Ever since it became public knowledge just how disaffected Daniel Craig has become by the Bond franchise, there has been speculation who should adopt his license to kill. Michael Fassbender showed what he could bring to the role in X-Men: First Class as the suave Nazi-hunting Magneto. Tom Hardy has said he’d like a crack at it and proved that he has the requisite physicality and charisma in both Legend and Inception. Even Marvel’s Loki, Tom Hiddleston, has thrown his hat into the ring after his recent performance in the BBC’s John Le Carre adaptation The Night Manager.
Despite his relative seniority, though – he’s 43 – our favorite pick may well be Idris Elba. Elba has proven himself an excellent small-screen prsence in Luther and The Wire – smooth, gravelly, and emotionally conflicted – but has yet to achieve similar excellence in a major role on the big screen. He has done well in supporting roles such as Beast of No Nation and Pacific Rim, but his lead performances, apart from the critically acclaimed Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, are yet to set the box office alight. Does he have the chops front a franchise with the history and following of 007? If only we could see him in an action-thriller where he successfully plays a charming, intelligent, and reckless spy. Well…
In Bastille Day, Elba plays CIA agent, Sean Briar, who is tasked with hunting down terrorists in Paris. He isn’t the only non-American adopting an accent to play one of our cousins across the Atlantic. Every American in this is played by a Brit. Anatol Yusef (Boardwalk Empire) plays a CIA boss, Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes) plays his deputy in the compulsory pant suit we’ve come to expect in female spooks from Zero Dark Thirty and Homeland, and Richard Madden, last seen in Disney’s live action Cinderella, is the pickpocket that Briar needs to help him hunt down a terrorist group.
We are introduced to Madden’s Michael pulling a stunt where a naked woman walks through a tourist area so he can steal wallets and passports to order, but we know he is really a good guy as he turns down a one night stand with his beautiful, nude distraction and gives some of the stolen money to a beggar. He sees a woman leave a bag and he takes it. We already know that the woman, Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon), has failed to plant a bomb in the French Nationalist headquarters and the bomb is in the bag. The bomb goes off and Madden is fingered as a terrorist and Elba is sent to track him down.
After some refreshingly awkward parkour over the rooftops of Paris Elba realizes that this American Artful Dodger is needed to track down the real villains. They track down Zoe and all three set out to thwart the terrorist plot set to climax July 14th – Bastille Day. This fits nicely into the genre of European set action/thrillers where a mid-ranking action hero, usually Liam Neeson, causes chaos in front of picturesque tourist spots before delving into its gritty underworld – Bond takes a city break, basically.
Bastille Day, directed by James Watkins (Eden Lake, The Woman in Black), creates a picture of a modern day multicultural Paris and the way the bad guys create chaos through social networking is clever, but is responsible for a unintended LOL moment, “Send out the final hashtag!”. The action scenes are nicely handled but the performances lack the light touch that the film needs. Madden is playing a role more suited to a Seann William Scott or Ryan Reynolds type and is in similar spy thriller territory that fellow Game of Thrones alum Kit Harrington explored in Spooks: The Greater Good with similarly mixed results.
An oft-repeated line in the film is “It’s all about the distraction” and, to be fair, Bastille Day is distracting fare, but it strives to be more and it just isn’t exciting or original enough to be anything more than middle-of-the-road actioner. This doesn’t do anything to help nor harm Elba’s chances of becoming the next Bond as the part isn’t fun enough to let his famously rugged charm loose, as he has managed on television. However, Roger Moore was only known as television actor, but he went on to become the longest-running 007 in the franchise, so who knows what the future could bring for Hackney-born star.
Bastille Day arrives in cinemas on Friday, April 22nd, 2016