No surprise: Daniel Craig continues 007 action

I don’t think anyone was surprised to hear that Daniel Craig will continue playing everyone’s favorite James Bond, at least until the next contract talks come up. Then you can be sure, Craig may hem and haw again until he gets the salary he wants.

So Craig’s 007-era will die another day.

After months of gossip and denials, Craig on Tuesday night confirmed to Stephen Colbert on the “Late Show” that he will indeed return for another James Bond movie. The yet-titled film is due out November 2019.

“We’ve just been trying to figure things out,” Craig told Colbert. “I always wanted to. I needed a break.”

The 49-year-old actor’s stewardship of James Bond has spanned four films – and now will go for a fifth – but it has generated enough rumors to power the kind of doomsday device Bond is usually trying to stop.

Craig’s time as Bond has been distinguished. His “Skyfall” remains a high-point in both dollars and quality for the 55-year-old franchise. His last one, 2015’s “Spectre,” grossed $880 million worldwide. Most consider him a terrific Bond who has raised the bar for the franchise, and his official return was greeted warmly on Wednesday.

But the Craig-era, far more than its predecessors, has been characterized by a steady supply of Bond drama. Rumors and debates over who should be the next 007 have been nonstop for years, as has Craig’s frequent hints about calling it quits. In 2015, he famously said he’d rather “slash my wrists” than make another Bond movie, a comment he later explained as a kind of joke from the fatigue of just completing one.

Yet even while Craig keeps donning the tux, the next-Bond handicapping has been a year-round business. Tom Hardy, Tom Hiddleston, Jack Huston and Riz Ahmed are just some of the actors who have been linked to the role – some of them for the better part of the decade.

Others have lobbied for a female 007, like Charlize Theron. Idris Elba has been a favorite for at least two years, going to back to when Bond author Anthony Horowitz suggested he was “too street” for the part.

The meetings of producer Barbara Broccoli are spied on as if they concern national security. In a way, they do. Bond is a nation-state of its own, with more than $7 billion in box-office revenues alone. And that’s a heavy burden for any actor to bear.

Craig’s constant dance with Bond has very possibly been a smart strategy to deflect some of that pressure. He has, perhaps more than anyone since Sean Connery, eluded being completely defined by 007. Last year he did “Othello” off-Broadway with David Oyelowo. He gives a comic turn in Steven Soderbergh’s “Logan Lucky,” out Friday.

It’s as though Craig has always wanted his future with James Bond a little up in the air – shaken, if you like – so as to avoid the stasis that could set in for a decades-old franchise now preparing its 25th films. Craig acknowledged on Colbert that his return had been settled months ago, meaning he was evading questions about Bond as recently as that morning when he told a Boston radio station that “no decision has been made.”

And even as he confirmed he was returning, Craig suggested it will be his last one.

“I think this is it,” he said. “I just want to go out on a high note.”

Though many surely will, don’t bet on it. Or to put it another way: Never say never again.

no surprise as daniel craig continues 007 action 2017 images

Craig has certainly made it more difficult for the Bond producers as they were more used to actors that weren’t such high profile stars.

Craig’s overt resentment at the prospect of continuing the role may have merely been a bargaining chip, but it’s likely something more. Part of the “traditional” Bond ethos was to use workmanlike directors and unthreatening actors – they posed little challenge to the producers and, much as we loved Roger, Sean, and Pierce in the role, there was no sense they were bigger than Bond. By hiring Craig for 2006’s Casino Royale, however, Eon were taking on a heavyweight performing presence: he might have the square jaw, piercing eyes, and moulded pecs, but he could also play Ted Hughes to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Sylvia Plath, and convincingly inhabit the traumatised college lecturer of Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love.

It was clear from the very first frames of Casino Royale that Craig was going to provide a very different 007 to previous incarnations. Bond’s producers regularly say they are returning to basics, or bringing out a darker edge, but Craig really supplied it: the opening sequence where he batters Darwin Shaw in a toilet was by far the nastiest scene Bond had ever committed to celluloid. The other guys, it was immediately clear, just wore the suit; this one was scarily real.

It’s not surprising that Craig found the role constricting, and not only because of typecasting. Inside the industry, 007 has attracted most admiration for its ability to generate huge amounts of income through weapons-grade marketing and corporate relations: not simply product placement, but a whole universe of cross-promotional TV spots and publicity shoots, in which the Bond brand has been used to endorse multiple product lines. (It’s hard to remember now, but the biggest story in the run-up to Skyfall was Bond’s switch to Heineken, from vodka martini, in return for $45m.) Doing Bond committed Craig to a plethora of TV commercials, fashion shoots, and commercial campaigns; amply rewarded work that’s no doubt burdensome all the same. The series’ most auteurist directors – Mendes, Martin Campbell – have not stuck around for more than two films, so to expect a performer of Craig’s stature to return endlessly is perhaps a little unreasonable.

Moreover, Craig has not exactly been helped by any monumental improvement in the backroom work. Bond still represents unadventurous large-scale film making that – despite much effort being front-loaded into opening-sequence action scenes (a newish Bond tradition that goes back to the first Pierce Brosnan film, GoldenEye) – has not solved the series’ big weakness: lengthy, laborious narratives that have to explain every single nuance with frowning concentration, as well as shoehorning in extended chase-and-kill sequences. The nonplussed audience reaction to attempts to emulate a Marvel-type “universe” in Spectre was telling; hopefully, they’ll be abandoned. Bond is all about Bond, and already exists in a clearly defined soft-focus universe of British imperial decline.

But recent political events may well have given Bond – and Craig himself – a new project: can 007 slay the spectre of Brexit? If any cultural phenomenon summed up the mind-state of your fervent leaver, James Bond – with his sharp-suited white-man privilege, bred-in-the-bone patriotism, and British-chap derring-do – is surely it. Will Craig distance 007 from the flag-waving, union jack-parachute version? Or will the series sail serenely on, like the QE2, into the Atlantic sunset? Whichever way it goes, Craig’s swansong could be the most interesting Bond yet.