We may well be getting a female 007. The Daily Mail reports that Lashana Lynch of Captain Marvel fame will take over the codename in the next Bond film, due April 8, 2020.
While Daniel Craig is returning to play James Bond himself, according to this leak, Bond begins the film in retirement and is called back to active duty when a crisis hits. In the M16 office, he meets the new 007 — not the new Bond, but the new holder of that alias — a black woman named Nomi, played by Lynch. Craig has been saying for years that he wants to retire from the Bond role. It’s possible that after the yet-unnamed 25th Bond film, Lynch will take over the franchise for him — or at least star in a spinoff.
There has been much debate over the years as to whether Craig’s successor could be female, or a person of color. Rumors once swirled around Idris Elba as a possible replacement. Executive producer Barbara Broccoli said in an interview last fall that Bond was created male and she intended to keep the character male, while adding more female characters to the story around him.
Lynch’s ascension signals major progress for a franchise that has long felt trapped in the 20th century. Up until this point, the role of the world’s greatest secret agent has been played exclusively by white men. What’s more, James Bond’s sexism, racism and general recklessness have proven impossible to ignore in the year 2019.
But it sounds like in Bond 25, the classic character will have to wrangle with #MeToo. That could be a wonderful update to Bond — or it could place Lynch in a precarious “glass cliff” situation.
Bond has been bedding women and leaving them for dead for over half a century. To take on this role is, by definition, to enter a minefield of problematic behavior. In Craig’s own words, the character has always been “a very lonely, sexist misogynist.” If the new James Bond movie wants to offer a corrective, its creators have an awful lot of work to do.
For decades, Bond was the ultimate male fantasy: Men wanted to be him and women wanted to be with him. Or did they? Upon rewatching the movies, it becomes clear that most of Bond’s interactions with women over the years could be classified as assault or even rape. Post-#MeToo, James Bond has become the poster child for the “your problematic fave” meme: We still feel nostalgia for these iconic spy thrillers but struggle with just about every interaction Bond has with a woman.
About a year ago, a video of all of Bond’s misbehaviors went viral. The “sexy playfulness” of many of Bond’s romantic interactions begins with force, blackmail or outright violence. The fact that the women of these early films seem to submit to this brutality — that they even find it sexy — render these scenes even more perverse. For little boys and young men who grew up watching these films, these problematic relationships were presented as not only acceptable but aspirational.
The Daniel Craig-era Bond films have at least acknowledged that Bond’s misogyny is problematic: When Bond first meets Eva Green’s Vesper, she analyzes him: “It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine you think of women as disposable pleasures rather than meaningful pursuits.” But admitting Bond’s biases and updating Bond for the modern era are not the same.
In fact, the 2006 Casino Royale ultimately amounts to an origin story for Bond’s misogyny: He softens when he falls in love with Vesper, only to be betrayed. As a result, he reverts to his previous state as an emotionless, untrusting killing machine. It’s not just that Bond is bitter toward humanity, but toward women in particular, who, he calculates, make him weak. When M offers time off to process Vesper’s death, he deadpans, “The job is done. The bitch is dead.”
That line is pulled straight from author Ian Fleming’s 1953 story on which the film is based. The setting may be 2006, but Bond is still very much a man of the 1950s. Casino Royale is a brilliant film exactly because it offers the personal backstory to Bond’s misdirected hatred toward women — though the audience shouldn’t take it as a justification for his behavior.
Since then, the franchise has occasionally alighted on the theme, most notably in Skyfall (2012) in which Judi Dench’s M becomes her own hero with an inner life and is rendered as something other than a sex object. Her — spoiler alert — death forces Bond to reckon with at least one woman’s humanity. (Of course, that whole plot is somewhat undercut by a shower scene with a Bond girl that feels oh-so-1960s.)
So finally — finally — the franchise seems ready to reckon with Bond’s misogyny. The new production brought on writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who has emerged as one of the most brilliant feminist voices of our era with her series Fleabag and Killing Eve, to punch up the Bond 25 script. The new leaks from the production suggest it was Waller-Bridge’s idea to introduce Lynch as the new 007 and that the script will explicitly call out Bond for his dinosaur mentality.
The source says Bond is “sexually attracted to the new female 007 [played by Lynch] and tries his usual seduction tricks,” but that he is “baffled when they don’t work.” The insider also says that the term “Bond girls” has been replaced with “Bond women.” (Hooray for small victories!)
“This is a Bond for the modern era who will appeal to a younger generation while sticking true to what we all expect in a Bond film,” the insider says. “There are spectacular chase sequences and fights, and Bond is still Bond but he’s having to learn to deal with the world of #MeToo.”
That sounds intriguing. And creating a woman who is her own character — rather than Jane Bond, a woman with the same disturbing characteristics as her male counterpart — is a step in the right direction.
But updating a problematic franchise is a lot harder than creating a new, empowering figure from whole cloth. It would be wonderful to watch a film that reckons with Bond’s misogyny and racism. But it would be tiresome if that film burdens Lynch’s Nomi by requiring her to explain to James Bond why it’s not okay to force women to have sex with you, and leaves little time to develop Nomi as a character independent of this elder statesman of chauvinism.
The James Bond franchise did not begin with an origin story or a sidekick story. We saw James Bond already at his peak, outwitting and outfighting Dr. No and his henchmen. The best we can expect of the new Bond series would be a story in which Lynch’s Nomi is allowed to shine and Daniel Craig thoughtfully and graciously cedes the spotlight.
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Write to Eliana Dockterman at firstname.lastname@example.org