It’s Not Who Plays The Next Bond, It’s How You Write Him

I went to a screening of Dev Patel’s Monkey Man a week ago and was summarily treated to two concise hours of Patel killing bad guys with extreme prejudice. Primo shit. If you saw Monkey Man, or just its trailer, you know that Patel does a lot of his damage in that film while decked out in a crisp suit, John Wick-style. You might also know that Patel is British, and that he’s rakishly handsome even when in dire straits. All of that has fed into a good bit of open calls for him to succeed Daniel Craig as the next James Bond.

But to land the role, Patel would potentially have to beat out a number of similarly worthy suitors. That group includes newly minted Best Actor Oscar winner Cillian Murphy, along with Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who was rumored to have been offered the role already. I like all of these guys. That even goes for Taylor-Johnson, who I mainly remembered as being a dude who married a woman 24 years older than him when he was just 18-years-old, before I saw Bullet Train and said to myself, “OK, yeah, I can see this guy drinking martinis and putting Blofeld’s head through a plate glass window.” I am not such a Bond-head that I would fight to death to cast one of these men over the other.

Because who plays Bond is far less important to me than what that actor (or actress) will be allowed to do as Bond.

Daniel Craig was a good Bond. He looked the part, he delivered his lines with elegant muscle, and his gravitas allowed the Broccoli family—which controls the franchise—to do things with the character that they had never previously done before. They made Craig’s Bond into a deeply serious operative who ultimately sacrifices himself in order to save his daughter. That was all very good and heavy shit for roughly two out of five movies. But in the process of remaking Bond, the Broccolis got rid of a lot of the character’s essential Bond-ness: his drinking, his love of luxury goods, his womanizing, and his one-liners. Especially the one-liners.

You might think that’s a decided improvement for a character as anachronistic as Bond. It wouldn’t do to have this man still saying corny shit like saying, “I thought Christmas only comes once a year” to a woman named Christmas (an actual line from The World Is Not Enough, which is an awful movie). But think about how many other action heroes are out there who have had their charisma surgically removed and replaced by steely determination: Ethan Hunt, Jason Bourne, Bruce Wayne … especially Bruce Wayne. Take away Bond’s louche charm and suddenly he’s not terribly different from the rest of those men.

I don’t like this development, and do you know why? Because I want to be Bond. Since I was a kid, Bond was the guy who jetted all over the world, slept with every dangerous hot woman, had access to every cool gadget Her Majesty’s Secret Service could procure for him, and could successfully work undercover without even changing his name. There’s nothing real about any of that, but again, I don’t go to movies for reality. I go for fantasy. So when you make James Bond into a grim dad who considers staying at the Four Seasons to be a necessary evil, suddenly I’m not so envious of him. And I want to be envious. Jealous, even. I wanna walk out of that theater screaming to my date WHY DOESN’T MY CAR TURN INTO A FUCKING JETBOAT?! And then I want my date to run away screaming. That would rule.

Any of the actors I listed at the beginning of this post has the power to imbue Bond with that force of personality. They’re all handsome. They can all do convincing fight scenes. And they can all turn on the dragon in one scene before doling out Guy Ritchie-approved gag lines in the next. They’re all men I’d like to be when I grow up one day. That’s what James Bond was back when Sean Connery played him, and just because Connery died doesn’t mean the character can never take on those qualities again. There’s always the danger of taking Bond into the arena of camp, as my childhood Bond (Roger Moore) did. But Craig’s Bond was the result of producers being so utterly terrified of camp that they swung violently in the opposite direction, making him into a brooding sourpuss working out mommy issues with his own boss. Disgusting. Sean Connery is rolling in his grave.

So remember all of that whenever the Broccoli family finds their new Bond and unveils them via some overwrought press stunt. Everyone will have their opinion or whether or not they should have cast someone older, or younger, or blacker, or more authentically English. But if that actor is forced to play Bond as a humorless prick, it won’t matter who they hire. If they can’t let Bond be Bond again, they may as well give the role to David Spade.

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