james bond

If you hear the phrase “James Bond Cinematic Universe” and want to lay your head on your desk and not move for a good hour or so, I totally understand. That’s a reasonable response. Every studio wants a connected cinematic universe these days and between the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Extended Universe, the Dark Universe, the Conjuring-verse and everything else lurking in the wings, it can be exhausting. Why does a series as storied and respected as the 007 movies need a cinematic universe, anyway?

The truth: it doesn’t. Also the truth: a James Bond cinematic universe would completely fit in with the series’ modus operandi of borrowing whatever is cool, hip, or popular and making it its own.

This is such a Rumor that I’m choosing to capitalize Rumor in this sentence just to drive the point home. However this tidbit comes from a very interesting tweet by The Tracking Board’s Jeff Sneider (via Birth.Movies.Death), who casually revealed that the Bond producers are keen on building out a universe that would “explore other corners of the Bond franchise…simultaneously.”

The fact that is information is being tossed off in a tweet and not in a proper article on the website that he runs suggests that this is far from solid – consider this nothing more than a rumbling right now (although Sneider has a strong track record when it comes to breaking movie news). However, as a lifelong James Bond fan, this rumbling tickles me more than it annoys me. Of course EON Productions, who steer the 007 movies, are looking into a cinematic universe. Of course.

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James Bond, Trend-Chaser

In his earliest cinematic incarnations, Agent James Bond of the British Secret Service redefined cool for a generation. He was smart, witty, deadly, charming, and ruthless. Unflappable in the face of danger, he saved the world with a martini on one hand, a gun in the other, and a woman in the escape submarine, waiting for him to pop in for some innuendo right before the credits. And while all of this has remained mostly true since Dr. No arrived in theaters in 1962, the context of Bond’s general coolness has changed. Rather than set the trends, Bond began to chase them.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s the key to the character’s longevity and it helps make even the worst James Bond movies (and there are a lot of those) watchable. Even if the movie itself is turgid, it functions as a magnificent time capsule – here is what was trendy in this given year, so watch 007 latch on to it. Bond went blaxploitation in Live and Let Die, chased Star Wars with Moonraker, and even took on the harsh edge of a brutal ’80s action movie with Licence to Kill. In more recent years, the Daniel Craig movies began as riffs on the Bourne films before evolving into riffs on Christopher Nolan’s work.

This is normal. This is what happens with the Bond movies. This is what makes them so damn fascinating to study. It helps that the best Bond movies borrow and then elevate, taking the ideas that are appealing to audiences in the first place and packaging them in a classy, glossy package. Casino Royale is one of the best blockbusters of the 21st century, after all.

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The James Bond Cinematic Universe

And what’s cool right now? Cinematic universes, movies that live under the same umbrella and exist in the same continuity. Marvel Studios invented (and perfected) the concept and everyone else wants in. It’s hot. It’s cool. It’s…well, it’s the exact kind of thing that would appeal to Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the producers of the current James Bond movies.

It remains to be seen if a James Bond cinematic universe would be successful (let alone if it will even happen). Would audiences be interested in a 007 movie without 007 himself? That’s the literal billion dollar question. But even if it’s a failure, even if no good comes of it, it’ll be the next natural step for a franchise that has always borrowed and stolen and swiped with the best possible intentions.

So, who would star in a potential James Bond spin-off? Luckily, the Bond series is chock-full of recognizable and recurring characters who are not named James Bond. The most obvious choice would be Felix Leiter, the CIA agent who has been assisting 007 since his earliest adventures. Although played by numerous actors over the decades, Felix is played by Jeffrey Wright in the Daniel Craig films as a no-nonsense tough guy, the kind of agent who’s as good at navigating red tape as Bond is at saving the world. It would make for a more low-key thriller, but I’d love to see Wright’s Felix headline his own adventure.

Other possibilities lie closer to home. While Bond’s many allies have assisted him in the field before (the gadget master Q is practically the second lead of Licence to Kill), the most recent films have doubled down on giving these characters prominence. Naomie Harris’ Eve Moneypenny is no longer a simple secretary, but a skilled former agent who knows how to handle herself in an action scene. Ralph Fiennes’ M is as tough, stoic, and uncompromising as Bond himself. Ben Whishaw’s Q is an adorable, quirky heartthrob begging for his own “in-over-his-head” adventure, where his brain must make up for his lack of brawn.

Just look to the finale of 2015’s Spectre, where Bond, formerly a total lone wolf, finds himself entering the climax surrounded by his allies. After all, the team-based Mission: Impossible movies are really cool and we all know how the James Bond series feels about things that are really cool.

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A Fork in the Road

Every 10 or 15 years, the James Bond series hits a speed bump. The six-year delay before GoldenEye came about after an extended series of lawsuits over ownership rights derailed development. The gap between Die Another Day and Casino Royale was the result of everyone trying to figure out how to limp back on to the field following one of the series’ worst movies. Now, we’re in the midst of another speed bump: EON Productions’ distribution deal with Sony ended after Spectre and almost every studio in Hollywood is currently courting them.

Bond will be back. It’s just a matter of when. And with whom. Now, I can’t help but wonder if the studio who gets the distribution gig will be the studio most willing to accommodate a James Bond cinematic universe.

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