In what was comfortably the celebrity story of the year so far, Tom Hardy was reported this week to have chased an IRL robber across a building site near his South London home before capturing him and performing a citizen's arrest. "I caught the c**t," the 39-year-old is alleged to have said, a delightful detail that may or may not have been completely made up.
No matter. Barely had we time to digest Hardy's heroics before the oldest and most inexhaustible debate in British popular culture – who will be the next James Bond – came up again, the Londoner's odds slashed by the bookies on the theory that Barbara Broccoli is likely to swoon at the thought of him rugby tackling a bewildered robber across a pile of house bricks. Let's face it: the rest of us did.
The 'who will be Bond' question, like the Bond films themselves, is something most British men affect indifference towards but when pushed, generally hold pretty strong views about. It is the cultural equivalent of football: put forward a contentious view in the pub, and watch passions flare. We know it's a silly, meaningless and weirdly retrograde thing to discuss, which is precisely why it's such fun.
Previously I've been in the Idris Elba camp, on the basis that he is precisely the right sort of actor and that having a black Bond would be no bad thing. My editor would prefer a Jane Bond, which would also be a thrill. Sadly, both now seem unlikely. Elba is too large a character in popular culture now, his personality too stamped on the public consciousness, to slip on the Bond mask. As for a female 007 – these days you couldn't rule out the resulting tantrum from MRAs on 4Chan somehow leading to a nuclear war.
Because James Bond is fucking embarrassing: let's not pretend otherwise.
Hardy, though, is starting to make sense – and not just because he's the type of bloke who stands up to street villains. Increasingly, he feels like the only man capable of pulling off the trick so far only really achieved by Daniel Craig in his first outing, Casino Royale – that is, to take the cringe out of Bond.
Because James Bond is fucking embarrassing: let's not pretend otherwise. We watch and discuss it in our droves, but the paradigm of masculinity it presents, to anyone with any sense of the modern world, is fist-chewing (not for nothing is Alan Partridge, the best observed comedy creation of our times, the kind of man who takes Bond seriously). Casino Royale, with its stripped back direction, fist-fights-over-explosions approach was a welcome corrective to the nadir of Pierce Brosnan's invisible car in Die Another Day, largely thanks to Craig's bruised psyche and gnarly looks.
But in the efforts since then, Bond has slipped back to type - which is to say a tacit approval of stoic womanising and a reliance on the idea that there is nothing cooler than a tuxedo and sports car. It has stopped subverting its own clichés and bought back into them. What's needed, then, is a Bond for the 2020s.
Enter Tom Hardy. There has never been any question the actor has the acting chops or the physicality for the role, nor that he is enough of an enigma off screen to enable us to buy him as Bond. But what Hardy has over, say, Chris Evans, Tom Hiddleston or any of the other RADA boys often mentioned as being in the running, is a hard to define, uniquely modern kind of masculine prowess.
Neither an unconstructed throwback nor a gratingly 'woke' Insta-celeb, Hardy treads the delicate line between having raw sex appeal (to both sexes) and the sensitivity required of men in 2017. Look how he handled, both on screen and off, deferring to Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road. His willingness to play a lead character in a strong woman's shadow, while still somehow putting in a barnstorming performance in his own right, and the way he handled pig-headed interview questions about it afterwards was a masterclass in modern masculinity. More than any other celebrity today he straddles the old and new worlds of being a man, evoking what is attractive and ignoring what is tiresome about both.
What Hardy would bring to Bond, besides an unpredictable energy and a much-needed lack of in-built smugness, isn't so much vulnerability – they tried that with George Lazenby, and it didn't suit Bond one bit – but thoughtfulness with a dash of humility, a 007 who enjoys the undeniable thrills of his job but is attuned enough to the modern world to all see the inherent tragedy of it all. In short: he can finish the good work Craig started and transform Bond from a guilty pleasure to a franchise fit for the modern age. So please, Barbara, do the world a favour, and catch the c**t.