So I got married on Sunday. I’m actually on my honeymoon now, as you read this, which is why I’ll be off next week, but that’s not why I mention it.
I mention it because, a few months ago, after my wife — still weird to say that — and I chose our wedding date, it was announced that the latest James Bond movie, No Time to Die, was finally coming out October 8th, two days before we were to tie the knot. As the dates approached, I made it clear to my betrothed that, as excited as I was about our impending nuptials, I was nearly as excited about seeing Daniel Craig’s final performance as the world’s greatest super spy. We then discussed it enough times that it became something of a joke, and when someone else commented on it, she shrugged and said, “It’s okay. I know who I’m marrying.”
James Bond is, for me, the second greatest fictional character in history, after Batman. Those are the top two, and I’d have to think long and hard about who would be number three. My devotion to the character has existed since my dad first showed me Goldfinger when I was a wee lad, and then I went to the movie theater soon afterward to see For Your Eyes Only. I would’ve been 10 when that came out, and between Sean Connery and Roger Moore, I was hooked.
With the exception of the two Timothy Dalton movies — one of which was released when I was out of the country, and the other, for some reason, I didn’t get around to seeing for years after its initial release — I have ever since gone to see the new James Bond flick on opening weekend, without fail. I have now seen each of the first 24 movies multiple times, and was counting the days until I got to see the new one.
Without revealing any spoilers, I will simply say that I loved every second of it, I thought it was an incredible way to send Craig off, and that director Cory Fukunaga knocked it out of the park. You may have noticed in my bio at the bottom of this page that my Instagram is @6wordreviews, because I review movies in exactly six words. Go to the page. There are over 1200 reviews, and a new one shows up every day. Friday’s was for No Time to Die, and the review was, “Craig’s epic, thrilling, fitting denouement. Fabulous.” I will see this movie in the theater at least thrice more. No question.
It might be sacrilege to say, but I lean toward Craig as the best Bond ever. It’s either him or Connery, obviously — though I do have a soft spot for each of the six men to play the role, even George Lazenby, whose movie is in the top three of the bunch, and if Connery had been in it, it would be at the top — but while Connery set the tone for the character and had a brilliant run of films, Craig has brought with him a certain brutality and physicality that fits the age. I was a fan of the actor’s before he was cast in the role — if you haven’t already seen Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake, do yourself a favor and check it out, it’s streaming on Netflix — and when he was announced, in 2005, I told everyone who would listen that he would be great, even as the British press pilloried him. “James Bland” is just a sample headline of the time.
When Casino Royale came out, and we were all blown completely away, I was thrilled that there was a James Bond who was roughly my age, and who was the right man for the 21st century. This, right here, was the James Bond I always wanted. The one that I’d kept showing up, year after year, hoping to see.
But now, after 15 years and five movies, his time is done, his end as the character as close to poetry as the genre and circumstances allow. I walked out of the theater Thursday night a bit shaken by it, this being the only time in the six decades of Bond movies that an actor went into a film knowing for sure that this was his last time holding that Walther PPK. The movie stayed with me for a long time afterward, rare for any action movie, even for a Bond film. This one stuck, though, and it took me a bit to realize that it wasn’t just the film itself that got so far under my skin, There was more to it than that, and once I finally wrapped my head around it, I knew it was time to sit down at my laptop and discuss it with all of you.
It’s one thing to know that there will soon be a new actor playing the role. We’ve all known that for ages. It’s no secret. But there’s a difference between knowing that, and then having it actually become a concrete thing. Until that last movie comes out, Daniel Craig is still Bond. Now that it’s been seen, he isn’t anymore. Which means the search for that new actor is going to get very public very quickly, and I would wager that by 2024, we’ll see Bond 26 in theaters. Perhaps even sooner.
But that’s only part of it, because now that Craig’s time has passed, the “Hot Take Police: are already weighing in about what was wrong with his Bond, or how Bond is a tired trope that should just be retired already, or that maybe “James Bond” is a code name given to various agents, or other total nonsense — and that code name thing is absolutely nonsense and I reject it completely — that doesn’t really matter because who cares? Honestly, do you care about what was wrong with Craig’s Bond? I’m guessing you don’t. Either you think nothing was wrong with him — my camp — or you don’t like him at all and stopped going to see the movies altogether, or else perhaps the third option, which is that you continued to go see the movies out of some morbid curiosity. Either way, sitting down to read some online schmo’s opinion about how much better the run of five movies could have been is almost certainly low on your reading list, if it’s there at all.
And this is coming from an online schmo, so I know whereof I speak.
The point is, producers Michael G. Wilson and his stepsister, Barbara Broccoli, the progeny of Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, the man behind the cinematic Bond from the first film until his death in the mid-90s, have a major decision to make about the future of the franchise that has made them exceedingly wealthy. Ben Whishaw, who played tech wizard Q in the last three movies, commented to Variety last week that, “It’s got to change; it’s got to keep changing. We’re in different times now.” He continued, “There will always be people who want it to stick to the way it was whenever ago, and they’re important, because they love these films. But I think you can do both. You can honor the character and the tradition, and you can push it forward, too. And I think you have to, if it’s not just going to become a kind of museum piece.”
He’s right, of course, but that notion is not exactly rocket surgery. It goes for any long-running character, which is why we’re getting a new, totally revamped Batman in March, why the Marvel Cinematic Universe has moved on from Iron Man and Captain America, and why various characters keep getting rebooted over and over again, as the companies behind those characters search for new audiences to appreciate them.
What’s sort of lost in this concept is how much Craig’s arrival changed the character a decade and a half ago. Craig’s Bond had more in common with Matt Damon’s Bourne movies than they did with Roger Moore’s seven films as 007, which is entirely because of the time in which they were made. Now, with the search for a new actor almost certainly underway, and with London bookmakers laying odds on who will be next, the scuttlebutt will kick into gear about what kind of Bond we’re going to get.
The speculation in the Variety piece is that the next version could be Black, or gay, or female. While this is certainly a possibility, I think it’s unlikely. Craig himself said that a woman shouldn’t be Bond because, instead, strong female action characters should be created fresh. I would not only concur with that, I would also argue the same for Black actors. As Idris Elba’s name keeps coming up in conjunction with the role, I have always rejected it not because he’s Black, but because he’s too old. I think a Black actor would do very well in the role, but I think it’s better for everyone if, instead of casting one as Bond, a new character should be created that could start a new franchise.
So let’s say Michael and Barbara generally agree with me. That leads us to where Bond should go next. I have seen some people dismiss the Craig movies as standard action fare, but I reject that because there is a suaveness, a debonair quality that goes along with being Bond that separates it from the rest. It’s also why I would argue that even the bad Bond movies — like, say, A View to a Kill — is still as good or better than most other action flicks. Seriously, watch it again. Or the hilarious Octopussy, or any of the post-Goldeneye Pierce Brosnan flicks. Then go watch a generic action film and tell me I’m wrong.
The first three Craig movies were big in production value, but relatively small as stories. None of them involved a megalomaniacal villain out to destroy the world or dominate it, they were just bad guys out to wreck some stuff and make a boatload of money. Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre was a banker for terrorists. Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Greene was trying to corner a South American country’s water supply. Javier Bardem’s Silva was mostly out for revenge against Judi Dench’s M for doing him wrong. It wasn’t until 2015’s Spectre that a world domination scheme came into play, with Christoph Waltz’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld. That continued with the new movie’s villain, Rami Malek’s Safin, who has a weaponized disease at his fingertips with which he could conceivably reshape the planet.
It’s worth mentioning that after 1979’s Moonraker, the Broccolis decided to go back to basics and, instead of keeping Bond in space or otherwise maintaining an absurd level of grandiosity, gave us For Your Eyes Only, arguably Moore’s smallest adventure. That is not the worst plan here. The idea of giving us a brand new, young James Bond as he goes on a starter mission and attains 00 status — yes, I know that’s how Casino Royale started, but this is different — while establishing his bona fides with a fun and action-packed spy adventure is not lacking in appeal. Sure, bringing in someone like Henry Cavill and continuing the current scope and size would be enjoyable, too, but we’ve already been there, already done that.
Craig was 37 when he was cast as Bond, older than Connery, who was 31. But both actors played much older, and I think that if you cast someone in his 20s, someone who can really grow into the role over the course of time, it would be a fresh and exciting take on the character. With each new adventure, the trust put in him by the new M would increase, and so therefore would the stakes. Any Bond movie has a built-in audience, and so it would not be outlandish to scale back a bit. You can still have all the exotic locations and action set pieces, but painted on a smaller canvas.
It’s also worth noting that none of the six men cast as Bond were movie stars when they signed onto the part. Bond made them into stars, which is why my thought is that the current names — Cavill, Elba, Tom Hiddleston, and so on — are not realistic. Give us a fresh face, not yet 30 years old, who can learn on the job, both as an actor and a character. We’ve seen just about every other aspect of James Bond. What we have never seen is a proper origin story, and this one could play out over a half dozen movies. They could even be standalone adventures that don’t necessarily lead into each other like Craig’s movies did, and yet still carry a consistent continuity. They exist in the same universe without needing to be tied together. Think the MCU, but with the same character, instead of a whole bunch of them.
I know nobody’s asking me my opinion about this — other than my editor, of course — and certainly the Broccolis are not asking me to write it. But if they were, and if they did, that’s where I would start.
We just got to see a fabulous Bond for a new age. Now, it’s time for another, newer Bond, for another, newer age. Whether or not he can match Craig’s fabulosity? I suppose we’ll have to wait and see, but one way or another, he’ll be back. We know he will, because James Bond endures.
Just like Batman.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.
As mentioned above, Neil will be taking off next week to enjoy a honeymoon with his new bride, but he’ll be back in two weeks with a new column.
All pictures courtesy EON Productions and MGM except where noted.