The Legacy of Daniel Craig’s James Bond

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Before Daniel Craig arrived, James Bond hadn’t made sense for years. That’s not just because the character’s original conception — a borderline sadist who used and discarded women while eating elaborate meals, drinking to excess, and smoking constantly — felt increasingly out of time as the 20th century turned into the 21st. It’s because Bond fans could be driven to the brink of madness trying to connect one film to the next. A new actor would take over as Bond from time to time, but it was unclear whether or not the Bond of the moment and the Bonds of the past shared the same history. Why did some of the supporting cast remain consistent and others did not? Is it any wonder why a fan theory that “James Bond” was just a codename caught on in some corners?

The Craig films, which culminate this year with the fifth film in his cycle, No Time to Die, have treated both Bond’s retrograde personality and tangled continuity as problems that needed solving. They’ve addressed the former without making Bond fundamentally un-Bondian, emphasizing the toughness of his character and the emotional toil of the job rather than, say, his tendency to leer at every woman who crosses his path. And they’ve tried to smooth out the snarls of James Bond continuity while telling a multi-part story with a distinct beginning, middle, and seemingly definitive end.

It’s been a thoughtful overhaul filled with bold choices. But was it successful? Has Bond emerged from his turn-of-the-century transformation newly relevant? Did the attempt at making individual entries part of a bigger story work? To find answers here at the end involves first going back to the beginning.

When Casino Royale hit theaters in 2006, it earned comparisons to the then-fledgling Bourne franchise, and understandably so, given that it took cues from those films’ grittier approach to action — emphasizing tough, intense, sometimes bloody scenes of combat over effects-driven set pieces. The Bourne films were viewed at first as the anti-Bonds, an answer to the excesses—like, say, an ice palace or an invisible car—of the later Pierce Brosnan films.


Photograph courtesy Everett Collection: Collage by Gabe Conte



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