James Bond has an Andrew Tate problem. The answer is to set it in the 1960s | Ben Child

Estimated read time 5 min read

Who should be the next James Bond? Book-makers seem to think it might be Jonathan Bailey, of Bridgerton fame, while Aaron Taylor-Johnson, James Norton, Taron Egerton, Leo Woodall (One Day) and The Gentlemen’s Theo James are all still in the running. It’s possible to imagine any of them quizzically raising an eyebrow while drinking retro cocktails and romancing impossibly gorgeous women. But is that honestly what we want to see when the long-running spy saga eventually returns to the big screen?

The most recent 007, played by Daniel Craig, always felt like he was one small slip away from falling down a rightwing rabbit hole. He was arrogant, self-righteous and self-pitying, and if it weren’t for the excellent writing and Craig’s wonderfully nuanced performance, he might have represented the epitome of early 21st-century toxic masculinity. A posh Andrew Tate for the YouTube generation. As it was, Bond’s vulnerability, off-key selflessness and basic nobility complicated the picture. It’s hard to be scornful of someone when they clearly have a death wish, and would risk their own life in a heartbeat to save their loved ones, even if they do go about it all with a certain narcissistic swagger.

The only way to bring Bond back for the umpteenth time while retaining any of the original 007’s essential fundamental nature would be to take Her Majesty’s favourite secret agent back to a time when he was not such an anachronism and an embarrassment – to when, for better or worse, he made sense.

Daniel Craig in Casino Royale.View image in fullscreen

By the way, this is not my idea: it is such an obvious next step that zillions of cultural commentators have suggested it. Bond is a creature of his time, and endeavouring to keep him in the present day is like trying to pretend Julius Caesar would not look out of place if he turned up in 21st-century Italy. The further the Bond movies travel from the character’s 1950s and 60s origins, the sillier and more toxic they look.

An obvious solution is to return to the source – especially given that numerous Ian Fleming novels have never been faithfully realised on the big screen. In recent years, Barbara Broccoli and her team at Bond rights holder Eon have relied less and less on Ian Fleming’s polished prose, to the extent that 2008’s Quantum of Solace took its name from a 1960 short story that had absolutely wack all to do with Bond bumming around South America with wannabe dictators trying to interrupt the region’s water supply.

Not that that was anything new: 1983’s Octopussy takes its cue from a Fleming story which conspicuously fails to mention anything at all about the failure of a stolen nuclear device, while 1985’s A View to a Kill is based on a story that has nothing whatsoever to do with microchips and Silicon Valley. And the less said about You Only Live Twice, the better. It offers a detailed and nuanced vision of Japan, at least in the Fleming novel, but was thrown to the wolves in Roald Dahl’s preposterously loose adaptation, which did as much as any 007 film to usher in the sense of stereotypical bombastic fantasy that the series became known for. The point is that there is plenty of Fleming magic that has not yet been exploited.

The other wonderful thing about the franchise’s new reboot opportunity is that the Daniel Craig 007 is definitively dead, in a way none of his forebears were. There was always a sense, previously, that Roger Moore’s Bond was essentially intended to be Sean Connery’s, and that Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan were just new actors portraying the same old cold-eyed, upper-class establishment killer. Whoever comes in to play the new Bond will be able to do so with a freedom that has not been gifted to anyone since Connery debuted in 1962’s Dr No.

If done well, a period reimagination could take advantage of the fact that filmgoers these days are a little more sophisticated than those in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, while still benefiting from the reality that an audience will accept personality traits in a man living in the sexist 20th century more readily than if that particular chap were living among us in the quite rightly more politically correct present day.

Preposterous … You Only Live Twice (1967).View image in fullscreen

Whether it’s right or not, we do make adjustments for period fare. Otherwise Mad Men’s Don Draper would have been received as nothing more than a misogynist cad, and scorned for his unfeeling behaviour towards all the women in his life. But that isn’t how we see him.

We should probably be honest about the reality that returning 007 to an era in which his sexist narcissism would seem less anachronistic might be something of a cop out. Then again, perhaps Bond’s glacially paced transition from hero to villain is long overdue. Either way, retaining such an emblem of toxic masculinity in the 21st century has long since stopped being a policy that makes any kind of sense. It is time for 007 to either be phased out, or removed to a period when people like him made more sense in the world. If producers try to make the reboot happen in the present day, it won’t matter who ends up getting cast in the role. Bond may as well feed himself to the sharks, or head-butt one of Oddjob’s razor-edged bowler hats … because his time is definitely going to be up.

Source: theguardian.com

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