Matthew Vaughn isn’t convincing anyone he’s over his James Bond rejection
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It’s been 13 years since Matthew Vaughn directed anything that wasn’t a spy movie, and even then, he actively compared X-Men: First Class to the ongoing adventures of a certain cinematic secret agent. Whether it’s by accident or design, the filmmaker continues offering the impression that he still hasn’t quite recovered from his brief flirtation with taking the reins on a James Bond blockbuster.
Countless big-name directors grew up entranced by the globetrotting antics of 007, with Christopher Nolan prime among them and continually linked with the franchise as a result. However, Vaughn found himself in the curious position of admitting he was promised Casino Royale before spending the bulk of the next decade and a half repeatedly – and deliberately – subverting the saga’s established tropes in espionage epics of his own.
“I’ve got more chance of being cast as Bond as directing Bond,” he told the Happy Sad Confused podcast before saying of the producers, “They’re not keen on me.” Not that it’s affected his output, which has repeatedly made a point of offering the antithesis to 007. By extension, it feels like Vaughn is doing everything he can to try and prove that being overlooked hasn’t bothered him.
Cruelly, it was Vaughn who suggested Daniel Craig as the title hero in the first place, having worked with him on Layer Cake prior to taking a meeting with representatives from Eon Productions. “Ironically, we talked about who I’d cast, and I said, ‘What about Daniel?’ And they’re like, ‘We’re not sure about Daniel.’”
“It was a really weird time when I got a phone call saying, ‘Would you be interested in meeting about doing Casino Royale?’ And I was like, ‘Oh my god, yes, I would,’” he recalled before revealing he was told the job was his for the taking. “I got a phone call from MGM saying, ‘You’ve got the gig, don’t tell anyone.’ So I go for this meeting, and I’m pretending that I don’t know, and all I’m thinking is, ‘Come on, can we cut to the chase?’ I’m ready to go.”
Of course, Vaughn didn’t end up directing Casino Royale, and the reboot even took his choice of leading man on board. That would sting for anyone, especially such a long-time and vocal supporter of the property, but the longer he continues to play around in the sandbox of spycraft, the more it’s beginning to look as if he’s trying too hard to convince everyone it didn’t affect him.
X-Men: First Class may have been a Marvel Comics adaptation, but in Vaughn’s words, “I really wanted it to feel like a ’60s Bond film.” From there, he took on Kingsman, which was then used as the springboard for a shared universe that’s so far spanned a sequel and a prequel, with at least one more instalment on the way.
Whereas The Secret Service was admittedly a breath of fresh air, The Golden Circle and The King’s Man saw the law of diminishing returns set in awfully quickly. There’s nothing inherently wrong with building a genre bedfellow explicitly designed to be the anti-Bond, but the second and third chapters veered into outright overindulgence. Several plot points and action beats feel specifically engineered to do the complete opposite of what 007 would do, with Vaughn not so much having his cake and eating at it but ravenously peering at it through the glass while snacking on an energy bar.
Fittingly, Vaughn admitted, “Anything I would have done with Kingsman I would have done on Bond,” a clear indication he’s embarking on several expensive wish-fulfilment exercises that offer what’s presumably an almost beat-for-beat recreation of how he would have tackled Casino Royale, or any Bond movie for that matter. Not in terms of the R-rated violence and borderline slapstick, but in regards to the broad plot points, action beats, fantastical supporting characters, and scenery-chewing villains that wouldn’t feel out of place in the Bond oeuvre.
His latest feature, Argylle, is once again a blockbuster spy thriller, and how did he describe the performance of one of his stars? “Henry Cavill, that man was born to play Bond,” Vaughn outlined to Radio Times. “When you see how he is in this film, I was just like, ‘Wow, this guy is everything you’d imagine Bond to have been, or be.’” Another movie, another espionage adventure, another unsubtle 007 acknowledgement.
Taking his ball and going home may not be an entirely apt analogy. Still, based on both Vaughn’s comments and his filmography dating back to 2011, his entire career has been leaning almost entirely on Bond for inspiration and execution. Naturally, Argylle has been teased as not just the first chapter in a trilogy but also part of an expanded universe that’s expected to cross over with Kingsman eventually.
In essence, he’s moved from one of his own self-created spy sagas into another – both of which were openly inspired by Bond – and the long-term plan is to bring them both together with Vaughn as the architect of a sprawling IP that was born almost entirely from his fandom of 007. If that isn’t overcompensating, then what is?