Fans are slowly recovering from the news that Idris Elba will not, in fact, be the next James Bond. He seemed so perfect for the role. Handsome and debonair.
Others have been saying that there is no way the Bond franchise can continue in modernity with its sexist past. Perhaps a female Bond, like Charlize Theron?
I propose that the best way to save the James Bond franchise, and make it more modern, is to borrow some of the things it got right from the very beginning in the 60s, when Sean Connery was at the helm.
The first reason that Trevor Noah is the best pick to revive the James Bond franchise in the spirit of the original:
1) Sean Connery’s James Bond was comedic and ironic
The original Bond is most often decried as sexist. I disagree. Sean Connery’s Bond was played with a self-aware irony. It is easy to look back on cultural artifacts from history with the attitude that we’re so much more sophisticated. The sexism painfully obvious to us now must have been completely normal to those poor ignorant fools in the 60s. Did anyone actually think “Pussy Galore” was a reasonable name for a female character? Nope, not even our parents. Connery knew what he was doing. Noah would be able to bring that same one-eyebrow-raised self-awareness to the role as Connery did. I’m not suggesting more pussy word play and a return to “No means hold me down and kiss me until I stop struggling,” but we’re still allowed to have a little fun, right?
Those of us who know Bond primarily as Daniel Craig may not remember some of the other laudable, or often misconstrued details of the original:
2) Sean Connery’s James Bond was an intellectual not a fighter
Seen here is Connery’s Bond, shirtless, with a fit everyman’s-torso, reading a book. Compare to Daniel Craig’s action hero physique. In the most recent turn for Bond, the sexism conundrum is solved by taking away some of the sex, and replacing it with action, fights, and explosions. Connery’s Bond tried to avoid a fight when he could, joked in the face of danger, and tricked his way out of capture. Sure, sometimes it was only as clever as “Hey, look over there!” but it is still more thoughtful and gentleman-like than beating each other bloody for an hour and half. How exactly is Craig’s muscle-bound fightin’ Bond supposed to be less sexist than Connery’s trickster?
Noah is athletic, but even pictured without a book in hand we know him for political commentary hosting The Daily Show (and as a NYTimes #1 bestselling author). He might even have to cut back on the gym to get Connery’s look. That is more relatable, as a real spy or special agent spends far more time reading than at the gym, and few have the ripped physiques of Daniel Craig or Idris Elba. Few of us could even dream of attaining those abs.
3) Sean Connery’s James Bond modeled an absurdist, existential philosophy towards life
In another attempt to cure the sexism of the franchise in Craig’s version, Bond became emotionally vulnerable (*to be clear, Daniel Craig is a talented actor, and I don’t blame him for the writing I critique). In Casino Royale, he declares his endless love for Eva Green’s character, someone he had recently met, as though it were a scene from a Jane Austen movie. After she dies, he spends the next film brooding over the loss. Romantic love is not the answer to life’s emptiness and internalized sorrow doesn’t make you sensitive. In a modern secular society, the carefree attitude of Connery’s Bond is a healthier philosophy of life than that of the Casino Royale-era’s search for fulfillment in the romantic worship of another person.
Yeah, Noah, author of “Born a Crime,” knows a thing or two about dealing with existential problems. If anyone can bring an emotional depth that is true to life, with a breezy attitude that doesn’t trivialize or melodramatize, it’s Noah.
4) Sean Connery’s James Bond had casual sex as a hedonist adventurer, not as a womanizer
As much as there have been missteps in attempting to modernize the Bond franchise, one thing that I strongly believe they got right –and should keep in all future films– is the suggestion that Bond has had sex with men. Better yet, make it more than a suggestion. In one of my favorite scenes in Skyfall, Javier Bardem’s villain delicately attempts to sexually intimidate a captive Bond by flirting with him, as he is torturing him. Craig coolly lets him know he is not at all threatened by the thought of having sex with another man.
In Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron’s take on a female James Bond-style role, the suggestion of bisexuality is also there. It is different because while we see her have sex with a woman, it is only mentioned that she previously had a relationship with a man. If Theron’s role were male, it would be easy to think that the onscreen fling with Delphine was simple womanizing, and Delphine’s eventual murder another example of the damsel in distress archetype: the naive girl the hero wasn’t able to save. As a bisexual woman we see Theron’s character not as a misogynist for taking to bed the French spy she catches tailing her, but as a sexually-empowered, emotionally-guarded sensualist.
The story of Bond has always been about the adventure of saving the world while traveling and meeting new people (“without your clothes” as Leonard Cohen would say), having brief love affairs. The power dynamic of sex in the heteronormative culture of the 60s comes across as more sexist than equally empowering for both parties in the affair. In a more open era of sexuality, and greater bisexual visibility, the gendered power dynamics of casual sex can be seen in a new light.
Don’t make Theron the new female Bond to fix sexism; women are doing pretty well telling our own stories. No James Bond needed. I bet Trevor Noah could play a convincing bisexual man, interested in meeting and sleeping with exciting new people of all genders.
I know it’s a long shot as Noah already has a pretty steady gig at The Daily Show, but for the all the reasons above:
Please, please make Trevor Noah our new biracial, bisexual, ironic, existential intellectual James Bond!