There are those who look directly down their noses at the Internet rumor mill; casting aspersions as to its place within respectable journalism. It’s difficult to blame them, as the rush to break news first has given rise to a rather shaky reclassification of what qualifies as news in the first place. But perhaps we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the digital bathwater. Even those “confirmed” news bits that end up debunked or outright denied can hold merit if in no other capacity than as a catalyst for worthwhile dialogue.
Case in point, a recent report divulged that actor Idris Elba had taken a meeting with James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli. According to Skyfall star Naomie Harris, this meeting was to broach the subject of a black James Bond and investigate the possibility of Elba stepping into the role. The web exploded into frenzied excitement both at the progressiveness of this purported new direction for the character and the repeatedly proven talent and screen presence of Elba. Whether this rumor proves true or whether it is cast on the ever-mounting pile of baseless blog chatter, the prospect of Elba’s casting as Bond opens the door for a long-overdue innovation to the franchise, one that transcends beyond the obvious diversity in the lead role, or lack thereof up to now.
James Bond is Britain’s most lethal and effective double-0 agent. His unparalleled ability to thwart the sinister schemes of the world’s worst villains, and his unquestionable prowess with women, is made all the more impressive when one considers he has been plying his trade for fifty years. Dr. No, Bond’s first filmic outing, hit theaters in 1962. Six actors and twenty-three films later, James Bond is still kicking ass and taking names. Not bad for a man that, even by the most generous calculations, is in his late seventies. The series has never really acknowledged the fact that the clock seems to reset each time a new actor takes over the role. Even when the character was more or less rebooted in Casino Royale, the new Bond timeline began with Judi Dench as M; negating years of established canon.
Logistically, as the mechanics of the series currently exist, this amnesic approach to each changing of the Bond guard is a necessity. If we applied strict rules of chronology to the franchise, the only thing James Bond would be licensed to do would be to receive discounts at restaurants or break his hip. That loses something in the sexy department. A measure of responsibility therefore falls on the audience of course to suspend their disbelief. The problem is that this charade is based on the foregone conclusion that James Bond is one man’s name.
In 1995’, the filmmakers GoldenEye made a drastic change to the series. In a forward-thinking decision, Dame Judi Dench was cast as Bond’s boss, M, a role that had theretofore been played by two men. Though the changeover from Bernard Lee’s M to Robert Brown’s in the early 80s was not acknowledged, Dench’s break from the M mode was pronounced enough that the writers had to introduce the idea that she hadn’t been in that cushy MI-6 office the whole time. It was the first instance of M referring to the predecessors to the job.
So the question then became, why not do the same with Bond? Why not offer the radical suggestion that James Bond is not a person, but a position. With the sheer number of bad guys who tend to know his name, even when he is trying to infiltrate their organizations, it would actually make sense that the name James Bond is a cover. It would re-contextualize the whole franchise and completely change the archetype for 007. Suddenly the idea of Bond having battled both Cold War instigators AND cyber terrorists isn’t nearly as far-fetched. This also affords the series the ability to “kill off” Bond from time to time when a new actor is to be brought on, a la Dr. Who. A singular Bond whose cinematic longevity is all-but assured is great and all, but the suspense inherent in the idea that James could die would dramatically alter how we watch his action sequences.
Elba is possessed of plenty of the qualities we have come to associate with Bond. For one thing, he has a tremendous amount of poise. When he enters a scene, he is in full command of every moment and our attention is fixed on his performance. He’s also exceedingly dashing; a trait that has defined this classic cinematic spy from day one. He looks good in a suit, but the dashing really comes from more of a smooth air of confidence. Elba has also proven his ability to deliver accomplished performances in equal measure with adept navigation of huge-scale action sequences. Given that the Bond films often employ fantastical stunts, and yet much would be demanded of his character work as a brand new 007, this artful combination would be crucial.
With the previous films serve as precedent, it will take a fearless, against-type piece of casting to force the helmers of the Bond franchise to rethink the construct of the character. Idris Elba would make a great Bond for plenty of reasons beyond his skin color, but his hiring could also bring about a major reinvention of our perception of this iconic character.
[Photo Credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images]
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