Craig’s legacy: Breaking the Bond

Daniel Craig in a scene from No Time To Die. (Nicola Dove / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)</p>


Opinion



No Time to Die ends with the melancholy confirmation that Daniel Craig’s run as 007 is over, after five films that attempted to redefine the British superspy for the 21st century. The James Bond we’ve come to know in the last 15 years will not be renewing his license to kill, even as the familiar line at the end of the credits promises that “James Bond will return.”

Because Craig’s brand of Bond now feels iconic, it might be hard to remember that when his casting was announced back in 2005, the then-37-year-old Brit was an unpopular choice.

Bond fans called Craig too ugly, too crude, too short, too blond. There were unkind comparisons to Shrek. There were rumours he couldn’t drive stick.

As it turns out, Craig’s Bond handled his manual-transmission vintage Aston Martin just fine. He looked good in his Tom Ford-tailored dinner jacket. He looked even better out of his Tom Ford-tailored dinner jacket. He managed to appear nonchalant even when covered with blood and dust, which was often.

Craig combined cool competence with an edge of unpredictability, bringing an intriguing, unstable mixture of vulnerability and residual thuggishness to the role. He was a convincing and charismatic presence, connecting 007 to the franchise’s stylish past while dragging Bond – sometimes reluctantly – into a more complicated, emotionally complex era.

Craig, whose earlier TV and film projects (Our Friends in the North, Love is the Devil, Sylvia, Enduring Love, The Mother) often involved challenging, offbeat roles, brought a lot of dramatic heft to the character. While the long-running franchise has always relied on recurring elements, most individual Bond movies stand alone. Craig’s five-film run had more connective tissue, with overarching narratives and even some tortured attempts to probe Bond’s inner life.


Daniel Craig in a scene from No Time To Die. (Nicola Dove / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

The films haven’t always matched their protagonist.

Casino Royale (2006) is the best of the bunch. Turning its back on cartoony excesses like invisible cars and surfable tsunamis, Craig’s debut Bond film balances escapist entertainment with a new level of grit and ground-level violence.

Later installments, like the murky, mopey Quantum of Solace (2008), overcorrected too much, losing sight of the fact that maybe Bond movies should be at least a little fun.

The franchise struggled to find convincing enemies, not sure whether to explore actual geopolitical realities or just default to evil geniuses. (As Judi Dench’s M would say, “God, I miss the Cold War.”)

And scripters and directors couldn’t quite decide what to do with the Bond legacy, which had always been, in some sense, a wild overcompensation for Britain’s waning world power in the postwar period. Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015) really lean into the decline of empire, with MI6 hiding out in Churchill’s wartime bunker, worrying about obsolescence in this new transnational world and waxing nostalgic about the old days.

The movies also chart Bond’s own personal crisis. While M in Casino Royale worries that Bond might be a stone-cold sociopath, the later movies are concerned that he might be breaking down as he finally confronts the nature of his work and its cumulative weight of violence and isolation. In Skyfall, an MI6 psychiatrist suggests that Bond is dealing with “unresolved childhood trauma,” something you can’t imagine anyone saying about Sean Connery. The film explores unexpectedly heavy themes of loss and regret, decay and age. A spy’s life involves so much “running and jumping,” Bond’s nemesis Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) remarks. “Hard on the knees.”

Hard on the heart, too, even as Craig’s Bond makes his messy way toward some kind of genuine emotional life. It still remains easier for Bond to love dead — or otherwise unavailable — women than real, live, standing-next-to-him women, but something significant has shifted in the Bond universe.

Here’s the proof: No Time To Die finds James taking part in a risky car chase with a child’s safety seat in the back. This is not something that would have sounded remotely possible even 15 years ago, but Craig, convincingly tough but rather touchingly tender, somehow makes it work.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

   Read full biography



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