Battle of the Bonds // Part 006 // Daniel Craig

The beginning, the end, the best Bond

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The Double-O

Do you recall the story of how my Bond fandom began?

The father-son film nights, the cable marathons, and the regular home video rentals of my youth introduced me to the 007 franchise, to film, and to the grander notion of pop culture as a whole. Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, and Timothy Dalton’s unique variations on the James Bond character became foundational building blocks for my burgeoning fascinations. When Pierce Brosnan arrived next to shepherd in my first in-theater Bond experience, the die was cast for good.

These first five Bonds all played invaluable parts in forming my childhood, but the sixth Bond would play a much different role altogether.

I grew up with Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, and Brosnan.

I came of age with Daniel Craig.

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Daniel Craig’s very first Bond film, the immortal Casino Royale, was released in 2006 when I was just fifteen years old. By the time Craig’s swan song, No Time To Die, finally came around in 2021, I had already turned thirty.

I can chart major life milestones and the personal progression of my life as a young person moving into adulthood according to Craig’s respective evolution in the role. The trajectory of my life tracks alongside Craig’s Bond years in ways that are both deeply significant and startlingly eye-opening to me.

Nearly all of my most meaningful friendships, relationships, educational milestones, professional advancements, happiest highs, and lamentable lows took place between the beginning and the end of the Daniel Craig Bond era.

So, yeah, maybe I’m in the bag for Daniel Craig.

Maybe I was bound to become more emotionally invested in his Bond, and maybe those older or younger than me don’t share this same view.

The sweet, poetic timing Daniel Craig had in entering my life and all the individual experiences and personal entanglements his Bond helped color are massively important to me. But they’re far from the only variables factoring into this declaration:

Daniel Craig is the best Bond we’ve ever seen.

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Right, I know what you’re probably thinking:

“Wow, Blake, real bold of you. Recency bias much?”

Far from it. Daniel Craig held the Double-O title for the better part of two decades and longer than any other Bond. By the time Craig hung up the tux for good, he had inhabited the role for one full quarter of the franchise’s sixty-year history. And with a cumulative $3.96B box office gross worldwide across his five films, Craig has more than enough receipts to prove his validity.

More important than longevity or profitability, however, is the fact that Daniel Craig’s Bond is the total package. Craig combines Connery’s effortless cool, Lazenby’s open-hearted vulnerability, Moore’s indelible charm, Dalton’s tenacious grit, and Brosnan’s confident finesse into one, uniquely 21st-century Bond.

Of course he’s the best Bond.

Craig encapsulates everything Bond should be while charting previously unimagined territory on what Bond could be. He showcases a visceral physicality, a palpable sense of danger, and a willingness to explore a far greater depth of emotional nuance, interiority, and sophistication.

Only an actor of Craig’s caliber could pull off what he was able to achieve across his five films.

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Timothy Dalton, Craig’s closest Bond comparison in many ways, is the only previous Bond actor that comes close to Craig in terms of dramatic ability.

Even then, Dalton was never provided the level of material Craig benefitted from. And with all respect to the great John Glen, Dalton was also never lucky enough to serve as the muse for creative vehicles driven by visual auteurs like Martin Campbell, Marc Forster, Sam Mendes, or Cary Joji Fukanaga.

Craig, like Dalton, put in the work and retreated to the mind of Fleming and his original works before ever filming a single scene as the iconic character. Both actors are unbelievable dramatic talents, with passionate work ethics committed to good, honest performance, but Craig simply operates from a higher plane.

Dalton himself would admit as such after seeing just Craig’s first two Bond films, “There’s a case to be made that Daniel Craig is the best Bond ever, or at least in a very long time…The first twenty-five minutes of Casino Royale? I would have died to have done that.”

Dalton gets it, yet no Bond actor’s casting was subject to as much scrutiny or adversity as Craig’s was, and no other 007’s legacy might prove to be as contentious as Craig’s when it’s all said and done.

But I’m getting ahead of myself...

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A young Daniel Craig took an immediate liking to the theatre, noting his experience participating in school plays as early as six years old and attending the Liverpool Everyman Theatre with his mother as his most impactful inspirations.

That inspiration would soon translate to a sense of purpose and professional commitment when, at the age of sixteen, Craig was accepted into London’s National Youth Theatre. Craig’s reputation steadily rose while touring both Western and Eastern Europe in the troupe, encouraging him to continue his dramatic education and increase that reputation with further study at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

The ascendent actor received his first on-screen gig right out of school in 1992 playing a small role alongside Stephen Dorff, John Gielgud, and Morgan Freeman in The Power Of One. Then, throughout the early-to-mid-90s, Craig applied a workman-like attitude to his budding career, steadily adding parts in television dramas and stage productions to his growing resume.

Like so many other British soon-to-be film stars, a role on a BBC drama serial (Our Friends In The North) would prove to be his breakthrough performance, at least in the UK.

Craig’s big stateside splash wouldn’t come until 2001, in a role he’s since described as the “worst mistake” he’s made in his career, playing opposite Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Although he would go on to regret his involvement in the videogame adaptation, the far-from-fulfilling experience taught Craig an invaluable lesson in selectivity.

Just one year later, Craig teamed up with future Skyfall and Spectre director Sam Mendes for Road To Perdition as a gangster rubbing shoulders with the likes of Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, and Jude Law. Learning to choose his projects more wisely, and prioritize experience alongside elite talent over quick paycheck gigs, led Craig to his most important pre-Bond role…

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2004 saw the release of Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake: a stylishly-slick British gangster film with Daniel Craig at the center.

As a sophisticated drug dealer catering to London’s underworld from a calculated distance, Craig’s star-making turn sees his nameless character wooing a beautiful blonde, schmoozing up to highfalutin elites in swanky country clubs, knocking back whiskey like it’s water, and even taking out a double-crossing mob boss with a silenced pistol.

Cue the eyebrow raises.

Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of Daniel Craig before the rumor mill began throwing his name about in the lead-up to his eventual casting. But seeing as Craig was about to become the first new Bond of my life while I was of an age to understand what was happening (I was but four when Brosnan’s debut hit theaters), I made damn sure to do my homework once talks started getting hot and heavy.

Soon thereafter, I became enthralled with the prospect of a Daniel Craig Bond after witnessing his performance in Layer Cake. The film arrived at an all-important time in my life when my love of cinema was becoming more cultured, more refined, more worldly. And while Layer Cake is by no means a modern masterpiece, it quickly became one of my favorite films helping to define this revelatory period of my life.

I felt as if I had made a discovery by taking a chance on this film. I felt as if I had made a discovery by taking a chance on Daniel Craig.

I’m obviously a bit of an Anglophile, as most non-Brit Bond obsessives surely are, and this film just hit so many sweet spots for my still-developing, teenage brain as I opened my mind up to experimentation with my deepening infatuations.

Many actors aspire to be Bond one day, and most go out of their way to prove their worth for Double-O consideration, but that wasn’t the case with Craig in Layer Cake. He didn’t need to pursue Bond, his performance in this film was an eye-opening showcase broadcasting to all willing to open their eyes that Craig was poised to redefine Bond and take him to new heights.

He just needed a champion to recognize his talent.

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Barbara Broccoli and her half-brother/producer partner Michael G. Wilson have been involved in the Bond franchise since The Spy Who Loved Me. Following Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli’s passing shortly after GoldenEye, the duo has served as sole stewards of the Bond family business.

Cubby alone had been responsible for the health and wellbeing of the franchise since the early 70s when Harry Saltzman, Cubby’s producer partner beginning with Dr. No, fell by the wayside as a result of his financial trouble. All of which is to say that Pierce Brosnan was Cubby’s casting decision, and a Bond passed on to his daughter and step-son when the new generation took the franchise’s reigns.

Barbara, Michael, and Pierce went on to release three more films together after Cubby’s death, all of which were incredible financial successes. Brosnan played out a four-film contract and made everyone, most notably himself, a lot of money in the process.

Then 9/11 happened.

Brosnan’s final film of his contract, Die Another Day, had tipped the scales too far toward the fantastical. Meanwhile, a surge of grounded Bond wannabes (Mission: Impossible and Bourne Identity, most notably) had emerged to reflect the shifting tides far better than the Brosnan era ever could.

The franchise needed to be recalibrated, the franchise needed to reassess its place in the culture, and Broccoli and Wilson needed their own Bond to do so.

Michael G. Wilson claims more than two hundred actors, across three continents, over the span of two years, were considered for Pierce Brosnan’s replacement. The most high-profile of which came by way of Karl Urban (schedule conflicts prevented him from ever screen testing), Henry Cavill (too young; he was only twenty-two at the time), and Sam Worthington (auditioned but didn’t impress).

The producers had eyes for Craig all along…

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“I went in to see [Barbara] with Michael at the EON office, and she basically said to me, there and then, ‘I want you to do it,’” recalled Craig in an interview on The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast. “There wasn’t a next in line,” reiterated Broccoli on the same podcast in response to a question concerning who would have won the role if Craig turned it down.

Following initial reluctance and an extended courtship, which Broccoli later described as “a period of trying to woo” Craig, ol’ Danny boy finally signed the dotted line in 2005.

“I was in Baltimore filming with Nicole Kidman,” Craig revealed on James Bond Day of 2020. “Barbara Broccoli said to me, ‘Over to you kiddo!’ But this is the thing…I had a night off [and] a day off the following day. I was like, ‘What am I going to do? I can’t tell anybody.’ I was in Whole Foods Supermarket with a shopping cart with deodorant and washing liquid, doing my weekly shopping. So I literally ditched that and walked into the liquor section. I bought myself a bottle of vodka, a bottle of Vermouth, a shaker, and a glass.”

“It was kind of rather sad because I couldn’t tell anyone…it was still a secret,” Craig later expounded in an interview with the BBC. “And by the time I had about three [drinks] I went to a bar where I had three more and I must have had a smile on my face, because the barman [asked], ‘What are you so happy about?’ And I was like, ‘I can’t tell you but something great has happened’ and he said, ‘Well, this one is on me.’”

I think it’s safe to say Craig began his Bond preparation in an appropriate fashion.

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I, for one, was all fucking in on Daniel Craig as Bond. Still am. Always will be.

Sadly, the same could not be said for others.

Just like Sean Connery for Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, Daniel Craig was the guy for Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. No one, especially not Ian Fleming, was convinced Connery would make for a suitable Bond, and we all know how that turned out.

Daniel Craig’s casting would meet a similar, yet far more exaggerated, resistance more than forty years later.

As Craig was the first Bond cast in a massively-online world, a buzzing hive of livid losers would soon reveal themselves from their sorry shadows to cry foul of the casting decision, giving birth to one of the first major social media outrages.

They wanted Pierce Brosnan back, they wanted Clive Owen or Hugh Jackman instead. They wanted anyone but Daniel Craig.

This unsightly and omnipresent head of fandom showed out in full force following Craig’s official casting. So-called fans decried Craig’s validity, flooding Sony and EON Productions with letters and emails whining about Craig being too short, too blonde, too ugly, even, to be taken seriously as Bond.

The deplorable dummies over at danielcraigisnotbond.com even organized an outright boycott that, like all other desperation-fueled fan attempts to stop things out of their control, went nowhere, to no one's surprise.

“People’s criticism was sort of understandable,” Craig admirably divulged during his No Time To Die press tour, “I mean, I grew up watching Bond. So, I couldn’t criticize other people for having passions about it. Of course I was bothered by it. But there was nothing I could really do…All I could do was make a good movie, or attempt to make a good movie and say, ‘There you go.’ And if they didn’t like it, then I don’t know, that’s all I had to give.”

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To say these dimwitted detractors had a point would be giving them far too much credit, but it is true that Craig goes against the Bond make and model fans had become accustomed to. In the books, Fleming details Bond as a British spy just over six feet with a slim build, short, black hair, and grey-blue eyes.

Craig most certainly checks the blue-eyed box, but he’s probably five foot ten on his best day, and his blonde hair quickly became one of the bigger points of contention from his critics. “James Blonde” turned into a rallying insult from those looking to dismiss Craig before he even had a chance to prove his worth.

I suppose these internet-empowered fans had conveniently forgotten that Roger Moore’s hair was much closer to a sandy brown or dark blonde than it ever was jet black. I wonder if the Craig nitpickers and faultfinders had as much of a problem with Connery and Lazenby’s brown eyes as they did with Craig’s divergent features?

Some will go on calling Daniel Craig James Blonde, or James Bland, or the Brosnan Ursuprer, or whatever. As for me? I will go on calling him the best Bond yet. Life’s too short to be dragged down by dissensions from a squawking minority.

It’s time to strip ourselves of this cold negativity and dive right into the warm waters of positivity that is the Daniel Craig Bond experience.

Don’t be shy. Let us take a dip…

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The Films

Casino Royale (2006)

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The Mission

MI6 agent James Bond has just been elevated to 00 status. Now operating with a licence to kill as 007, Bond is sent out to capture a bomb-maker tied to a shadowy terrorist organization, but disobeys his orders and kills the target without discerning who he’s working for. M reprimands the trigger-happy agent and places him on a temporary leave of absence, inspiring Bond to use his government-sanctioned free time to pursue the next best lead in the nascent plot.

After tracking down the next rung in the ladder, Bond unravels a scheme to sabotage the unveiling of a prototype Skyfleet airliner. An Albanian math genius and terrorist financier named Le Chiffre has organized the attack following a significant investment in Skyfleet’s failure. When 007 thwarts the destruction of the airliner and prevent’s Skyfleet’s stock from plummeting, Le Chiffre loses over $100M entrusted to him by dangerous people.

Becoming increasingly desperate, Le Chiffre organizes a high-stakes poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro to recoup his clients’ lost funds before the heat comes down. MI6 enters Bond into the tournament and partners him with a British Treasury agent named Vesper Lynd to provide the $10M buy-in. Over the course of several days, the two survive attempts on their lives, save one another from certain death, and overcome substantial odds together to ultimately win the tournament and prevent Le Chiffre from winning back the money he lost.

An exasperated Le Chiffre kidnaps Vesper, successfully uses her as bait luring Bond into a trap, then barbarically tortures Bond in an attempt to reveal the password securing the tournament winnings. 007 does not relent. Just as Le Chiffre is about to castrate Bond, Mr. White, liaison for the organization operating from the shadows, arrives and kills Le Chiffre for betraying their trust. Bond wakes in an MI6 hospital, transfers the winnings, and decides to put this life behind him and start anew with Vesper. When the transferred winnings never arrive in their intended account, Bond realizes Vesper has betrayed him. The organization behind Le Chiffre was using Vesper along, threatening her lover with death if she didn’t comply as a double agent.

Bond trails Vesper in Venice as she makes her way to hand off the winnings. In a rapidly crumbling Venetian building sinking along the canals, Vesper, rapt with guilt, locks herself in a submerged elevator cage and meets her tragic end. With his heart broken, his back stabbed, and his emotional armor fastened tighter than ever, James Bond sets out for revenge on Mr. White and his mysterious organization…

The Highlights

Here it is, folks. This is the big one. If you are ever, for some god-awful reason, stricken by an abominable curse limiting you to watch just one Bond film for the rest of your life, make no mistake, you should select Casino Royale and you should never look back. This film has everything you want, everything you need, and so much more you didn’t even know you had receptors for in a 007 filmgoing experience.

Casino Royale at once introduces and definitively characterizes who James Bond is, what he is, and how he became the character we thought we had come to know over twenty previous films. The phrase is overused, but its use here is apt: Casino Royale was, and remains, a true game-changer for the franchise. Come on, have you seen this film? HAVE. YOU. SEEN. THIS. FILM?!? If the opening pre-title sequence alone doesn’t make your blood run hot, I don’t know what to tell you. You might need new blood.

We open in black and white without the usual gun barrel sequence typically used to signify the beginning of our adventure. Instead, we’re greeted by a gritty, film-noir vignette detailing the mission that made Bond a Double-O. A tensely quiet meeting in an office is intercut with a violently loud brawl in a public bathroom. Bond faces off against two distinct foes in these scenes, culminating in the agent acquiring the two kills required to obtain his 00 status. But what’s this? The man in the bathroom isn’t quite dead after being strangled and drowned in a sink. With his back to the camera, Bond bends down to retrieve his gun following the mayhem. The enemy he thought vanquished scrambles for his own pistol and takes aim…Bond swivels. Bond fires. Bond hits his mark.

GUN BARREL SEQUENCE!

I don’t know about you, but I get fucking fired up just thinking about it. This film makes me smile, this film makes me cry, this film makes me want to run through a goddamn wall it’s so good.

The script is absolutely pitch-perfect in how it sets up the Craig era. Bond’s cinematic lineage is honored and acknowledged while simultaneously subverted and flipped forward into a new time with a new kind of man at the wheel of the Aston Martin. We as audience members and Bond lovers know how things should look, feel, and sound. That’s what makes a moment like Bond’s curt martini order so exciting and revelatory.

“One of the biggest reasons I did Casino Royale,” said Craig in an interview with Empire, “is the line, ‘A vodka martini, please.’ ‘Shaken or stirred?’ My reply was written in the script as, ‘Do I look like I give a fuck?’ And that’s it. That’s the reason I did it. Because what I could not do, and what I refused to do, was repeat what had gone before. What was the fucking point?”

Flanking Craig’s refreshing assault on our Bondian senses is a cast utterly devoid of weak links. Eva Green’s natural air of self-confident mystery and affecting ambiguity lends itself perfectly to Vesper’s tragic tale. Book readers know this is the first, most important, “Bond Girl,” and Green delivers a performance ensuring even the newest of Bond fans understand Vesper’s importance to the James Bond story.

Jeffrey Wright absolutely maximizes each on-screen second provided to him as Bond’s best bro from Langley, Felix Leiter. I’ll say it now and I’ll say it again: Wright is the best Leiter of them all, and Casino Royale features the character’s greatest appearance yet. Mads Mikkelsen plays our main protagonist Le Chiffre, the menacing math whiz that cries tears of blood. Giancarlo Giannini’s Mathis is one of the all-time great Bond allies, Jesper Christensen begins a three-film run as the increasingly important Mr. White, and fucking Judi Dench back! This cast is STACKED.

I could go on forever. Casino Royale is my favorite Bond film; I truly think it’s the very best film in the series. I love it so much. This is my happy place.

The Lowlights

Do the words Ford Mondeo mean anything to you? Me neither, but for the producers of this film it meant beaucoup dolares. It’s a silly nitpick, but James Bond drives a Ford fucking Mondeo in this film. Why? Product placement, that’s why: something the franchise has never had any shame in showcasing. It speaks volumes to the quality of this film that the first lowlight that comes to mind involves a minute-long sequence showing off an insipid rental car.

Given that Casino Royale is a hard reboot, certain franchise staples like Moneypenny and Q are notably missing, but the absences make sense from a story perspective, and their eventual reveals are handled beautifully later on in Craig’s run. If you like Bond, you’re going to love this movie. This is the pinnacle. Some say it drags on a bit long, ending one too many times, but I wouldn’t cut a single second.

I’ve nothing more to add here.

The Impact

Although it was the first Bond novel Ian Fleming ever wrote, the rights to Casino Royale had evaded EON Productions since Broccoli and Saltzman first brought Fleming’s creation to the big screen. This would eventually be rectified in 1999 when the rights were secured from Sony Pictures Entertainment to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in exchange for the film rights to Spider-Man. And what better way to reintroduce the classic character to a modern audience than with a true reboot through the character’s true entry point?

The Brosnan era began with what you might call a “soft” reboot, but in going back to the very beginning for Craig’s debut, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson committed to starting from scratch. “It’s the definitive James Bond story, the one that explains the most about Bond’s character,” Broccoli would proclaim.

After Brosnan’s four-film contract was fulfilled following Die Another Day, a film that was a massive financial success but an even larger critical failure, the Bond producer duo knew it was time to shake things up and swing for the fences. With a new, convention-breaking actor cast in the starring role, and the rights won back to James Bond’s foremost story, Casino Royale was finally ready to be unleashed through the visual medium.

Wilson said the film “gave the Bond franchise a new life and a new audience.” Wilson was right. Casino Royale represented something new, something other, something harmoniously destined to pull Bond into the modern era through returning to his origin.

Casino Royale received rave reviews upon release and brought in the largest box office returns to that point in the franchise’s history. Critics and fans alike applauded the film for its inventiveness and effectiveness. The culture’s anxieties of a radical Bond were soothed in a moment’s notice. The Daniel Craig era had begun, and it was just getting started.

Craig Ranking: 1st of 5

Quantum Of Solace (2008)

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The Mission

James Bond craves revenge. With Mr. White apprehended, Bond evades pursuers in an exhilarating car chase through congested Italian tunnels and old marble quarries before delivering the captive to M. White escapes during his interrogation, however, after M’s bodyguard reveals himself as a double agent working for Quantum, the mysterious organization behind the events of Casino Royale. Bond chases down the turncoat and eventually kills him, then follows a Quantum bread trail leading to Bolivia. On his next stop in a quest for vengeance, 007 crosses paths with Camille Montes, a Bolivian agent with a vendetta of her own.

The corrupt Bolivian General Medrano murdered Camille’s family, and now he’s in league with Dominic Greene, a weaselly environmentalist entrepreneur working with Quantum. Greene has promised to help overthrow the Bolivian government and secure Medrano power in return for a section of seemingly barren desert. Medrano warns that there’s no oil to be found there, but Greene’s sinister mind is after something far more essential. Bond and Camille, with a little help from our old friend Mathis, head out together on disparate, yet intertwined, quests for revenge. Then the unlikely duo uncovers Greene’s endgame: to gain complete control over land yielding not oil but water. The ruthlessly apathetic businessman plans to wring dry the devastated-by-drought population for every penny they’re worth.

Greene’s exploitative ruse meets its end, and Camille brings Medrano the retribution he deserves, but Bond’s mission is not yet finished. With Greene out of the way, 007 hunts down Yusef Kabira, Vesper’s former lover. Kabira has formed a nasty habit of seducing women agents, and it turns out Vesper was just another cog in the machine helping to supply Quantum with government secrets. When the undercover fuckboy brings home another unsuspecting mark, Bond is there waiting for him. The manipulated woman is set free, leaving Bond alone with the man indirectly responsible for his one true love’s death. Finally free to see the bigger picture, Bond lets go of the anger fueling his internal fire and turns Kabira over to MI6.

M tells Bond they need him back. Bond replies, “I never left.”

The Highlights

While filming Casino Royale, producer Michael G. Wilson envisioned a plot extension, centered on Bond seeking vengeance for Vesper, that would close a two-film story arc. Quantum Of Solace, as a result, is the first Bond film to serve as a direct sequel to its predecessor, picking up mere moments after the conclusion of Casino Royale. Writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis quickly got to work expanding Wilson’s idea after the success of Craig’s first Bond film. However, due in large part to the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike, the script that would become Quantum Of Solace was but skeletal when filming began.

Near-daily on-set rewrites were facilitated by Craig and director Marc Forster, as no Guild writers were permitted to work while the film was in production, which in turn resulted in the production adopting a “show, don’t tell” approach to the storytelling. This sounds like a lowlight, but the lack of a fleshed-out script resulted in a greater reliance on visual storytelling and improvisation that makes for an endlessly fascinating and rewatchable film.

This is the shortest Bond adventure ever at only 106 minutes long, a fact greatly helping the case for the film’s rewatchability. Forster believed Casino Royale’s 144-minute runtime was far too long, so he set out to make a follow-up that was “tight and fast…like a bullet.” Lean, mean, and breathlessly propulsive, Quantum Of Solace is a true thrill ride, unlike any Bond we’ve seen before. Craig’s second outing is also one of the most visually distinctive entries in the franchise; only On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Skyfall, and No Time To Die outpaces this film in terms of pure cinematic beauty.

The editing in this film catches a lot of flack for being nauseatingly shaky and fast-paced, but I think it creates a wholly unique sense of pace and style not seen in a Bond film before or since. Quantum opens with the franchise’s best-ever car chase made all the more memorable by intentionally-artful editing choices. Perhaps the scene that best captures this vibe sees Bond crashing a secret Quantum meeting at the opera, which spurs a stirring shootout set to Tosca that comes and goes in three frantic minutes. It’s one of my all-time favorite Bond scenes.

There is something so intoxicatingly distinct about this film that, when combined with its short run time, encourages frequent returns for the fiendishly curious. I didn’t much care for it when I first saw it, but much like Licence To Kill, Quantum’s closest Bond film comp, my fondness for the film’s singular style deepens with every revisit. This is Bond’s most personal revenge tale, and Daniel Craig throws himself into the rage-filled mess that is Bond’s splintered psyche with masochistic abandon.

In an effort to make up for the lack of a script, Craig turns in his most physical performance as Bond, performing almost all of his own stunts. We’ve simply never seen Bond so off the rails, nor more damaged. Gritty, realistic action tells half the story in scenes like the brutal Haitian hotel fight, but the more quiet moments, like this heartbreaking exchange between Mathis and a visibly drunk Bond, are what really set this film apart for me.

Add in one of the franchise’s most independent and capable “Bond Girls,” a slimy capitalist with prescient motivation as the main villain, a goofy henchman with a bowl-cut named Elvis, and another great showing from best-Felix Jeffrey Wright, and what you end up with is a stealth classic Bond film presented in exhilaratingly unfamiliar ways.

The Lowlights

All my optimism aside, you can’t help but wonder how much better this film could have been had the writer’s strike never interfered. Even still, I think Quantum Of Solace not only works but is incredibly effective, another in a not-so-long line of mesmerizing Bond film outliers. Most, shall we say, don’t share my sanguine views on this film. And that is a kind way of saying that more often than not, Quantum Of Solace is regarded, remembered, and ranked as one of the weakest Bond films. I think that’s nonsense, but I won’t fault any fan willing to take such a stance.

People’s biggest complaints with this film stem from a bare-bones script devoid of the typical Bondian humor and the frenetic action’s disorienting nature. The latter of which is unfairly considered as a cynical attempt to capitalize on the success of the Bourne films. Sure, the producers hired Bourne stunt coordinator Dan Bradley as second unit director, but Bond has never been shy about borrowing from the popular styles of the time. Bond fans have a nasty habit of bristling at the sight of anything that strays too far from the original formula (much more on that later), and I’m just not of the same mind. I love it when Bond gets weird or plays fast and loose with the recipe. I’ve zero qualms with spicing it up. Live a little!

My biggest issue with Quantum Of Solace is admittedly a trivial one, but it’s something I feel passionate about nonetheless. “Another Way To Die,” Jack White and Alicia Keys’ title song, is bad, real bad. It’s my pick for the all-time worst Bond song. Played over a chintzy title sequence that looks like it was thrown together in an undergraduate computer design class, this song is a jarringly-tough hang, and really brings down the heart-racing mood established by the film’s pre-title sequence. But oh, brother, does it get worse! This dull, disjointed, doldrum of a song beat out a submission from the one and only Shirley Bassey! The Dame’s “No Good About Goodbye” would have made for a much better mood-setter with its soulful wistfulness. What a shame. The producers could have at least gone with Joe Cornish’s proposed theme song over what we received in the end.

The Impact

You probably didn’t read it here first, but you’re reading it here again: Quantum of Solace is the new On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. What I mean by that is I believe Quantum will only continue to rise in estimation as the years go by, as the artfulness and inventiveness of the film are more deeply appreciated the further we stray from its initial release. Quantum Of Solace gets better with every single revisit, and if you fire it up right after Casino Royale, I think you’ll find a newfound appreciation for the way this film closes Bond’s two-story arc.

At the time though, even with a massive box office haul that fell just short of matching Casino Royale’s returns, Bond producers fretted over the lackluster critical and audience response. Some well-timed financial trouble over at MGM would make it so Quantum’s follow-up wouldn’t arrive for another four full years, providing Bond and Co. more than enough time to refocus and reimagine where to take Bond next…

Craig Ranking: 4th of 5

Skyfall (2012)

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The Mission

James Bond is presumed dead after catching friendly fire on a mission in Istanbul. The agent’s incapacitation results in a mercenary, Patrice, getting away with a hard drive containing the identities of undercover agents embedded in terrorist organizations around the world. After the public begins to question M’s competence following the failed mission, MI6’s servers are compromised, and a cryptic message mocking M to “think on her sins” flashes on her personal computer shortly before an explosion takes out MI6 headquarters. Someone has it out for M, and it would appear to be personal…

Elsewhere, Bond is revealed to be capitalizing on his presumed death with early retirement. 007 has been nursing his wounds with whiskey, women, and pain killers on the Turkish coast but is soon driven to action after catching wind of the attack on MI6. But time has not been kind to the secret agent. Haggard, out of shape, and physically limited by shrapnel lodged near his shoulder, Bond fails all MI6 tests required to clear an agent for active duty. M approves 007’s return to the field anyway, sending him out to find Patrice and discern who he’s working for. After meeting his new quartermaster, Q, Bond is provided a radio beacon and a new Walther PPK coded to only fire when the weapon is in his hands.

Bond tracks Patrice to Shanghai and kills him before learning of his employer, then finds a casino token belonging to a Macau casino provides the agent his next lead. Turning in the chip for a large case of cash introduces Bond to Patrice’s accessory, a former sex slave named Sévérine. The damaged woman is visibly frightened when Bond inquires about the head of her operation but promises to help him if he can kill the reticent ringleader. Bond and Sévérine board a boat and head to an abandoned island where Raoul Silva, the mastermind behind all preceding events, reveals himself. Bond is captured, and Sévérine is killed, but Bond activates his radio beacon and sends in the cavalry to extradite Silva for his crimes.

Which we learn…is exactly what Silva wants. A former MI6 agent-turned-cyberterrorist, Silva is leading everyone into a revenge-fueled trap designed to kill M for her perceived betrayal following the former agent’s capture by the Chinese years prior. Silva escapes confinement and attempts to assassinate M, but is stopped by Bond in the knick of time. M and 007 retreat together, leading Silva and his men into a trap at Bond’s ancestral home, Skyfall. Silva is vanquished, but M is hurt during the extended shootout, and soon succumbs to her wounds in Bond’s arms. 007 returns to MI6 following M’s funeral, a new assignment already awaiting him…

The Highlights

In Battle of the Bonds // Part 004, I wrote at length on how Timothy Dalton was the closest thing we ever got to the 007 found within Ian Fleming’s original texts. I stand by that assessment but want also to note that Daniel Craig belongs right alongside Timmy D in this regard. The best dramatic actors to inhabit the role, Dalton and Craig are mirror Bonds in many ways: their quiet, ruthless, fatalistic variations on the character ripped right from the foundational pages. And in Skyfall, Craig delivers what just might be the performance most faithful to the franchise’s roots. Encumbered by the weight his profession places on Bond’s battered shoulders, Craig masterfully exhibits the physical and mental weariness of a spy at the end of his rope. Bond rallies to overcome a self-imposed sense of lassitude and fulfill his duty, but not before suffering a great personal loss. No time for triumph, 007, only enough to lick those wounds and ready yourself for the next mission. Fleming would have been proud.

He’d also no doubt have been impressed by the rich textures and impactful backstory added to a character celebrating his fiftieth year in cinema. One of the most critical franchise entries in terms of James Bond’s character development, Skyfall explores the agent’s troubled childhood, the agent’s most significant relationship, with M, and the agent’s long-awaited return to the tufted leather doors of 007 normalcy following two films leading back to the trappings of yesteryear. Like Connery in Goldfinger and Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me, Craig in Skyfall is operating at the height of his powers as a well-oiled machine fires on all cylinders around him. Craig’s exacting control and comfort in the role propels the whole thing forward, elevating all rotating around his center of gravity. Everything about Skyfall feels so effortless.

There’s a theme of “reconciling the old and the new,” at the core of Skyfall, said Sam Mendes, the franchise’s first Oscar-winning director. In this narrative time loop, of sorts, we examine Bond’s origin story as an orphan and the dissolution of his blood family, while establishing Bond’s place alongside M, Moneypenny, and Q: his chosen family. When Bond formally meets Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny and replies to Ralph Fiennes’ newly-appointed M that he’s ready to get back to work “with pleasure,” it’s as if Craig is standing in for the audience, reveling in a moment dripping with nostalgic fan service without groveling to those the scene is built to please. Bond has lost everything: his parents, his first love, his biggest advocate. But in this moment of renewed, refreshed, and reset purpose, Bond is truly free. Back to work, indeed.

Clean, crisp, and breathtakingly composed, Skyfall is at worst the second or third most beautiful film in the franchise (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and No Time To Die are the film’s closest peers in this regard), with most ranking it at the very top in the Bond Film Beauty Contest. Why? Sir Roger Deakins shot this bad boy! Roger. Fucking. Deakins. The living legend earned his tenth Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography with Skyfall (Deakins would rack up five more nominations, including his first two wins, in subsequent years), and it’s not hard to see why. Shot lovers like yours truly have so much to drool over in this film. It’s a genuine masterclass from a true master. Deakins is untouchable. Never forget this.

Narrative and technical brilliance is driven home by another expertly-curated cast, one of the Craig era’s most enduring legacies. Before we get into the excellent new introductions of cherished old archetypes, let us pour one out for the incomparable Dame Judi Dench. In her final appearance as M, Dench crams more emotional presence into her performance than her previous six films combined, with far more screen time to boot. She deserved to go out on top. Receiving the baton from Dench is none other than Ralph Fiennes, an actor that needs no introduction, and no explanation from me on why his stern, smoldering presence (and fantastic posture) make him a perfect M successor.

Naomie Harris as Moneypenny is yet another stroke of brilliant casting, and I truthfully did not see her character reveal coming the first time I saw the film. The moment when she saunters around her desk and takes a seat, formally introducing herself to Bond, never fails to light me up. Ben Whishaw as the new, much younger, Q feels so utterly at home in the role that it’s not hard to imagine a world in which Wishaw slowly transforms into Desmond Llewyn. The comp that immediately comes to mind is Ewan McGregor playing a younger version of Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi. Both these respective actors at once historically reproduce and contextualize for a modern audience the roles made iconic by their predecessors. I mean, how good is that first scene between Craig’s Bond and Wishaw’s Q? And let’s not forget Javier Bardem’s understatedly complex turn as the villainous Raoul Silva, perhaps the greatest big bad of the Craig run.

The Lowlights

Is Skyfall a perfect Bond film? No, I don’t think so. Some of the plot elements, like Silva’s plan, are handled with a “just go with it” approach (which is honestly what we should be doing with all Bond plots anyway), and there’s an uncomfortably surprising amount of The World Is Not Enough in the bones of this script. Sam Mendes brought in his frequent collaborator Thomas Newman to score Skyfall, which unfortunately forced David Arnold out after five consecutive films. Newman did an excellent job interjecting his modern stylings to the classic trappings of a Bond score, but the absence of Arnold’s boisterous, Barry-inspired, brass is felt occasionally. It’s also a bit sad that Dame Dench’s last M performance (while no doubt a highlight of this film) sees the character fucking up from the jump just to die and let the villain get his perceived revenge in the end. And where is Felix?!

The Impact

Skyfall wasn’t just a hit, it was an outright sensation. Bond fucked around and hit a billi: One billion dollars without even a hint of inflation adjustment, a first for the franchise. At the time of this writing, Skyfall lands just inside the top thirty highest-grossing films of all time in terms of lifetime gross. Through the potent mixture of a landmark fiftieth anniversary, the return of beloved characters, and the franchise’s most decorated cast and crew, Skyfall was rightfully recognized as a sophisticated high point of the series.

So much so that the gang decided to get back together and try and make it all happen again in Craig’s next film. Recent developments had returned the rights of SPECTRE and Blofeld back to EON Productions, allowing Sam Mendes and crew to return for an attempt at recreating their Skyfall magic with the added bonus of the franchise’s most iconic villain. Unfortunately, the prospect of such would far outweigh the finished project…

Craig Ranking: 3rd of 5

Spectre (2015)

Photo by 007.com

The Mission

Olivia Mansfield, Bond’s previous M, sends 007 on one final mission from beyond the grave through a video message delivered shortly after her death. The order is to find and kill a terrorist, then attend the man’s funeral to discern his criminal affiliation. Bond makes good on M’s final request and discovers the former head of MI6 was onto something big: an international crime syndicate named SPECTRE. Infiltrating the secret organization’s clandestine meeting following the funeral, Bond is shocked to find the gathering is led by a familiar face from his past: Franz Oberhauser.

The Oberhausers took Bond in following the tragic deaths of his parents. When the family patriarch took quite a liking to young James, the son, Franz, resented his father deeply for it. Franz eventually killed his father, staged his own death, and adopted a new name: Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Fueled by deep-seated hatred brought on by Bond’s disruption of the Oberhauser family dynamic, Blofeld has orchestrated every ensuing tragedy in Bond’s life, from Vesper’s betrayal to M’s death and everything in between. Now, Bond’s supervillain foster brother is set to deploy a sinister surveillance program granting SPECTRE unfettered access to enemy intelligence around the world. Can Bond defeat his past to save his future, or is the writing already on the wall?

The Highlights

Spectre is far and away my least favorite Craig film, for numerous reasons I’ll get into momentarily, but it’s not all bad. I’ll start with a highlight that might come off as a bit controversial to some: I like the Sam Smith song and its accompanying opening titles. The metaphorical motifs of octopus tentacles and inky black death stylishly foreshadow the murky, maniacal machinations of SPECTRE quite well. And Sam Smith’s soulful crooning sets an effectively melancholic tone, even if he’s just trying to replicate Adele’s success on “Skyfall.”

When I think of Spectre, I most often remember an eerie sense of creeping dread, and not necessarily only in the cynical sense. There’s something legitimately unsettling about the Sciarra funeral, the SPECTRE meeting in Rome, and the hall of human surveillance in Blofeld’s crater lair. More so than returning director Sam Mendes, I think Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography and Thomas Newman’s composition deserve the most credit for creating Spectre’s unnerving atmosphere.

Storywise, I really like closing Mr. White’s character arc with poison, suicide, and his daughter falling in love with Bond: an assassin like he always was. It’s really quite poetic considering all that Vesper business in Casino Royale. As for the main object of Bond’s affection here, the ever-radiant Léa Seydoux turns in a magnetic performance as Madeleine Swann despite not being asked to do much. It’s also nice to see the franchise acknowledging both age and beauty with the casting of Monica Bellucci, who at the age of fifty became the oldest “Bond Girl” ever. The train fight between Bond and Hinx is intelligently staged including many references to the franchise’s best train fight in From Russia With Love, and something about Bond’s Aston Marin DB10 eject and nonchalant parachute landing on an amber-lit Roman street really does it for me.

In a much-maligned third act (which I agree is garbage), M, Q, and Moneypenny band together to assist Bond in taking down SPECTRE as a mole wreaks havoc from within MI6. We’ve never seen this gang of four operate in such coordinated harmony, and the whole “Scooby Gang” element of it all is a real thrill. Ralph Fiennes, Ben Wishaw, and Naomie Harris are all exemplary in Spectre, although I wish Moneypenny had a bit more to do.

The Lowlights

Following three excellent, albeit unorthodox, Bond films, Spectre was to be the film returning some semblance of Bond “normalcy” to the Craig era; the film that would finally allow Craig’s Bond to just be, well, Bond. Casino Royale gave us the origin story, Quantum Of Solace ventured into Bond’s heart of darkness, then Skyfall provided a rapturous return to the franchise’s classical form. It’s as close to the classic three-act structure as you can get. So, with the trilogy narrative closed, it stood to reason that Spectre would be free to let loose and have fun with the usual order of Bond operations: gun barrel sequence, cold open, titles roll, song plays, and we’re on our way. Spectre should have been a raucous celebration, what we got was a halfhearted head-scratcher.

Let’s start with the worst of things right up front: Spectre fucked up SPECTRE. Blofeld and SPECTRE had been absent from the franchise for over four decades, their final appearances taking place in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. The seemingly-endless legal battle with Kevin McClory’s estate, at last, concluded in 2013 and returned Bond’s greatest foes back into the mix. Fantastic news. Christoph Waltz was cast to follow in the footsteps of Donald Pleasence, Telly Savalas, and Charles Gray as the latest iteration of Blofeld, 007's archenemy. Promising news. The writers of Spectre then decided to retcon the events of Craig’s first three films all into one, convenient SPECTRE conspiracy. Turns out Quantum was just a subsidiary of SPECTRE and that Blofeld had been pulling the strings behind every villain, from Le Chiffre to Silva, that’s come before him…Concerning news. Oh, and the writers also made Bond and Blofeld adoptive brothers, effectively aping Austin Powers In Goldmember, the film that revealed Austin Powers and Dr. Evil, too, were brothers from another mother. Uh oh, bad news!

While not an inherently flawed idea, tying up Craig’s previous three films with a tidy, Blofeld-shaped bow just feels unearned. No matter how important the villain is to the franchise, reintroducing Blofeld as the “author” of all Bond’s pain takes away from what the previous three films were able to achieve without the iconic evildoer. Spoofing a spoof with a silly brother reveal just spoils Blofeld’s return altogether. It doesn’t help that no one seems to be that into it either. Craig broke his leg early on in the shoot and pressed on filming with a “bionic leg” instead of taking nine months off for surgery and rehab. The traumatic experience and constant fear of reinjury results in an absent, indifferent performance from Craig that’s antithetical to his usual full-minded presence. He was not having a good time getting through this film and that feeling is inevitably shared by the viewer.

Can we talk about Christoph Waltz for a second? I like him just fine, he’s a good actor, if not a tad one-dimensional, but something just doesn’t click with his Blofeld performance. Everything sounded great on paper, yet the execution never lives up to the conception. Maybe the writing let him down, or maybe the actor was just too famous to be seen as anything other than Christoph Waltz in a Blofeld costume. Either way, it’s a huge letdown. Speaking of letdowns, Sam Mendes had to be goaded into directing another film after Skyfall’s astronomical success, and he probably should have just gone out on top. Mendes’ direction in this film is technically sound but feels, just as Craig’s and Waltz’s performances do, like it’s going through the motions. There is a serious lack of energy and/or interest in the film from everyone involved in making it that creates a disconcerting feeling of apathy and despondency throughout Spectre. The film just doesn’t work, no matter how much it could or should have. And where the fuck is Felix?!?

Look, you put enough Bond films under your belt and you’re bound to put out a stinker; it’s just the way this franchise operates. It happened to Connery, it happened to Moore, it sure as hell happened to Brosnan, and not even the almighty Daddy Craig could be saved from the law of Bond below-averages.

The Impact

Even with all that said, Spectre still dominated the box office. Craig’s fourth Bond film is outpaced only by Skyfall in terms of unadjusted gross through the franchise, earning a whopping $880.7M worldwide. The critical response was not as kind. Spectre is the most poorly-received film of Craig’s run, with critics tending to agree with my assertion that the film is too long, too lifeless, and too much of a comedown from the highs of Skyfall. Worst of all offenses is that the film does too little with the shiny, returned toys of SPECTRE and Blofeld, the latter of which was handled too haphazardly.

Time has added an extra layer of morbid curiosity to my Spectre rewatches. Not quite a hate-watch, not quite an optimistic reappraisal, but an inevitable inquisition resulting in the same deflated conclusion time after time that his film simply isn’t any good. It’s a damn shame, and it came close to being a fizzled dud of an ending to the Daniel Craig Bond era after the actor infamously, and jokingly, said he’d rather slash his wrists than start thinking about the next Bond film right after Spectre wrapped. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, and Craig would return for one last film to send him off on his own terms…

Craig Ranking: 5th of 5

No Time To Die (2021)

Photo by 007.com

The Mission

James Bond and Madeleine Swann are on holiday together following the capture of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The couple’s romantic rendezvous is cut short, however, when Bond is ambushed by SPECTRE agents while visiting the tomb of his former lover, Vesper Lynd. Believing he was set up by the only woman he could trust, Bond puts Madeleine on a train in a fit of rage and cuts his ties. We jump forward five years, where Bond’s peaceful retirement in Jamaica is interrupted by the sudden arrival of his old friend Felix Leiter (!!!). Dr. Valdo Obruchev, an MI6 scientist responsible for developing a secret nanobot bioweapon named Heracles has been kidnapped, and Leiter believes SPECTRE is behind the alarming abduction.

Driven to action by his brother from Langley and the lingering threat of SPECTRE, Bond travels to Cuba and teams up with Paloma, another CIA agent working with Felix, to infiltrate a SPECTRE meeting and retrieve the stolen scientist. But this is no ordinary meeting: it’s a big ol’ birthday bash for SPECTRE’s beloved Blofeld, and Bond is to be celebratorily cut down in lieu of cake. Blofeld, from the cozy confines of Belmarsh Prison, unleashes Obruchev’s bioweapon in hopes of removing the Bond-shaped thorn from his side for good, but Obruchev has reprogrammed the nanobots to attack attending SPECTRE members instead, killing them all instantly.

Obruchev, it turns out, is in league not with SPECTRE but instead a man named Lyutsifer Safin: an intelligent and dangerous terrorist leader whose family was slain by Mr. White and SPECTRE. With a motivation to take down the organization responsible for his lost family, and a secret shared history with Madeleine, Safin blackmails Madeleine into helping him infect and kill the last SPECTRE chess piece on the board: Blofeld. Safin’s plan succeeds, albeit not in the way he plans, allowing him to move forward unfettered with his ultimate scheme. On a remote island far away from prying eyes, Safin has organized the mass production of the Hercales nano weapon, intending to unleash biological warfare on an unsuspecting global population.

With the doomsday clock ticking down toward armageddon, James Bond must give his all to stop the supervillain, protect those he loves, save the world, and finish the job. There’s just no time to die…

The Highlights

No Time To Die is one of the best Bond films ever made.

Do I have your attention? Good. Before we get into the heavy stuff, let me say up front that this is also the best-directed Bond film of all time. Director Cary Joji Fukanaga (the first American to direct a Bond film) and cinematographer Linus Sandgren deserve all the credit in the world for their artistically sophisticated approach to unique, interesting framings of familiar Bond trappings and dynamic, often quite visceral, camerawork throughout. I’ll go to bat for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or Skyfall any day of the week, but No Time To Die is on a whole other level in terms of direction.

In terms of tone, No Time To Die strikes a difficult balance between emotional heft and effervescent thrills. This is a classic Bond film in every sense of the word, but still feels updated and upgraded to fit within the modern Craig era. No Time To Die is what Spectre tried and failed to be: fun, yet harrowing, silly, yet sinister, familiar, yet fresh; thrilling, engaging, and exciting. And enough can’t be said about Daniel Craig’s performance. As a bookended companion piece to Craig’s debut Bond performance in Casino Royale, No Time To Die serves as not just a tribute, but a showcase of Craig’s singular ability to take this beloved character into unheard-of directions. He’s relaxed, loose, and visibly having a much better time than he was on Spectre. This is the performance of an actor finally at peace with his legacy…

Enough fucking about; you know where this is headed: James Bond dies at the end of No Time To Die. So many people have taken umbrage with this decision. A whole cavalcade of online critics, most of them probably one-time members of the anti-Craig collective, have come out of the woodwork to lambast the film’s decision to “kill Bond.” To hell with them. I truly don’t understand the backlash.

This final entry in Daniel Craig’s Bond run exists primarily to accomplish one thing: properly conclude Craig’s character arc. Casino Royale served as a true reboot of the franchise ushering in a new Bond timeline separate and distinct from the one that began with Sean Connery and ran through Pierce Brosnan’s Double-O tenure. For better or worse, Craig’s films were always concerned with telling one, continuous story. To that end, No Time To Die was tasked with the enormous burden of closing out this five-film character arc in a way that made sense to the four films prior and, most importantly, made sense to Daniel Craig’s James Bond. In my mind, No Time To Die pulled off this considerable feat with style, grace, and immense respect for Daniel Craig’s contributions to the franchise. No Bond actor has ever received such an impactful send-off and no Bond film, the last of an actor’s run or otherwise, culminates in a finale that is so stunningly effective and devastatingly affecting as the final act of No Time To Die.

In having the courage to close Craig’s narrative arc with a final, gut-wrenching sacrifice, No Time To Die excavated emotions within me that no other Bond film has come close to unearthing. Granted, it takes very little to move me to tears, but even as an easy, emotionally-vulnerable mark, No Time To Die’s ending absolutely destroyed me. It continues to destroy me. Remaining unspoiled and having the conclusion’s sobering wave of realization wash over me during my first viewing of the film is a feeling I won’t soon forget.

And it is because of the relationship I’ve built with Daniel Craig’s James Bond over fifteen years that my reaction was so earnest and resonant. We have twenty-five of these films now, and you know what? Bond makes it out alive in twenty-four of those adventures. People get so worked up over this film “breaking the one rule” of the franchise, but Craig’s run was always something other. He deserved to go out on his own terms, and that’s exactly what he does here. Daniel Craig’s James Bond goes out a hero knowing his sacrifice will save the world and save those he loves, allowing them to go on and lead a safe, happy life.

I entered my first No Time To Die screening prepared to say goodbye to Daniel Craig’s James Bond, but I didn’t expect to say goodbye quite like this. I didn’t expect Bond to die, and I probably would have bristled at the idea devoid of context. Yet it is that context, the context forged by Craig’s time in the role, that makes the idea work and makes the idea so entirely powerful and memorable.

James Bond will return, it just won’t be Craig’s Bond. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone claiming themselves a fan of this franchise.

The Lowlights

So, what was Safin’s plan all about again? I know, I know, we’re back to dissecting a plot/villain’s motivation probably best left undisturbed, it just seems like he went from creepy hopeful lover with a grudge to globally-genocidal madman awful quick. No Time To Die is also seventeen minutes short of three hours, by far the longest runtime for a Bond flick. I find the film to move with a fleet-footed pace that never quite feels its runtime, but some might bristle at the thought of perceived bloat, especially after Spectre.

Also, in a film propped up by so many ultra-talented women (Lashana Lynch as Nomi, Ana de Armas as Paloma, Léa Seydoux reprising her role as Madeleine Swann, and Lisa-Dorah Sonnet as Mathilde), it’s a damn shame Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny is once again given so little to do. Maybe it’s the curse of all Moneypennys to end up a mostly-absent desk jockey, but I really thought Harris’ performance in Skyfall would have set her up for greater contributions in future films.

Lastly, some might think David Dencik’s Dr. Valdo Obruchev to be a bit too campy for this film, or maybe seeming like he’s in a different film altogether, but I am just so charmed by his silliness. What can I say? I like animals.

The Impact

No Time To Die has quite quickly become one of the most divisive films in the James Bond franchise, for reasons I still don’t quite understand. But like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Licence To Kill, and Quantum Of Solace before it, Daniel Craig’s final film as 007 will age gracefully over time as the knee-jerk reactions fade away and the significance of Craig’s swansong fully sinks in.

Go back through the filmography and look at each Bond’s final film. I love Diamonds Are Forever, but a pudgy and shlubby Sean Connery was going through the motions in a film most rank toward the bottom of Bond experiences. Roger Moore’s figure wasn’t looking quite as bloated in A View To A Kill, but he most certainly looked every day of his fifty-seven years during another bottom-dwelling Bond entry. Timothy Dalton’s Licence To Kill was and is the lowest-grossing Bond film of all time, no matter how much of a cult following the film has cultivated in subsequent years, and Pierce Brosnan’s final chapter was fucking Die Another Day.

The picture I’m attempting to paint here is one of diminishing returns. Typically, Bonds don’t go out on top. Typically, a Bond actor’s final film is a sheepish exit making it easier for the audience to accept the actor they’ve grown accustomed to over the years is headed out the door. But Daniel Craig is no typical Bond.

Maybe it’s just the fact that No Time To Die is the latest Bond released, and that I’ve found myself more immersed in the greater Bond online community since starting my Battle of the Bonds, but I’ve found the amount of vitriol and fandom-fueled hatred for this film’s decision making to be utterly confounding. So many people, people you’d assume would have been made more sophisticated or mature through their appreciation of this franchise over the years, just can’t come to grips with its act of brave storytelling. Fans that claim to love these films have become so senselessly incensed by Bond’s sacrifice that they’re willing to discredit the entire Craig era as a failure for its willingness to take chances. Pathetic. Shame on you. It’s embarrassing. Stop it.

No Time To Die is made all the better by the way it breaks tradition, upends expected tropes, and carves a new path forward for the franchise. This film takes risks and innovates, but it does so with a keen sense of respect and acknowledgment for every film before it that helped make the franchise what it is today. Goldfinger exists, The Spy Who Loved Me exists, and I am eternally grateful that No Time To Die exists. We don’t need each film to go through the motions and try to recreate the glory days. We should celebrate the franchise’s continued ability to surprise us and provide new outliers. We should embrace a willingness to shake things up.

Craig Ranking: 2nd of 5

The Legacy

Daniel Craig at times came off as prickly, or standoffish, maybe even a bit ungrateful, during his time in the role of 007, but I think that all was a byproduct of the tireless effort he put into making his Bond the best it could be. He gave a shit about what ended up on the screen, and that’s really all you need from your Bond actor at the end of the day.

Now that his time with the franchise has come to an end, even Craig has become a bit sentimental in looking back at all he’s achieved as the world’s greatest super spy.

“A lot of people here worked on five pictures with me,” said Daniel Craig, still in his tux, during a tearful goodbye to the No Time To Die crew once filming on his final James Bond film officially wrapped. “I know there’s a lot of things said about what I think about these films…But I’ve loved every single second of these movies, and especially this one because I’ve got up every morning and I’ve had the chance to work with you guys. And that has been one of the greatest honours of my life.”

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson took a major risk casting Craig as the heir to the Bond throne, but they made that decision because they saw something in him that could help evolve the role and evolve the franchise. Craig, too, knew the risks involved.

“I did it knowing it would change my life,” Craig told The Hollywood Reporter, revealing his thought process in the lead-up to accepting the part. “I knew…that there would be no going back to who I was or what I was, either personally or professionally. And that was very, very, very scary. It felt like I was risking something…But the decision I made, at the end of the day, was that if I didn’t do it, I would regret it.”

Craig was a blonde character actor standing shorter than six feet that totally bombed the press conference announcing him as the latest actor to inhabit the role of James Bond. In hindsight, maybe all those anti-Craig weirdos had a point. But if Broccoli, Wilson, you, and I didn’t take a chance on Craig, we, too, would all regret it.

Paying homage to the history of the Bond franchise while moving the series forward is the most important job for each Bond actor. And Daniel Craig leaves Bond in a much better place than he found it.

Our beloved 007 has been contemporized and reconceptualized into a character we can champion rather than defend. No longer is Bond a misogynist dinosaur or a sexist pig, he is a human character that bleeds, cries, and feels. Bond has been revitalized, elevated, and recalibrated for the modern era by the sixth actor to portray him.

The seventh actor, whoever that may be, will be faced with the tall task of continuing Daniel Craig’s legacy and continuing the character’s progressive trend. I don’t envy whoever ends up attempting to fill these vacant shoes, but rest assured I will accept them with open arms and an open mind.

It’s the least we can do as Bond fans.

Only time will tell how Daniel Craig’s legacy as James Bond will evolve as we get further and further from his run, but no matter how fondly or cruelly the passage of time looks back on Craig, the impact he’s had on my life will forever remain the same.

Daniel Craig wasn’t my first Bond and he won’t be my last, but he will always be my Bond.

Photo by 007.com

BATTLE OF THE BONDS WILL RETURN IN

PART 007 // MISSION REPORT

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Asheville-based writer following the feel and chasing down wonder.

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Blake Matson Becker

Blake Matson Becker

Asheville-based writer following the feel and chasing down wonder.

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