Craig, Daniel Craig: How James Bond Was Reinvented

Ben Friedman

 

2002 marked a turning point for the James Bond franchise, as Die Another Day was the last installment to feature Pierce Brosnan as the titular spy. While his performance was well received, the film suffers due to an array of bad special effects and green screen, an invisible car, surfing down a glacier, and unfunny attempts at humor. Poorly received by critics and audiences alike, Die Another Day proved to be a financial success grossing $431 million at the box office. Yet, despite its success, audiences believed the studio no longer treated Bond seriously.

And in came franchises like Mission Impossible and Jason Bourne, capturing the high-octane action and globetrotting espionage without the cliches that plagued the Bond franchise. Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne felt less sleazy compared with Bond and his womanizing ways, making their characters, and by extension, their movies more likable. Their adventures and technology were grounded, making Bond movies appear cartoonish and unrealistic.

Brosnan’s suave performance as Bond seemed like the relic of a bygone era in spy movies. In rebooting James Bond, Eon Productions chose Daniel Craig to give an edge that the franchise lacked. Craig’s casting as the titular spy left some fans upset. Standing at 5’10” donning close-cropped blonde hair, Craig did not fit the look of the previous tall, dark-haired Bonds. Websites such as danielcraigisnotbond.com cited Craig’s disdain for guns, his height, and his “odd” facial structure as reasons that he was a bad fit for the role, leading to a petition calling for his firing. Indeed, Craig did not imitate the looks of the traditional Bond, and his demeanor differs as well.

 

 

Craig’s performance as James Bond is not outwardly charismatic. He presents himself as a colder, harsher Bond distrustful of the world. While previous installments saw Bond preventing the existential threat of a nuclear holocaust, Craig’s interpretations follow Bond in a post 9/11 world. The terror and feeling of danger are no longer hypothetical. The world is at war causing governments to enforce brutal tactics in the name of national security. Where previous iterations of James Bond depict him as a spy, Craig’s series presents him first and foremost as a weapon utilized by MI6. Bond accepts his role within MI6, never fully trusting the organization, his colleagues, and the world around him. His cynicism makes him see the worst in people.

In addition, as a physical performer, Craig relies on brute force and athleticism for the fight sequences. His combat style is not as elegant as other Bond iterations. Rather, Craig’s approach is more tactical and intense. Relying far less on gadgets and technology, Craig’s Bond is forced to fight in close combat allowing the action scenes to carry more weight. Throughout Craig’s films, Bond gets seriously injured, constantly getting beaten within an inch of his life. His talent as an assassin matches his demeanor as a person: cold and blunt. Yet beneath his stylish Tom Ford suits lie trauma and pain that make Craig’s Bond memorable.

Credit must be given to Craig for bringing new life to an already established icon of popular culture. Craig’s performances paint the portrait of a man psychologically scarred by violence. Craig’s gruffness and intensity modernize the character, while his snarky humor allows Bond to maintain moments of levity. A classically trained thespian, Craig’s acting skills elevate the performances of critically acclaimed actors such as Judi Dench, Mads Mikkelsen, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, and Christoph Waltz, while never overshadowing Bond’s character.

 

 

To modernize James Bond, Eon Productions and Craig focus on the psyche of 007. Craig’s first installment, Casino Royale, explores James Bond’s beginnings as a 00 agent for MI6. Craig’s Bond is not refined. He is stubborn and unruly. The suave lifestyle does not suit him; however, Casino Royale showcases the transformation into the more traditional Bond.

At its core, Casino Royale is a romantic tragedy. Bond falls in love with Vesper Lynd for whom he is willing to give up his life as a spy to settle down. Eva Green’s portrayal of Lynd is pitch perfect. Sporting a ferocious wit and mysterious allure, she matches Bond in his skills of seduction. So much so, that her ultimate betrayal of Bond is unexpected. Bond becomes an emotional wreck after being forced to watch the love of his life drown. He feels exploited and insignificant, leading to him developing a misogynistic attitude. At the end of Casino Royale, Bond utters, “The job’s done; the bitch is dead” masking his heartbreak with brazen chauvinism. At this moment, he isolates himself and pledges loyalty to only his country.

Craig’s portrayal of Bond examines the burden of possessing a license to kill. Haunted by the death of his lover, Bond seeks revenge. In Quantum of Solace, he is reckless and jeopardizes MI6’s missions, yet he denies his trauma. Ultimately, he realizes the unfulfilling nature of revenge. Quantum of Solace’s plot reflects Bond’s arc: meandering and unsatisfactory. Yet despite its failures, it captures the darkest portrayal of Bond in the series. Here, Bond forces away his trauma and pain in favor of the fleeting pleasures that come with sex, alcohol, and violence. Yet, in the final moment of the film, Bond drops his former lover’s necklace in the snow, symbolizing his acceptance of his life as a spy. Vesper Lynd’s death is merely the price of being 007. In accepting this, it leads to our usual Bond archetype.

 

 

Director Sam Mendes’ Skyfall and Spectre capture the maturation of Daniel Craig into that of Ian Fleming’s classic character. While Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace showcase a more brutal and relentless Bond, Mendes’s direction depicts a more physically restrained Bond. The action sequences are breezier. As Craig ages, so does Bond, and thus there is a reliance on more guns, gadgets, and intelligence behind his fighting style. The opening scene of Spectre showcases the evolution of Bond’s combat. Mendes makes it a point to film Craig walking for the first few minutes of the action sequence. Juxtaposed with the parkour opening sequence in Casino Royale, we see Bond’s experience as his movements are more elegant and purposeful in comparison. He takes out multiple of his targets at long range; he uses vehicles instead of running to preserve energy for hand-to-hand combat. As such, Bond transforms into a David-like figure. Despite age slowing him down, Bond’s cleverness allows him to battle Goliath-like threats such as Dave Bautista’s Hinx.

Mendes’s installments blend the brutality of the previous two Craig films with the tropes of the classical interpretation of Bond. Along with his reliance on gadgets, his charm is prevalent. He seduces and beds multiple women in these two installments, yet how Mendes frames these sequences stands in contrast to previous Bond films. Craig’s performance is more predatory by design. For example, Severine, the Bond girl in Skyfall, is a victim of sexual enslavement. Despite knowing this, Bond enters her shower without consent and the two have sex. The direction of this scene echoes a similar scene in Casino Royale, where Bond enters a shower to comfort a visibly shaken Vesper Lynd. While Lynd and Severine both become Bond’s lovers, their initial heartfelt moments with Bond play out differently. Bond forms a connection with Vesper Lynd, whereas Severine is merely his latest fling. Severine, like Lynd, dies in front of Bond, but her death has no emotional impact on him. He simply responds by saying, “a waste of a good scotch.” In doing so Mendes illustrates that Bond is not a hero, but a severely flawed and damaged individual.

Yet, while Mendes brilliantly showcases an aging and callous Bond, it often feels as if his sequels learned the wrong lessons from Craig’s first outing. Both Mendes’s films explore the origins of James Bond, making the story beats feel repetitive to that of Casino Royale. Taking Ernst Blofeld, one of the most notorious villains in Bond’s lexicon, and making him James’s adoptive brother feels like a bridge too far. Suddenly, it takes this globetrotting franchise with a massive scale and makes it far too central to the main character.

 

 

As Craig’s tenure comes to an end, No Time to Die marks a turning point in the character of James Bond. With his career behind him, Bond is reclusive, but finds himself brought back to MI6 due to a mysterious villain threatening to destroy the world. Craig’s finale, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, explores Bond at his most vulnerable. Lea Seydoux returns as Dr. Madeleine Swann, Bond’s love interest in the previous installment. Following the events of Spectre, Bond’s insecurities lead him to abandon Swann. Five years later, their paths once again cross, forcing Bond to explore the unresolved trauma that led him to make that decision. Craig’s performance exudes feelings of regret and remorse for his actions.

Yet, within the grimness of No Time to Die, the humor comes as greater relief. The final installment feature’s the franchise’s best use of humor. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a featured screenwriter for the film. English comedian, writer, and creator of the hit comedy series Fleabag, she brings her comedic sensibilities to the writing of the film. Paired with Knives Out actress Ana de Armas as a clumsy but capable CIA agent, the two add much needed comedic levity to the story. The sequence in Cuba featuring Armas’s character is a great example of merging the grittiness of Craig’s iterations, with the lighthearted, campiness of the traditional Bond films. The hiring of Waller-Bridge could indicate a change in tone for the future installments with a greater emphasis on adventure espionage mixed with a more upbeat tone.

The classical Bond movies in comparison to Craig’s iterations seem like products of their time. The suave promiscuous heroes presented in the previous installments feel outdated. In modernizing Bond, filmmakers were chosen for their ability to tell human-centric stories. The directors for Craig’s outings: Campbell, Forster, Mendes, and Fukunaga come from indie-drama backgrounds. This allowed them to craft emotionally centered dramas amid the big action set pieces. In doing so, they allowed Bond to feel more grounded and relatable. For the first time in 50 years, James Bond did not just appear like the world’s greatest and coolest super spy, but he actually felt human.

Author Bio:

Ben Friedman is a freelance film journalist and a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine. For more of his reviews visit bentothemovies.com, his podcast Ben and Bran See a Movie, or follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube: The Beniverse.

 

For Highbrow Magazine

 

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