Do you read The AV Club? If not, it’s the sister publication to The Onion, self-described as “the web’s smartest take on TV, film, music, and lots more.” Which nicely sums it up, as it lets you know how arrogant the writers of The AV Club are. (Not that I hate the AV Club or anything. I actually read it frequently, as it’s pretty much the only “entertainment news” I can handle.)
Anyway, a recent AV Club article informs us that Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem are both in the new James Bond movie. Their response is “At least we know they’re going with the whole gritty reboot wave everyone has been riding for the last five years.” A typical dismissive, negative response. Which is also completely inaccurate, considering that Casino Royale was itself a gritty reboot. Bond had no gadgets, no Q, and no Moneypenny. He bloodily killed a guy in a bathroom in the opening scene, and got severely tortured while naked (rather than placed in an over-elaborate, easily-escapable trap). Also, the Bond girl died. By drowning. And Bond responded to this by saying “the bitch is dead.” That’s a gritty reboot. Shut up, AV Club.
However, let’s talk about this: Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem in the new Bond movie.
And Javier Bardem:
Okay, so maybe they are going darker and grittier with it. But maybe not – remember that Bardem is also in Vicky Christina Barcelona and Fiennes is in Maid in Manhattan.
As of now, we don’t know who either actor will be – other than Bardem is probably the bad guy. Which is good. That makes sense. Based on his career, the only other option would be a romantic lead, and they would probably alienate a large section of Bond’s audience if they did that.
I will cut to the chase: Bale should be in the 23rd Bond film. Yes, he has been considered as Bond before. I assume he would turn it down – unless you actually could go darker with it. Which brings me to…
The Codename Theory
There is a theory that exists largely on the Internet which claims that James Bond is not a character. James Bond is a code name. This theory comes in different forms, but it seems that, for the most part, the belief is that at all times there is one (and only one) agent in the world whose number is 007 and name is James Bond. This identity is assigned to him once he becomes a Double-O agent.
If you’re thinking that this theory is something I made up, you should note that there are numerous forums dedicated to it, Cracked.com discusses it thoroughly, the James Bond wikipedia page gives it a paragraph, and the theory was believed and possibly even invented by Lee Tamahori… the guy who directed the twentieth Bond film.
How did this theory start? Some people out there just want to believe that every James Bond movie is telling one long narrative. Also, Lee Tamahori really wanted an excuse to have Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan both playing Bond in the same film. It’s also worth noting that the 1967 film Casino Royale is a parody of James Bond, where James Bond is used as a code name by a variety of characters.
I will not delve into the details, but there are some very good arguments for it and against it out there on the internet. (But I will point out that this theory does have its own strains, including one version that says it isn’t just a code name: James Bond is an artificially-created personality that is implanted into agents so that they believe they are James Bond.) It’s also worth pointing out that when I mentioned this theory to a friend, she already thought that “James Bond is a codename” was the premise. Because it does sort of make more sense than the theory that there is a complete lack of continuity in one of the most successful film franchises of all time.
How the Theory Applies to Daniel Craig’s Bond
Whether the code name theory is true or not, it is undeniable that we are watching James Bond at the beginning of his career in the two latest Bond films. Which means that the 21st Bond Film is either a prequel or a reboot. Prequel makes no sense, based on M having aged and it taking place in the modern day – so it’s either a reboot where everything is starting fresh and can be considered non-canonical with everything previous, or James Bond is a code name.
We have already seen that James Bond it out of control in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. He doesn’t care who he hurts, he shoots people he is meant to interrogate, he doesn’t respect M, he’s full of inconsolable rage, et cetera. Craig himself says that this Bond is “an assassin when you come down to it.”
The question is: what happens to James Bond when he stops being an agent who can get the job done, and he becomes an agent who needs to be fired? What do you do when the amount of dead bystanders in his wake begins to outweigh the missions? Or, when he simply can’t be trusted anymore? Do you fire a man like this? Sending him out into the world with a severance package, a very particular set of deadly skills, and a mind full of confidential secrets? Or, to avoid that, do you demote him to a pencil-pushing job at MI6?
No. You don’t. You do not fire him or ask him to retire. You retire him.
This is where Bale comes in.
The third Craig-as-Bond film will begin pretty standard. Bond is totally out of control, acting real smooth and downing martinis, sleeping with beautiful women, killing dudes, realizing that the woman he just recklessly slept with got killed by some dude he should have killed, etc. But then it starts to escalate. We already know he doesn’t listen to M (didn’t he hack into her computer or something?), but now it’s getting worse. Worse to the point where they need to keep him busy.
M assigns Bond with a somewhat unusual mission: there may or may not be a serial killer on the loose, somewhere in some crazy place. You know, a mountain in Brazil. Have they done that before? Yeah, there we go.
Anyway, this crazy serial killer is Javier Bardem, and he’s going around killing people. Bond is assigned to work with another agent, the bizarre 006, played by Ralph Fiennes. 006 is unpredictable, but not in that fun, James Bond way. More in that scary, Ralph Fiennes way.
Enter Bale. As the new recruit. He just needs two kills. His first assignment is to kill Javier Bardem, which he does. Now he presents Bond and 006 with their assignment, which is some usual James Bond, convoluted, chase-this-guy-and-jump-off-that-building assignment, involving a cool car. They do that or whatever, but Bond begins to tire of this rookie. He also is drinking really heavily as he does doughnuts in his Astor Martin, then drives it off a cliff just to prove that he can jump out and live at the last second. Whatever. James Bond stuff.
Then we can get some sort of stuff that critics will inevitably calls “thrilling mind games” as the film becomes a “taut psychological thriller.” Bale reveals to Bond that he is there to get his second kill – which is none other than 006. Bond is confused (partially because he’s pretty drunk), but that doesn’t seem right. Why would this non-00 agent be sent to kill 006? So Bond decides to take it into his own hands. If anyone is eliminating 006, it’s him. The plot gradually slips more and more away from standard Bond material, and more into mind games territory, with cat-and-mouse games and hallucinatory visions.
Ultimately, it ends with a typical Bond trap. Something overly elaborate, with a slow, painful death. And Bale is behind the controls. Only this time, Bond doesn’t escape. He is slowly killed, leaving Bale as the sole survivor.
Bale takes out his phone and calls M, to inform her that he has accomplished his mission. “Congratulations, Bond,” she replies.
He makes himself a martini.
Thus, we manage to have the best kind of reboot for Bond: a Bale-out. Setting up the 24th Bond film to be starring Christian Bale as the most sinister, anti-hero 007 yet. Bale is an unusual actor in that he could both easily be a Bond villain or Bond himself. Let him be both.
This does not necessarily need to be the next Bond film. It could be postponed until audiences are sick of Craig, or until Craig is sick of being James Bond. Although Bale may be too old to take on the role by then.
Of course, the alternative is just to accept the actual level of realism of the Bond films: they are fun movies with absolutely no continuity, and you should just watch them to enjoy. That, and the current Bond writers completely reject the concept of Bond being a codename. Bale should just be one of three assassins in Bond 23 (together with Bardem and Fiennes: we know they’re all capable of it) in an international serial killer league who Bond has to eliminate.