Ah, Mr Bond. I’ve been expecting you. Please, make yourself comfortable. We are going to take a little journey into the shadows together.
To the world of international espionage, where intrigue and gadgetry go hand in hand with fast cars, even faster women and a licence to thrill.For in this territory, long stalked by our Mr Bond with a Walther PPK in one hand and a shaken-not-stirred martini in the other, something fundamental has changed.Something in the rippling form of a man who, after only three films, is being hailed as the best James Bond of all time. Can this possibly be true? After much reflection, including poring over strategic photographs, watching a preview of the new Bond film Skyfall and loving every single palpitating minute of it, I think the answer has to be a resounding, foot-stomping, spy-tastic yes.
For the name is Craig. Daniel Craig. And when he first stepped up to play Bond in Casino Royale six years ago, many thought he would never do justice to the role. Who was this guy that everyone called Mr Potato Head? Where was his smoky glamour, his upper-class polish, his suave and debonair 007 credentials? In addition to all this, he had fair hair, a heinous crime. A blond Bond? It was unthinkable.And he was from the Wirral, for God’s sake.
Even before Casino Royale was released, the criticisms came thick and fast, like pot shots from an evil henchman’s firearm.Craig’s ears were too far down his head, like a mouse. In some of his first Bond publicity shots, he looked like an elf in a dinner jacket.The portents were not good. Lightning cracked across the Bond sky, Rosa Klebb polished up her poison-tipped shoes as diehard fans prayed for Austin Powers, for the return of Pierce Brosnan, even for old George Lazenby himself to creak across the screen once more! Anyone but the upstart Craig. Now, three films later, the truth can be denied no longer. Daniel Craig has been an absolute sensation as James Bond.
For me and many others, he is indeed the best Bond ever.In the shadow of his thrillingly intense portrayal of the super spy, all the others fade into weary insignificance.Consider the evidence. A post-coital Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me, quipping to a superior that he was ‘keeping ‘the British end up, sir’.Pierce Brosnan telling his lover Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) in The World Is Not Enough that he thought ‘Christmas only comes once a year’.
Sean Connery whizzing around on a jet pack in Thunderball.It all became so embarrassing. It was all so corny. However, in Daniel Craig’s hands, 007 is no longer a joke; no more the smirking throwback with an exploding Parker pen in his blazer pocket and a girl on his arm called Knickers Ahoy.Craig’s depiction of the MI6 agent makes the spy a contemporary, decent, but properly dangerous operative, one with a chip of ice lodged deep in his heart.
In Skyfall, we see a new side to Bond, one that is initially world weary, embattled and fraying at the edges — perhaps a reflection of the state of the country he serves?Bond is at a point where his past meets his future and all his years of crashing around the world battering villains and fighting evil have taken their toll. A dark realism prevails.
Is he now a one-man anachronism in a world of cybercrime and international terrorism? No. ‘Every now and then, a trigger has to be pulled,’ is how he puts it, almost with sadness.In all three films to date, Craig has somehow managed to imbue the spy with a raw physicality tinged with vulnerability — making millions of women interested in and intrigued by James Bond for the first time ever. Not just because of the pre-shrunk budgie-smugglers he wore striding across the beach in Casino Royale, although to be absolutely honest, that did help.
It is more that, for once, Bond’s lady-killer reputation is justified and convincing; women actually believe that women actually would fall for him. Whatever the circumstances.And — a step forward for the Bond franchise — women characters are treated differently in the Craig-era Bond films. Hurrah for that. No longer are the chicks mere ciphers for sex; glamourpusses in plunge-front cat suits, shoehorned into the plot because they either want to kill Bond or go to bed with him. Pussy Galore, Plenty O’Toole, Xenia Onatopp and Holly Goodhead? Be gone with you, girls, there is no room for you in the new caring, sharing regime.
Today’s Bond girls are partners, helpmeets, colleagues to Bond — and yes, sometimes his lovers, too. In Skyfall, Bond even appears to have consolation sex with one character, perhaps to cheer her up as she heads towards certain doom.What can I say? It would work for a lot of us.And in the brilliant Casino Royale, where Bond falls in love for the first time, he confesses his feelings for girlfriend Vesper Lynd by saying: ‘I have no armour left. You have stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me, whatever I am, I am yours.’
Can you imagine any other Bond but Daniel Craig delivering such a sensitive line with conviction? It certainly makes Sean Connery, for ever lounging in bed with a carpet of fur on his chest to express his virility, seem like an emotional orangutan in comparison.Of course, over the past 50 years, special agent Bond has appeared to cinema viewers in many shape-shifting guises. And everyone has their favourite incarnation. Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, George Lazenby, Pierce Brosnan. They all had their merits.
For years, my own steadfast and unwavering 007 devotion was to Sean Connery, hairy or not.
He was Scottish, for a start, which counted for a lot as far as I was concerned.And it was Connery who first launched Bond on the big screen in Dr No, released back in 1962. Whether rolling on the sand with seashell diver Honey Ryder or playing chemin de fer with Sylvia Trench, surely Sean was the original and the best?He had a deadly charm, not to mention that brilliantined slick of inky hair, the sardonic smile, the easy nonchalance in both black tie and white shorts — although not, obviously, at the same time. And just like Roger Moore after him, Sean was a great expert in the ancient spy art of eyebrow acting.
His left one was particularly expressive; perennially quizzical and, in later films, for ever soaring north towards his toupee, a crow heading home to the nest.Even when Bond films started getting really silly, when Sean was back on the jet pack again or shamelessly winking at the camera, as he did at the end of Never Say Never Again, he still got my vote.True, there was a brief flirtation with Pierce Brosnan, so terrific in GoldenEye, his 1995 Bond debut.
The 17th film in the Bond series, GoldenEye also marked the debut of Judi Dench as M, who wasted no time in identifying Bond a ‘sexist, misogynist dinosaur’.She had a point.But it wasn’t until Craig came on the scene that Bond was given a radical polish. No, he’s not exactly Germaine Greer but he did pave the way for making it OK for feminists to like him.Craig has made Bond relevant in many ways. Of course, he still drinks, but never in excess and not unless he is undergoing some existential crisis of the soul. And even then, he always sobers up.
He quit smoking a long time ago, he has forsaken silly gadgets such as the leg plaster cast missile holder (GoldenEye again), the magnetic, dress-unzipping Rolex watch (Live And Let Die) or the avalanche-proof coat (The World Is Not Enough). Even Harry Potter would have been proud of that one.True, Craig did resort to a self-applying in-car defibrillator in Casino Royale, but Le Chiffre’s girlfriend Valenka had just served him a poisoned cocktail and things were desperate.
Some things will never change.Bond still likes the ladies, he still has a taste for other men’s wives, but his previously impenetrable exterior has been damaged by falling in love with Vesper two films ago.This hairline fracture in his psyche, this weakness in his affairs of the heart, just makes him all the more attractive and alluring as a modern-day hero. And in Skyfall, the 23rd Bond film and perhaps the most thrilling in the history of the series, he even wears a chauffeur’s uniform.It’s not exactly a budgie-smuggling moment. But it will do.