Please put down your SPECTRE-issued flamethrowers and hear me out. One man's opinion is not going to do any damage to your modern-day vision of a perfect 007 world with Daniel Craig centered at its axis -- though it may just break the spell you're under...
First off, I like Daniel Craig. I liked him in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Road to Perdition. He's great in roles as someone's love interest or as a rough and tough guy whose real intentions are not at first understood. I like the quirky fact that he's a Star Trek fan who wants to someday have a role in the franchise1. I also like the fact that he's worked on stage with another favorite actor of mine, Hugh Jackman, which makes perfect sense because they're of similar character -- only that Wolverine is perfectly portrayed.
In 1998, both HMSS and The Sherlock Holmes Reader 2 published an article I wrote, Interpretation of the Portrait, which explored and compared the different actor renderings of James Bond and Sherlock Holmes. Without reiterating the aspects of the entire article, it all boiled down to this: these character portrayals typically go through a process of metamorphosis throughout the years; starting with the Model, then Anti-Model, then Resurrected Model, and finally a melding of the actor/character becoming personified as the New Model. Even when the faces of the actor and social attitudes change, the core traits that structure the character still exist to keep the character identifiable.
In the MGM/UA James Bond films history, we've seen: Connery (Model), Moore (Anti-Model), Dalton (Resurrected), and Brosnan (New Model), respectfully leaving out George Lazenby due to his one-off portrayal, which is excellent but sadly too short to qualify. Each portrayal, though different, still had a centralized list of character traits contained within: a good, confident and loyal professional secret agent for Her Majesty's Secret Service that, even when strayed due to personal vendetta, always fought for Queen and Country at his base core of values and did so with class and sophistication and never like a raging madman.
A Characters' Character
Here's an example of the character traits one could come up with for James Bond:
The end result is the further a person is able to go with this exercise the better the character creation. Eventually one could create a list that most people would guess right away that it's James Bond that you're describing without ever saying “Vodka martini, shaken not stirred” “secret agent” or “license to kill”.
However, now with the inclusion of the latest two films, we can now add trait words like:
*sorry, couldn't resist the jab!
If one was to include those new character traits into the previously defined trait list, would it be easier to come to the conclusion that the character is JAMES BOND? The new, combined list is more descriptive to match any action character that Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood or Sylvester Stallone has portrayed or to what used to be regarded in the past as a hard-boiled detective. John McClane is no James Bond. Rambo is no James Bond. Sam Spade is no James Bond. Just because he wears a tux, it doesn't make him James Bond. It's only a generic action figure wearing a tux.
James Bond is (NOT) Back!
If we could get inside the heads of the current producers of the Bond films we could see a thought process that follows along certain logic paths:
This isn't the first time the film producers took a chance on making Bond a more edgy character. Timothy Dalton was ushered into the world of James Bond as a “modern Bond” starting with the film The Living Daylights . Compare these critical reviews of Dalton and The Living Daylights with today's Craig and Casino Royale:
“The casting of Timothy Dalton as James Bond in this 15th entry into the adventures of 007 is widely considered a classic mistake: Dalton isn't suave like Sean Connery or even Roger Moore.”Interesting analysis -- Dalton makes for a poor James Bond because he's not suave and he's humorless. This leads to question: Is Craig's Bond character suave -- meaning polished, polite, courteous and sophisticated? A raged, sweaty thug readily comes to mind. And Dalton's character was “deficient” in humor? Get a load of Craig's James Bond, Mr. Ebert; he's just bursting at the seams with chuckles.
Looking back, I enjoyed Dalton's portrayal, not just because of it being edgier but mainly because coming directly off of retiring Roger Moore's long portrayal, the character had become much like a goofy and aloof caricature of Bond. It was starting to stray away from the core traits of the character so it was a welcomed treat for a change.
Their names are Bond, James Bond
Back in the early 1990's the creators of this website along with other acquaintances of ours discussed an interesting plot device that would help explain to the viewers why the Bond character looked differently throughout the film series. It was the idea that the name “James Bond” was only a code name for the agent that was currently number “007”. An interview with the director of Die Another Day, Lee Tamahori, said that he also thought of including this gimmick into his film. (Maybe he reads HMSS?) Interestingly, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, the Bond series screenwriters since 1999, refuted the idea and stated, "We don't believe Bond is just a transferable codename and don't like the idea at all. Bond is a character, a special individual, who happens to have been played by different actors."3 OK. Fair enough. But then what explains the character's change of character and attitude? If the film makers allowed a different person with different character traits to move into the role of Code Name: James Bond then there would be no need for this article to be written.
Bonds character traits are well established and none are as loose and extreme as to be persuaded by what the current sociological mood is at the time of the adventure. I'm certain that like most people, when you're angry, your desire is to be made happy or at least some form of not-angry. In the past when Bond got mad, we the audience became invigorated by the sight of justice being done, not just because the explosions were really big or that the violence was over the top with fury and rage.
To quote Mr. Craig: “The question I keep asking myself while playing the role is, ‘Am I the good guy or just a bad guy who works for the good side?' Bond's role, after all, is that of an assassin when you come down to it. I have never played a role in which someone's dark side shouldn't be explored. I don't think it should be confusing by the end of the movie, but during the movie you should be questioning who he is.” 4
Why should the audience have to question who Bond is? Most viewers already know who Bond is, and it's because of this is why audiences continue to watch these James Bond films for close to 50 years. If we as an audience have to start questioning a well established characters motive, are we really observing the SAME character anymore? Just give him a different name and move on into a new franchise. Perhaps one that is even better than James Bond. Doubtful though, but at least it would be an attempt at something brand new.
Elsewhere in Casino Royale we see Bond again running and jumping on top of fuel trucks and then falling off of said fuel trucks all while on an airport runway in a sequence specifically created to add more thrills, excitement and explosive ‘ka-boom' factors that blowed-up real good. So it begs to question- Why didn't Bond just light his Aston Martin on fire and ram it full speed into Auric Goldfinger's laser lab in Goldfinger? Or just shoot a shoulder-launched missile at Emilio Largo's Disco Volanti in Thunderball? Or just take the Russian Lektor decoding device for his own self interest because he's holding a grudge against MI6 and 'M' for making him work hard? Because he would not be James Bond if he did. Those actions are not in tune with the character's traits.
Vesper Lynd, Bond's main squeeze in the story, is killed. In the original story Bond sums up the event by announcing to 'M', “The bitch is dead”. The reader can infer from this that this is his way of internalizing his agony while keeping his focus on what comes along with the job of being a secret agent- people, good and bad, will die through the course of his actions and involvement. Later in the original stories Bond will fall prey to a lust for revenge, the difference being that Ernst Stavro Blofeld really had it coming to him after not only the death of Bond's wife but after many attempt s to foul his evil plans on a global scale. Because the films are typically not a continuing story, by viewing Casino Royale as is, it appears that the character of Bond cannot handle someone close to him dying and immediately seeks revenge like a lunatic and not the man that believed “it was his duty to be as cool about death as a surgeon.” 5
Quantum of Malice
In this erratically paced film, we have Bond still making decisions based on emotions rather than on intelligence. His actions are more on par with an evil henchman who head-butts his way through the story in a charmless, crass manner that exudes no air of confidence. It's also an odd ‘buddy cop' style of a story involving 'M' as a fellow interrogator, acting more like an equal partner with Bond rather than his superior. Remember when the stoic 'M' used to be in charge of ALL of the “00” agents? Sitting mightily behind his desk in his office with the entry indicator lights above the thick leather-covered door? Yeah. I guess that was dumb and needed “modernizing” as well.
In regard to Dame Judi Dench's portrayal of 'M', I liked the change to an older woman in GoldenEye. I thought at the time that the change was unnecessary but welcomed it nonetheless. She also worked well with Pierce Brosnan's Bond as they held a mutual respect for each other all the while knowing that the one couldn't pull the wool over each other's eyes. Truly wonderful and important scenes with Bond's bureaucratic boss who has so much more important responsibilities at hand than to follow one agent into the field just to acquire more frequent flyer miles. If people didn't know already, the character of was originally a man that Bond had the utmost respect for. Deep down, 'M' was Bond's father figure who had people at hand to accompany Bond on interrogations if needed.
So in a story that deals with water and oil, it also does not mix. We see 'M' not trusting Bond (again) because he's a lunatic that murders anyone without regard of the need to interrogate them for valuable information. She truly acts like the “Mother” of a deranged child, constantly making excuses for his bad actions because she loves and pities him. MI6 must really be hurting for sane people to become agents lately. Better get some comfortable shoes, 'M', or just put this one out of your misery and be done with him.
In between the hyperactive editing of over-the-top and violent for violent-sake fight scenes, we screech to a halt with slow, whisper-quiet scenes that pretend to be important to the convoluted story of a secret organization of the most boring people on the planet that give up their anonymity at the snap of a finger. Bolivian water control is their prize. The film contains rip-off visuals from good Bond films in the past in a manner more insulting in use than in homage (boat chase, dead girl painted in oil on bed). It's a strange decision by the film makers to include these visuals because they've tried very hard to make the film look non-Bondian, even to place the famous gun barrel sequence and Bond theme music at the very end of the film. The point in doing that escapes all reason and it literally made me hit the stop button on the DVD player in disgust and dust off my old VHS copy of Moonraker .
Will it be Everything Or Nothing?