The character is so one dimensional that he could be nearly faceless. As it’s been said, he is just the guy pulling a trigger, a blunt instrument. Ian Fleming himself sought to create a totally uninteresting character, devoid of personality where things just happened to him. He even gave him, what he thought was a boring name, originating from an ornithologist. Yet, for all his base, the character has evolved with every film, in five decades. He has never been boring or faceless on screen. Here now, a look at the ongoing evolution of Bond, James Bond. Be careful. Spoilers ahead.
Sean Connery (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and Diamonds Are Forever. Six films, not counting the Non-Eon Film: Never Say Never Again)
Connery was all gruff and misogynistic, a caveman of class, but it was enough to get the Bond girls out of their clothes. His physical style was more brute force, a blunt instrument like Fleming's description. He quipped and straightened a cuff link, but he was definitely not the most cerebral of the Bonds. He’d just assume slap a woman for being obstinate. In the 60s, the sexual revolution was still forming and for a while, Bond’s ways were tolerable, if not applauded.
George Lazenby (One film: On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
Lazenby didn’t have enough time to develop a character. He won the part basically by punching out the stunt coordinator during the audition. The producers wanted someone who put forth an air of sexual confidence and assurance, but his brief marriage and loss of his wife proved to be a more intriguing part of the Bond mythos. After all, he showed up in a kilt and got married, something no Bond had probably ever done before or since.
Roger Moore (Live and Let Die, The Man With the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, and A View To a Kill. Seven films total.)
Moore was more regal and suave, sexy through chivalry, in a way. His one dark turn, kicking a villain’s car off the side of a cliff, essentially killing him in cold blood was somewhat out of character but justified. Moore’s Bond would normally have played by the Queen’s rules, giving the villain a sporting chance.
Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights and License To Kill. Two films.)
Dalton was somewhat human and softened in a way. Some will argue his Bond was more violent and action driven. They’ll say his Bond was darker than previous and that could be true, but it comes from a sense of character. His psyche was conflicted and it humanized him a bit. He was the more evolved and sensitive kind of Bond, in a way. He was probably the most realistic Bond to date. His bro-mance with Felix Leiter in License to Kill was apparent of this.
Pierce Brosnan (Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day. Four films total.)
Brosnan was called a dinosaur in his first outing by a, now, female M. He was a relic of the Cold War which had ended since Dalton wore the tux. This was a more PC world in the 90s and was no more evident in the dynamic between Judi Dench’s M and Brosnan’s Bond discussing his masculinity and perhaps even safe sex in this time of love and AIDS. Brosnan’s physical presence was a combination of past Bonds. He was capable of the physical demands of the character, but gave the role a more debonair, analytical approach. He could kill you with a gun or fight you to the death, but he’d just assume beat you tactically with his brain. Usually, his good fortune was sprung from luck, the right gadget, or timing. He was cool, calm, and collective. Looking back on the first film, it still holds up well in terms of believability, however, as the the films went on, it became increasingly silly that he could outlive any scenario he was a part of, including the silly Die Another Day paragliding on a wave. But beyond all that, he also looked to have the most fun playing Bond. I viewed Brosnan’s Bond as a kid getting to play the greatest character ever. It was Christmas for him.
Daniel Craig (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall. Three films so far. Reported that he signed on for two more.)
I admit it. When Brosnan left and Craig was named, I was skeptical. He’s blond, blue-eyed, and only 5’ 10”. The shortest Bond was Timothy Dalton at 6’0”. The Bonds have gotten successively shorter throughout the series. I wasn’t a fan of Dalton, even though I watched the films. I grew up on Roger Moore and only saw Connery in Never Say Never Again or repeats of the earlier films during the holiday showings of the 13 Days of Bond on TBS. So, I went into Casino Royale… part reboot, part adaptation, part sequel, with a lot of concerns.
Then the song came out. Grunge doing Bond? Soundgarden’s front man doing a Bond song? WTF?!?! We had Shirley Manson and that was near awful but appropriate voice and styling for a theme song. However, this? How could EON recast this Bond and hire this singer? This will be awful, I thought. Then, I listened to the song and watched the trailer. I was more psyched than ever. Then, I saw Casino Royale in the theater. I was blown away. Not only had CR erased the stain of Die Another Day, it gave the franchise a much needed shot in the arm… or jolt to the heart, as it were.
Then, Quantum of Solace got mired in the bureaucracy of a writers’ strike, as if SPECTRE held the world ransom, demanding payment or else the world would never see another Bond film. Even though it was a financial success, most agree it is the worst of the three Craig films and probably in the bottom five of all Bond films, alongside Die Another Day and Diamonds are Forever.
What we do get with each successive Craig outing is a very different, more updated Bond. Craig’s Bond is one that is overall more physical. We’ve come to the point in film technology where special effects and CGI can cover a lot more than it did when Connery would drive a car with a movie screen in the background showing a rear view scene. Sure there is plenty of double work, but Dalton, Brosnan, and Craig did do a lot of their own stunt work. I would venture to say, however, that Craig’s Bond is clearly in the best shape. He runs in nearly every film. Hell, he almost does friggin’ Parkour in Casino Royale’s chase through Madagascar. As far as Bonds go, he also gets the most bloody. His face takes most of the damage, it seems. A piece of trivia: Skyfall is only the second time Bond has sustained a gunshot wound since Thunderball.
Craig’s Bond is also the most damaged of them all. He is a Bond that, even though is new to being a 00 agent, seems to exhibit some form of PTSD. I’m not sure if it was already there or if the death of Vesper and the torture scene leads to it. He basically loses the taste for death, even though he is a harbinger of it in the form of dead female bodies along the way. While QoS was more about bringing down the SPECTRE and SMERSH like group called Quantum, but it’s more about Vesper. It’s vengeance. It’s retribution disguised as job task.
By Skyfall, he clearly lives for death, perhaps even his own, as is seen in the opening scene. Whether his wounds lead to his dependence on painkillers and alcohol, or his feelings of betrayal from M and MI6, Craig’s Bond looks more like a soldier, unable to reintegrate into society after combat.
When Bond does return, he is pretty messed up. He’s dependent on booze and pills, his skills are off and he’s still damaged. But he’s the best there is. He gets cleared for duty by M, who is the cause of all this mess. So, Bond it is.
Now, he has to save the one person who hung him out to dry, M. M is the one woman in his life, that is consistently around, since there’s no Moneypenny…. *cough* yet. M is the closest thing he has to a stable anchor in this world. The closest thing he has to a mother. That’s the new twist on Craig’s Bond, his childhood. We learn he was orphaned at a young age, recruited by MI6 due to his parental status. It’s not supposed that Dench’s M is the only M, since Ralph Fiennes takes over and we hear in Dench’s first turn mentions of previous Ms. However, this M’s portrayal is different than Dench’s M in the Brosnan era. Dench and Brosnan played it as an unwilling, yet necessary partnership between a successful and high ranking female in the 90s and a male subordinate, who is an HR nightmare, yet continues to be the best performer in the office. With Craig, the relationship transcends one of necessity and appears to be a grooming or a nurturing… I could envision Bond hanging out in M’s office during the day while all the other employees toil away at their desks, jealous of the preferential treatment. Yet, he still infuriates her. It’s almost become comical how he breaks into her home.
There is a devil behind blue eyes in Craig’s Bond. He is nothing, if not serious, but the comedy from Craig’s delivery comes from a more acerbic and sarcastic place. It’s very rooted in the humor landscape of the last 10 years. Connery’s humor was very simple, he was the straight man reacting to the funny things around him. There was a playfulness to it, but he wasn’t over the top in making quips. Most of the time he was reacting to Q’s idiosyncrasies or the names of his Bond girls. Moore was more of a English gentleman. There is double entendre or tongue in cheek humor to Moore’s humor. His facial expressions tell the joke, almost breaking fourth wall convention. Was Dalton funny? I kid. I really don’t pay a lot of tribute to Dalton who was probably the closest to Flemming’s description of James Bond. Brosnan was very jovial in his humor, very puckish. Craig is more devious and delinquent. Rascally in his mischief.
There you have it, my takes on each of the Bonds. Coming up next time, a look at the evolution of the villain.