Of all characters in cinema, there are few that hold such powerful significance as Bond… James Bond. Within the late 80s and early 90s it was common to see the newest Stallone, Schwarzenegger, or Wills film, and only in recent times has that switched to seeing the character of the film rather than the actor staring. As we get ready for the 5th and final Daniel Craig performance as MI6 secret agent 007, it’s made clear that this franchise has an interesting history with relying on actor recognition to see each film.
Some actors like Roger Moore did have experience in the spy world with his TV series The Saint, and most of the choices for Bond did have at least one role either on the stage or in front of the camera to carry their name. The exception to this can be seen best with the most recent Bond, Craig. You could also discuss this element of the franchise’s history with George Lazenby, who infamously only played Bond in one film, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That ended with Lazenby being thrown to the side in favor of bringing back Sean Connery for one final (official) Bond feature in 1971, with Diamond’s Are Forever. But, I digress.
When Craig was announced as Pierce Brosnan’s replacement, the entertainment industry was in a state of dismay, with seemingly the only thing people caring about was that he would be the first ‘Blonde Bond.’ A website had been created called, “craignotbond.com” in a further attempt to show fans’ frustration with the new hiring. That website, by the way, is still active today. It was revealed later, the distributors of the series were on the side of the press, not wanting Craig, offering the role to several big-name stars including Hugh Jackman and Henry Cavil. Only through months of long negotiations did Bond producers Barbra Broccoli, and Micheal G. Wilson, finally convince the studio.
As revealed in the documentary Being James Bond, Craig’s response to this backlash was, in his own words, “F**k it. I know the film’s gonna be good.” It was nothing but a shock to the world when 2006’s Casino Royale was not only wonderfully received by critics and many fans alike, but also quickly became the highest-grossing film in the series up to that point. Now that we know a little more about this history of Craig’s start as Bond, let’s take a look at each of his films to see the impact he’s had on 007’s estate.
Casino Royale (2006)
In only 3 and a half minutes, its prologue instantly helps cement this as being one of the most stylish and gritty Bonds. Having this part be in black and white does 2 things in my eyes, it shows how heartless and almost soulless Bond is this time around. I also think it works as a statement to those who criticized Craig early on, by saying hair color doesn’t affect an actor’s performance. Even without color, Craig is still a great Bond. Another component to this prologue, which the rest of the film does wonderfully, is the balance of staging, choreography, and directing the action in a way that makes this film more realistic. By that I mean, with the Bond films before Royale, you went to see it in a theater, with this, it feels like we’re experiencing the moments while they happen.
The opening fight scene is awesome. Again, on the realistic tone, when director of this film, Martin Campbell, directed Goldeneye, there’s this iconic, and over the top moment of Bond in a tank on regular streets, bursting through a wall. Here, we see Bond using a Bulldozer busting through a building frame, which is far more practical than a tank, adding to the change of direction the franchise was headed. Also, I love how Bond casually catches a gun thrown at him, and chucks it back. It’s super subtle but so cool.
On a continuity level alone is the poker game exciting, it must have been a headache to keep track of which shots have the cards and poker chips in the right spots, and for that, I respect this film even more.
Royale started themes that would be developed in both good and bad ways in later films, with how the power technology and the media have on the world’s view of politics. Here, it’s shown with camera footage of an action scene we see of Bond infiltrating an embassy after a bomb-maker with the headline reading “British Government Agent Kills Unarmed Prisoner,” and even something as small as Bond in this interaction being an orphan, is mentioned in his first conversation with Vesper.
It’s a weird sentence to write down, but I love Bond’s interactions with women in this film. They have the opportunity early on to have a sex scene which would be no shock to the franchise, especially with Campbell’s last outing with Bond having almost 8 sex scenes in it, but here, when the opportunity arises for Bond, he leaves the girl, having gotten the information he needed.
The relationship between Bond and Vesper is interesting to watch unfold on screen. I do think their relationship is done well, but there’s more to it than that. Right under the audience’s noses, it tells us more about Bond than almost any other film, Vesper gave him life, a purpose other than killing. Through this experience of betrayal from her, he loses trust in anyone and to see what it takes for him to being able to trust again is highlighted in the mix of great writing and the raw performance by Craig.
This was the film that showed us the journey that made Bond into the secret agent we’d all become familiar with. In one sentence, Casino Royale is probably the best action film of the 2000s.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Solace’s opening action scene is really fun to watch, and is the first time in Bond history where the sequel is an exact continuation of the previous film’s story.
Craig is once again great, here, bringing something new to the character with Solace showing Bond at his most aggressive after his betrayal from Vesper. This is the most violent we’ve ever seen Bond himself, even more so than Timothy Dalton’s performance in 1989’s License to Kill, and it’s clear Craig did most of his own stunts which really adds to this new point for the character. A lot of moments with how he reacts with other characters I think work really well. With my favorites being how he handles the death of what becomes a close contact, and how he deals with the main antagonist at the end.
On character, I really enjoy the Bond chick this time around, Camille Montes. It’s cool to see that she has actual motivation to tag along with Bond, rather than just because the script wants a cute girl for the marketing.
Unfortunately, that’s mostly all the good things you can say in regards to Craig’s second feature with Bond. The script heavily bogs down what could have been a slick thriller. Now, before I go on, it’s important to note that Solace was made during a writer’s strike, and started filming before the script was finished. With that being said, I will not give this the benefit of the doubt, because if I were to base my thoughts on film purely on the production behind it, then I wouldn’t be focusing on what matters.
Its biggest script problems come with the fact that nearly every scene that isn’t action-oriented, is nothing but exposition to try and explain what is going on. It’s a pretty confusing story that probably can’t be explained in one sentence. Once you notice how the script is structured, it’s impossible to be fully engaged in what attempts to be a more mature, and borderline political story to tackle.
On a technical level, the editing in particular is atrocious. It tries to copy the Bourne-style with a reliance on editing not caring to add anything new to it, showing us how quickly the editor can cut from shot to shot, rather than showing us what happening in those shots. This is also in part due to the bland directing, aside from one shot of Bond and Montes walking in the desert, rarely is there anything that truly stands out.
Quantum of Solace is full of memorable character moments, that are fun to watch but there’s not much here to be remembered making it one of the most forgotten entries in all of Bond’s history for a reason.
As mesmerizing as Royale‘s opening was with its sleek new approach to the franchise, Skyfall‘s opening holds almost more value to show the beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakens, which gladly carries throughout the entire film. There isn’t a single shot during the 2-hour runtime that isn’t pretty to look at. It’s one of those films you could watch without audio and for the most part know what’s happening in the story, it’s a step up from Solace working well with the story’s more personal approach.
While a film like Solace carries the theme of rage, Skyfall brings us two themes, one which we’ll talk about later, but first; belonging. Each of main our characters have attached this idea to their conscious, Bond with being the ‘go to agent,’ MI6 gives him purpose, especially after we learn about his up-bringing. M feels like she’s failed her purpose as head of the double-O program being the reason 007 was shot to be presumed dead, which lead to the loss of a list of undercover agents that begin to be revealed. The most interesting use of this theme is with the villain, Silva who we find out is a former MI6 agent, feeling was left to die after being captured, leaving him purposeless.
It’s the most like Royale in many ways, bringing new ideas to the regular formula, such as not having one main Bond chick, instead taking what would have been that screen time to further develop the almost mother/son relationship between Bond and M, played wonderfully by Judi Dench.
The way Silva releases the agents’ names using YouTube is a small idea within the script, but is actually really clever, being very applicable to modern times and, in reality, the way M is called out and harassed over a mistake she made years ago, is similar to the cancel culture world we live in.
One of my favorite scenes in the entire franchise comes just before the second act low point, when M is defending herself on trail and at the end her statement quotes the poem “Ulysses” written by Alfred Lord Tennyson, which reads, “We are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; one equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” This poem excellently represents the more talked about and second theme within the film, time.
One missed opportunity is that the groundskeeper at Skyfall, Bond’s childhood home, should have been Sean Connery. This doesn’t take anything away from the film, and I know he’d retired from acting at that point, but it was a perfect role to bring him back.
In my eyes, Skyfall is just as good as Casino Royale but in different ways, mainly the directing from Sam Mandes, and it’s cinematography, with the use of wide shots standing out. Skyfall did what no other in this franchise’s history had before, it humanized Bond, exploring more of who Bond is, and why he chose the secret agent life.
We end our Craig journey at easily the worst of his films so far. I won’t discuss it too in-depth, as I’ve covered the film before in an article that can be found here. Its biggest problems lie with an unfocused tone, and inability to tell a cohesive story. The worst part is when it keeps cutting back to this subplot with the new M dealing with the double-O program being replaced by computers, this whole idea was already resolved in Skyfall and while it makes sense why this is happening within the context of the story, here it adds nothing new to the discussion. There are good moments, I like the idea that the evil organization Spectre, was behind the villains of the previous films, I like bringing the gadgets and campiness back into the series but the way it’s executed is very poorly done.
It doesn’t bother me that people like this film, I don’t think it’s horrible just extremely disappointing on nearly every level, if that makes sense. With each new viewing, I can’t find myself enjoying it, to my dismay. Even things like how the first five minutes is done in one take, are brought down by the realization that director Mendes, who returned from Skyfall, only used this opening as a test for his film 1917, which is famously edited together to look as if the entire film was in one take. It’s clear how little care was put into this feature, and to use the 007 franchise as a tool to test out ideas for other movies is the same thing Rian Johnson and J.J. Abrams did with the Star Wars sequel trilogy and to me, that’s disgusting.
The most important aspect Spectre brings to the table is the idea that this generation of Bond did away with the episodic nature of the franchise and tried to tell a linear story. Because of this, it’s going to be extremely hard to see them casually rebooting, and picking a new actor again. As this time, more so than ever, the innovations made to the legacy of this character are forever apart of its D.N.A.
Each actor added their own flair to the title role but by the end of his run, I would argue, Daniel Craig defined it. When we look back at the nearly 60-year history of Britain’s favorite secret agent, this era of films have certainly changed the way Bond’s story will be told in the future and helped add more meaning behind the way we all say Bond… Jam- well, you know the rest.