Nobody Does Bond Better, 006: A Craig-Like Face

casino-royale-daniel-craig-james-bond-007For a moment Bond looked up into two glittering eyes behind a narrow black mask. There was the impression of a crag-like face under a hat-brim, the collar of a fawn mackintosh. He could take in nothing more before his head was pushed down again.

“You are fortunate,” said the voice.

“I have no orders to kill you…but I shall leave you my visiting card. You are a gambler. You play at cards. One day perhaps you will play against one of us. It would be well that you should be known as a spy.”

—excerpt from Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, Chapter 18, “A Crag-Like Face.”

In the book Casino Royale, the “crag-like face” belongs to the SMERSH operative who spares 007’s life after assassinating the villainous Le Chiffre. Taking the passage as metaphor, the broken, tortured, and barely conscious James Bond could be said to represent the state of the Eon Productions film series after the dizzyingly excessive (if reliably profitable) Die Another Day.

The unlikely-looking man to the rescue? Daniel Craig.

Nobody Does Bond Better, 006: A Craig-Like Face

Pierce Brosnan had expressed the desire to make the official film of Casino Royale, and after the long-unavailable rights to the book were at last freed up for Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson to produce the “official” version—thus wresting all exclusive claims of legitimacy away from the modest 1954 television adaptation and the farcical 1967 romp—it seemed as if Brosnan might get his wish to, at long last, sink his teeth into a (actually, the) definitive Fleming spy saga.

It was not to be. The Bond producers decided that the filming of the first novel represented a prime opportunity to rejuvenate the series by taking it in radically new directions—which would necessarily involve recasting the lead role. Brosnan was out (rather publicly, and messily), and the speculation grew hot over who would replace him.

A few likely candidates popped up, with Clive Owen emerging as a favorite among fans to take over the role, but when the announcement of the sixth actor to play Bond was made, Eon’s choice of the then-37 years old, blonder-than-Fleming’s-Bond Craig caused stormy reactions in the fan community. In fact, the controversy over Craig’s casting grew so heated an entire website was set up to protest it. Not attractive enough! He’s too short! He’s got blond hair! James Bond is not a thug!

No amount of sneering and grousing appeared to shake the confidence of Broccoli, Wilson, or Craig, however, as they prepared to undertake what would be perhaps the greatest challenge of the entire series—the “reboot” of the entire franchise, the scrapping of the character’s onscreen history as it had accumulated in the 20 films that came before it. James Bond would be deposited in the 21st century as a freshman spy, acquiring his “00” license to kill in the story’s opening moments and embarking upon his first-ever assignment as 007 with an outsized ego and little experience to back it up.

The story—as crafted by screenwriters Robert Wade, Neal Purvis, and Paul Haggis—would also tell the “other” most important romantic story of Bond’s lifetime, his love affair with Treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and the tragedy that eventually turns James into Bond.

Martin Campbell returned to the director’s chair for his second time with the series, having successfully introduced Brosnan as Bond in GoldenEye. His mandate was to return to the spirit of Fleming, much as Eon had done with For Your Eyes Only after the excesses of Moonraker, and as they had likewise done with The Living Daylights after the Roger Moore era limped to a tepid conclusion with A View to a Kill.

And, as an origin story for Bond that would focus on the evolution of his personal character, the success of this installment would depend more than ever on the performance of the leading man.

I won’t fuss around: I think the critics of Craig’s casting were proven wrong in a most devastating fashion. Like many fans, I responded to the Craig announcement with a little fanboy-ish hesitation as he looked just a little unlike most of the other Bonds. I had a “Denny Miller-as-Tarzan” moment of worry. (Tarzan geeks know what I mean)

And then I saw Craig in Munich.

Craig’s icy intensity in Steven Spielberg’s taut historical thriller is eerie, and his physical resemblance to Hollywood icon Steve McQueen (which has not gone unnoticed by those interested in mounting a McQueen biopic) made for a thrilling combination of charisma and cool. I was instantly sold on his casting as Bond, and felt right away that given the right set of circumstances, he might not just be a good 007, but a great one.

His interpretation of Bond came with a focused ruthlessness, coiled capacity for shocking violence, and a dry wit that masked vulnerabilities always threatening to explode to the surface. So…am I saying “Nobody Does Bond Better” than Daniel Craig? Don’t skip ahead, now, before we take a quick look at the superlative achievements of the Craig era just two films in:

Buffest Bond

How smart was it to reverse the famous Honey Rider-from-the-sea moment by selling the beefcake? Really, really smart. Not only did Craig’s swimsuit scene steer the considerable appeal of the series to men more explicitly towards women (and gay men?), it gave us the first vivid indications of a Bond whose sheer physicality is the most imposing of any of Craig’s predecessors—and it does a good job of setting up his self-deprecating “I’m all ears” joke later in the film. (Not that many people were probably looking at his ears during that shot, though)

Best (Meaning Worst) Interrogation: Casino Royale

James Bond (Daniel Craig) tortured in Casino Royale (2006)

Yes, the laser beam scene in Goldfinger is fun. But for sheer fidelity to Fleming and brutish audacity, nothing tops the interrogation in CR. After kidnapping Vesper Lynd and forcing Bond’s Aston Martin into a Guinness Book of World Records-setting crash, terrorist bankroller Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) takes 007 prisoner, strips him naked and whacks the end of a thick, knotted rope against his testicles over and over again in an effort to get back the cash he lost in their poker tournament. Mikkelsen—whose baddie comes across as a delightfully weaselly mix of Peter Lorre and Louis Jourdan—is at his sweaty and desperate best here. And there is no other Bond in the entire series you can imagine being as fully credible in such a violent, over-the-top sequence. The scene is hardcore wince-inducing and also manages the extra feat of containing Craig’s biggest laugh line.

Best Felix Leiter: Jeffrey Wright

Jack Lord, you were cool. David Hedison, I felt bad when you disagreed with something that ate you. Bernie Casey, you were the first black Felix Leiter, but Jeffrey Wright is the best, and the best Leiter full stop. Wright makes the most of his screen time as Leiter by imagining him as perpetually disgruntled and cynical. In Quantum of Solace, Wright perfects what we’ll call the Clint Eastwood Scowl, stealing scene after scene with his (mostly) silent disgust as his superior officer (David Harbour) sacrifices American values to get into bed with the bad guys. To be fairer to the many fine actors who preceded Wright, I should say that it’s just as much due to the rich scripts of the Craig era that Leiter comes across as something other than just an ineffectual second banana to Bond.

 

 

Best Foreign Policy: Quantum of Solace

A scene like this is one of the staples of the Bond series: Villain threatens corrupt-but-spineless associates to go along with his master plan or face punishment. The writing here kills, and it’s delivered as the Roman Polanski of James Bond villains (Mathieu Amalric) makes an offer that recently elevated Bolivian strongman General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio) cannot refuse:

“You should know something about me and the people I work with. We deal with the left and the right, dictators or liberators. If the current president had been more agreeable, I wouldn’t be talking to you. So if you decide not to sign, you’ll wake up with your balls in your mouth and your willing replacement standing over you. If you doubt that, then shoot me, take that money and have a good night’s sleep.”

Best Post-Binder Titles

Tie: Casino Royale & Quantum of Solace

casino-royale-titles-daniel-kleinmanI’m never gonna get anywhere suggesting that any set of Bond titles could surpass the artistry originated for the series by Maurice Binder—and I’m not sure I think that has happened yet, anyway. In my opinion, Daniel Kleinman (who took over the title design task with GoldenEye) did a decent job with the Brosnan films, but really came into his own with the sequence in Casino Royale.

Not only did Kleinman have the smarts to play up the origin angle of the film by excluding the usual array of nude, silhouetted women (because they, of course, would all come “later”), the film’s titles also play up the meta elements, things existing outside the actual text of the movie. The smashing Chris Cornell/David Arnold title song contains lyrics that operate on many levels. “You Know My Name” could variously be Bond speaking, Death giving the agent some useful advice, or Eon Productions supplying a cautionary note to any actor with the guts to accept the 007 role: You yourself are nothing so divine/Just next in line/Arm yourself because no one else here will save you/The odds will betray you and I will replace you/You can’t deny the prize it may never fulfill you/It longs to kill you…are you willing to die…

The closing images are key. Craig’s face emerges from the empty space of the Bond silhouette to fill the screen for a long time, as if to say: This Is James Bond. Get Used To It. And then, in a nifty bit that goes retro-Diabolik-cool, a black mask slices across Craig’s face, rendering him invisible again before zooming inside his head:

This is the story of how one man vanishes and is replaced with another. This film takes us inside the personal darkness of James Bond.

Brilliant.

Meanwhile, I will just quickly add that a lot of fans complained about director Marc Forster bringing on MK12 to do the QoS titles. I thought they did an excellent job. Take the integration of the gunbarrel motif, the retro font, the mix of the sensuous desert imagery with women rising up all around Bond balanced against some hard jump cuts and stylishly vertiginous camera moves, add a Bond song with both something new (a duet) and something vintage (clean, uncluttered orchestration) and you have titles that are completely in the Binder tradition but elevated by the execution possible only with today’s technology.

 

Best Martini Shaken, Not Stirred: the Vesper, in Quantum of Solace

In Casino Royale, we finally got the ingredients onscreen:

Three measures of Gordon’s

One measure of vodka

Half a measure of Kina Lillet

Shake very well until ice-cold, add a large thin slice of lemon peel

In QoS, though, we finally got to see something we’ve never seen before: Bond drunk. Craig’s performance here is subtle in a scene that could be so easily unconvincing or played too broadly. The film deepens our concept of Bond as a conflicted and flawed man who’s not always in 100% control.

Despite the fact that MGM’s financial woes have caused a hiccup in the steady progression of the Craig films (with “Bond 23” now scheduled for a November 9, 2012 release), the 007 series is in the midst of a creative renaissance. Broccoli and Wilson are leaning much on prestige talent, securing the special services of Oscar-friendly artists like Paul Haggis (co-scripter on Craig’s first two films), Forster (for my money, the best one-off director they ever hired, some clumsy action set-pieces be damned) and Sam Mendes, named as director of the yet-to-be-named next picture. Let the speculation commence and fill in your title of choicemine’s Risico… (UPDATE: So, “Bond 23″ turned out to be named Skyfall. Considering how cleverly they integrated that title into the plot, I suppose I have to admit that worked out just fine. Now that speculation is well underway as to the title of “Bond 24,” I can re-up my hopes that Eon will pillage Fleming at least once more for their title…but I’m not getting my hopes up!)

It’s finally time for me to answer the question: Who’s the best Bond? This is no monumental cheat, because I really believe it, and heck, I’ve said it at the top of every entry in this series. My answer is: Nobody Does Bond Better.

Each man who filled the role brought something unique to the legacy of 007’s cinematic saga. Each actor who played the character proved to be the perfect Bond for their times, a real testament to the thoughtful way Eon has fought hard to maintain the series’ overall integrity and make the films relevant in every era.

So, with apologies to the die-hards who bought into the ad campaign of You Only Live Twice only to never look forward: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig are James Bond.

  • Bob Charkow

    Nicely done, George, nicely done. Though I’d subtract Roger Moore from the list. He was amusing, but he wasn’t James Bond.

  • Bond Trader.

    QUANTUM OF SOLACE is not as good as CASINO ROYALE, but it’s much better than many fans and critics have suggested. First and foremost, please allow me to say that Daniel Craig is terrific in his two Bond films. However, the problem with his two films is fundamental. They’re not really James Bond films at all. They’re Jason Bourne films. Yes indeed. They’re very much in line with the original Fleming approach to James Bond in the novels. But they’re nothing like the movie Bond with whom we are all so familiar. Fleming’s Bond didn’t really make his film debut until Daniel Craig appeared in CASINO ROYALE (although, Timothy Dalton came close in LISENCE TO KILL). The Bond of the movies, to varying degrees (depending upon the actor playing Bond), wasn’t as humorless or taciturn as Craig. I know that this was deliberate, but it’s more than a little jarring to the hardcore Bond fan. Especially when the previous James Bond was the relatively light hearted Pierce Brosnan. I have to say that I hope the next Bond film tries to recapture some of the humor of old. A few Bondian double entendres would certainly be comforting. But there’s just one more thing I have to say about Daniel Craig replacing Pierce Brosnan. It just shouldn’t have happened in the first place. I’ve said this before. Yes indeed, Daniel Craig is great. But Pierce Brosnan, my favorite Bond actor, deserved the opportunity to appear in a truly great Bond film like CASINO ROYALE. It was an opportunity he was unfairly denied. I think Brosnan might have pleasantly surprised a great many people. It’s a dirty, rotten shame. The way they dropped him was wrong.

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com George D. Allen

    Bond Trader, welcome back! Oh, how that Bourne-Bond thing got under my collar after a while. Just exactly what was it that made Greengrass (a filmmaker I really like) or Damon (who I also enjoy depending on the movie) constantly harp on how Jason Bourne (uhm…..J….B….why does that name feel so….familiar….?)was “more real” than Bond, “more relevant” than Bond, “more…” whatever than Bond in what seemed like every interview they gave? It started to feel like the classic case of protesting too much, if you follow what I mean. A bit overly insecure for my tastes. Maybe they were egged on by unfair comparisons to the 007 films and got tired of it? My response to the Bourne arguments was always to say, hey, Bourne people, come back in 40 years and 20 more films and make your case. I’ve seen the Bourne flicks and, of course, the Craig Bond films, and I think they still owe far more to the Bond past than the Bourne present. Sure, they stole the Bourne fight choreographer…why not? Who wouldn’t die for the opportunity to work on a Bond…always the biggest, and (most) always the best? The craftsmen who work on Bond to a man (or woman) report there is simply nothing else like it. As you know, we agree on the rather ungainly way Brosnan found himself at the end of his tenure, but I wouldn’t for a second want anything different about the Casino Royale that finally got made.

  • Bond Trader.

    Jason Bourne. Jason Bourne. Jason Bourne. Who cares? The Bourne films aren’t nearly as entertaining as any one of the James Bond films. Even the worst Bond film, A VIEW TO A KILL, is more entertaining. That’s because Jason Bourne is a depressing guy. In other words, I like Bond. What is there about Bourne that’s the least bit likable? Not much. As I say, I hope the next 007 epic moves away from the Bourne approach and more toward the classic, Bond approach. You know what I mean. Double entendres aimed at beautiful, sultry women with suggestive names. And I agree with you about CASINO ROYALE. I wouldn’t change that film in any way. I just think Pierce Brosnan got a raw deal.

  • Allen Hefner

    I agree, and have publicly on my own Bit Actors Blog, that Craig is the best Bond. I think I have five posts about James Bond at this point.

    I also enjoyed your take on the part of Felix Leiter. Last September I posted about the various actors who played Leiter. You can find it at my Bit Actors Blog on Blogspot. It should be an easy Google search.

    Thanks for a good look into 007. I think his future is secure.

  • Nick

    It used to be “Sean Connery is James Bond” All the other Bonds were imitations of him. But now, Craig, to my amazement, is such a great Bond, that when the third film was cancelled due to problems at MGM-UA, I was certinaly dissapointed. Fortunately, I here the film is going through. Craig certainly is the only Bond that I have seen who can give Connery a run for his money. While I think he is the most realistic Bond, he only lacks chemistry in the love scenes, as he is not so believable their. The last two Bond films have been really well thought out, not so formulastic as the previous ones after in fact Lazenby. I accually like Quantum of Sollace better, the actions scenes while the musical performance (opera) were going on was an incredible bit of film making.

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com George D. Allen

    Nick — I’m so glad to read that somebody else out there appreciated that nifty sequence of parallel action in the “Tosca” scene from Quantum of Solace. More impressionist in nature than Bond usually gets, and one of many ways director Marc Forster (& his editors Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson) effectively stretched what was possible in a 007 picture.

  • Bond Trader.

    George, I was actually more impressed with the way Forster was able to capture the look and feel of a WWII fighter attack on a larger aircraft that resembles an ancient “bomber.” Or am I the only one who caught it? And now that I think of it, Forster may not actually deserve credit for that decidedly original bit of action… Was it created by the second unit director…?

  • Arkady

    For me, Craig is the best JB of all, and “Casino Royale” among the best of the films. But I’m sorry, “Quantum” was a terrible piece of recycled rubbish and I sincerely hope that the next one is an improvement, otherwise all of Craig’s good work will be wasted…

  • Gary

    Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton, PIERCE BROSNAN, Daniel Craig… I guess we all have our favorites.. Pierce Brosnan is mine, preceded by Sean Connery… followed by Daniel Craig.

    With exception of two… they all were entertain ing as 007… I am anticipating the next Daniel Craig offering.

  • 2WarAbnVet

    Yeah, a pretty boy actor (Craig) who is afraid of guns is hardly my idea of Bond.

  • version

    We’ve elevated or interpretted Bond as a superhero and we would be as passionate if these were one-reelers on saturday afternoons. I don’t make a comparison with Bourne to Bond because Bourne is more mortal and has a shelf-life – for the momment that is. Since I grew up and there was an annual Bond release – it became accepted that they would go one forever and new faces would be the Bond. Brosnan showed glimmers of the butatilty – but Daniels is fine gutsy Bond – and we’ve come away from the more ‘spy’ type to what a a real “00″ is…also an assassin. Moore was less serious an; several gave us some witty remarks and lke George is saying (quite well)they are all Bond.

  • chris

    When I first saw Casino Royale I thought “Best Bond Movie Ever”. I avoided watching the movie again for more than a year. Then, I bought the DVD and watched again. After watching the second time I thought “Best Bond Movie Ever”.
    As for the person who thought “A View to a Kill” was better than any of the Bourne films, dude, take off your blinders. “A View to a Kill” was dreadful.

  • fred buschbaum

    Sean Connery is Bond, James Bond. But of all those who have followed, Daniel Craig seems to be the best. most were either too smooth, or just didn’t have that Connery touch. Craig’s Bond doesn’t try to be Connery, and since he’s portrayed as an early relatively inexperienced Bond he can be himself and take the role to himself. Casino is the better of his 2 films, more in the line of earlier bond adventures.(not too much Indiana Jones). Of Course, we should remember that today the films are just a platform for a lot of BIff and Bang. Unlike unlike Ian Flemmings original stories. And a bit heavier on ecology and glitter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000472580319 Max Gantt

    I’m very sorry to all you above, but there was, and will always be only one James Bond, and that is Sean Connery. Roger Moore was a cartoon, Timothy Dalton was a thug, and I just couldn’t watch any more. It’s all just about squeezing money out of a series that should have ended after “You Only Live Twice”. Right on Fred!

  • G. Darrell Russell, Jr.

    George Lazenby is the unsung hero Bond. Never got the credit he deserved and earned in one of the best Bond movies of all, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” He deserved a second movie at least.

  • Butch Knouse

    The Jason Bourne movies are garbage. The Big Bad Government Conspiracy plotline was found written on a cave wall in France. Oldest cliche in the book.

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com George D. Allen

    Chris, I may be risking my own lashing by Bond Trader when I say that, of all the 007 flicks, “A View to a Kill” is the one I can never, ever get through anymore from beginning to end. It’s just too much of a slog. It feels very tired to me, despite the fun of Walken and the sublime oddness of Grace Jones.

    And at some level, though he tired of the role by the time he left it, I would imagine Connery is probably gratified to know he has legions of fans who accept no interpretations of Bond other than his own. Well, what can you say to that? It becomes something of a one-way discussion, approaching a quality reminiscent of debates over religion. Which of course is interesting in itself, how strong these opinions can be. Lugosi is Dracula. Johnny is Tarzan. Gene Wilder is Willy Wonka. (Oh, wait, I agree with that last one. Shoot.)

  • SteveinSedona

    Personally, I’d like to see a REAL Matt Helm movie, not that Dean Martin crap. As the tagline for one of the Helm books read: “We Americans have an agent of our own who makes Jimmy Bond look like the London fop he really is.”
    Bond couldn’t shine Matt Helm’s shoes.

  • patricia

    Daniel Craig gets my vote. I have never really enjoyed Bond Films of the past.

    I am 52 and I remember going to see some of the films when I was a teenager. I really liked the two films with D. Craig.

    When is the next installment? I missed a summer without Bond.

  • Stan

    I was wanting to see Jason Statham as the next bond but have kind of gotten to accept Craig as Bond now.

  • SteveinSedona

    Statham wouldn’t work, much as I like the guy. Not sophisticated enough to be Bond. Take a look at Jason Isaacs, the sadistic British officer in “The Patriot”. He’d make a tremendous Bond.

  • Alexander Foundoukis

    Daniel Craig is very good as James Bond, but does not fit the character as Ian Fleming described him. He is cold blooded as Bond should be, but does not have the sophistication that Bond Had. Fleming also said that Bond loked like a young Hoagy Charmichael which Connery & Dalton fit. The best Bonds were From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. OHMSS was great because Bond had no fancy gadgets, just his brain to get him through & Diana Rigg.

  • Nick

    Daniel Craig has brought the character back to his Flemming roots. “Casino Royale” was the best Bond film since “From Russia With Love.
    Craig invests Bond with Flemming-esque ruthlessness and toughness, yet touches a tenderness never explored by Connery. His scenes with Vesper toward the end are truly touching and we feel his grief when she dies.
    The ruthless assassin is closer to the surface with Craig than with Connery. Connery reveals Bond’s savagery with the look on his face when he throws the knife at Krilencu in “From Russia With Love” (Dalton also accomplishes this when he crushes the balloon before his pursuit of Necros in “The Living Daylights”. Lazenby, Moore nor Brosnan could accomplish this). Craig brings it to the surface when he attempts to pursue and kill Le Chiffre before he is stopped on the casino steps by Leiter. The look on his face when he snatches up the steak knife from the table nails it.
    I regard “Quantum of Solace” as an unfortunate detour. Too much shaky cam and whizz-bang for my taste. Let’s bring back the cool deadliness of “Casino Royale”.
    All in all, Craig brings a new vitality to Bond by returning to the basics of Flemming’s formula. I look forward to the next installment in 2012

  • Bond Trader.

    Firstly, Timothy Dalton established the image of an extremely professional, government sanctioned assassin in the beginning of “The Living Daylights” every bit as well as Daniel Craig did in the beginning of “Casino Royale.” Dalton’s quick, knowing, efficient preparation for a kill was certainly ruthless and cold. Now… Regarding my opinion of “A View To A Kill.” By leaps and bounds it’s certainly the worst James Bond film ever made (I always said that the “love scene” between Roger Moore and the very masculine Grace Jones is so icky it’s downright embarrassing to watch!). And you’re absolutely right, George. Viewing the film is a slog. However, The government conspiracy crap that inhabits so many films (and not just spy films) is just too much of a cliche’ these days. I HATE IT! IT’S STUPID! IT WAS ALWAYS STUPID! ONLY MORONS TAKE THAT KIND OF NONSENSE SERIOUSLY! Yes, “A View To A Kill” is dumb. But it isn’t trying to be taken seriously on any level. That isn’t necessarily true of the three Bourne films. For this reason, they’re dumber! Now… Let’s see how many angry responses you get from people who truly believe the CIA is actually trying to kill any number of its own former agents. My God! Finally George, you still haven’t answered my question about the WWII fight-bomber scene in “Quantum Of Solace.” I thought it was nicely conceived and executed. I just don’t know if it was directed by Forster or the second unit. Do you have the answer (and no, “Quantum Of Solace” isn’t a bad film at all. It’s just not as good as its immediate predecessor, “Casino Royale.” I understand this was due to the fact that the producers didn’t have the time to fine tune the script due to a writer’s strike that occurred around the time of filming)? And oh, one more thing before I go… When Daniel Craig was given Pierce Brosnan’s lisence to kill, did that make Craig the true Bond trader…?

  • Alexander Foundoukis

    Who remembers the very first actor to portray James Bond? Barry Nelson on the CBS Climax series in October of 1954. Barry was an American Bond and Michael Pate played a British Felix Liter. Le Chiffre was the wonderful Peter Lorre.

  • J.Bradley

    Brosnan was good and did indeed deserve one better Bond movie than the timely “Tomorrow Never Dies” and the somewhat timely – but mostly celebratory of all the Bond cliches up to that point “Die Another Day” – which in the end DOES serve as a great finale to the “old” Bond. Check out Brosnan in “The Tailor of Panama” and the remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair” and you get an idea of the subtlety he could have brought to Bond. But in the end it was well past time to bring Bond into the two decades post Cold War and having finally secured the rights to “Casino Royale” after DECADES of trying to acquire them Craig’s arrival is the perfect element to creating a new Bond for a new era. Bond doesn’t AND SHOULDN’T compete with Bourne, but Bourne does remind that a mid twentieth century sense of things in an adventure movie series like this just will not work anymore. At the same time there ARE distinctive elements that make Bond BOND and – so far – they’ve struck that balance. I get a sense sometimes that what detractors of the Craig Bond era want isn’t James Bond – but actually Austin Powers. They want smirky comedic comfort food from a series with cliches and gags they know and can time exactly to the beat. With the Craig years, so far, they’ve really reintroduced an immediate, visceral intensity the series has really never had, and that unexpected quality is exactly what the series needs to bring it into a new era.

  • Rafferty

    It’s not just clumsy action set pieces, the ENTIRE movie was clumsy. The dialogue, the action, camerawork, evil plot, CGI, it was all awful in QOS. The tosca bit was the only decent scene in the entire film and even that was just a flash in the pan. And Bond Trader, you probably are the only one to catch the idea of the WW2 fighter-bomber fight, because that scene didn’t have a fighter OR bomber from any war. Hell that fighter was an ultra modern Cessna. Honestly I couldn’t stand that scene for so many reasons- not just the pathetic camerawork, but also:

    *The fact they even decided to use that old transport instead of the other planes there
    *The fact that, with the country’s biggest secret in danger of being uncovered, the Bolivian air force sends… a single Cessna and a helicopter? Can you even imagine that heli trying to keep up during the search?
    *The way the Cessna managed to sneak right up to them, then give the plane the most innefective burst in history before flying right infront of them for all to see, Never once trying to get in contact on the radio for the usual things about forcing a course change, landing or whatever, and then following the Dakota into the canyon for no logical reason whatsoever, and then somehow forgetting all about the Cessna’s stall speed? Honestly Will Smith’s canyon flight in bleedin’ Independence Day was more believable than that!
    *The way there was only one parachute on board, and nobdy even bothered to check before taking off. That’s inexcusable for Bond.
    *Finally, that awful CGI freefalling sequence, involving the chute being open for maybe one second flat and still letting it’s twice-the normal-weight human payload land on solid rock without any ill effects. Even the parasurfing scene in Die another Day wasn’t as bad as that. Matter of fact Die Another Day gave a better explanation for the parachute dilemma too. And when your film is being bettered by Die Another Day of all films… you know for sure that your bond film is an absolute turgid stinker.

    Oh yes, and watching Bond shoot a sand dune does not make for a good credit sequence.

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com George D. Allen

    “Watching Bond shoot a sand dune does not make for a good credit sequence.”

    Rafferty, that is one fine zinger! I disagree entirely, but I must call out an excellent line when I read it. It works as a nifty metaphor for your displeasure with the movie, obviously. But I say it works as metaphor, too, because like the Casino Royale credits, it does a sly job of telling us what the story is ahead of time. Opening with Bond inside the rippling gunbarrel image, it not only brings us right to important 007 iconography, it suggests that the sequence is seen through the eyes of the bad guys…who are nowhere to be seen (unlike in Royale) in the title sequence.

    Bond is looking for them everywhere in a disorienting location, and “we” are circling around him as he spins and tumbles through sand and space. He aims and fires where he thinks he sees something, as women rise up as mysterious, alluring, and dangerous distractions. That Bond fires into the sand is perfect. He hits something that looks solid, but it really hits nothing, and all the individual pieces of the “target” scatter. Did he hit anything? Did he kill another woman who was underneath? (M accuses him of being directly responsible for Fields’ death, which is unfair, but I digress) That’s the story of the movie and his pursuit of Quantum.

    And I enjoyed your critique of the dogfight sequence—my only feeling there is that some of the narrative weaknesses you point out are a little reminiscent of those in Gary’s “10 Things I Hate About Casablanca” piece (though you surely weren’t being tongue-in-cheek as he was). Which is to say that it’s sort of like criticizing Benjamin Braddock for not filling his car up with gas in “The Graduate.” A scene with Bond checking for the second parachute would sort of deflate the movie’s momentum, to say the least, and without heroes “failing” in these ways, big and small, all the time…well, you have no movie.

    Now, some films are smarter about these sorts of things than others (I would refer you to how Indiana Jones fails his way to victory all through “Raiders”), but this also takes me back to the days of watching the Bond flicks on ABC as a kid. My dad would frequently be watching them, too, and invariably, as played by Connery or Moore, Bond would at one point drop his gun. Sometimes, my dad would talk back to the screen: “Idiot,” he’d say. Well. Look, your hero should make many, many errors and then exhibit the strength and resourcefulness to overcome them. Otherwise you have what they call the fallacy of the perfect protagonist. Perfect hero = boring movie.

    I’m sure the Craig Bond was probably thinking after Camille told him to check for the second chute, “Hey, darling. I’m James Bond. It’s fine.”

    I wasn’t crazy about the CG freefall, but I ultimately bought into it. I would differ on its relationship to the parasurfing, which I felt was the Bond series officially bottoming out. And I also found it much more credible, and better executed technically, than Brosnan’s pre-credits freefall in GoldenEye. But these are matters of taste. Was it Hitchcock who said it was always better to be impossible-but-believable rather than realistic and unconvincing? Always a good rule of thumb.

    To Bond Trader’s question about the shooting of the sequence and who’s ultimately responsible—I haven’t done too much looking into it, but the book “Bond on Set” for QoS has pictures of Forster behind the camera (it might be at Pinewood, where they did the plane’s interiors). The DC-3’s aerial combat was filmed in San Felipe, and the featurette on the QofS DVD mentions the exterior filming done by the second unit…but Forster also mentions his intent for the sequence was to be a throwback to “North by Northwest,” and to me, it works as the perfect kind of homage. It’s there in some sense of its spirit but it’s not a copycat sequence in the details. “Cubby” Broccoli was always proud of saying the Bond films were created “by committee,” and in his case, that was a good thing. It meant that an idea to improve the movie could come from anywhere—the writer, director, script girl, or gaffer, it didn’t matter to him. If it made the movie better, the idea went in.

  • James Sedares

    Though I appear to be in the very small minority I couldn’t disagree more with the estimable Mr. Allen. I have heard and digested all of the explanations, justifications, and rationalizations, of all of the Craig apologists: The idea of the Bond reboot showing the origin of a not quite fully formed Bond, the idea of a Bond for the 21st century, back to the “roots” of the character (that’s a laugh), etc., ad nauseam.

    I could refute all of these point by point, but like Obama showing his birth certificate, it won’t convince the die-hard Craig contingency. I think Craig is a splendid actor, capable of Oscar-worthy work. But I maintain that he is not playing James Bond. His chracterization is charmless, proletarian, and humorless. I agree that the throw-away quips in some of the earlier films were not in character, but Bond was a Man of the World from his upbringing (cultured French mother), through all of his schooling. He would never answer when asked how he wanted his martini, “Do I look like I give a @#&^%?” Bond was an English gentleman in Her Majesty’s service. Not a classless thug, no better than his adversaries. Furthermore, Craig looks nothing like Fleming’s description, either physically or in personality. Since everyone seems so concerned about “authenticity” they should consider that. Bond actually looks like Hoagy Carmichael, according to Fleming. This is as big a miscasting debacle as there has ever been in movies. Obviously, the box office and critical success of the Craig movies suggest I am out of touch with the argument in the current climate. In any case I maintain my position and feel my point of view will come to be accepted in the years ahead much as Gene Wilder’s Willie Wonka has overcome the darker, “more authentic” Johnny Depp/Tim Burton catastrophe of a few years ago. Sean Connery captured the character’s mystique and continues to be the Bond all others aspire to be. I understand some of the movies being outdated, but the deeper essence of character continue to come through.

    I know the discussion will go on, and I welcome further debate.

    James Sedares

  • ham

    i will concede that casino royale was a great movie and was everything i expected for the bond prequel. however, i don’t know about anyone else, but after watching quantum of solace, i stsrted dreading the fact that we have to put up with four more films with this guy. i don’t profess to be dirctor and i don’t know who i would cast, but it would not be daniel craig. these new bond movies are hardly bond movies at all. it was the little things that made james bond fun to watch. there were gadgets, and cars, naked ladies in the opening credits, all things that i would look forward to when i would watch james bond since i was a kid. although i think timothy dalton was probably the worst bond, at least with him we could see bond coming through. this new direction of james bond is just like any other spy movie we can get with any other charecter. i have seen nearly all of the bond films and these new ones are the worst. i disgree with the notion of modernizing james bond. i thought the vrosnan era did a pretty good job at that and still mainting the spirit of the franchise. after quantum of solace, i decided not to go to the theater to watch bond as long as this new trend continues. maybe if enough of us did that it would send a message. bond died when he died another day, if he is ever truly ressurected, i’ll be at the movies on opening day like i was for as far back as i could go. i can’t wait for craig’s contract to end.

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com George D. Allen

    James S, thanks for sharing your analysis! I think you do a decent enough job of refuting your own point about authenticity, though, when you use the Wonka example. Roald Dahl famously hated the Wilder film. Depp’s characterization (and that movie) may indeed be more “faithful” to the tone of the book, but is there anyone on Earth who reasonably expects Tim Burton’s version of the novel to supplant the Wilder movie in most flim fans’ hearts? (Movie Irv, should he have the misfortune to read this commentary, is going to have a hard time resisting chiming in, as he is the one person I know who yes, LOVES the Depp version and hates the “original”).

    Similarly, at first, Ian Fleming thought Connery’s casting was a BIG mistake, and not faithful to his vision of Bond at all. Shows what he knew, yes? (As I mentioned elsewhere, Fleming soon became a real fan of Connery)

    Wasn’t Bond orphaned as a young child? I’m not sure his mother had a lot of influence on him as per his bio in the novels. As for Craig’s physical appearance not matching up with the Hoagy Carmichael thing — again, Fleming thought Bond should be more David Niven than Sean Connery, and there are plenty of people who think Bela Lugosi is the definitive Dracula, and he’s about as far from the Stoker description as it gets. Fidelity to me isn’t all about sticking to every minor detail, it’s the totality of how every choice blends into the whole, where some matters of authenticity count much more than others.

    Another good example of what I mean by this brings me back to Dracula. I find Herzog’s “Nosferatu” to be one of the finest versions of Stoker’s novel ever made. It shares little in common with the details of the story and leaves out most of the book’s supporting cast, but the pure mood of it overshadows many other Dracula films filled with more showy blood & thunder.

    Now we should probably be willing to agree that ardent admiration of Craig’s interpretation of Bond has exactly nothing — zero — to do with the birthers, or even that frame of mind. I think this Bond’s sense of humor is all over the movies, but, much like Dalton, because it’s so much drier than that of the other 007s, many fans just don’t “get” it, or like it. The Craig bits rely a lot more on delivery than the content of the joke, but I thought his repartee w/Vesper about their covers was an underplayed riot (“…and you’re Miss Stephanie Broadchest…”). Watch his scene with M in CR when she’s giving him his assginment while the coroners are cleaning up Solange: She says something to the effect of, “I’d tell you to stay detatched, but that’s not your problem, is it, Bond?” He looks at her blankly and replies like a stone, “No.” Watch Dench’s smile wrinkle up before she turns away. I’m 100% convinced that is a near-blooper, and Dame Judi just barely held on from laughing.

    I mean, it’s maybe just semantics, but Craig IS playing James Bond. Has anyone played the James Bond of the novels? Well, no. Nobody has. Nobody will. The Bond of the books is the Bond of the books. But I do find Craig’s version to contain many thrilling elements of Fleming’s ideas in the purest distillation I’ve seen in the films.

  • Bond Trader.

    You’re right, George. The dry humor of the Craig era is definitely on a very high, Noel Coward level. But is this good? how many people do you think caught the interplay (actually, the “Stephanie Broadchest” remark isn’t much like Noel Coward, but it IS just a bit out of place in the very serious “Casino Royale”)? As I’ve previously said, the movie James Bond was NEVER Ian Fleming’s James Bond. But that is probably a good thing. Never mind dialog. In Fleming’s original novel, Dr. No is killed when James Bond dumps tons of bird droppings on him! In the movie, as we all know, Dr. No dies when Bond pushes him into the cooling reservoir of his own nuclear reactor! Which do you prefer? Of course, some changes in many Bond films were not necessarily for the better. But after all is said and done, I suspect, few of us would much care for ANY James Bond film if they were all absolutely faithful to the Fleming novels. This includes the avoidance of updating them with the passage of time. Moreover, Bond’s character and over-all personality in the films is much more one-dimensional than James Bond in the books. James Bond in the novels tends to be more than a little introspective, fatalistic, and even occasionally suicidal. I’m sorry but the producers were absolutely right to make sure that the films would primarily be story, and by extension, action driven, rather than character driven. In the films, Bond’s emotions are never as important as his behavior. For this reason, the sniggering double entendres were missed in the two Craig films. Now, they would have detracted from the proceedings of “Casino Royale.” But they probably would have helped “Quantum Of Solace.” I hope the next Bond film is more traditional. Which means, I hope it contains more light hearted, Bond-like humor (that is to say, Bond-like humor as we have always known it from the films). Finally, regarding the make of aircraft in the fighter-bomber sequence of “Quantum Of Solace.” The age of the aircraft is irrelevant. That particular bit of action called to MY mind any number of similar sequences involving air attacks from WWII movies. Since this was my visceral reaction, I naturally assumed that my response to the imagery was intentional. Frankly, I don’t see the connection to the cornfield scene from “North By Northwest.” That scene involved a man on the ground being pursued by a bi-plane. I didn’t see any such parallel when I first saw “Quantum Of Solace” and I still don’t see it.

  • SimbasGuard

    I think you gave the best answer to the question you could have. Very nicely done.

  • James Sedares

    Thanks George for your response.You make several good points. I also don’t expect or want complete “authenticity” be it in Bond, Dracula, or Willy Wonka. I only mentioned it because this fidelity to Fleming is put forth as one of the strong defenses of the Craig Bonds. I agree with you about Fleming’s original misgivings about Connery, but that wasn’t the point I was trying to make. It is exactly that “spirit” of the Bond/Fleming ethos that I feel Craig/Bond misses entirely.(Look at my argument regarding Dahl again)He plays it with no class. Bond in books and movies was a cultivated gourmand, oenophile, and a downright snob when it came to these things, including women. As for the low-key humor that you perceive in Craig’s Bond, I’m reminded of when Somerset Maugham visited the set of Tracy’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He was told that Tracy eschewed the heavy Grand Guignol makeup and effects of Frederic March’s Hyde in favor of a “psychological” Hyde performance. To which Maugham replied, “I see. Which one is he playing now?” The irony, for me, is that I actually love Tracy’s performance in that picture, and prefer it to March. This does not happen for me with Craig’s Bond.

    I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree. I admit the “birther” comment was a bit strong, but as this news happened today I was thinking about it. To be sure, the vast majority of respondents to your fine article were very pro Craig. So that might have provoked my hyperbole. Apologies for that!

    James S.

  • Bond Trader.

    Now that I think of it, the Bond produces created an homage to the cornfield scene in “North By Northwest” many years ago. “From Russia With Love” features a scene that has Bond dash around an open field as a helicopter frequently swoops down at him. Decidedly reminscent of the crop dusting sequence in “North By Northwest,” undoubtly deliberately so.

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com George D. Allen

    Yes, indeed! A much more spot-on “homage” to be sure.

  • Alexander Foundoukis

    I agree and disagree with the various arguments concerning the James Bond players and films. You know what though, lets just enjoy them, good, bad or mediocre. Just as we enjoyed the Tarzans no matter who portrayed him. Personally I think Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton were the closest to Flemings coception. Lazenby didn’t get much of a chance, but I think he would have done well if they kept him on. Roger Moore, a great actor, seemed to be playing the role with tongue in cheek. Brosnan was very fine too. Craig is good but the charactization lacks the Bond polish. Barry Nelson was too American and David Niven too old and spoofed the part. Any way enjoy James Bond for another 50 yearsor so!

  • Dave

    Craig brings realism back to spying: it’s a dirty, nasty, no-nonsense job. The interrogation scene in Casino Royale will be, if not already, a classic.

  • Chris

    George, just wanted to compliment you on your 6-part examination of the actors who have played Bond. I have really enjoyed it. It has helped foster a discussion/debate amongst a few of my friends who are likewise big Bond fans.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed what the first four actors to play him have brought to the table, and haven’t cared quite as much for the last two (Brosnan and Craig), for different reasons.

    Though Craig is an outstanding actor, to me, he is not playing James Bond. At least, not the “cinematic Bond” we have come to know over the first 40 years of films. It’s perfectly defensible to say that that is a GOOD thing, and that the series badly needed to be rejuvenated and taken in a new direction. That may be the case. But as some others have noted, it just doesn’t feel like Bond to me.

    Going back and watching the first 20 films in chronological order in the period of one month, I was struck by how much BETTER Timothy Dalton had done in the role than I had remembered, and conversely, how much worse Pierce Brosnan was than how I had remembered. Nevertheless, Brosnan was a good choice by the producers to play the role, as his popularity attested. Despite not being crazy about him, it’s unfortunate that he was dumped so unceremoniously.

    Again, thanks for a nice series, and I would echo the comment that suggested a tribute piece to John Barry. His work on the Bond series, as well as many other film scores, was brilliant.

  • Felton Dunn

    All this commentary is quite enjoyable to read. It’s funny to recall odd moments like Bond telling Moneypenny in Live Twice that he took a first in Oriental languages at Cambridge or Oxford or whatever it was (and then proceeds not to speak in Japanese)–just over the top silliness even in the Connery era. I like minor Bonds like Lazenby and Dalton getting some appreciation after the fact. And I thought both Tracy and March did fine. If Lon Chaney had lived, maybe Lugosi wouldn’t have had any film legacy. Had a less capable and charismatic actor than Sean been handed Dr. No, would we even have a series today? Who didn’t love Weissmuller and beautiful Maureen O’Sullivan? It is encouraging that the 007 team attempts to restore quality to the series from time to time. Craig may be a different Bond but I felt he was a good choice to rejuvenate things.

  • Felton Dunn

    Oh, yes–John Barry–one of the terrific film composers, absolutely. He’s securely in the pantheon.

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com George D. Allen

    Felton, thanks for writing in — the Lugosi Dracula sure is one of those great fan fantasies. (Now if only somebody, somewhere, would finally turn up a print of “London After Midnight”…) And I’m quite a fan of the Weismuller/O’Sullivan apeman era. I could never muster the discipline to go through the Tarzan franchise actor by actor, but as a devotee of the jungle hero’s movie exploits, I am going to have to work up some angle on them sometime.

    • mancrafter

      I guess I missed something. What does this have to do with the James Bond films?

      • GeorgeDAllen

        The commenting “order” here did get a little messed up after we switched over to Disqus — so it might not be instantly apparent I was responding to Felton Dunn (look a couple comments down); the discussion in general was about how it’s sometimes a matter of chance that an actor falls into a role that defines their career, for good or ill. Felton talked about the Lugosi/Dracula situation being similar to Connery’s lucking into the Bond role, and how differently movie history (not to mention Bela’s career) would’ve turned out had Lon Chaney Sr. played Dracula as was originally planned. Likewise w/Connery, who turned down a part in “Tarzan the Magnificent” because he’d just been signed for “some spy picture.”
        And the Tarzan digression was similarly about Weissmuller, and just my mentioning I hadn’t been able to yet get through the entire apeman filmography (though I’ve definitely seen films from most of the actors who’ve worn the loincloth. I’ve got the DVD sitting at home, but haven’t yet judged P. Dempsey Tabler in the “Korak” film; and I’m eager to catch up with Gene Pollar’s 1920 “Revenge of Tarzan,” especially considering it’s his only screen credit…ever).

        • mancrafter

          Gotcha.

  • Stephen Dale

    a long winding road to nowhere…The writer didn’t have the nerve to name his personal favorite so here’s mine : best Bond ???? Connery with Criag in 2nd place…Most disappointing ?//ROger Moore .. Lazenby & dalton were not really any factors and Brosnan could have been almost as good as Connery but never displaced the cruelty and ability to kill if necessary that made Connery & Craig stand out.

  • Debbie

    Craig is the first Bond since Connery that actually looks like a man, not like a limp-wristed fop like all of the rest of the Bonds. Definitely has the right amount of testosterone for the job.

  • IceStormer

    In the books, Bond is a cold-blooded killer, who can get seriously thuggish when needed, who works for the British government. He was given a license to kill because he WAS a cold-blooded killer and not necessarily subject to emotional involvement with his mission/target, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service notwithstanding. The movie Bonds tend to soften this aspect as it would not make for a “relateable” protagonist.

    IMHO, Craig, Connery, and Lazenby (in this order) were the closest to this standard set by Ian Fleming. The rest were simply placeholders with Moore as a poor joke.

  • rocky-o

    having seen james bond at the movies since the original “Dr. No”, there’s no question sean connery will always be “james bond”…although, having said that, my personal favorite is timothy dalton, because i was also a great fan of the paperback novels as well, and dalton serves them well…roger moore was horrible…lazenby was better than ever given credit…pierce brosnan was ‘obvious’ and good, but his last two were just pathetic, more due to the scripts and fellow castings, rather than brosnan himself…and then there’s daniel craig…a brilliant actor who, yes, i always said from the beginning, was this generation’s steve mcqueen…which, in turn, does not make him bond…”casino royale” was a hot mess…”quantum of solace” couldn’t wake up long enough to be one…but…”skyfall” was certainly a return to form…

  • Chip

    Connery will always be Bond, however Craig does come up second in my book. Dalton was one of the worst in my opinion. Brosnan – 3rd, Moore and Lazenby tied for 4th. Just my opinion.

  • John Patterson

    I like Daniel Craig as James Bond.He kinda has that rough edged charm that Sean Connery had as Bond.

  • jbourne5181

    I agree with Chip on the 1st two but Moore was a clown and did not fill the Bond parameters at all. Ditto for Lazenby. Brosnen and Dalton were ok and easy to watch but nobody ever came close to the first two.

  • Brian

    Daniel Craig is absolutely the worse actor to play James Bond. He totally SUCKS

  • Tressy

    To me the best Bond actor has been Dalton, maybe because Connery was before my time. To me both are very good actors playing Bond or whatever character. I also like Brosnan but Craig is not a favorite of mine. He is too “cold” as Bond and in any role he plays. Yes, it is good to have a young actor playing Bond so young audiences go to see Bond movies, but Craig is too “icy” in my opinion. Clive Owen would have been a better Bond.

  • mel

    Craig not the best Bond by a long shot, the worst Dalton, what a terrible actor, all he did was breath over his lines???