Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond began with Casino Royale, and the highly successful 2006 blockbuster proved a fitting starting point for the ‘Blonde Bond’. The film was an immediate break from recent Bond offerings that had featured Pierce Brosnan in the central role. Many fans, including this one, would say the pivot re-energised the franchise, and that Craig was what it desperately needed.
In 2006, the changes were evident from the opening scene. Craig’s Bond was tougher, with more action scenes, stunts done by Craig himself, and harsher, bloodier violence. Yet this Bond was emotionally softer and more vulnerable, falling for Vesper Lynd and considering giving the spy game up to pursue her. And yet despite the pivot, the traditions were there – Craig was at home in the Casino, the Aston Martin, the dinner jacket, and comfortably delivered the tongue-in-cheek one–liners that have been a staple of the Bond character since the days of Connery. The Martini was ordered, and there was a grand opening title sequence set to the basic yet powerful ‘You Know My Name’ from the late Chris Cornell.
Twelve years on, the majority of critics and fans see the reinvention as a necessary and welcome change that brought a new edge to the iconic British spy, whilst retaining beloved traditions.
It isn’t hard to explain why this was so necessary. Simply, the franchise had lost its way, and a re-watch of some Brosnan numbers shows this. Brosnan himself gave a number of fine showings in the role – but the script and casting was muddled and made the movies hard to take seriously. John Cleese’s cringe-worthy role as clumsy understudy to the ageing Q will leave a viewer wondering whether they are watching a Bond film or an old Monty Python sketch. Robbie Coltrane as a Russian gangster isn’t much better, and what the hell is Goldie doing anywhere near a Bond film? There was also external pressure from other franchises – Matt Damon and Tom Cruise were enjoying massive success with their respective hard-hitting action series, Bourne and Mission Impossible.
The Bond franchise had to find an identity – was it to fade into ridiculousness and become obsolete as an overly tongue-in-cheek running gag action film, or was it to move forward and develop an edge as a series that could deliver thrilling action and violence balanced with the traditional gadgets, beautiful cars, tuxedos, and memorable one-liners that made it a British institution? Thankfully, the latter was the chosen path, and Daniel Craig was the perfect option. The success of Casino overwhelmingly proves this.
His films have, however, been of mixed quality. His second outing, 2008’s Quantum of Solace, is not particularly highly rated, however Craig himself has almost universally avoided criticism in discussions of Quantum’s shortcomings. Blamed instead is its confused and unimaginative writing, and an excessive stripping down of tradition. Craig cannot be held responsible for this. We can, however, credit him with some responsibility for the brilliant success of his third showing, 2012’s Skyfall. An iconic Adele number, a truly captivating plot with Judi Dench giving one last memorable performance as M, Javier Bardem’s chilling portrayal of Raoul Silva, and a Bond that confronts his own physical and mental vulnerabilities are all reasons for the success of Craig’s finest hour so far as 007. Skyfall is, crucially, more than just ‘a brilliant Bond film’, but simply, ‘a brilliant film’. It is the greatest example of how the Bond franchise must hold on to some tradition (the classic car, the iconic music, the British feel, the witticisms, and the pure cool) if it is to stay on top.
Unfortunately, the same heights weren’t reached with 2015’s Spectre. Some may argue the franchise went too far in the way of tradition, with plot devices like the Spectre organisation and Blofeld as the main villain borrowed from the classic Bond films of the Connery era. As with Quantum, Craig wasn’t the subject of much criticism.
With an eye to the future, it should be expected that Craig’s next performance will be his last. The infamous ‘rather slash my wrists than do another film’ comment after Spectre thankfully proved to be nothing but a silly remark, and we should look forward to his final showing. He recently visited the CIA in preparation for shooting. This may be an indicator of continued attempts to place his Bond in a more modern setting. Details are currently limited – but the presence of Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire amongst others) as director is promising. To make sure Craig’s final number is a classic, Boyle and producers will have to balance old and new perfectly, with a fresh and thrilling plot and smart and dynamic casting.
Lastly, on tradition, which mustn’t bar progress. The Bond franchise is old – older than many of its current participants. This, invariably means both good and bad traditions will exist in today’s manifestations. The echoes of 1960s Hollywood gender roles that still resound in recent Bond numbers are an example of tradition that shouldn’t be held on to, and a reason for contemporary criticism. To stay relevant, this must be changed.
The production of a Bond film cannot be an easy undertaking. There is pressure – it is a global favourite and is truly iconic. Every plot aspect will be compared to other movies – to the classic villains, car chases or fight scenes. The comparison most talked about is the one between the men who have played the role themselves. Our Bond, Craig, has advanced the character and reconciled tough and tongue-in-cheek masterfully. Whilst his films have not all been classics, his portrayal of 007 has been memorable and he has given us at least two brilliant films, with another hopefully released next year. It is telling that every former Bond has praised his work.