James Bond: Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Past Roles Show That He Can Be a Fun 007

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“How can a short, blond actor with the rough face of a professional boxer and a penchant for playing villains, killers, cranks, and cads pull off the role of a tall, dark, handsome, and suave secret agent?”

So asks the front page of the website Daniel Craig is Not Bond, one of many fan-sites launched in the wake of the actor getting cast as James Bond for Casino Royale back in 2005. Nearly two decades later, the question seems laughable, as Craig elevated the franchise into something rich and emotionally dense, touching on qualities the series rarely attempted.

The 20/20 hindsight about Craig’s tenure comes in handy with the escalating rumors that Eon Productions have offered Aaron Taylor-Johnson the Bond role. On paper, Taylor-Johnson seems like the safe choice, a conventionally handsome white Englishman, a veteran of big-budget movies such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Godzilla, and Tenet.

To be frank, no one signaled out Taylor-Johnson for praise in those showings. At worst, he was annoying, failing to capture Pietro Maximoff’s cocky charm in Age of Ultron or distracting from the Kaiju battles we wanted to see in Godzilla. At best, he was functional, moving the plot along without derailing the picture.

But think back to Taylor-Johnson’s big break. As Dave Lizewski in Kick-Ass. That movie led with an image of Taylor-Johnson in costume, his nose bloody and his body bruised, but still ready to fight. The actor showed off not only solid comedic chops, but an ability to take a punch and keep going.

More recently, Taylor-Johnson received strong notices for his part in the David Leitch action farce Bullet Train. As an English assassin sporting a well-tailored suit and slicked back hair, he certainly looked the part of a MI6 agent. Taylor-Johnson brought an impeccable timing to his performance as Tangerine, the long-suffering and short-tempered brother of the Thomas the Tank Engine loving assassin Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry with an English accent).

The best parts of Bullet Train involve Tangerine and Lemon trading barbs, with the latter trying to explain his Tank Engine-inspired philosophy of life and the former barely containing his irritation. In an early sequence, Lemon produces a sticker book to illustrate his point, only to get interrupted by an exasperated Tangerine. Tangerine swallows his words and allows his brother to continue, but Taylor-Johnson lets the irritation bubble up on his character’s face, turning the audience against him for getting so angry at his sweetheart of a brother.

In another scene, Tangerine fights it out with Brad Pitt’s zen doofus Ladybug. The two trade convincing strikes until a Japanese stewardess arrives selling snacks. While Tangerine tries to play it cool and get her out of the way to continue the fight, Ladybug engages with the woman and orders a drink. As with his interactions with Lemon, Tangerine’s irritation turns the audience against him, making him and not Ladybug look like the idiot for getting so upset about being nice to the stewardess.

To be clear, Taylor-Johnson’s performance in Bullet Train is not a break from his take on Lizewski but an extension. As much as Tangerine tries to be cool and collected, he ends up dissolved and bloodied, his well-coiffed hair falling into tangles and his shirt fashionably torn. As with Lizewski posing in front of the mirror in Kick-Ass, there’s a disconnect between the way Tangerine sees himself and the way he actually behaves, creating comic potential.

For some readers, Taylor-Johnson’s comic chops might be a mark against him. After all, Craig played Bond as a broken person, a romantic soul trapped in the body of a blunt instrument. But Bond has always had a ridiculous and even comedic element, even in Craig’s tenure. Moreover, the franchise tends to course-correct from previous entries.

So at the end of Sean Connery’s first run as the blunt instrument Bond, we get George Lazenby going romantic in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Roger Moore found his feet when he leaned into the stiff-lipped comedy in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. After Moore, we got the unhinged killer played by Timothy Dalton, followed by the smooth Pierce Brosnan, and then to the grounded Craig.

In short, the time is right for the pendulum to swing in the other direction, giving us cool-gadgets, witty one-liners, and outrageous set pieces. But as Taylor-Johnson’s bloody nose and frustrated frown shows, this won’t be a complete swing from the darker Craig era. Rather, the newcomer is well-suited to play a goofy but gritty Bond, a guy who can take a joke and a punch at the same time. His upcoming starring role in the Marvel movie Kraven the Hunter, which looks like an extremely campy reimagining of the comic book villain, should be another great opportunity for the actor to show off his best qualities, along with the brutal physicality needed to play an action role as demanding as Bond.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson may not completely be the “tall, dark, handsome and suave secret agent” that Daniel Craig haters wanted 20 years ago, but he’s a clear step away, or perhaps a pratfall, back in that direction.

The post James Bond: Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Past Roles Show That He Can Be a Fun 007 appeared first on Den of Geek.

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