Kill James Bond
In four months, Spectre’s release will mark Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as James Bond in nine years. In spite of this uncommonly large gap between the years spent being Bond and the number of films in which he actually played Bond, Daniel Craig’s performance has earned him richly deserved critical praise and made him a defining Bond for an entire generation, one that will likely prove difficult to live up to. As Craig gets on in years, he will understandably want to break away from the character and make way for new blood, as it has always been. But unlike previous actors, whoever follows Craig will have more than the latter’s shadow to worry about. This is a different franchise, made in a different culture that it has both nourished and fed on, and as such it carries a considerably larger burden of expectations than its predecessor ever did. To that problem, I submit the following solution:
Kill James Bond.
Now, bear with me: Daniel Craig’s Bond films have explored the character in greater detail than any of the previous films and built more mythology around him, particularly 2012’s Skyfall. This Bond has a vaguely-yet-firmly established past, a family, and a relatively detailed psychology. We know he had parents who died in mysterious circumstances that likely involved MI6 to some capacity. We know that he grew up in Scotland in the recently-destroyed Castle Skyfall, and his old family friend Kincade serves as the last living reminder of that childhood, an anchor to the past whose existence and interactions with Bond, however brief, further humanize him and solidify him as a character of his own more than the power fantasy that film audiences had been used to up until this point.
In just three films, we’ve seen James Bond earn his 00 status with his first two kills, fall in love, have his heart broken, become hardened by the experience before seemingly finding himself ready to move on, question his own continued competence (after what appear to be just two or three in-universe years of service, mind you), and by Skyfall’s conclusion, lose not only the closest thing he had to a living parent but also the person who arguably knew him best. And judging by the trailers for Spectre, Bond’s past catching up with him may be one of the defining thematic traits of the Daniel Craig era.
This is all very good stuff, but it does somewhat limit possibilities for future actors and writers. Even if much of Bond’s background is still vague enough to be open to some degree of interpretation, he nonetheless carries a certain amount of emotional baggage that today’s continuity-savvy, comic book-influenced audiences and critics will likely find difficult to ignore. Like so many great heroes and heroines, James Bond’s timelessness comes from his malleability and the relative ease with which he adapts to changing geopolitical landscapes and social mores while still retaining fundamental traits that make him so unmistakable, such as his air of suave confidence, his voracious sexual appetite, and his casual attitude towards violence.
James Bond is a character who remains open to many different readings, someone to whom each actor may provide a distinct personality. In the early days of this series, the writers never encumbered themselves too much with concerns of continuity or narrative consistency and neither did the audiences, but in the age of the Internet where fans can set up entire Wikis detailing a character’s history and fill up forums with arguments over the smallest discrepancy, such blissful ignorance is no longer an option.
For my generation and those raised on a diet of film trilogies and sagas, narrative continuity and mythology form a permanent background noise within our minds that makes it harder for us to suspend our disbelief when presented with data that doesn’t fit with what we already know. A franchise where the hero has been active for fifty years, yet still remains a physically fit forty-something even as his tech expert ages visibly with every film would probably have a lot more trouble staying afloat today.
Killing the character of James Bond as established by Daniel Craig over the course of what are soon to be four films would be a first step towards solving that problem. The second step would involve the somewhat notorious “codename theory”, an online fan theory that has provoked no end of discussion and debate among Bond fans. It explains away the differences in Bond’s appearance and character from actor to actor by positing that each version is actually a different MI6 operative working under the same codename. According to that theory, each new James Bond replaces the previous one after he’s been either killed or retired off-screen. Of course, this theory is rendered invalid by, among other things, the unchanging nature of Bond’s relationships with Moneypenny and Q. But this is, after all, a rebooted series, and as controversial as an onscreen validation of that theory would likely prove to be, it could nevertheless provide potential for a very satisfying conclusion to Daniel Craig’s outings as Bond.
Just imagine it: In his last film, Craig’s Bond meets a fresh recruit whom he would be tasked with mentoring. On their missions, the two men bond over their shared tastes in alcohol, cars, and sport while also clashing somewhat due to differences in personality and/or opinions. This rookie could, for instance, judge Bond’s tendency to suppress his emotions as unhealthy and potentially dangerous, or prefer non-lethal takedowns to gunplay. At the end of the film, Bond heroically sacrifices himself and the rookie subsequently assumes the codename “James Bond” in his honor, with the blessing of his MI6 superiors.
With a fitting enough conclusion to Craig’s Bond’s character arc (and life), any restrictions and limitations imposed upon future writers, filmmakers, and actors by the demands of consistency would be considerably loosened, if not removed altogether. In addition to concerns over character history, the franchise could be free to once again change its tone at will without having to reboot yet again. The idea of, say, a Bond film directed by Matthew Vaughn and written by Simon Pegg coexisting in the same universe as Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale wouldn’t seem as farfetched as it might now.
I, for one, would pay good money to see such an outcome.