Recently, my family finished the final season of Game of Thrones. (A bit rushed. Could have benefited from a few more episodes.) We wondered what to do next with our Sunday nights.
Someone hit on the idea of a James Bond marathon. This will take six months, and there will be some weekends where gathering the family around the ol’ VHS player will not be doable. But we’re going to hit all 24 in order starting this week. I plan to review each movie afterward.
We’ve had six James Bonds (not counting the 1969 Casino Royale or the one-off Never Say Never Again.) So how do they rate? Ranking the movies from worst to first here would take more time than I have to write this. I’ll have a ranking list next week ahead of the Dr. No review. But the Bonds themselves?
Hey, there are only six of them.
You have a list by rank. That means someone has to go last. On this one, it’s Roger Moore, but that’s not to say Roger Moore was a bad Bond. In fact, I don’t think there was ever a bad Bond. Moore goes sixth because his tenure is the most uneven (partly because it was the longest), and he may have stayed in the role for too long. In fact, Brosnan and Dalton were considered for both For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy. But Moore had the unwelcome task of doing what George Lazenby could not: Make the public forget Sean Connery. So Moore and the writers played up the comedy. Moore’s movies are fun, even when they’re… um… less than spectacular. (Even A View to a Kill has its moments.) But Moore also owns some of the best performances: Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, and For Your Eyes Only.
Oh, what might have been!
When Sean Connery left the franchise (though not for good), Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman panicked. Who could play Bond? Roger Moore, considered for the original Bond film Dr. No, was unavailable. There were two actors considered: John Richardson and Dutchman Hans DeVries, but George Lazenby caught the producers’ attention. Lazenby admits (in his rather hilarious biographical film) that he bullshitted his way into the role, pilfering a suit ordered by Connery but never picked up.
It worked. Lazenby hints at the lighter tone the films might have taken. For a used car salesman-turned-model, he holds his own against heavyweights Telly Savales (as Blofeld) and Diana Rigg. But alas, Lazenby’s agent told him to pass on the multi-film deal because “Bond is dead.” Yeah. Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, and Craig all got told that, and… Well… It didn’t exactly hurt any of their careers, now, did it? It’s too bad Lazenby didn’t carry on. The man has a wicked and self-deprecating sense of humor, and Bond would have really sharpened his acting chops.
It’s a crime that he wasn’t in Octopussy (or maybe not. It was a horrible script!) It’s a crime he wasn’t in The Living Daylights. But Goldeneye marked the long-overdue debut of the perennial Man Who Would Be Bond.
Of all the people to play Bond, Brosnan was born to it, already proving himself on Remington Steele. He was the perfect foil for Judi Dench’s irrascible M (who gave original M Bernard Lee a run for his money.) and equal parts tough guy and smartass. Brosnan was the quintessential cinema Bond.
But Bond was a literary character first, which leads us to…
After the sometimes-silly Roger Moore, it was time for a dark Bond, the Bond Ian Fleming wrote. And who better than Timothy Dalton, who was asked originally for Diamonds Are Forever and again for Octopussy? (He said no both times, that he was too young for the part.)
When NBC screwed Brosnan out of the part for The Living Daylights, in stepped Dalton. Dalton’s Bond was a dark Bond, one starting to crack under the pressure of being the UK’s blunt instrument in a world that was rapidly changing. He smoked because he was under stress. He grew angry when fellow agents were maimed or hurt. He made Connery’s Bond look damned calm at times. With only two outings, Dalton reset the Bond mold so that the character could go either way.
So Bond needed a reboot. Do they go campy like Moore? Or cold tough guy like Connery? Really, there’s a reason Connery and Moore bookend this list. They are the yin and yang.
Instead, they go back to Fleming, and to do that, you have to reach back to the Dalton era with its real-world grittiness. Welcome, Daniel Craig. Craig’s Bond is not invincible. He’s in over his head. He also has more of a disrespect for authority. And Daniel Craig plays him with cold precision. This is the ultimate literary Bond. The only thing missing is the chain smoking.
The original. The man who invented the role. And the one on everyone’s mind when they take on the role.
Connery is sixties macho cool, which means he stepped aside for good in 1971. Everyone plays a different Bond, but a lot of the notes they hit were first hit by Connery. Craig and Dalton unabashedly mimic some of his mannerisms. But Connery was dry, unflappable. His quips were more biting, a blunt instrument to Moore’s quips blowing off a stressful moment. When you think of cool, you think of Sean Connery.