In 1997 Mike Myers gave us Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, a movie that made a mockery of James Bond. How could Bond continue after this?The simple answer, in the Pierce Brosnan era Bond became as silly as the spoof. Then in 2002 around the time Brosnan was making his last appearance as Bond in Die Another Day the game really changed with The Bourne Identity. Bond took a four year break and returned as a younger rougher Bond in Casino Royale played by Daniel Craig. Despite the reboot, there is still a sense that Bond belongs in the 50’s and 60’s and not in the present day.
As good as the Jason Bourne trilogy was, it was always just that a trilogy. The critical, financial and artistic failure of the Bourne Legacy proved that. Largely plot driven it couldn’t adapt and evolve the way Bond has, but then no other film series has. Bruce Willis is John McClane, and there couldn’t be a Die Hard movie without him. The same goes for Riggs and Murtaugh/Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon and Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry. Next year, Chris Pine will be the fourth actor in five films to play Jack Ryan but they have always felt like separate films and not a coherent series. Mission: Impossible has the scope to be rebooted and is set up in such a way that other characters can be introduced without the need to recast existing ones. There has been a suggestion that William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) introduced in the latest film Ghost Protocol has been suggested as a replacement for Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) but is it the new Bond? Probably not but it does lead on nicely to Jack Reacher, a film franchise that could be the James Bond for a new generation. I am not talking about a replacement for Bond.
Bond as a character is showing no sign of going anywhere but that doesn’t mean there isn’t space for a new action hero franchise. The screen incarnation of Bond has been with us for fifty years, longer than most people who read this article have been alive. It has always updated itself in an effort to stay relevant but is at its best when it has one foot in the past as M said in Golden eye “I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War”. This is why there is room for a new hero one who, one conceived in a world after Vietnam, the cold war and 9/11. I’m not totally convinced that that character is Jack Reacher but it stands a chance. The controversy over the casting of Tom Cruise who is too old and too short (by ten inches) and worst of all too famous to play Reacher may just work in its favour. If cruise can establish the character over three or four movies it will have the chance to be recast and reinvented in future the way Bond has been.
Who is Jack Reacher? Starting with Killing Floor in 1997 Lee Child has already written more novels than Ian Fleming. Unlike Bond, Reacher isn’t a spy with the backup of the British movement and the “Q” branch. Reacher is a former military policeman who has taken to drifting around America. Along the way he gets into various scrapes and ultimately ends up helping people in a sort of Kwai Chang Caine way. Totally lacking any sense of remorse but with a strong sense of morality and a compulsion to help people the character is very clichéd, this isn’t a criticism.
So will Reacher be the new Bond? No, and if the filmmakers try to turn him into the new Bond it will be a missed opportunity for a new franchise. Since its reboot a few years ago Bond took a step towards Bourne but always kept its own identity and that’s that Jack Reacher needs to do, forge its own identity in a crowded movie schedule.
- Skyfall is released on 26th October 2012 in the UK and two weeks later in North America.
- Jack Reacher is released on 21st December 2012 in the USA and on Boxing Day in the UK