Bond should be shaken free of Craig's humourless 007 and stirred up for laughs
Every generation gets the James Bond it deserves. It is thus entirely fitting that in a time of uncertain economic recovery, ratcheting Middle East tensions and a reheated Cold War, Daniel Craig should be the grumpiest 007 yet. Not even Craig seems to much like the present Bond, last week telling a magazine he'd "rather slash his wrists" than slip into the iconic tuxedo and order another shaken-not-stirred-martini.
Incredibly, he made the remarks while promoting new Bond flick, Spectre, which arrives in cinemas this weekend. Understandably, the comments prompted a slap-down from his paymasters at Sony Pictures, who have reportedly advised the actor to cease unloading on the franchise that bequeathed upon him wealth and fame beyond imagining (lest we forgot, pre-Bond, Craig was a middling character actor more likely to pop up on a Tuesday night BBC drama than in a Hollywood blockbuster).
Still, Craig's outburst was useful insofar as it offers an insight into his state of mind after a decade of Bond. His taciturn, careworn 007 is utterly a creature of the post-9/11 era - cynical, humourless, with the watery stare of someone who's been up all night waging a Twitter feud.
The Bond of Casino Royale , Quantum of Solace and Skyfall trudges stoically through life, disengaged even when shoving a bad guy off a speeding train or sleeping with a voluptuous double agent.
As portrayed by Craig, life as a globe-trotting, babe-bedding man of mystery is an endless drag.
The contrast with his immediate predecessor in the role could not be starker. In his four Bond outings, Navan-born Pierce Brosnan conveyed a twinkling Celtic charm. He could do dashing and debonair in his sleep - yet also brought wit and irascibility. As with Roger Moore - star of at least three classic Bond movies, lest we forget - the Irishman's 007 was in on the joke. Guns, girls and giddy one-liners - Brosnan understood no grown man could plausibly inhabit such a world and keep a straight face.
How surprising, then, that today almost nobody has a good word for Brosnan's Bond. He was at the time regarded as doing a decent job as de facto heir to Moore (let's just forget Timothy Dalton). The instant he was pushed aside for Craig, though, a stark shift took place, with Brosnan suddenly - and almost universally - deemed cheesy and lightweight, his resemblance to the spoof Austin Powers felt a little too close for comfort.
This ultimately has less to do with Brosnan - a decent and irascible presence on screen - than with the changing cultural climate. His first Bond excursion, 1995's GoldenEye, coincided with rise of Britpop and of Tony Blair, political patron of 'Cool Britannia' (in Ireland, meanwhile, Celtic Tiger 1.0 began to manifest in earnest).
It was, in other words, an era of backslapping and cork-popping. In the UK, it seemed Britishness might be something people could at last take uncomplicated pride in, unburdened by the past. In Ireland, we woke blinking one morning to discover we were no longer Europe's paupers. We had Oasis, TFI Friday, a still-ironic U2. It was the perfect moment for Brosnan-as-Bond - deeply dapper, with those always-arched eye-brows and dangerous smirk. However, by his last Bond movie, 2002's Die Another Day, the context was altogether different. September 11 had happened. George W Bush was in the White House. The British Prime Minster was considered a dangerous American poodle. Brosnan's turbo-charged smarm was suddenly off message.
It didn't help that Die Another Day was perhaps the silliest Bond since the darkest days of the late Moore era. An invisible Aston Martin and a scene in which he slaloms down an iceberg tsunami on a canoe rivalled for ludicrousness such notorious Moore outings as Moonraker and Octopussy. Brosnan did his best amid the hokiness yet, despite record takings for a Bond movie, the brand was in trouble. Step forward Craig. With Casino Royale, he gave us a Bond for the Bourne generation - a kinetic bruiser delivering his one liners as if spitting acid.
But, nearly ten years in, his anti-charm has started to wear off and audiences are now asking themselves whether Craig's Bond constitutes too much of a glum thing. Movies are fundamentally about escapism. When our action films exist simply to remind us of the nasty brutishness of life, it's hard to see the point.
As we consider whether we really want another Bond movie from Craig - and he certainly does not seem up for it - it's worth remembering that there is an alternative. Pierce Brosnan was the feel-good Bond we could simultaneously cheer and giggle at behind our hands. A return to the jokey, deprecating 007 of antiquity would not be the worst fate to befall the franchise.