Monday, September 21, 2015

Handicapping 007 #7


DANIEL CRAIG will reprise his role as legendary British superspy James Bond when “Spectre,” the 24th film in the 007 franchise, opens in theaters on Nov. 6. That much we know. What we don’t know is whether or not the film opening in November and the one after that will be Craig’s last ones in the role. Just as unclear is who’ll replace Craig in a franchise role most actors would take out a license to kill for.

The uncertainty of who’ll be on the other end of the spiral tunnel that opens future 007 films has led to a dizzying array of possible replacements, and a situation in which popular culture, history and race have collided in different ways, some unexpected and others utterly predictable.

Shortly after the November 2012 release of the previous Bond film, “Skyfall,” a whispering campaign emerged that proposed Idris Elba, the phenomenal British actor (“The Wire,” “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” “Pacific Rim,” “Luther”), as the next 007. The idea’s quietly gained traction in the years since. Before exiting her job, Amy Pascal, the now-former Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman, thought enough of the idea that she wrote (in an internal email leaked to the media) that “Idris should be the next Bond.”

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On Aug. 25, author Anthony Horowitz made his feelings known. When asked about Elba taking on the role post-Daniel Craig, Horowitz, who wrote “Trigger Mortis,” the most recent 007 novel to be okayed by the Ian Fleming estate, said Elba was “a bit too rough” and “a bit too street” to portray Bond. Horowitz backtracked almost immediately, realizing how badly he’d stepped in it by invoking coded language for race (“rough”? “street”? Really?). “Clumsily, I chose the word ‘street’ as Elba's gritty portrayal of DCI John Luther was in my mind but I admit it was a poor choice of word,” Horowitz said in a statement. “I am mortified to have caused offense.”

As Elba gained support — or at least consideration — as the next Bond, oddsmakers trotted out another contender for 007 #7: Tom Hardy. According to BoyleSports, an Ireland-based online betting firm, Tom Hardy is the new odds-on favorite to replace Craig. Odds on Hardy are now at 2/1, BoyleSports announced Sept. 8, while Elba is at 3/1, Damian Lewis (“Homeland”) is 7/2, and Henry Cavill (“Man of Steel,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”) is 4/1.

“Following on from the support for Tom Hardy to take over from Daniel Craig as 007, BoyleSports can report that the gamble hasn’t dried up and punters believe that the deal may be signed sealed and delivered as there is no sign of the plunge coming to a halt,” said BoyleSports spokesperson Liam Glynn, to Entertainment Weekly on Sept. 8.

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HARDY’S AN estimable actor with a serious resumé. His work in “Inception,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Logan” and opposite James Gandolfini in “The Drop” recommends him as a formidable acting talent. He’s certainly got the necessary physical requirements for the gig. And he’s up for the job. “I think anybody would consider doing Bond, wouldn’t they?” he said to Britain’s Sky News.

Well, maybe. If time permits. Hardy’s recent powerful star turn in “Mad Max: Fury Road” makes him the obvious choice to repeat as that character. You don’t sign up for an iconic international role like Mad Max as a one-and-done affair. Mad Max is a franchise, and so is James Bond.

Not that he couldn’t do it, but it’s hard to imagine Hardy taking on both Mad Max and James Bond. Assuming both those legendary movie personae over the next five to 10 years — in addition to any other irresistible roles that come Hardy’s way in the meantime — would appear to be a stretch. One man can only do so much.

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Other names have surfaced — Orlando Bloom (25/1, BoyleSports says), Michael Fassbender (6/1), and Dominic West (40/1) among them. But there’s more than the slight suspicion that some of these names have come to light as a way of tamping down any groundswell of support for Elba, the actor who would be, if the stars and producers’ objectives align, be the first black James Bond in the history of the franchise.

It apparently can’t be said in polite company, or even suggested (Horowitz found that out), but one reason why there’s Elba pushback has everything to do with race. It’s hardly coincidental that the other actors considered by oddsmakers are all white men. It’s fair to conclude that the decision makers in this process may not necessarily want to make more history than they’d planned. For them, there are fears of how such a choice might compromise the box office for the 007 franchise, one of the most lucrative in movie history.

I observed in 2010: “[A] black Bond would no doubt upset the legions of fans frankly accustomed to seeing Bond kick ass as a white guy.” And you know it’s true. For pop-culture’s strict constructionists — the same people who totally freaked at the sight of a black Star Wars stormtrooper — a black James Bond would throw over 50 years of history (or habit) and kick British culture to the curb.

James Bond is part of the cultural iconography that the public has long identified as veddy British: Aston Martin, the Beatles, Tanqueray gin, Burberry, the Beefeaters at the Tower, Savile Row ... Queen Elizabeth ... and the list goes on. Generations of Bond fans have not unconsciously made the indelible connection between Bond’s nationality and his race. A half-century of that kind of consistent association — this equals that — is a hard habit to break. Many people are hoping that 007 movie producers won’t even try.

If they do, though, Vulture (part of New York Magazine) just released a spirited mashup of Elba from different movie and TV scenes, cobbled together with scenes from the real trailer for "Spectre." If you've had a hard rime envisioning Elba in the role … well, feast your eyes:



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NAMES COME and go. Back in late 2008, there was talk of Sean Combs taking over as 007. Same for Sam Worthington, who was an oddsmaker’s favorite in 2010. Christian Bale was too.

It goes back earlier than that. In April 2007, Newsweek crowned Will Smith as the most powerful actor on the planet, the only one in history to have eight straight films each gross more than $100 million in U.S. box office, and the only actor to have eight consecutive films he starred in open as No. 1 in U.S. box-office receipts. Smith was also considered for the role.

But what’s the hurry to replace one Bond with another, anyway? “A six-year gap between 1989 and 1995 saw the departure of one Bond — Welsh actor Timothy Dalton — and the installation of another, Irish-born Pierce Brosnan,” BBC reported in April 2010. “A four-year break between 2002 and 2006, meanwhile, saw Brosnan leave the series and Craig take over.”

The England of Ian Fleming's era is as far from England today as shillings are from the euro. In a world of drones and cyberwarfare, spycraft is a very different thing from what it was in the 50’s and 60’s. We live in an increasingly complex, demographically interdependent world. No one understands that like James Bond ... whatever he looks like, two or three movies from now.

Also published in The Omnibus (Medium). Image credits: Craig: imdb.com. Elba: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP. Hardy: Michael Tran/FilmMagic. James Bond and the Queen: © 2012 International Olympic Committee. 007 logo: ® Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation.

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