Shortly after posting an article about a future James Bond I downloaded the latest episode of Film Don’t Hurt where Kai and Dylan talk about the Bond franchise. The thing I took away from the episode, other than a good laugh at Kai and Dylan’s lamentable knowledge of the subject, was the question “who is the American Bond?” The simple answer I don’t think there is one. Here are the possible contenders:
Derek Flint: Appearing in two films; Our Man Flint (1966) and In Like Flint (1967) played by James Coburn. Flint was as much a parody of Bond as an attempt to make an American version of him. According to the audio commentary on the DVD (according to the trivia page on IMDB), Fox wanted to do another Flint movie but James Coburn turned them down. A clip from the second movie appears in the opening credits to The Fall Guy TV show (1981–1986).
Jason Bourne: First appearing in a TV movie, The Bourne Identity (1988) Played by Richard Chamberlain, Bourne is one of the few real contenders to be an American Bond. Loosely based on the Robert Ludlum novels of the same name and starring Matt Damon: The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) helped reinvent the genre and had a real influence on the rebooted Bond series. The Bourne Legacy (2012) tried to continue the series beyond Bourne introducing the character Aaron Cross played by Jeremy Renner, it didn’t really work. Its hard to say if the franchise has a future. Bourne’s story has been told, I would be happy if they leave the character alone.
Jack Ryan: The first screen incarnation of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan was played by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October (1990). He made two further appearances in quick succession in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994) played by Harrison Ford in both. A decade later the character was rebooted in The Sum of All Fears (2002) Played by Ben Affleck. Later this year Chris Pine will take over the part in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2013). What does this prove? The character can be played by many actors just like Bond or they have never got it quite right since the first movie? With Kenneth Branagh directing and Branagh and Kevin Costner in the supporting cast tit looks like a series attempt to reboot the series.
Ethan Hunt: Concentrating on the action side of the genre, Based on a 60’s TV show and spawning four movies to date: Mission: Impossible (1996), Mission: Impossible II (2000), Mission: Impossible III (2006) and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) with a fifth on the way. The only problem, does Ethan Hunt have life beyond Tom Cruise? William Brandt played by Jeremy Renner has been suggested as a future replacement for Hunt. Hopefully this will work out better for him than Aaron Cross.
xXx: The first xXx Xander Cage appeared in xXx (2002) played by Vin Diesel. A movie that openly mocked Bond with the death of a dinner jacket wearing Bond like agent. Xander Cage was to be the secret agent of the new millennium. The character was quickly killed of and replaced with the next xXx Darius Stone played by Ice Cube in xXx: State of the Union (2005). This is more Bond like isn’t it? Well no. the films may be fun, but they are rubbish. Vin Diesel is rumoured to be reprising the role in xXx: The Return of Xander Cage some time in the next few years.
Jack Bauer: do we have to look to TV for an American Bond? Jack Bauer played by Kiefer Sutherland appeared in the TV show 24 between 2001 and 2010 and is set for a new show next year. How much of the appeal of the show is the format, how much is the character and how much the actor? I’m not sure the character will ever be rebooted or continue without Sutherland.
The One Hit Wonders:
Mallory Kane: Haywire (2011) was a love it or hate it movie, I love it. Steven Soderbergh wrote the character for former cage fighter Gina Carano. I don’t expect there to be any more Mallory Kane movies and wouldn’t want there to be without Soderbergh . Reboot or recasting opertuinies are limited as Gina Carano really is irreplaceable.
Harry Tasker: Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle True Lies (1994) was a remake of 1991 French film La Totale! It works largely because of its blend of action and comedy working in both genres. A sequel or a TV spin-off has often been suggested but never got off the ground. A TV spin-off with Eliza Dushku reprising her role as Dana Tasker could be fun, once commissioned, it would give fox the chance to do what they do best, cancel a promising show prematurely! Cynical, me?
John McClane, Indiana Jones and Harry Callahan are both too far from the spy world and to much associated with one actor to be realistically considered.
The notable thing about the longevity of the character is how it survived some ropy movies in the 70’s and 80’s and the death of the British film industry. Is the character that strong, or do we just not have anything else to fall back on? Probably a bit of both, we don’t have supper hero’s like Batman, Superman or Spider-Man. So who is the American Bond? There isn’t one. Some characters already have complete story arcs, others are too tied to one actor, and some are just dead in the water. But give them a chance, Bond has been with us on screen for half a centaury and in print for a decade longer than that. Give it another twenty or thirty years and we could be talking about Ryan, Bourne or Hunt in the same sentence as Bond. But maybe we are asking the wrong question, what we should be asking, “who is the British Batman/Superman/Spider-Man?” answer: James Bond.