With the James Bond franchise in its 50th year, and its latest films in the series (financially) the most successful, a lot of the focus has been about looking back and tapping into the nostalgia of the past. That might be all well and good, but now its time to turn the corner and bring the iconic spy into modern times for real. And even change who we think ‘he’ is.
For a long time now, a theory had held that James Bond is only a title, a moniker given to those who have achieved the right to enter British Secret Intelligence Service MI6’s highest levels, the ’00’ program. This would explain the many different men in the part. An agent in the ’00’ field is expected to go up against the most ruthless criminal sorts on the planet, infiltrating and dismantling terrorist organizations from within. One must be sophisticated, have nerves of steel, use a plethora of gadgets, and most uniformly, be a man. How set in stone is that?
In the long-running iteration of the character, there have been a lot of actors who have portrayed Bond, not just on the big screen, but television and radio as well. All, of course, have been men. Writer Ian Fleming, the creator of the figure, was inspired by a number of actual people he met while serving in the Naval Intelligence Division during WWII and he envisioned the spy as looking like then popular American actor and entertainer Hoagy Carmichael, a tall, slender, chiseled looking man who captured the physical essence of the secret agent.
Bond is cold and calculated, killing on orders without regret, highly skilled, athletic and rarely emotional. He is also an extravagant lover of women. While Bond has become the most well-known spy in literature and film, the character has met with some criticism and has seen some significant changes in the 26 films bearing his name. In early (and even more modern) movies, he is portrayed as sexist, misogynistic, and chain-smoking, not to mention enjoying a lavish lifestyle. These were products of a male-fantasy-driven era, and while a bit of those characteristics have been watered down, these are also defining traits.
The latest Bond film, Spectre, took, for what many believed, a step back, spending too much time stirring nostalgia rather than moving forward. While actor Daniel Craig certainly is progressive as the incumbent Bond (many were alarmed by his offering of the role), he is stuck in a system that won’t let Bond make the leap out of the past, as much as it tried in his first film as Bond, Casino Royale. While studios gauge success on income rather than criticism, the Bond series is trapped, spinning in a vortex of uncertainty about where this dinosaur of a character should go. Audiences love the lone hero role in movies and the ‘against all odds’ aspect of many in the genre. Bond epitomizes this and is partly reason for why he remains so adored. But sensibilities are shifting (something even addressed in one plot of Spectre) and the Bond we need today is not the same Bond of before.
Let’s talk change. This first issue is the role itself, not the casting, but the figure. In any intelligence operation, the lone hero is probably going to fail, and in fact, would most likely never even make it on the team. We want to believe that a single person can save the world, but that’s just not logical. The spy business is much different and dependent on far more than one individual. That said, perhaps it’s time to make the ’00’ program one that utilizes this label as a team. Occasionally throughout the Bond films, we hear mention of another ’00’ agent – Octopussy had one get killed and GoldenEye had an entire character fleshed out who was a ’00’ (he was bad, but at least we knew there was more than just 007). Looking at the success of Tom Cruise‘s Mission: Impossible films, all of which feature a team that still manages to keep a singular hero, Bond could draw influence and create stories with MI6 as the hub. Yes, we’re treading on thin ice. We’re tampering with canon, with iconography. We’re toying with an establishment that is decades strong.
Let’s talk women.
There’s no denying the impressive shift toward empowering women and leveling the playing field in the entertainment industry. While there is much to be done, and equality is far from matched, attitudes are breaking down and opportunities are expanding. Casting women in roles once thought only for men have become a trend of sorts, and while not all work, it’s monumentally encouraging. Unfortunately, it hasn’t met with great appeal to everyone. The all-female casting of the latest Ghostbuster‘s film met with horrifying and disappointing backlash even while most applauded the idea. On a more positive end, we need only look as the newly rebooted Star Wars franchise to see how female casting is done right and yet not an issue. This is the way it should be.
Now that the Bond series has turned 50, it’s time to strip away the layers of conformity both the role and the stories have forced writers to cling to in bringing the character to theaters. Make James Bond a female. Here’s how:
First, don’t make it the issue. Never let her being Bond be the story. That will be the mistake. Tell the story and let Bond be Bond, even if the name must be Jane. In modern times, there are thousands of women in the intelligence and secret service fields and none need special recognition for that fact. The story should be about the ’00’ team, as mentioned and could still focus on maniacal criminals looking for world domination.
Next, cast Emily Blunt. There is not an actress working in movies today who could better portray Bond than Blunt. Already established as an action star, she has a tremendously powerful presence, a gift for authority and yet feels just vulnerable enough so we can identify. Combine the headstrong leader of Rita in Edge of Tomorrow with the persistent, character-driven nature of Kate in Sicario and right away you see the potential.
What’s best about Blunt is her authenticity. Moving Bond into the future, Craig brought a lot of humanity to the role that many people didn’t expect, which has made Craig so popular in the role. Blunt is the same, if not more. Watch her in any role and you see an intensity that Bond already shares, but there is also a dynamism to her that makes her electrifying to watch. We feel like she knows more than she reveals and that would be invaluable to the role. She already feels like Bond.
Female secret agents are not new of course. In fact, referencing Mission: Impossible again, we need only look at Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust in Rogue Nation to see how it can be done right (She deserves a story of her own as well). From La Femme Nikita to Salt, there are plenty of greats, but becoming Bond is something altogether different. While there would be controversy, it should be no less than when Idris Elba‘s name was getting bandied about as a possible replacement. Blunt is phenomenal talent with the perfect look, skill set, and even accent, to make Bond her own without tarnishing the history, in fact giving it greater prominence. Are we ready for a female James Bond? Yes.