James Bond has been around for around fifty years and for those of you who have been living under a bridge or in a sewer for the last half century, the legendary secret agent started as a character in a series of novels written by Ian Flemming. Naturally there are going to be those of you out there who are only familiar with the film version of the super spy whilst the more educated (like yours truly) has taken the time to read at least one of the books.
With Spectre in cinemas at time of writing this article this seems like a good time to have a look at the incarnations of Bond over the years and see how each of them stand up alone, compared to one another and to the novel version that created this legend of the spy game.
A little note before I really get underway, the word “Quintessential” is an adjective that (according to dictionary.com) means the pure and essential essence of something. That is what I want to talk about, because whilst all of the previous incarnations of James “007” Bond were played in a relatively tongue-in-cheek manner, all of them had that moment or moments that proved why he is the best agent MI6 has. In The World is not Enough the scene in which Bond is chasing Electra up the tower when M (who’d been captured earlier) screams Bond’s name, he kicks open the door, shoots off the lock to her cell and carries on after Electra. That is what I call a quintessential Bond moment, because as much as he womanises, as much as he drinks Vodka Martinis, as much as he uses his gadgets, when all that is stripped away he is still the best.
I could easily list other Bond’s quintessential moments like Roger Moore’s Bond dropping Blofeld into the industrial chimney at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only after taking control of a helicopter being flown by remote control. Or Timothy Dalton managing to flip the truck into its left wheels in order to avoid and incoming RPG, and naturally Sean Connery’s Bond flipping femme fatale Fiona Velpe around just as one of her henchmen tries to put a bullet in his back and accidently killing her instead, or him rolling over on the beach to kill a man with a spear gun whilst barely aiming. These are but a few, however, all of them demonstrate just how good Bond is and why he has become the stuff of legend within the secret service.
Now in my opinion Daniel Craig, whilst truer to the character seen in the novel, has never had that quintessential Bond moment. In Casino Royale he had only just been promoted to double-o status, with Quantum of Solace picking up directly after that so he was still essentially a rookie. By the time Skyfall came about he is shot in the opening sequence and reappears some time later after practically drinking himself to death. I liked Casino Royale but found Quantum of Solace sadly lacking, Skyfall was better but I was really hoping that after his “death” Bond had gone away to train himself to be the ultimate superspy not become a washed up agent that basically came back because the other double-o agents had been killed. It was pretty much stated that M allowed him to go back on assignment because there wasn’t anyone else left alive who could go instead. If Pierce Brosnan’s Bond had been asked to shoot the glass off Raoul Silva’s mistress in that film he would have been able to do it without even breaking a sweat, probably with a blindfold on and one hand behind his back, Craig’s Bond misses the glass by a mile, and she is instead murdered by Silva himself. As a result of this reboot or new canon or whatever Royale actually was, we have never seen Craig’s Bond in his prime, he was either a rookie agent in over his head or was a washed up shell of a man that seems content to drink himself into an early grave.
It is true that this interpretation of the character is truer to the original creation from the books, in which Bond was far more human, when he stayed out all night drinking he woke up with a handover, and was forced to continue with his assignment the next day nursing a headache. Like Craig’s Bond seen in Casino Royale he was also a user of women, and whilst the other Bonds who came before him seemed to fall in love with the women they bedded, the novel counterpart and Craig’s version focussed on completing his assignment however he could no matter who got hurt along the way. The problem with this transition to the truer origins was that fact that it was not what fans have come to expect from 007, he is supposed to have a quip ready, a fancy gadget and basically not be a moody brooding misery guts. The more tongue-in-cheek style of previous Bonds did creep into Skyfall with Bond threatening to eject M out of the Aston Martin or jumping into the back of a subway car and telling the terrified occupant that he is from maintenance. However, by doing this it is basically an admission that the tougher Bond is not what fans want to see, they want to see the variations of Bond that have been seen for decades.
This harder approach to Bond was experimented with during Timothy Dalton’s turn as 007, and whilst he was not as popular as either Moore or Connery he offered a harder version of the character. In my opinion Dalton’s second and last outing as Bond in Licence to Kill is one of the best Bond films, the main reason being that the enemy, Sanchez, is not looking to blow up the sun, or nuke a city, or whatever, he is simply a drug dealer. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) is on his trail and Bond just happens to be around because he has been invited to long time friend and DEA Agent Felix Lieter’s wedding. After Sanchez murders Lieter’s new wife and mutilates Lieter himself Bond sets off in pursuit, this could almost be considered a non-James Bond film that stars Bond turning his back on his own government. He throws everything else away and risks his own life to get revenge on the man who harmed his friend. I have no problem with hollowed out volcanoes or criminal organisations wanting to start World War III but I really liked the idea that Bond would take what he has been trained to do and go after someone who hurt someone he cares about because it makes him more human which I am, ironically, a fan of with Bond.
Perhaps their popularity also stems from the fact that the films tend to reflect the feelings of the era, Connery battled Spectre, a criminal organisation that were behind a lot of the plots to destabilise the world, he worked his way up the hierarchy until he confronted Blofeld or Number 1 in You Only Live Twice. After that Moore generally found himself at odds with the Russians, and by the time we got to Dalton and Brosnan there was less of a defined enemy and so it tended to be factions within governments or former friends turned enemies who were seeking to cause chaos for their own ends.
Personally when I think of the “Best” Bond film I cannot really say definitively because I like so many of them, and whilst Roger Moore is my favourite Bond I cannot deny how good Connery was, how smooth Brosnan was or the determined nature of Dalton. As for Daniel Craig I don’t think the stories have helped because whilst Casino Royale was pretty good, Quantum of Solace was just crap, Bond saw the heads of a criminal organisation but seemed to focus on some middle-management dick because he had something to do with the death of his love interest in Royale. I think Skyfall was leaps and bounds ahead of Quantum but Bond himself is not the legendary superspy that we have come to love over the last fifty years of James Bond.
Comparisons between the original Bonds (Connery, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan) are inevitable because they all played the role in a similar way and whilst Moore was my favourite he was clearly getting too old to play the part in Octopussy and View to a Kill.
All the actors brought something to the character and created a greater depth to the superspy through their interpretations of 007.
I am not sold on Craig as Bond because I miss the tongue-in-cheek portrayals that have been with me since I first landed on this planet.
Every Bond has had his quintessential moment, with the exception of Daniel Craig, will he get that moment in Spectre?? I don’t know because as of yet I have not watched it. In my opinion the finest example of Bond being Bond is Brosnan shooting the lock in The World is Not Enough as it proves in one moment why he is the best and why he has become a legendary agent within the British Secret Service.
As for the best Bond film I really cannot say because the truth is I have watched the Bond movies time and time again and cannot really place most of them above the others…well with the exception of George Lazenby’s only turn as Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service which I watched once and remember it being once too often. I was really not a fan and that is why you may have noticed I have not discussed him or listed him with the other Bonds…On Your Majesty’s Secret Service should be wiped from our memories, if only there was some kind of ray I could use to erase my memory of it…half a mo…I have such a device, if I could only remember where I put it…
Ah, here it is, give me a sec…
…[frown]…what was I talking about??
Ah yes James Bond…so what I like about Bond is the fact that it is a subject matter that you want to talk about, you want to discuss the best Bond, you will want to argue over who was the best villain, and I really hope that Craig’s final outing as the superspy is not a weak effort that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. As for the other incarnations of Bond they all have their charms and they all have had their “Bond Moment”, there are box sets out there which contain all of the movies and if you are only familiar with the more modern versions of the iconic secret agent then I urge you to track down the older ones because I promise you will not be disappointed.
Perhaps I’ll be eating my criticisms of Craig’s Bond after seeing Spectre and whilst some people I know and pretend to like have said it is brilliant, others have said it was shit, I shall cast my unbiased eye over it at some point and let you know my thoughts.
I could give a Thumb rating but it seems largely redundant as a franchise that has been going for half a century must be doing something right, still, it would be a shame not to give it a rating so the James Bond films are awarded with an Up, a Thumbs Up, yes that was be trying to do a spin on the iconic line and yes I am now a little ashamed of myself.