“…Yet, for several months before the release of the last Bond film, Casino Royale, in November 2006, a committed band of Bond fans wrote angry blogs about Craig being cast as the suave British spy. They created a website as a means of expressing their grievances, and even threatened to boycott the movie when it opened.
These fans had an enormous advantage that fuelled their evangelical zeal: they had not seen Casino Royale, nor did they have any idea how Craig would rise to the challenge of playing this iconic hero.
And, as it turned out, they were wrong. Not just slightly wide of the mark, but hopelessly, laughably, 180 degrees wrong. Casino Royale went on to become the highest-grossing Bond movie ever, taking $594 million worldwide. It also attracted some of the most positive reviews for a Bond film since the long distant days when Sean Connery was synonymous with 007.
Far from undermining the 46-year-old Bond franchise, whose latest offering, Quantum of Solace, opens on October 31, Craig has given it a whole new lease of life.
Roger Moore held down the franchise for seven films between 1973 and 1985, making Bond more ironic and light-hearted; he was quick with a quip, a flirtatious gaze from baby-blue eyes, and sexual innuendo accompanied by innocently raised eyebrows. Ian Fleming, who died in 1964, never saw Moore in action as Bond, though it’s safe to say Moore’s was not the interpretation he had in mind for his fictional creation.
Timothy Dalton may have been technically the most gifted actor to play Bond, and laudably tried to return the character closer to Fleming’s conception of him. But his two films (The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill) were among the worst in Bond history.
Brosnan is a competent actor. Yet one felt he almost belonged to another age. He can do suave, but in a rather old-fashioned way – with a twinkle of the eye and an ability to look well-groomed, his pompadour unruffled, even under severe physical duress. In this respect, the movie Bond he most resembled was Roger Moore, and by the turn of the century, that was starting to look like a retrograde step.
The arrival of Craig and the release of Casino Royale solved these problems at a stroke. First, Craig himself looks every inch a modern, 21st-century Bond. Yet paradoxically he is also a throwback, all the way to Connery.
Craig is tough, buff, attractive, just this side of handsome, with a cool, dry manner and a strong, almost bull-like physique. His hair is short, virtually cropped; he looks ready for action. And crucially, there’s a touch of cruelty and ruthlessness about him – something Connery clearly recognised as an essential ingredient in Bond’s character, but which his successors had been encouraged to play down.
Casino Royale is by no means a perfect film, but there are three things I like about it very much, and all of them have positive repercussions for the continuing health of the Bond franchise.
The first is the opening scene, an ugly, brutal murder in a public lavatory, shot in grainy black and white. One need not be a fan of movie violence to admit that this scene does its job brilliantly; it announces Casino Royale as a very different kind of Bond film, one that will not be weighed down by flippancy, double entendres or lead actors who look unsuited to the physical, often grim job of espionage.
The second is a chase scene, on a construction site in Madagascar, featuring Bond and a bad guy indulging in “free-running” across steel girders, and even, heart-poundingly, up the jib of a crane. (One wonders if the film’s producers, ever alert to changing cultural trends, might have been influenced by the enjoyable 2004 French film District 13, featuring two remarkably agile free-running heroes.) As you watch Craig straining every sinew in his ascent along that jib, you think: now here is a Bond of whom Fleming might have approved. Last is a brief snatch of significant dialogue –
Bond: Vodka martini.
Waiter: Shaken or stirred?
Bond: Do I look like I give a damn?
Hearing this exchange makes you want to punch the air in triumph. At last, an end to all that prescriptive brand-name fetishism about suits, weaponry, drinks and other accoutrements deemed crucial for a fictional British spy, first imagined during the height of the Cold War in the early 1950s. It feels like an enormous relief.
This new hard edge equips the Bond films to compete in a different arena. Casino Royale looks to be a riposte to the last two Bourne movies, directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum); they too, are fast-paced, clever, edited to leave audiences breathless, and demanding of close attention. But Casino Royale easily saw both of them off at box-offices worldwide.
Writing in Sight & Sound magazine, critic Roger Clarke has noted that Craig’s Bond is also made to do the sort of brutal things we might associate with another modern action hero: Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer, from the long-running TV series 24. And, like Bauer, this new Bond does not trade on his charm; it is not entirely absent from his character, but he keeps it hidden.
There’s even a sense that a new leaf has been turned over by the Bond producers in the treatment of women characters. Judi Dench has been installed as M for years now, but casting Eva Green as Casino Royale’s female protagonist Vesper Lynd was an especially shrewd move; her brains are as important as her beauty, and 007 treats her with appropriate respect. It represents a welcome progression from the tired notion of “Bond girls” – crowds of interchangeable bikini-clad lovelies, mooching around the pool, and squealing with delight whenever Roger Moore ambled on screen. They had begun to look as if they belonged in a Benny Hill sketch.
All of this is good news, and the commercial success of Casino Royale had its intriguing aspects. Its global box-office total of $594 million puts it way ahead of the previous Bond film, Die Another Day ($424 million). Yet the US box-office result for both films tells a different story: Casino Royale narrowly squeezes home with $167 million to around $161 million. What this tells us is that while Craig’s presence has not deterred American Bond fans, he has been embraced in huge numbers by new non-American audiences; overnight, as it were, he has become an international star.
A sign of the confidence the actor engenders at MGM and among the producers of this franchise was the announcement, made in October 2007, that he had signed up to star in four more Bond films.
Daniel Craig, then, will do for now. His tenure as James Bond will probably last until the middle of the next decade (by which time he will be 47 or so), and he shows every sign of being the right man to last the course. At some stage, inevitably, a successor will be announced – and doubtless the protests from Bond fans will start all over again.