Has Tom Hardy just been cast as the next James Bond? The rumour has been getting serious traction on social media this weekend, despite starting life as an unsourced claim on a largely Star Trek-related blog that came into existence a little over a month ago, without a crumb of evidence offered in support. The blog's author later claimed on social media that Hardy had been in the frame since June, presumably after sneaking out to audition for producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson in the middle of lockdown.
It certainly isn't impossible that for the first time in its 60-year existence, the Bond franchise is about to reboot itself with an established – and expensive – household name who is used to a large degree of creative input and known for making counter-intuitive choices that subvert, rather than burnish, his handsome movie-star image. But if Eon Productions really are pressing ahead with the casting of Hardy – which, for the avoidance of doubt, I strongly suspect they are not – it would arguably be the worst possible decision at the worst possible moment.
Problem one is that their old Bond hasn't even retired yet. No Time To Die, Daniel Craig's fifth and final outing as 007, was originally due to be released back in April, but was pushed back to November owing to the pandemic. Rumours are currently swirling of a further postponement to next spring. With this $250 million blockbuster currently gathering dust on the shelf, and with its second extremely costly advertising campaign in full swing, and the future of theatrical exhibition more or less riding on its success whenever it does turn up, it would be not just mad but actively self-destructive for Eon to actively position Craig's final outing as yesterday's news.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Even setting all that aside, would Hardy be the sensible choice? Craig is currently 52 years old, and Hardy 43. Allowing for an extremely optimistic five-year turnaround for Bond 26 in the age of Covid-induced production chaos (by comparison, the gap between Pierce Brosnan's swansong and Craig's debut was four years), that would make him 48 by the time of release. That wouldn't give Eon much space for further Hardy-fronted instalments, since the canonical Bonds tend to retire in their early 50s at the latest. (Roger Moore was 57 in A View to a Kill, which remains the record.)
Then there's the question of tone. Is there really a serious appetite at Eon for another overtly Old Bond, just after Craig's final three films have made the character's ageing and obsolescence a major plot point? Again, it's possible, but highly unlikely. Why? It's too seldom acknowledged that Bond is a fundamentally reactive franchise, responding to cultural trends rather than pioneering its own. The Craig era – with its air of wounded grit, preference for stately spectacle and insistence on family ties as the only character motivation that counts – very methodically follows in the footsteps of three Noughties game-changers: the original Bourne films, The Dark Knight, and the Harry Potter films.
But in the decade since, we've seen the rise of Marvel, with its suaver, more light-hearted brand of heroism and overtly fantastical plots: it's not unreasonable to expect Bond to follow suit, especially as Hollywood continues to fixate on cracking China by making films that won't cause a stir at the country's censorship office. Hardy – who, to be clear, is one of my favourite actors working today – would be an almost uniquely bad fit for the above. Rather, it would require someone like Henry Golding (current age: 33) or Dan Stevens (arguably pushing it at 37) to bring a kind of neo-Moorean levity to the role, while still passing as an action hero, working a tux with aplomb, and having enough time left to squeeze in another three or four blockbusters before middle age arrived.
On the other hand, if their hearts are still set on Hardy-esque bruised and beautiful brutality, Jack O'Connell (an auspicious 30) is a more obvious choice. Alternatively, they might loop back and approach 37-year-old Henry Cavill, who is widely believed to have been the runner-up to Craig when the role was last cast 15 years ago. In the interim, though, Cavill has proven his worth as an international man of mystery in Guy Ritchie's wildly underrated The Man from UNCLE – though he's also played Superman and, like Hardy, is unquestionably an established star in his own right, unlike any previous Bond.
Race, these days, is also a major factor – again, thanks in no small part to China, whose appalling tendency to shun black and brown actors is something Hollywood has apparently decided it can work around. (Witness the minimising of John Boyega on the Star Wars posters, then his total removal from a recent Jo Malone advertising campaign that he himself directed.) This, I suspect, means perennially popular speculative picks such as Idris Elba, Dev Patel and Riz Ahmed are all out of the question: rather than battling authoritarian regimes, the new Bond is probably going to be quite keen to get along with at least some of them, with all those potential ticket sales at stake.
Hardy passes muster on that front, at least: two years ago, the horrendous Venom broke box office records in China, and was even granted a rare release extension, allowing it to play in cinemas for longer than a month. When Craig's successor is officially announced, rest assured Eon will have painstakingly considered all of the above, and more. When it comes to casting an iconic role, wishful thinking can only ever be the start.