Why the Next James Bond Probably Won't Be James Bond

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Photo credit: Nicola Dove
Photo credit: Nicola Dove

October 2005: Tony Blair is Prime Minister, Sugababes are top of the charts and Daniel Craig has just been announced as the new James Bond. Almost sixteen years later, his tenure as 007 is about to reach its conclusion with the release of continually delayed swan song No Time to Die, the unanswered question of who will replace him and usher in the new era of Bond hanging in the air.

Speculating about his replacement has become its own, never-ending news cycle. Odds are slashed when an actor doesn't outright refuse when asked about playing the spy, and the suggestions that it might be time for a Black actor to take on the part, or for us to see a female Bond, have become their own culture war about who gets to tell which stories.

The recent introduction of Lashana Lynch's Nomi as the first Black female double O agent offered a neat side-step which modernised the franchise a little while avoiding turning the character of Bond himself on its head. Whether it works or falls flat remains to be seen, but a commitment to widening the franchise beyond its singular namesake appears to be on the cards. Craig recently said in an interview with Radio Times that "there should simply be better parts for women and actors of colour" when asked about a female Bond, adding, "Why should a woman play James Bond when there should be a part just as good as James Bond, but for a woman?’ This week, Eon Productions owner and Bond producer Barbara Broccoli echoed Craig, saying on BBC Radio 4, "I don’t think we have to take a male character and have a woman portray him. So yes, I see him as male."

Two conspicuously aligned statements which feel more decisive than we're used to hearing on the future of Bond. This, in addition to Broccoli adding that they aren't going to begin thinking about who will play the next Bond until 2022, perhaps signals that the future of James Bond doesn't just lie in Bond himself, but a larger universe with space for more stories.

Photo credit: Eon Productions
Photo credit: Eon Productions

This would make sense given Amazon's recent purchase of MGM (the studio behind Bond), a move which gave them a hefty bit of intellectual property to bolster their fledgling streaming offering with. “The real financial value behind this deal is the treasure trove of IP in the deep catalog that we plan to reimagine and develop together with MGM’s talented team. It’s very exciting and provides so many opportunities for high-quality storytelling,” said Mike Hopkins, senior vice president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios, in announcing the deal.

In the Marvel and Disney era of reboots and sequels, having a globally recognised brand with a built-in audience and a cast of familiar characters is deeply valuable. It also might mean that the Bond franchise can protect itself from being called outdated while also keeping its traditional fanbase happy, creating modern spin-offs while also serving up a behemoth classic Bond film every few years. Perhaps Nomi's own film series will introduce us to her own set of colleagues, love interests and and villainous nemeses, or, given the fact we will get to see more of Q's home life in the forthcoming movie, might we get a story which takes us into the equipment officer's backstory?

For those worrying about an avalanche of stories watering down what makes the Bond brand unique, the deal which Amazon struck means they only own 50 per cent of the franchise, while siblings Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson retain control of the other half – rights inherited from their father, the Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli. In the past they've blocked attempts to create television spin-offs, but it's not hard to imagine that Amazon's infinite resources and hunger for more customers might see them ramp up the pressure, a threat which has some purists worried. Writing for the New York Times earlier this year, longstanding Bond screenwriter John Logan voiced his features for the future of 007, asking, "What happens to the comradeship and quality control if there’s an Amazonian overlord with analytics parsing every decision? What happens when focus groups report they don’t like Bond drinking martinis? Or killing quite so many people? And that English accent’s a bit alienating, so could we have more Americans in the story for marketability?"

Photo credit: Eon Productions
Photo credit: Eon Productions

"Barbara and Michael are the champions of James Bond," he added. "They keep the corporate and commercial pressures outside the door. Nor are they motivated by them. That’s why we don’t have a mammoth Bond Cinematic Universe, with endless anaemic variations of 007 sprouting up on TV or streaming or in spinoff movies."

So while it is safe to say that Eon will still fight for creative control of Bond, there might still be a softening toward modernising the franchise and recognising that Bond must become bigger than one man. It's also worth noting that both Broccoli and Wilson have in the past pushed for spin-offs with women of colour, first with Michelle Yeoh's character Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies, and then again with Halle Berry’s character Jinx from Die Another Day, though neither made it to the cinema.

Permitting certain new storylines could also take the pressure off the announcement of the next Bond when it does come, and might give whoever gets the keys to the DB5 an easier ride than Craig got back in 2005, when everything from his hair colour to his height were called into question. None of this answers the multi-billion dollar question of who will play the next James Bond, but maybe that wasn't the right one to be asking.

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