produced another film every year or so. Now it’s years between productions. (“Spectre” came out in 2015.) They change stars every three or four movies, and can’t seem to decide on a director.

The latest defection? Director Danny Boyle, who was supposed to helm the next film, currently titled – “Bond 25” — and meant as star Daniel Craig’s farewell. The creative differences were strong with this one – reportedly the producers didn’t like the script, or some of the casting choices, and so … Goodbye, Mr. Boyle.

But Boyle’s departure isn’t really a shock   — the 007 series is as micromanaged as any superhero franchise. The last thing producers want is some ambitious director with “a really interesting take on the material.”

And it’s only part of a much larger battle – who picks up the role after Craig leaves?

With a teasing tweet last month — “My name’s Elba, Idris Elba” – the black British actor, and a fan favorite, brought a long-simmering question to a boil: Was the search for a post-Craig 007 finally over? Would the valiant Heimdall of Asgard (and former star of “The Wire”) be the next James Bond?

British director Idris Elba poses on the red carpet at the UK premiere of Yardie, in central London on August 21, 2018. (Photo by Anthony HARVEY / AFP)
AFP/Getty Images

People have been talking about that possibility since at least 2015. And the conversation had recently heated up when a British tabloid quoted, second-hand, the franchise’s long-time producers saying it was time to add some diversity.

So a few days later, Elba tweeted out that little joke.

Which he followed, almost immediately, with other tweets, including a picture of Public Enemy and the quote “…don’t believe the HYPE.”

Because – seriously, folks — he’s sick of this.

“Can we talk about the media obsession with you playing Bond,” a British reporter asked him back in 2015. “Can we not?” Elba snapped. “Enough is enough. I can’t talk about it anymore.”

But people won’t stop. Asked about it again the next year, Elba called it “the wildest rumor in the world” – adding, flatly, “I’m too old.” Asked this year – “media obsession” is right – he dismissed it again, although saying broadening the series was a good idea.

“Are we interested in having a Bond character other than being a male?” he asked Variety. “It could be a woman – could be a black woman, could be a white woman. Do something different with it. Why not?”

That’s heresy, of course, to the 007 purists – an aging, but still vocal group. In the original books, Bond is definitely white and defiantly male, a macho man of Scots-Swiss ancestry with an insatiable appetite for vodka martinis, cigarettes and women.

He shared that with his creator, Ian Fleming – just as the original novels shared Fleming’s brand-name snobbery and breathtakingly casual xenophobia. (Easiest way to spot the villain in a Bond book? He’s the foreigner.)

Some Bond diehards can be just as narrow-minded; when the Elba rumors first began, a writer of some of the post-Fleming 007 books called Elba “too street” to play the suave secret agent. Other critics have put their objections in even more black-and-white language.

And all of it is nonsense.

The movies’ original Bond, Sean Connery, was pretty “street” himself in real life – a tattooed, bluntly spoken ex-sailor. But he cleaned up nicely. And while baby-boomers may cling to old images, if comic fandom has taught us anything, it’s that characters can switch races, even genders, and still be who we most want them to be.

1963: Actors Ursula Andress and Sean Connery in a scene from ‘Dr. No” directed by Terence Young. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Elba’s right. Why couldn’t James Bond be black, or Hispanic, or Asian? Why couldn’t 007 be Jane Bond?  Plenty of Marvel movies have successfully re-imagined characters. And anyone who saw Charlize Theron in “Atomic Blonde,” or Angelina Jolie in “Salt,” knows females can be far deadlier than the male.

Giving more power to that idea: Reportedly, behind the scenes, Craig was pushing hard to get killed off in his last appearance. His suggestion (which supposedly Boyle was opposed to) was to treat “James Bond” as an alias. When one dies, another agent simply assumes the pseudonym.

So the real question isn’t whether Elba can play 007. The question is, why would he want to?

The physical demands would be taxing (Elba, who turns 46 next month, is already seven years older than Craig was when he started his run in “Casino Royale). And some animosity is guaranteed (Elba, who’s acknowledged the “racial debates” the idea has spurred, already got enough flak for the Thor movies).

But the real problem with playing Bond, for any actor, is that, well, you’re playing Bond.

You can do it tongue-in-cheek, as Roger Moore did, or you can do it through gritted teeth, as Timothy Dalton did, but you can never get away from the fact that you’re playing a male daydream. It’s fun, but it’s fantasy, and the most rewarding thing about it is the money.

And the real question is – why do we want Elba to play Bond? Why, when an actor hurtles to fame, is the first thing we think about what action franchise we can plug them into? Was it really such a great step forward for Alicia Vikander – after her Oscar-winning work in “The Danish Girl,”  and the amazing “Ex Machina” – to kick butt as “Lara Croft”?

Sure, everyone wants to get paid, and popcorn movies subsidize passion projects. But they can also become a platinum-plated prison. When was the last time you saw Johnny Depp do anything that didn’t require crazy makeup? When did Robert Downey play anyone who wasn’t Sherlock Holmes or Tony Stark? They used to be interesting actors. Now they’re commodities.

If you’re really an Idris Elba fan, you’ll hope he doesn’t play Bond. And if you’re really a Bond fan, you’ll hope that they find someone young and hungry and willing to give it everything. No matter what color he, or she, is.

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