We live in a strange era of popular culture. While trends and tastes are always changing, I can’t recall a time when they’ve changed in such varying ways. Superhero movies went from being a niche genre to the biggest box office draw in history. Beloved children’s movies are becoming live-action remakes. Horror movies are even starting to reinvent themselves.
One trend that has garnered more controversy than most has to do with a certain kind of remake. Specifically, it involves remakes that attempt to swap the gender, race, or some other characteristic of an iconic character. The first major franchise to try this was “Ghostbusters” in 2016 and to say that this was controversial would be like calling a tornado laced with cow shit a light breeze.
Now, I’ve tried to stay out of the discussions involving gender-swapping or race-swapping because it’s rarely productive. I’ve never seen those discussions produce anything other than frothing hatred, regardless of whether it’s online or in person. With the COVID-19 pandemic finally waning and movie theaters opening back up, I’m content to just go into movies with an open mind and hope for the best.
However, I don’t see this trend ending anytime soon. Even though “Ghostbusters” tanked at the box office, I suspect Hollywood will keep trying to push the envelope, if only to garner attention and clicks. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that the old ways of crafting characters, villains, and stories just isn’t viable anymore. They need to shake things up and do things differently.
I can already sense certain people banging their heads against the wall or groaning in dismay, lamenting over the idea that Disney may one day make an “Indiana Jones” reboot featuring a black transgender double-amputee woman as the new Dr. Jones. I understand that dread. At the same time, I think there is room for innovation. It’s just a matter of not destroying what makes stories, franchises, and iconic characters great.
One franchise that is poised for a new direction that may either reinvigorate or regress it completely is the James Bond franchise. In terms of franchises in need of a boost, I think Bond needs one more than most. The last entry, “Spectre,” was somewhat of a downgrade compared to the billion-dollar box office that “Skyfall” achieved. On top of that, Daniel Craig has made clear that he wishes to move on from the character.
For a while, the big controversy was the rumor that Idris Elba would take over as the new James Bond. While Elba eventually debunked that rumor, it still ignited a glut of angry debates over the future of the franchise that only got worse when issues of racism entered the conversation. Now, if recent rumors surrounding the development of the next Bond movie, “No Time To Die,” are true, those debates will only intensify.
While the details haven’t been confirmed, the plot of the upcoming movie includes Lashana Lynch playing a black, female agent who may or may not be Bond’s replacement. Not surprisingly, this has generated plenty of uproar and it will only intensify if these details prove accurate. While I don’t have any strong feelings about Ms. Lynch playing 007, I suspect the controversy it garners will extend beyond the movie.
After what happened with “Ghostbusters,” there’s certainly cause for concern. Aside from losing money, that movie damaged both a franchise and a concept. It showed just how badly things can go when a franchise attempts to reinvent itself in a way that panders to political sensibilities while undercutting the very things that made that franchise great.
I don’t think James Bond is in a position to endure that kind of setback. It doesn’t have the same status as “Star Wars” and occupies a genre that is difficult to adapt to a world where internet trolls are a more pressing threat than Russian spies. At the same time, I believe the James Bond franchise is in a better position than “Ghostbusters” or “Star Wars” to succeed in a way others haven’t.
Make no mistake. The odds of the next Bond movie succeeding are stacked against it. If this movie tries too hard to be too progressive, then it won’t just ruin the story. It’ll set the franchise back for years. If it succeeds, however, it could reinvent the franchise in a way that will appeal to a new generation who never had to worry about Soviet sleeper agents.
Without knowing the details of the plot, it’s difficult to know how it will pan out. However, I believe there’s a right way to do a remake that attracts a new audience while not alienating long-time fans. Unfortunately, there are always fewer right ways to do things than wrong ways. What follows is my idea on how this new era of James Bond can succeed and how it may ultimately fail.
How A Female 007 Can Succeed
This is, by far, the most important aspect of the upcoming movie. If 007 is going to be a black woman played by Lashana Lynch, then this part has to work. I understand that’s a tall order. Some may say it’s impossible. I respectfully disagree. I believe that there’s no reason 007 can’t be someone of a different race or gender. It’s just a matter of building that story around that of James Bond.
Please note that I differentiate between 007 and James Bond. While I realize the two titles often go hand-in-hand, I don’t think they’re dependent on one another. James Bond can still be the same womanizing, martini-loving super spy he’s always been without the title of 007. In fact, he’s been disavowed and fired from his role on more than one occasion in more than one movie.
Titles like 007 change hands all the time in the world of James Bond. It wouldn’t completely undermine the spirit of James Bond for someone else to wield that title in some capacity, even if they’re black and female. It’s just a matter of building a proper story around it.
If the plot rumors are to be believed, James Bond is still alive in this movie. However, he has since retired from MI-6. That opens the door for someone else to take on the title of 007 and that’s where Ms. Lynch’s character comes in. Due to this connection, their paths eventually cross and the story evolves from there.
I believe this story can work, but only if both James Bond and Ms. Lynch’s character complement one another. By that, I mean they have to be true equals in terms of skill, grit, and charisma. Ms. Lynch can’t just be another female agent who occasionally clashes with Q and Moneypenny. She has to share Bond’s bravado, recklessness, and cunning.
That gives her and Bond a reason to work together. It also compounds the threats, danger, and volatility of the conflict. They don’t have to be best friends and they don’t have to try to seduce one another. They just have to demonstrate that they need each other. They make each other better at what they do. One need not outshine the other.
How they achieve this depends on the plot. It certainly won’t be easy and I definitely have my doubts that it can be done. I don’t think it’s impossible, though. If those involved find a way, then it could be a bold new direction for the James Bond franchise. There will always be room for James Bond, but having a new 007 in the mix could open up many possibility.
How A Female 007 Can Fail
There are almost too many ways for me to list how this idea can fail. Like I said earlier, making a bold concept work is difficult. Failing spectacularly is easy. For James Bond, it’s just a matter of how that failure plays out. I think the biggest risk may come from this movie not learning the same lessons as the “Ghostbusters” remake.
Chief among those lessons is maintaining the spirit of the original. James Bond is a womanizing, martini-loving embodiment of raw masculinity. Trying to make him something other than that or trying to make him the antagonist will completely derail both the story and long-time fans. Even if Ms. Lynch’s character is done well, it won’t matter whatsoever if James Bond isn’t James Bond.
Even if James Bond’s character remains intact, Ms. Lynch’s character could also derail the movie just as much. If she’s going to wield the title of 007, she can’t just be some flat character with no distinct personality traits. Being black and female, there will be a temptation to make her either too much like Bond or too different.
If she’s too competent, then she could get lumped with the infamous Mary Sue label that plagued Rey in “Star Wars.” If she’s just as reckless and promiscuous as Bond, then she’s not her own character. She’s just a black, female James Bond and nothing more. It may seem like an either/or scenario, but I believe there’s plenty of room to disguinish her. I’m just not convinced that the lessons of “Ghostbusters” have sunk in.
Even if both Ms. Lynch’s character and James Bond are intact, there’s still the matter of the overall story. That could easily get lost in the effort to make Ms. Lynch a convincing 007 that fans will embrace. If the villain or threat is unoriginal or predictable, then even quality characterization won’t help the movie succeed.
Like superhero movies, James Bond movies often succeed on the strength of their villains. Times have changed since the Cold War. The biggest threats of today aren’t what they were in the mid-20th Century when James Bond established himself as the ultimate spy. Recent movies, going back to “Casino Royale,” have noted that Bond is a relic of a bygone era. That doesn’t mean he can’t have a place in the 21st century.
At the moment, if I had to bet money on the success or failure of this movie, I would bet on it failing. I wouldn’t bet everything, but I believe the odds are stacked against it. Between the outrage culture that constantly rages on the internet and the growing cynicism surrounding remakes and reboots, there are so many forces working against this movie besides just making it entertaining.
However, James Bond is one of those rare franchises that has endured for decades. It has found ways of reinventing itself before. If ever there was a franchise that could raise to the challenge, it’s this one. Time will tell, but it’ll take more than gadgets, martinis, and sex appeal beat the odds.