Last week, the speculation of Rami Malek joining the Bond 25 bandwagon as the upcoming film’s arch villain added fuel to the curiosity chaos that has surrounded the project for almost four years now, ever since it was announced in the wake of 2015’s Spectre. The chaos is now bloating into unmanageable drama, one that threatens to pale all the explosive action James Bond routinely engages in on screen.

Malek has just won an Oscar, so that makes him hot property. Bond films are known to cast the finest actors as villains, and if Malek indeed signs up he will be part of a legacy that includes Christopher Lee, Gert Fröbe, Christoph Waltz, Javier Bardem, Mads Mikkelsen and Jonathan Pryce — a super-sinister club that defined misery for James Bond’s down the decades.

Quantum of Chaos: Bond faces his toughest challenge yet

Daniel Craig as James Bond. File photo

What has piqued interest of many Hollywood watchers is Malek’s ethnicity. At the cost of being stereotypical or politically outrageous, the actor’s name being linked with Bond 25 has opened up a speculation on social media: By casting an actor of Arab heritage, will the franchise imagine a Jihadi fundamentalist as villain? Could James Bond finally be training his gun at terror in the name of religion — the brand of violence that has plagued the modern world more than any other for a while now?

We don’t know if Malek will play villain. What we do know is Craig’s fifth and final Bond outing happens at a time the superspy in a dapper tux is desperately struggling for reinvention.

A large part of Bond’s ongoing reinvention — especially through the Craig era — has been about realism. Bond as a concept is no longer just about being cool and sexy — hawking playboy mojo, flashy Aston Martins and vodka martini spirits. Fifty-eight years after Sean Connery added new swish to spy action in Dr. No, Bond’s world is getting specific with socio-political contexts. Locales and characters — including villains — are no longer nebulous entities.

Which is where a fair discussion of Jihad through fictional adventure might fit in. Post Cold War and the USSR, Bond mostly found villains in international smugglers, arms dealers, Spanish or Scandinavian separatists and North Korean dictators. Those baddies seem jaded now. Bond needs a villain today’s world might relate to.

Reinvention, in fact, has been a hallmark of James Bond. In a world where Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne and Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt have been giving constant competition, Bond has somehow always managed to survive, re-hauling the secret agent icon every few years.

Craig and his producers know it is time for reinvention again. Apart from the constant challenge of meeting demands of changing times, every new Bond release is always staving off competition within the franchise itself. Post 2012’s Skyfall, for instance, every new film is expected to measure up to that Sam Mendes masterpiece. Mendes himself could not live up to that pressure when he returned directing Spectre, the next Bond release in 2015 after Skyfall. If Skyfall is rated among the best, Spectre is among the most disappointing 007 flicks ever.

By the time the upcoming Bond 25 releases in 2020, it will be over five years since Spectre. The makers are naturally cagey. The film has been in pre-production for too long and, over the past four years since Spectre, has mostly made headlines for the wrong reasons.

Most of these reasons of delay reflect indecision. Anxious to take the franchise to a new, exciting space, the makers by turn mooted ideas ranging from a female Bond to a gay Bond to a Black Bond. In trying to push the envelope, Danny Boyle, original-choice director of Bond 25, insisted they kill off James Bond at the end of the film, only to be pushed out of the project. Craig himself was reluctant to return for a fifth outing, and was lured in only after he was promised production rights. Before Malek hit headlines as the probable villain, news did the rounds that the new film would be called Shatterhand. Social media hostility around the rumoured title saw lead producer Barbara Broccoli scurrying to deny all such reports, insisting Bond 25 is still without a title.

It’s almost as if the makers have no solid idea, and simply want to stay in the news. Making a new Bond is always a profitable deal, after all. Till date, even the worst of the series have invariably made money.

After Boyle’s exit, directorial duty for Bond 25 has fallen on new-age sensation Cary Joji Fukunaga. The 41-year-old filmmaker has directed Mexican icons Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna in Sin Nombre, collaborated with Idris Elba in the war drama Beasts Of No Nation, and gave Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre a new-age spin. He also wrote the cult horror hit, It.

Fukunaga is a director who relishes tackling Latin American swagger, scores with epic war intensity and is equally at home setting up old-school British romance. He seems like the right choice for a 58-year-old franchise out wooing the global box office for a record 25th time.

Updated Date: Mar 15, 2019 14:21:12 IST

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