With the release of “Skyfall”, James Bond films will have graced our cinema screens for half a century, enduring several wars, the fall of Empires and countless similar cinematic contemporaries. Through five decades, Bond has remained resilient, the end credits always promising his return. How has he endured such a lengthy career?
In 1962, after numerous attempts by various entities (an entire separate article is needed for the various ‘unofficial’ James Bond movies), author Ian Fleming’s James Bond was finally, gloriously injected onto the big screen in “Dr. No”. For the first film, producer Cubby Broccoli thought it best to veer away from the traditional, stereotypical Englishman of Hollywood (Cary Grant, David Niven, etc) and went with the relatively unknown Scottish character actor Sean Connery. The logic behind this was that Connery’s rugged toughness defied the refined qualities Bond was supposed to embody in the novels. He looked and sounded peculiar and different, and yet recognisable in a real-world setting. Middle-class men and (more importantly) women could identify with this bulldog-looking man as an everyday truck driver or dock worker. The relatability of Sean Connery transported the burgeoning middle-class of the Western World into a world of danger, beauty and adventure. Sean Connery was not a heart-throb, he was a sex symbol who showed people how glamorous Capitalist life could be; something very new and exciting for the world of 1962. This is how the James Bond phenomenon began, and why for many people Connery will always be the best of them all.
By the time you get into the (admittedly extremely entertaining) Roger Moore era and films like “Moonraker”, the now-deceased Ian Fleming was probably spinning madly in his grave at how far the films had strayed from his original world of cloak-and-dagger espionage. After Moore’s long tenure of 12 years, the series once again attempted a return to the Fleming-style in the two films of Timothy Dalton. Timothy Dalton more than any other actor thus far embodied the true three-dimensionality of the literary Bond, but the actor was trapped in films that never really catered for his unique portrayal and never gave him the style he deserved (although “Licence to Kill” is an awesome 80s action movie). “GoldenEye” is perhaps the most fondly-remembered film of this generation, with Pierce Brosnan heralding another return to the ‘business as usual’ formula of gadgets, babes and set-pieces, with at least some consideration for the humanity of Bond and the changing political atmosphere (indeed ‘GoldenEye’ deals quite heavily with Bond’s relevance in a liberated, post-Communist world). Nevertheless, Brosnan’s performance, while loved by many, never really brought anything new to the table; he was the “Greatest Hits” Bond, a Roger Moore 2.0 where (with the exception of GoldenEye) the attempts at giving Bond a human character-arc usually just resulted in his girlfriend dying or double-crossing him. He was a really fun Bond to grow up with, but when watching his films alongside that which came before, he does pale a bit in comparison.
At last we arrive at Daniel Craig, current holder of the coveted torch. Craig’s peculiar looks drew moans of disdain from many a dissenter, who forgot that Connery wasn’t really that good-looking in 1962, either. These voices were silenced by Craig’s mammoth performance in the absolutely outstanding “Casino Royale”, which brought Fleming’s creation roaring back to life after lying dormant since the Dalton era. Craig embodies the style and cocksure swagger of Sean Connery, but outweighs him in the acting department, finally giving audiences the human Bond we’ve longed for. The confused hiccup that was “Quantum of Solace” was almost single-handedly saved by Craig once again owning every last aspect of the role. Bond’s latest outing “Skyfall” promises to remind us what we loved so much about “Casino Royale”, but is also keen to relive some of the elements that made the now 50-year old franchise so enduring (Q makes a welcome return, for example). With an outstanding cast (Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes as well as regulars Craig and Dame Judi Dench) and director Sam Mendes’ emphasis on pleasing lifelong fans of the enduring series, there’s little doubt in the minds of Bond fans worldwide that we’re in for another hit. Here’s to James Bond’s return.